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

New York City

First Friday!  One Photo Focus and More!

This year is really speeding by; I can’t believe it’s already May.  I’ve just returned from a short trip to New York City and it’s also time for Stacy Fischer’s monthly OnePhoto Focus Event, so this post will be serving double duty.

In the case of NYC, I managed to squeeze in brief visits to three of the city parks in between some other business.

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The Pond, Central Park, Early Morning

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William Seward Monument, Madison Square Park, Early Afternoon

William Seward, a New York native, was Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln, but is probably best known for his role in the purchase of Alaska, originally described by his critics as “Seward’s Folly.”

NYC D-16-04-30-5766_74Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain, Bryant Park at Twilight

Josephine Shaw Lowell lived most of her life in New York City where she founded a number of progressive reform organizations during the 19th century including the still operating National Consumers League. Her husband, a Union soldier, was killed one year after their marriage and one month before the birth of her daughter. She never remarried. The fountain, installed 8 years after her death, is said to be New York City’s first major memorial dedicated to a woman.

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Bryant Park at Night

Bryant Park, located between 5th- 6th Avenues and 40th-42nd Streets, has had an interesting historyover the past 240 years. Retreating American rebel forces under Geaorge Washington passed through this area in 1776 as they fled the British in the Battle of Long Island. In the mid-1800s, it was the site of a massive resevoir, part of a city water distribution system considered one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. Shortly afterwards, the city’s first major tourist event, the Crystal Palace Exhibition was inagurated next to the resevoir and attracted over 1 million visitors. During the Civil War it was an encampment for Union troops.  A few decades later, the space took on its current name to honor William Cullen Bryant, who was the longtime editor of the New York Evening Post, a civic reformer, and romantic poet.  A major redesign in the 1930s created the space as we see it today.  A detailed history on the park can be found here.

OnePhoto Focus

 

This month’s image was a lot of fun to work with, many thanks to Julie Powell for providing it.  As a reminder, the 1PF Challenge is sponsored by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and anyone can participate.  Details can be found at  Visual Venturing .

As usual, I first opened the RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw and followed a standard workflow (Setting black and white points, etc.) before opening the file in Photoshop.  The starting point is shown in the image below.

Robin Kent January One Photo Focus Original

Original Image, after Adobe Camera Raw Adjustments

At this point, I thought a late night sci-fi interpretation might be interesting, so I experimented with the Filter Gallery for a few minutes and settled on the following steps:

A duplicate image of the Background Layer was created and I then applied the “Glowing Edges” filter to the Background copy layer (Filter–>Filter Gallery–>Stylize–>Glowing Edges).  The settings were Edge Width=2; Edge Brightness=17; Smoothness=8.  The layer’s opacity was reduced to 61% to allow a certain amount of the original scene to soften the dramatic effect of the filter tool.   I then created yet another copy of the Background Layer and then applied the Trace Contour effect (Filter–>Stylize–>Trace Contour).  The Level was set at 89 and the Edge was set at “Upper.”  The opacity of this layer was set at 13% to give the filter just a slight effect on the image.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 2016 05 One Photo Focus Final

Final Image

Thanks again to Julie Powel for supplying us this image and thanks again to Stacy for managing this monthly event.  It is always great to see what others have done with the same image, so check them out at OnePhoto Focus May 2016.  In the meantime,

Keep Shooting…..

Return to the Living

There was a good news story in Washington, DC today.  The Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain, situated at the apex of the Federal Triangle complex in downtown Washington, is now operating again after an 8-year hiatus.  In a special ceremony this morning, the 75th anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, the fountain burst back to life in dramatic fashion.

Mellon Fountain 04

Mellon Memorial Fountain, Running Again

Designed in a style similar to a fountain in Genoa, Italy, the Mellon Memorial Fountain consists of three nested bronze basins, from which water cascades into a low granite-curbed pool, measuring 55 feet, 4 inches in diameter. Water is supplied from the central jet or plume, and flows from the two top tiers into largest and deepest of the bronze basins. The water is kept at a constant level by sophisticated controls and is tempered and smoothed by means of a bronze baffle, so that when it finally pours over the lip of the basin, it becomes a clear transparent sheet of water.

Cast by Roman Bronze Works and General Bronze Corporation in 1952, it is thought that this was the largest bronze fountain known at the time of construction. The material is known as statuary bronze—a quaternary alloy made of copper, zinc, tin, and lead, and traditionally golden brown in color.

Sidney Waugh, commissioned to design the reliefs for the lowest basin, created twelve high-relief symbols of the zodiac that were cast in bronze and applied to the fluted wall. The sign of Aries is situated so that the sun shines on Aries on March 21—the vernal equinox.

Mellon Fountain 02

Sunrise, Mellon Fountain

(Photographed today as the rising sun illuminated the basin and the Aires symbol)

I first photographed the fountain six years ago, after I learned about its relationship to the solar cycle.  I visited at sunrise on the morning of that year’s spring equinox and was saddened by its pathetic condition.  I have always been hopeful that it would someday be brought back to life.  The photograph below provides a rough idea of its condition in 2010.

Mellon Fountain 01

Sunrise on Vernal Equinox, March 2010

The fountain and surrounding triangular park, which are dedicated to Gallery founder Andrew W. Mellon, had been the responsibility of the National Park Service.  But in September 2015 custody was transferred to the National Gallery of Art.   The rapidity of the renovation under the aegis of the National Gallery is impressive.

According to the Gallery’s press office, their conservators worked with Washington-area firm Conservation Solutions, Inc. to assist in carrying out the treatment on the bronze fountain. In order to preserve the bronze patina while removing a green mineralization buildup, the team used a special method of blasting dry ice (CO2) on the metal surface instead of using strong chemicals or an aggressive mechanical process to remove the multiple corrosion layers. The process revealed a stunning surface, with original brushstrokes of protective wax visible across the bronze. Several layers of a new protective wax coating were added to help preserve the bronze surface. Annual maintenance will be carried out in the winter when the fountain is not operating.

Mellon Fountain 03

Throwing the Switch

Special thanks to my photo colleague, Michele, who alerted me to this event and to gracious staff at the National Gallery who invited me to attend their press briefing and rededication ceremony.  More can be learned about the history of the fountain here.  Information about the origins of the National Gallery of Art can be found here.

Lunar Eclipse: Not!

September 27, 2015 was the last chance to see a total lunar eclipse in the eastern United States until 2019 according to the cognoscenti.  So even though the skies had been overcast for several contiguous days I didn’t want to wake up this morning and learn that there was a miraculous parting of the clouds for the entire event.

I had a place all picked out for the moonrise, but the clouds close to the horizon blocked the view.  But the next time moon rises at about 90 degrees east (due east), this wouldn’t be a bad place to be. Without the clouds, it would have been right next to the base of the Washington Monument.

WW II Memorial 01

Then, as the time approached for the actual eclipse to begin, I moved over to my chosen location near the German-American Friendship Garden along Constitution Avenue.  The location itself looked like it had potential for a night shot, so I tried a test exposure with my wide angle lens.

Washington Monument 01

But the eclipse was due and the clouds seemed to be breaking up so I set up a few yards away with the hope of getting a series of exposures as the moon tracked across the sky into the earth’s shadow.  These would then be combined into a single image in post-processing.  This, of course, requires a wide angle lens and, because of the timing, a tall building to add some interest to the exposure and the Washington Monument certainly qualifies.  But the skies didn’t really clear and I suspect the substantial amount of clouds in each image will make for a prolonged post-processing effort that may lead nowhere.  However, here is a cropped version of one of the images during the totality phase.

Lunar Eclipse 01 (lighter)

Imagine, if you will, a wider (uncropped) image with a sequence of moons in various stages of the eclipse crossing over the top. My first attempt at this, last year, can be seen here with the Lincoln Memorial

Keep Shooting…..

Washington DC — November Scouting Report

Breaking News:  The scaffolding for the US Capitol Dome project is now completely up, but the unique illumination that makes it an interesting subject at night (see image below) may be about to disappear.  A check on the east front of the building showed an enormous white plastic sheet enveloping about 60% of the dome and scaffolding on that side and a small portion of the north side.

Capitol Dome Scaffolding

                                  US Capitol Under Repair  (View of West Front)                                   (Nikon D800E with 20-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; exposure 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

This week, I made two scouting runs into the city to determine the feasibility of an evening shoot in the coming weeks.   Along the way, I checked the status of other sites that may be of interest to local photographers.

The Bad News

Fountains: A number of the major and minor fountains are no longer running, having been shut down for the winter.  These include the Bartholdi Fountain, the Court of Neptune at the Library of Congress, the two small fountains on the plaza of the Supreme Court, the Joseph Darlington Memorial Fountain at the intersection of Indiana Avenue and 5th Street NW, and the Mellon Fountain at the Federal Triangle.  And, of course, the long neglected but potentially impressive Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues to languish along with the two smaller basins on its flanks.

The Tulip Library:  The colorful annuals that were blooming in profusion not many weeks ago are now gone.  But in the spring there will be a new display of tulips providing a great foreground for images of the Washington Monument.

National Gallery, East Wing: There is still one crane remaining alongside the building on the Constitution Avenue side.  Close crop shots from a number of angles are possible, however.

Renwick Gallery:  The renovation, begun earlier this year, is still underway and will probably last through next year. The Gallery is closed and well hidden behind the construction scaffolding.

Old Post Office: Also closed, also lots of scaffolding plus an enormous sign with the new owner’s last name prominently displayed.

The Good News

Fountains:  Some are still running, but time is growing short.  The World War II Memorial seems to be in full operation and likely will be one of the last to shut down.  Others that still have running water include the new Disabled for Life Veterans Memorial (plus the flame was going strong this afternoon), the cascades on the northwest side of the American Indian Museum, the Senate Garage Fountain (although the illumination was turned off a few nights ago), the reflecting pool at the Japanese Internment Memorial (Louisiana Avenue and D Street, NW), and the twin fountains/cascades on the plaza of the US Navy Memorial (Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street, NW).

Kennedy Center:  The large temporary tent that had been erected on the south side of the building is now gone.  Those wishing to take photographs from the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge pedestrian sidewalk or from vantage points on that side of the Center will no longer have to contend with this.

Upcoming Events

The 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree is making its way from Minnesota and is scheduled to arrive at 10 AM on November 21st.  The lighting ceremony will be on December 2nd.  Traditionally, the Capitol Police have suspended the requirement for permits to use a tripod on the Capitol grounds for the entire month of December.  Hopefully, that will be repeated this year.  Stay tuned….

Preparations for the National Christmas Tree and Pathway to Peace are well underway now on the ellipse, but much remains to be done.  The lighting ceremony will be on December 6th.

The National Hanukkah Menorah to celebrate the 8-day Jewish holiday will also be on the ellipse.  The lighting ceremony will be at 4 PM on December 16th.

So, get out and get shooting…

Dupont Circle Fountain, Washington, DC

photographybykent

You wouldn’t know it to look at this picture, but this fountain stands in the center of the most congested traffic circle in Washington, DC.     But if you are a pedestrian, this is a wonderful place to settle on a nearby bench and enjoy a brief respite.

I was on my way to a meeting last Friday and, thanks to a smooth ride on the Metro, had some extra time when I emerged from the station less than a block away.   I stopped to take a few shots, and then continued on to my appointment. (Technical: (Nikon D800E with Nikon 20mm f/2.8 fixed lens, handheld. Exposure: 1/1250th sec. @ f/4, ISO 400)

This B&W version has been submitted to this week’s running of the Monochrome Madness series managed by Leanne Cole.  This is a great place to find some excellent monochrome images and it will appear on her blog  on Tuesday morning, November 4th.

The fountain at Dupont Circle is a memorial to Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont who became the first naval hero for the Union in the Civil War when his fleet captured Port Royal, South Carolina in a daring attack. There is a lot more to this story as well as Dupont Circle, but that will have to wait for a future post.  If you can’t wait, check out page 343 of James M. Goode’s encyclopedic volume, “Washington Sculpture: A Cultural History of Outdoor Sculpture in the Nation’s Capital.”

In the meantime, only a short time remains for you to vote in the After-Before Friday Forum to select the lucky image that will be turned over to eleven photographers each of whom will perform their post-processing magic on it.  Votes may be cast at Stacy Fischer’s VisualVenturing blog.

Central Park, Part 2

This last weekend, I was in New York City for a brief visit and spent a fair amount of time in Central Park, at least the area around the Bethesda Terrace.  The picture I posted last Sunday of the Bethesda Fountain was only one (although my favorite) of the several I took while there.  Here are a few more.

Central Park 10

The Terrace’s quietest moments are in the early morning on weekends.  This image, taken on Saturday morning from an overlook balcony shows that dog owners are among the first to arrive with their canine companions.  The nearby roads are already bustling with bikers and runners.

Central Park 02

The Terrace borders the Lake and is the second largest body of water in Central Park.  The image above, taken at sunrise, was taken from the pathway leading away from Bethesda Terrace towards Central Park West.  The twin towers are the San Remo co-op apartments, originally built in 1930.

Central Park 05

The famous Bow Bridge is nearby, leading into the Ramble, which was described by Frederick Law Olmstead, the park’s designer, as a “36-acre wild garden.”  It is a rolling forest of trees, plantings, and wildlife. Once there, it is easy to forget one is in the center of New York City. Because of the park’s location along the Atlantic flyway migration route, the Ramble is the center of birding activity in the Park. The image above, taken in mid-morning, is the view as one emerges from the Ramble to cross the Bow Bridge and head back toward the Bethesda Terrace.  As I crossed the bridge a few minutes later, a young man was kneeling before his companion, asking her to marry him.

Central Park 08

The nearby Loeb Boathouse has boats available for rent and, on warm afternoons, rowing a boat about The Lake is a popular activity.  One can also rent a piloted gondola for $30 per half hour (above).  The area around Bethesda Terrace almost always has several commercial photo shoots underway but the photographer in the boat has found a way to escape the competition for a prime spot.

Central Park 06

In the late afternoon, I spotted a “Balloon Man” whose shimmering creations were delighting a trio of youngsters who had wandered away from a wedding party photo session.  This image was taken from the same balcony as the panorama image of the Terrace and Fountain above.  The balcony is immediately above a pedestrian pass-through that is illuminated at night (below).  The glowing gold of the ornate ceiling attracts photographers like a flame lures moths.  This image was taken while navigating two fashion shoots and a skillful itinerant musician playing a guitar and singing romantic tunes.

Central Park 04

The Loeb Boat House not only rents boats, but also has a restaurant with some prime views.  By this time the image below was taken, the boat rental facility had closed, but the dinner hour was in full swing.  There is also a café that has a passable breakfast for under $7.00 starting at 8 AM.

Central Park 07

Finally, it was time to leave  but as I walked back toward Central Park West, I was struck by the ethereal quality of the Bow Bridge as its white masonry took on a luminous quality in the evening twilight.

Central Park 03