Low Light Photography (Part 2)

 

As mentioned in last week’s post, possible subjects for night-time shooting include cityscapes, landscapes, a staged scenario, and astronomical phenomena.  In the case of cityscapes, one does not have to live in, or travel to, well-known cities such as Washington, DC, New York City, or Paris.

Low Light (Hartford) D-14-12-04-5599_606Hartford at Twilight

(Tech: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/.28 lens @ 50mm, 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400, photomerge)

This was taken during the Nautical Twilight phase, but by looking west, one can still see plenty of light in the sky.  The location was chosen because there was good illumination from city lights over most of the scene and the Connecticut River provided  a nice reflection of the city lights.  Using water to reflect lights can be a very effective technique at night.  As before, the glare from the brighter lights was managed by using a small aperture to produce a star effect.

Low Light (Pittsburgh) D-13-08-17Pittsburgh at Night

(Tech: Nikon D800E with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens @70mm, 1/6th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1600)

From this location (an overlook in the 1400 block of Grandview Avenue), the city of Pittsburgh provides a dramatic night scene with plenty of illumination.  However, the moving ferry in the river required a relatively short exposure, forcing a setting at a wide aperture and high ISO.

Tactics for Adding Interest

Aside from looking for potential reflections, one can also look for illuminated fountains, use time exposures to  incorporate traffic flow, or take advantage of a special event such as temporary art installations or fireworks.  The city of Washington, DC has many fountains although most are shut down for the winter.

Low Light (WW II Mem) D-13-06-01-9189_209WW II Memorial at Twilight

(Tech: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/.28 lens @ 24mm, 8 sec. @ f/14, ISO 400, photomerge)

The primary reason for using a photomerge in this case was to “remove” the tourists in the scene.  About 17 separate exposures were made, each of a small section of the scene that did not have anyone in it at that moment.  Depending on the situation, there are easier ways to do this in Photoshop, such as the Image Stacking Mode or the Scripts-Statistics  process.  But those techniques have difficulty with any moving object, such as a flag or moving water, that appears in every image.                                                                                   Low Light (Bartholdi)D-11-09-16-2649  Bartholdi Fountain at Twilight

(Tech: Nikon D800E, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 56mm; 10 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

 This fountain, dating back to 1876, was created by August Bartholdi, a French artist who is better known for the Statue of Liberty.  It is located in Bartholdi Park across Independence Avenue from the US Botanic Garden.

Fountains can be found in most cities around the world; Rome and Paris (see image below) are famous for their fountains,  but Kansas City reportedly is second only to Rome in the number of municipal fountains.

Low Light (Paris Fountain) brighter D-14-06-04-8826_27Place Concorde at Twilight, Paris

(Tech: Nikon D800E, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 24mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200)

 

Moving traffic can pose a problem for night photographers, but, by using a long exposure to create trace lines, what might be a flaw becomes a strength.

 Low Light (Kutz Bridge) D-11-03-13-4100Washington Monument and Kutz Bridge

(Tech: Nikon D800E, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 38mm; 8 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200)

When shooting at street level, the brightness of oncoming headlights can still be a problem, even with a long exposure.  Here the traffic was going away from the camera so only the taillights and the blue warning lights from the police car were visible.

This technique does not have to be restricted to street vehicles.  For locations near an airport, aircraft landings and take-offs can also be included as shown in the next two images.

Low Light (Final Approach) D-10-03-20-050Final Approach Over Key Bridge

(Tech: Nikon D200, 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 lens @ 42mm; 30 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100)

There are several locations where you can capture aircraft landing at National Airport.  This was taken on the river’s edge about 200 feet northwest of the Thompson Boat Center.

Low Light (Kennedy Center) D-17-11-29-0794Kennedy Center at Night

(Tech: Nikon D850, 24-70 f/2.8 lens @ 70mm; 20sec. @ f/18, ISO 100)

Special event illuminations such as the recent display by the Kennedy Center can provide unique opportunities because they usually only last for a short time.  This image combines several of the tactics discussed here: a special illumination, trace lights from vehicle traffic and aircraft, and using water to add reflections.

The next and final post in this series will cover astronomical phenomena, photographing the moon, stars, and the Milky Way.

In the meantime, Keep Shooting…………..

 

Moonrise

I know, I know.  I promised scenes from the Galapagos would be in my next post, but……

A week ago (March 12), there was a full moon, an event that happens every 29.5 days.  But for photographers in Washington, DC, it was a special night because the moon would rise in a location on the horizon that was pretty close to perfect for the so-called “Holy Grail” shot.  It happens, on average, every one or two years.

Full Moon March 2017

Moonrise over Washington, D.C., March 12, 2017

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.6 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken )

There is a spot in Arlington, Virginia where one has an excellent view of the city of Washington with a compositionally sweet alignment of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.  The location is the base of the Netherlands Carillon, just to the south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Before the advent of the smart phone/tablet, anticipating this event was not easy, requiring a compass and access to some publicly available software on the website of the U.S. Naval Observatory.  But now, with the availability of numerous apps, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) or Photo Pils, anyone can figure it out. For example, on this night, even with temperatures hovering around freezing, there were over 60 photographers there, each with at least one tripod and a big lens.

Other than the cold weather, conditions looked pretty good on this evening.  The sky was clear and the moon would rise at 86.0 degrees azimuth on the horizon and 13 minutes after sunset.  That was a bit further south than ideal, and a bit later than desired relative to the sunset. Nevertheless, it would be the best opportunity in 2017 with only one other chance (October 5) that will be in the ballpark.  However, in October, the blue twilight period (Civil Twilight) will end before the moon gets sufficiently elevated.

Moonrise D-17-03-12-9670

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 7:32 PM)

Although the official time of the moonrise was 7:27 PM, it would be a bit later before it would appear above the skyline.  It was first sighted by the group at about  7:29 and the image immediately above was taken about 90 seconds later.  By this time, the end of civil twilight is approaching and we would soon lose the classic blue color that is essential to this kind of image.

 

Moonrise D-17-03-12-9696

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 2.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 6:36 PM)

Furthermore, the combination of a very clear sky with the rapidly fading twilight would cause the moon to become extremely bright as it rose above the dimming effects of the ground haze.  The above image was taken at 6:36 PM, about 3 minutes before the end of civil twilight.    Already the moon is becoming increasingly bright and the excellent details on its surface have almost vanished.  Any images taken after this point would require increasingly heroic post-processing efforts.

So when you prepare for a moon shot, make sure you check more than the location.  The relationship in time between the sunset and moonrise and civil twilight can have a significant impact on your results.  If you are in a classic landscape situation where no artificial lighting typical of an urban scene is expected, you may want to evaluate the prospects on the night just before the actual full moon.  This is especially true where a mountain may be blocking the moon at the time of the “official” moonrise.

 

Next (and I promise): Scenes from the Galapagos Islands.

 

Journey to the Middle of the World

Ecuador 01 Overlook of QuitoQuito, Ecuador from the Overlook at Panecillio

The first time one visits a country, especially on a very short trip, the experience can be frustrating because you only get a glimpse of some of the possibilities.  This is particularly true for Ecuador because, despite its small size, it is an incredibly diverse land.  About the size of Nevada, Ecuador boasts volcanic peaks as high as 20,000 feet, vast tropical forests, and palm-fringed beaches on the Pacific Coast.  There are more bird species per square mile than any other South American country and more orchids than anywhere else on earth.  But the biggest draw is the famed Galapagos Islands which sit on the Equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador’s coast and that was the reason we were there.

Ecuador 07 parrots

Some “Wildlife” in Quito

Our schedule included only two days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  Surrounded by volcanic peaks, some still active, Quito is the highest capital city in the world (9,300 feet) and the closest of any capital to the equator.

Ecuador Mitad del Mundo 03

Standing (and Jumping) on the Equator in Ecuador

A tourist attraction known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City) is considered a must for anyone who wants a photograph of themselves straddling the northern and southern hemispheres.  The actual line is about 240 meters to the north, according to the guide, but no one seemed to care.

Ecuador 04 Fountains and Mural

Long View of “TooFly” Mural at the Central University of Ecuador

It is less well known that Quito is a hotbed for street artists and we headed for the Central University of Ecuador on a quest to find what was billed as the tallest street art mural in the country created by graffiti legend Maria “TooFly” Castillio in 2015.

Ecuador 02 TooFly Mural

The Mural, as Seen from Directly Across the Street

Castillio, a native of Ecuador, is now based in New York City and has installations in a number of countries.

The next day we visited some of the more common sights in the city such as the Virgin of Quito, a 134-foot tall statue towering over the city on a hill known as the Panecillio, and the Casa del Alabado Museum of pre-Columbian art.  Despite some skepticism on my part concerning the wisdom of the latter choice, it turned out to be a fascinating way to learn about the history, culture, and arts of ancient Ecuadoran cultures that populated this area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

Ecuador 05 Virgin of Quito

The Virgin of Quito, a Gift from Spain

Ecuador 06 Shaman

Pre-Columbian Scuplture of a Shaman (5,000 to 1,500 B.C.)

 

Next Post:  Random Street Scenes in Quito

The Lincoln Memorial

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a man who is regarded by many as the best President in the history of the United States.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite of the many monuments and memorials in Washington and has been the subject of many of my photographs.  I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of those images on this day.

lincoln-memorial-07-moonrise

Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (March 2001)

 

Although sentiment for a memorial to Lincoln appeared almost immediately after his assassination in 1865, it was not until 1914 that construction began.  It opened to the public in 1922.

 

lincoln-memorial-08-night

Lincoln Memorial at Night (February 2002)

But even before funding was found and construction begun, considerable thought had been given to its placement by the little remembered Senate Park Commission Plan of 1902.  This group envisaged the now iconic overall design of the Washington National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial featured as the western anchor.

lincoln-memorial-05-equinox

Lincoln Memorial (Spring Equinox, 2013)

The fact that the Memorial is facing exactly due east and that its interior is open to elements, as envisaged by the 1902 Commission, made the photo above possible.  The alignment is such that only on a few days around the equinox (Spring and Fall) will the rising sun perfectly illuminate the statue of Lincoln with no shadows from the outer columns.  The alignment is perfectly centered for about 20 seconds.

lincoln-memorial-06-sunrise-on-statue

Interior, Fall Equinox 2009 (about a minute after alignment)

Even though the alignment occurs twice each year, one must also have clear skies in the east just as the sun rises, so this moment is relatively rare.

lincoln-memorial-09-memorial-bridge-copy

Memorial Bridge Aligned with Lee House in Distance (March 2002)

The design and location of the Lincoln Memorial was part of a larger plan to symbolize the reconciliation between the North and South in the decades following the Civil War. Four years after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with an alignment directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

But neglect over time has allowed both of these beautiful structures to deteriorate. For example, the above images of the Memorial’s steps reveal that they are quite dirty, a result of the inability of the National Park Service to obtain funding for such maintenance tasks. Observant visitors will find many examples of serious neglect throughout the structure. Fortunately, a major restoration over the next several years has been made possible by an $18.5 million donation by a private citizen, David Rubenstein.  The Memorial Bridge has also been in need of major repair and work has finally been scheduled.

lincoln-memorial-04-interiorInterior, Looking toward South Wall (March 2014)

The interior is still a beautiful space, however.  Depending on the natural light entering the chamber, the interior can take on many moods and repeat visits are worthwhile.  Most visitors spend their time gazing at the massive but elegant statue of Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French.  The actual carving of the stone by the Piccirilli brothers, immigrants from Italy, required four years.

lincoln-memorial-02-gettysburg-address

Interior, Carved Inscription of Gettysburg Address

Ernest C. Bairstow, also an immigrant, carved the inscriptions containing the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the interior north and south walls.  Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Visitors today might want to spend a little time re-reading those words.

 

 

 

Martin Luther King Memorial

mlk-d-17-01-04-5817

 

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The iconic sculpture (shown above) by Lei Yixin is well known and frequently photographed.  Behind the statue there is a long, gently curved wall containing quotations from some of his speeches.  On my most recent visit a few days ago, I selected a few of them to accompany the photo above.

mlk-d-17-01-04-5812_13

Excerpt from “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

mlk-d-17-01-04-5845_46

From his speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 25, 1965

mlk-d-17-01-04-5789_90

Address to the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington DC, April 18, 1959

mlk-d-17-01-04-5837_38

From his 1963 book, “Strength to Love”

 

mlk-d-17-01-04-5787_89-ver-2

Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway

Northwest Passage (3)

 

arctic-d-16-08-18-0640-blog

Iceberg, Ilulissat Fjord (Estimated height: 100 feet)

Icebergs!  That’s why everyone comes to Ilulissat, Greenland 220 miles inside the Arctic Circle and the site of the Ilulissat Icefjord named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The fjord is the “sea mouth” of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap actually reaches the sea.  The melt water from most of the others flows to the sea via streams, rivers, or waterfalls.  Moreover, it is one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world, producing more calf ice than any glacier outside Antarctica.

arctic-6973-crop-keynote-plus

Detail of Reflections from Iceberg

We would be there for less than 14 hours but managed to arrange for a 2-hour cruise through a good part of the navigable fjord then a 3-mile (round-trip) hike to a promontory that overlooked the fjord.

arctic-d-16-08-18-6958-bw-blog

Black and White Image, Iceberg in Ilulissat Fjord

For a close-up view of the icebergs, we joined about ten others on a small fishing boat and set out for the fjord under a brilliant blue sky.

arctic-d-16-08-18-7003_04-pano-blog

Ilulissat Fjord (Estimated height: 75 feet)

Birds wheeled by the boat as we motored through the frigid water and we caught a glimpse of two humpback whales in the distance.  Occasionally, groups of harp seals popped up to check us out.

d-16-08-18-0660-keynote-plus

Humpback Whales, Ilulissat Fjord

The actual face of the glacier is many miles up the fjord and boats cannot get past the jumble of stacked up icebergs which are grounded, unable to float out to sea, until they have melted to a smaller size.  Those shown here are the smaller ones that have floated free.  Our walk would take us to an overlook of the fjord where the larger ones are stacked up on each other.  But the only way (for a tourist) to see the face of the glacier is by helicopter, something we did not have time for.

arctic-d-16-08-18-7106_12-pano-blog

Fall Colors, Arctic Tundra overlooking Ilulissat Fjord

The walk, mostly along a wooden boardwalk, took us on a scenic route over the tundra which golden yellow in its fall colors.  The boardwalk was necessary to protect the boggy tundra which could not withstand the impact of frequent hikers. After about a mile we came to a steep hill that would afford us a spectacular view of the fjord.

arctic-d-16-08-18-7117_18-pano-keynote-plus

Overlook of Ilulissat Fjord

Our vantage point in the image above is situated about 150 feet above the ice immediately below us. It was difficult to believe that the mountains of ice and snow in  the distance were icebergs that had broken free of the actual glacier which was still many miles up the fjord to the left.

arctic-d-16-08-18-7122_26-pano-blog

Panorama of Ilulissat Fjord

The image just above is a six-image photomerge taken from the spot where the person in the previous image was standing and looking to the left.  It was hard to leave this spot, but we didn’t want to miss our ride back to the boat in order to continue a journey that had only just begun.

 

Northwest Passage (2)

Apparently, the fact that I was able to get the previous post published while still on our vessel in the Arctic Circle ranks as a minor miracle because it was the only time I had access to sufficient bandwidth.  So the following series will be a post-trip report on the highlights.

After departing Kangerlussuak, our first stop was in the small city of Sisimiut, Greenland so our vessel could be fueled and provisioned for the long voyage ahead.  The town of about 5,000-6,000 is the second largest in Greenland and the fishing industry is the primary economic activity.

 

arctic-d-16-08-17-0532-blog

Sisimiut Harbor

Illulissat (mentioned in the previous post) was still one day away, so we took the opportunity to explore Sisimiut hoping to find a post office to mail some post cards.  Sisimiut is the northernmost town in Greenland that has an ice-free harbor in the winter.  It has been a settlement for 4,500 years and today combines traditional Inuit culture with the practices of Western society.  The average high temperatures in August are in the mid-40s (Fahrenheit).

arctic-d-16-08-17-0537-blogSisimiut Marina

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Hillside Overview of Sisimiut

We stopped in several establishments asking for directions, an interesting exercise given that neither English, French nor Spanish were spoken by anyone we met.  Here one needs to know Inuit and/or Danish. The usual response was to point in the general direction we already were heading.  The image below shows a view of the Pisiffik supermarket which was full of the same products we might find at home and a few that we would not (e.g., seal liver).

arctic-d-16-08-17-0562-blogPisiffik Supermarket

A small café had sandwiches and drinks plus a TV showing the Rio Olympics.  We managed to communicate an order and then sat down to watch a few heats of the 800-meter women’s race. The food was pretty good and afterwards we continued the search for the post office which we finally located.  Stamps and cards were purchased with Euros and change was provided with Danish Kroner.

But tomorrow, we hoped, the true excitement would begin.  We would arrive in Disko Harbor to see the fabled Ilulissat Icefjord, the glacier designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   It is considered to be the most productive (in the sense of producing enormous icebergs) glacier in the northern hemisphere.

Stay tuned…….