Summer Specials

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC is famed for its lotus display that peaks in late July.  This year I found time for only one brief visit about five weeks ago.  But I did manage to capture a few images which are shown below.  The most recent report I have on the status of the blooms is pretty dated–July 31st.  They apparently were looking very good on that day.  If you are thinking of going there now, it would be best to check ahead.  Here is the link the the Kenilwoth Aquatic Gardens website.  The best time to go is early morning.

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Pollinator Hovering

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Single Lotus

Both images were taken with a Nikon D800E on a tripod, 70-200mm lens with an exposure of 1/640th sec. @ ISO 400.  The apertures varied only slightly, about f/4 ,and the lens was close to fully extended.

If all goes well next week, I should have an image or two from Yosemite National Park.  If Mother Nature is kind to me, I’ll have some images quite different from these.

Super Moon: Always Have a Plan B

Spoiler Alert:  There will be no moon photograph in this post; hence you will have to skip down several paragraphs if you just want to see the pictures.

Last week, the weather forecasters and other media were touting the so-called “Super Moon” that would be rising as a full moon on Monday evening.  I am always looking  for images that have a full moon nicely aligned with one of the iconic scenes in Washington, DC but a quick check of the details on time and placement were not encouraging.   The moonrise was timed to occur about 10 minutes before the sunset, so the moon would be pretty high before the deep blue twilight colors would be at their best. The best location seemed to be at the Tidal Basin with the moon coming up adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial but the placement wasn’t ideal.  But, you never know for sure, so it’s best to show up just in case.

But clouds began to appear in the afternoon, so prospects were getting dimmer by the minute. But one of the benefits of the location is that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is right along that side of the Tidal Basin and I had been intending to check some evening to see if the fountains were running and illuminated.  This would be Plan B.

Arriving at the Tidal Basin, it was quickly obvious that the media’s flogging of the Super Moon story had the expected effect: At least 3 dozen tripods were strung along the sidewalk of the Tidal Basin, with their cameras all pointed at the Jefferson Memorial.  But for a change, there was no consensus on where the best spot would be.  I joined the group closest to the Memorial (about 6 shooters) and checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app which confirmed this was the best spot.

With 15 minutes to go, I strolled about 100 yards up the sidewalk where a larger group had congregated (seeking safety in numbers?).  Here TPE was saying the moon would rise way off to the left of the Memorial while the PhotoPils app indicated the moon would be much closer to the Memorial and if it was right, this was the place to be. What to do? Well, the clouds looked really bad, there was a very nice bench right next to my tripod, the other photographers were friendly, and the FDR Memorial  fountains were only a 2-minute walk away.  The bench tipped the decision.

Ten minutes after the scheduled rise, one of the other shooters pointed out a faint pink circle almost completely covered by the clouds and it was way over to the left, exactly where TPE had predicted.  But it didn’t matter because it was hardly visible and soon was completely gone from view.  While my neighbors picked up their gear and started to migrate toward the other spot, I chose Plan B and went directly to the FDR Memorial.

The image below is a quick pick from the night’s take but I was pretty happy with all of the results.  It turns out that the light is very nice during a brief period of 10-20 minutes after sunset.  After that, the lighting tends to blow out and detail in the rocks becomes difficult to pull out.  The Memorial is loaded with fountains so this implies a number of future visits will be rewarding.

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FDR Memorial Fountain (2 seconds at f/16, lens at 38 mm)

When finished with the fountains, it seemed appropriate to check on the folks who had cast their fate with the moon.  It is entirely possible that there was a spectacular moment while I was away, but the scene below indicates that nothing was going on at 8:35.  It seemed best not to ask.

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Jefferson Memorial at Twilight

Washington, DC—August Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Local readers, photographers or not, should take into account that this coming Monday to Wednesday (August 4-6) could be somewhat chaotic in downtown Washington as the leaders of 40- 50 African nations will be here for a summit meeting.

OK, back to our normal programming:

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to zip down to the city and check out the status of possible shooting locations.  The weather was cloudy and it looked like we might get a shower or two, so the prospects for actually stopping and doing some serious photography seemed remote.  I almost didn’t take my camera, but a Little Voice said: “You might be sorry.”

As it turned out, the Little Voice was right.  My first stop was Union Station which is still undergoing a massive interior renovation started months ago.  The first sight when you walk in the front entrance is a mass of scaffolding, huge tarpaulins, and netting to protect pedestrians from falling debris.  (See image below)

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 Union Station Washington, DC Under Renovation

But then I turned left and I was already glad that I had brought the camera. The west wing of the Waiting Area was free of construction and the station’s famous centurions were on duty and alert.  Be aware, however, that there is a strict prohibition on tripods at Union Station, so one needs a high ISO and a wide aperture, especially on a cloudy day. (Technical Data: hand held Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 45mm; Exposure 1/125th sec @f2.8, EV= -0.67, ISO 800).  Three images, photomerged.

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 The Centurions of Union Station

Over at the Supreme Court, a new repair project has just begun.  The Capitol Police officer on duty told me that this set of scaffolding had just gone up this week.

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 Yet Another Renovation at the Supreme Court

Next stop: The U.S. Capitol Building.  The long awaited and much-needed repair of the Capitol Dome is now underway and the scaffolding is being erected now.  On the positive side, Congress is on recess and the shallow reflecting pools on the eastern plaza have been repaired and the water is running again (See image below).

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 US Capitol, East Plaza

 Photographers that want to include the dome will have to accept the presence of scaffolding for perhaps the next two years.  (See the list of the end of this post for details on the situation around the Capitol.)  But there is a positive side: it makes one think about different approaches as exemplified by the image below.

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The US Capitol, View from South Side

 And down the hill on the western side of the Capitol, the flowers around the base of the James Garfield statue are looking great.  I couldn’t resist this image, even with the scaffolding in full view.

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James A. Garfield Statue and US Capitol

 The following summarizes my observations on the drive:

Good news:

  • A lot of the fountains are running, including those in front of the American History Museum, the Library of Congress (Court of Neptune), Senate Garage Fountains, Supreme Court fountains, the Bartholdi Park fountain, the Haupt Fountains on Constitution Avenue across from the German Friendship Garden and most of those at the World War II Memorial (But see the Bad News Below).
  • Almost all of the scaffolding has been removed from the renovation project at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. (But see the Bad News below)
  • The eastern plaza of the US Capitol Building is no longer a parking lot (as it was on Thursday) for Congressional VIPS as they have departed for the August recess. The reflection pools surrounding the two main skylights for the underground visitor center are back up and running and there must have been a bump up in the gardening budget because the flowers around the Capitol are looking better than I have seen in a long time.
  • The National Park Service Tulip Library, located near the Tidal Basin at Independence Avenue and Maine Avenue, is well past the tulip season. But the annuals that were planted after the tulip bulbs were removed are looking good.  And it appears that an ugly wooden fence right across the street (ruining any possibility of combining these flowers with the Washington Monument) is in the process of being removed.  I have been hating this fence since I first saw it 7 years ago.

Bad news:

  • The work on the western wall (Freedom Wall) of the World War II Memorial is still not completed.
  • Although the renovation of the Arts and Industries Building is complete, there are no plans to open it due to a lack of funds. So there may be some minor gates and barriers to prevent people from entering the space.
  • The US Capitol dome project includes a large construction support zone on the northwest sector of the grounds and a lot of netting inside the dome. Tours are still ongoing.
  • The Supreme Court front entrance now has scaffolding for a new project.
  • The impressively tall fountain (name unknown to me) at the intersection of 20th and C St. NW is not running.
  • And, not surprisingly, the Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues its 10-year-plus streak of neglect, despite a recent renovation of the entire plaza surrounding it.

4th of July Waterworks!

One of the less well known benefits of living in the Washington, DC area is that it has some of the best whitewater action in the world. For those who are skeptical, here is a link to an article in today’s Washington Post. And the most difficult stretch of that action is the Great Falls of the Potomac which happens to be about 3 miles from my home. I’ve been following the action for seven years now and it is always exciting. It’s pretty cool to go to an Olympic level competition, get a prime viewing spot, and not pay a dime. So that’s where I was yesterday, photographing the boaters as they practiced for a competition that was held today. Here are a few shots from the practice session.

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The water level was perfect for the center line which is perfectly located for viewing from two of the overlooks in Great Falls National Park on the Virginia side and pretty good viewing from the overlook from the Park on the Maryland side. It is also a dangerous route over the falls. A competitor was killed last year when she made an error during a practice run causing the event to be canceled. It should be noted, however, that this was an extremely rare incident; these participants are all highly skilled and numerous rescue capabilities are in position for these events. The image above was taken from the water level not normally accessible to non-boaters. I was about 100 meters from the falls. (Technical data (Nikon D800E handheld with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm; Exposure was 1/200th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400)

Kayak Kent Blog 02
This is a tight crop from the same image, so it shows the value of having an extremely sharp lens. The competition is a timed course so each competitor has to negotiate a series of cascades, finishing with this 20-foot (plus) drop and then making a sprint a short distance to a finish line (out of sight to the left). There are two runs and the boater in each class with the lowest cumulative time is the winner.

Kayak Kent Blog 03
This was taken from Overlook 2 in Great Falls National Park (Virginia side). It is about the same distance from the drop as the location down at water level. I went back this morning for the actual competition and used an old Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens. It’s been a while since I have used it, since that extra three pounds is no fun to carry in one’s back-pack. But it seemed this would be a good comparison test on sharpness. Because of its weight, I used a tripod. And as it turned out, the images taken with the 70-200 model at maximum extension are sharper than those of the 80-400 at its maximum length. This despite the fact that the images from the 70-200 have to be enlarged twice as much to match the size of objects in images from the bigger lens.
But I digress. This is a post about kayaks and the Great Falls of the Potomac. So let’s wrap it up with two images taken two years ago during another practice day.

Kayak Kent Blog 04
As noted above, the water level of the Potomac River dictates where the race will be run. The difference can be quite small. For example, the center line (first three images) is used when the water measures between 3.3-3.8 feet at a specified measuring location. That is a range of about 6 inches. There are three other routes, depending on the level measured on race day. This image was taken from Overlook 1 on the Virginia side of the park. It is an amazingly exciting viewpoint because spectators are less than 100 feet from the boater when she/he goes over. Unfortunately, there is very little room there and for a photographer with a tripod, there is literally only one optimal spot. And the Spout cannot be seen at all from any of the other overlooks. But I got lucky and saw a few boaters practicing when the water levels called for this route. Same camera-lens combination as above, exposure was 1/1,000th sec. @ f/5. This is a fairly tight crop, mainly because there was a lot of uninteresting foreground in the frame.

Kayak Kent Blog 05
But there were two other boaters practicing together and the image above is a full frame shot with the lens extended only to 100mm. It’s hard to see here, but when this image is printed large you can see the big smile on the face of the paddler waiting for his friend to complete the drop.

June 28, 2014

Thanks to the post of a fellow blogger, I was reminded that yesterday was the 100th anniversary of what seemed a minor event but was the spark that led to the outbreak of the Great War, now known as World War I.  My grandfather, whom I never met, served in WW I.  So I decided yesterday was an appropriate occasion to do something I had been postponing for too long: to photograph the DC War Memorial which was erected to honor the 499 citizens of Washington, DC who lost their lives in the war.

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Sunset, June 28, 2014

I want to acknowledge the post by the DC Bike Blogger (see it here), a highly informative source about the District of Columbia.  I thought I knew my way around this city until I bumped into his blog several months ago.

The DC War Memorial is not well known, but is conveniently located on the National Mall along Independence Avenue directly across from the Martin Luther King Memorial.  It is especially attractive at twilight.  A simple lighting system illuminates the interior and seems to be timed to come on about 15 minutes before sunset.

The photograph is a single shot, using a Nikon D800E on a tripod with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 26mm.  The exposure was 1.6 sec. @ f/16 EV = -1.0, ISO 400.  Adjustments were made in Adobe Camera RAW to reduce the highlights (-53), open up the shadows (+56), and add some clarity (+20) plus a little vibrance (+12).  A minor curves adjustment was made in Photoshop CC to lighten the exterior of the dome just a bit.

The Washington Monument: Opening Soon!

The Washington Monument is the iconic structure of the city of Washington DC and I have been photographing it since 1999 when I first got serious about photography.  Yet despite the numerous images I’ve made of it in the 15 years since then, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I never made it to the top during that time.  But even though I do have a few excuses—such as an earthquake—it serves no purpose to bore you with a recitation of them.  Instead, I have seen the error of my ways and I fully intend to be up there as soon as possible when it re-opens next month.  Details about the re-opening are below, but first a few highlights from the past 15 years are in order, not necessarily in a chronological order.

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Continue reading

Virginia Bluebells are Here

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Virginia Bluebells, Cub Run, Northern Virginia (April 13, 2013)

At this time of the year, the landscape photographer is overloaded with opportunities as the earth’s natural cycle of renewal accelerates with frenetic speed.  The opportunities are usually so brief that it helps to maintain a “schedule” of what is going to happen, when, and where.  For example, every year in mid-April, sections of nondescript wooded areas in northern Virginia are briefly transformed into a dazzling carpets of blue and white.  The two flowering plants responsible for this amazing and all-too-brief display are the Virginia bluebell and the Virginia spring beauty.  And this morning I went out to see them again. Continue reading