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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Scouting Report: April 15, 2014

 

The Cherry Blossoms are gone, the lunar eclipse was hidden by clouds this morning and it’s been raining all day.  So what better way to keep on the move than to make a scouting run into the city?  It’s that time of year when the fountains scattered around the Washington National Mall are being turned on.  Three weeks ago, only the World War II Memorial was operating.  But now many of them are running; of the nine that I checked, seven are happily pumping out the spray.

 

News Flash:   We interrupt this post to announce that one of my images was selected for “Monochrome Madness,” an event produced by Australian photographer Leanne Cole, a professional photographer in Melbourne whose blog has over 23,000 followers.  You can see her post with the 44 selected images here.  Now back to our regularly scheduled post on Washington, DC fountains.

 

 Fountains Currently Running

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 Navy Memorial Fountain, National Archives in Background

 Navy Memorial (Pennsylvania Avenue between 8th and 9th Street NW):  This is one of the better fountains in the city, and can’t be easier to photograph.  You are steps away from a Metro entrance, benches are plentiful, and an excellent French boulangerie  (Paul Bakery)  is on the west side of the plaza.

Supreme Court   (1st Street NW, across from the Capitol Building): The two small fountains on the north and south sides of the front plaza are now running.  While not very impressive, any photo that includes the basins looks much better now than when they are empty.

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Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

 Court of Neptune Fountain (1st Street SW, across from the Capitol Building): New York sculptor Roland Hinton Perry was only 27 years old when he completed the fountain in 1898, when the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress was opened.  This is not your average fountain and the physicality of the scene is quite dramatic when the water is running.  The nearby Capitol South  Metro Station is a short walk of two blocks.

Image Senate Fountain at Night

Senate Fountain  (opposite the intersection of Louisiana Avenue NW and North Capitol Street NW): This is one of the few (perhaps only) fountains in the city with a variable color lighting system).  Boasting a view of the Senate side of the US Capitol, it provides a number of photo opportunities in the evening light.  The Union Station Metro stop is within easy walking distance.

Japanese American Patriotism Memorial: (Directly opposite the Senate Fountain in a small triangular park between Louisiana Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, and D Street NW):  Technically this is not a fountain, but a flowing pool which is the principal feature of the park.  Dedicated only ten years ago, it recognizes the mistake made by the US in the forcible placement of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans into ten internment camps.

National Museum of the American Indian (Intersection of Maryland Avenue and Independence Avenue SW ):  The fountain is located on the northwest corner of the museum with the water cascading over large boulders and flowing along a channel on the north side of the building.  The Federal Center Metro Station is about 3 blocks to the south.

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Moonrise, World War II Memorial

 World War II Memorial   (17th Street between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue):  The fountains are now running although they are turned off sometime during the night and resume operating just before dawn.  However, the repair project at the west end of the Memorial is still unfinished.  As a result, the two waterfalls on either side of Freedom Wall are still dry.   Even so, this memorial offers more photo opportunities than any of the others on this list.  No nearby Metro Station.

Fountains Still Dry

Banneker Fountain (South end of the L’Enfant Plaza on 10th Street SW):  Probably the least well known site on this list, the 30-foot tall column of water (when operating) is the central feature of the Benjamin Banneker Park.  Banneker was an African American who had a role in the original surveys that eventually resulted in the layout of the city of Washington.  However, the historical evidence is unclear on the specific details.  The small park, designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley was constructed in 1967.  Kiley is currently being featured in a major retrospective of his work at the National Building Museum.  The L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station is about 5 blocks to the northeast.

Bartholdi Fountain (Across Independence Avenue SW from the US Botanical Garden):  This fountain is the central feature of a small park maintained by the US Botanical Garden,  It was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who is better known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty.  I will write a separate post on this fountain when the water is turned on.

I expect that both the Bartholdi and Banneker fountains will be running within a few weeks.  Stay tuned…

 

 

Cherry Blossoms–Get Ready to Rumble

At 6:45 AM this morning the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin were not quite ready to strut their stuff, but the magic moment is getting close. Although the weather was nearly perfect, the walkways were almost deserted. Several photographers with tripods were lurking about, probably scouting compositions in advance.   The usual number of joggers and bikers were making their rounds and a small gaggle of photo tour visitors were getting briefed on what was going to happen after they left town. A few trees have decided to jump the gun, but most are still in bud, as shown by the image below.   (Technical data: Nikon D800E with 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens set at 24 mm; handheld and exposed at 1/250th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400, on-camera flash used for fill light on the buds)

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I should note that the forsythia and tulip trees over by the George Mason Memorial are usually a few days ahead of the cherry trees and they were looking very nice this morning. I made a complete circuit around the Tidal Basin, and noticed that the parking lot next to the paddleboat concession has a café set up with lots of tables and chairs. It looked pretty nice, but it wasn’t open yet, so apparently early risers are not considered worthy customers. But the sun was up, the crowds were somewhere else and that’s enough for me.

As I approached the Martin Luther King Memorial, I found a nice stretch of walkway that was completely deserted. (Technical data: 4 separate images, photomerged; Nikon D800E with 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens set at 24 mm; handheld and exposed at 1/320th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400)

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It turned out that the Memorial was also empty so I took the opportunity to get my first image of the statue since the controversial inscription was removed on the east side. Background on this issue can be found here. (Technical data: 5 separate images, photomerged; NikonDd800E with 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens set at 26 mm; on tripod and exposed at various speeds between 1/25th and 1/60th all at f/16, ISO 400)

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Today was probably the last morning before the crowds really start building, so if you are headed down there in the coming days, remember the words of Michael Buffer and be prepared.

Yet Another Cherry Blossom Report

I returned to the Tidal Basin yesterday afternoon to check on the progress of the Cherry Blossoms.  The marching battalions of pre-scheduled tours are now in full swing, the tour buses that brought them here are jostling for parking spots, and the weather is balmy.  But the trees have other ideas.  And the absence of photographers with tripods confirmed what I expected:  “Still too soon.”  But the trip wasn’t a total loss, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

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So here is an image showing the status of the cherry blossoms.  The buds in the foreground–like all the others on the nearby trees–are still quite tight, or at least they were as of about 7:15 PM last night. I guess it will be sometime this weekend before any blossoms actually emerge.  The official Festival prediction for peak blooming to appear is still April 8th and I see no reason to dispute that.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E, 24-70 mm lens set at  55 mm, no tripod: 1/50th sec. @ f/18, ISO 1600)

Still, you never want to come away without any images, so I worked on a panorama composition as the twilight blue after sunset began to intensify.  This was taken about 20 minutes after sunset.  It could be a great composition to use  when the blossoms hit their peak, but I suspect that the walkway will be cluttered with fellow photographers. (Technical data: Nikon D800E, 24-70 mm lens set at  35 mm, using tripod, 3 images shot with aperture priority set @ f/16, shutter ranged from 6-10 secs.; ISO 400)

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As a side note, you can see the dark forms of protective netting around the trunks of the trees.  I assume this is intended to frustrate any beavers that might want to use the trees for gnawing practice.  There is at least one of them there; it swam within two meters of me, but submerged immediately when I began to swing my camera in its direction.  Curses!  Foiled again.

 Aside from the brief excitement of a close encounter with a beaver, the trip downtown also enabled me to check the status of some repair work projects on the mall.  As indicated in the panorama image, the removal of the scaffolding on the Washington Monument is now below the tree line.  There is still about 10 meters to go, but I am hopeful that the scaffolding and the construction fence will be removed in time for the Lunar Eclipse on April 15. There is more good news: The World War II Memorial fountains are now up and running at full power and the lighting is also operating.   A closer inspection will be needed to see whether the repairs on the west side of the Memorial are finished.

 So stay tuned for the next episode of the exciting mystery:  “Are they out yet?”