Cherry Blossoms–Not Yet!

Although the cherry blossoms have yet to  fully awaken, there are plenty of other photographic opportunities right now in Washington, DC.

At sunrise two days ago, the tidal basin was almost completely deserted.   The sky was clear which means you can get the shot below as the sun clears the horizon.

Jefferson Sunrise 02

Sunrise, April 2, 2015

At sunrise the  next day, rain clouds were coming in from the west but there were some openings in the eastern sky.  Again, the tidal basin was deserted.

Jefferson Sunrise

Sunrise, April 3, 2015

The rain started within an hour after the image above was taken but it was a light rain so I checked out the status of the pink magnolia trees in Rawlins Park (E Street, Foggy Bottom) that usually are open before the cherry blossoms.

Tulip Trees 01

Afternoon Rain Shower, Rawlins Park

Tulip Trees 02

Magnolia, Rawlins Square

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Magnolia, Rawlins Square

While photographing the square, I noticed some white magnolias across the street at the Red Cross National Headquarters (20th and E Streets NW).  A quick check showed that an evening shot might be worthwhile.

Red Cross 01

Evening, Red Cross Headquarters

This morning, I checked out the Enid Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle on Independence Avenue.

Tulip Trees 05

Morning, April 4, 2015

If you want to photograph these trees, don’t delay.  They go quickly and inclement weather is forecast for mid-week.You can also find them in the Sculpture Garden (National Gallery of Art) and at the George Mason Memorial near the Jefferson Memorial.

Scouting Report: Getting Ready for Spring

The signs are unmistakable: the calendar says March, sunrise is coming earlier each day, the temperatures are rising, and the snow is disappearing.

Jefferson at Sunrise

Jefferson Memorial at Sunrise, March 12, 2012

After all, it’s been 3 years since I got a decent image on March 12th.  So yesterday afternoon (March 12th), I made a scouting run into the city to check out a few sites for possible photo opportunities.  As I made the rounds, it appeared that conditions were promising for a sunset image (see below) so I kept my eye on the clouds building up as I explored the area around the National Mall.

The scouting findings may be of interest to photographers in the Washington, DC area, others can skip to the end and see what happened at 7:25 PM.

Solar Cycle:  For the next few days, the late afternoon sun (when skies are clear) will be providing some opportunities as it illuminates the Federal Triangle Buildings along the north side of Constitution Avenue and the recently renovated Arts and Industries Building on Independence Avenue.

Fountains:  As usual at this time of year, virtually all of the fountains are still shut down for the winter.  This includes the fountains and pool at the World War II Memorial and the Reflecting Pool between the WW II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  In addition, the waterfall at the northwest corner of the Museum of the American Indian is dry and the waterfalls at the FDR Memorial are also turned off.

The Tidal Basin:  There is a significant amount of ice still in the Basin, but this should be melted in a few days.

National Gallery, East Wing: The large construction crane is finally gone, although there is still a considerable amount of fencing and construction equipment on the south and east sides of the building.  However, there are good angles on the west side of the building.

Ongoing Construction:  The US Capitol is still under scaffolding, of course, and the white plastic wrap covering part of the scaffolding has been altered for the worse (who would have thought that was possible) by adding a section with a tawdry taupe color.  The new African American Museum is still far from completion and news reports state that the opening date has been pushed back to early 2017.  There is better news a few blocks to the west where the interminable construction project for a relatively small flood control wall (17th Street and Constitution Avenue) is all but wrapped up.  The unsightly wooden fence on the northeast corner of 17th and Constitution is gone, leaving a rather graceful stone wall curving toward the Washington Monument.  Across 17th, the construction equipment has been removed and the landscaping seems completed.  However, there are still some chain link fences protecting the larger trees along 17th Street.

Upcoming Events

March 14: DC Rock ‘n Roll MarathonThe Start Time 7:30 AM likely will complicate efforts to photograph anything else so plan accordingly.  Details here.

March 20: The Equinox.  Check your Photographer’s Ephemeris app for an opportunity near you.

March 28: Kite Festival, the long-running kite festival will be in its usual location on the grounds of the Washington Monument starting at 10:00 AM.  For details, click here.

April 4: Full Moon. Check your Photographer’s Ephemeris app for an opportunity near you.

Kite Festival 02

Kite Festival

Kite Festival 03

Kite Festival

Sunset at the FDR Memorial

As the sun edged closer to the horizon last night, I made my way over to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial which is located on the west side of the Tidal Basin.  DC locals might think this is a strange location to capture a sunset, but I thought it would be a good backdrop for a specific feature at the Memorial.  The result is shown below.

Roosevelt Memorial

FDR Memorial at Sunset, March 12, 2015

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod, extended to 24mm; exposure 1 sec. @f/16, EV = -1.0 ISO 400.)

The Memorial, on 7.5 acres chronicles the four terms of Roosevelt’s Presidency.  This section, with the five pillars and five panels on the wall, were intended to represent the social programs (New Deal) during his presidency. The design has been criticized as the “least successful” of the many sculptures in the Memorial, and I would agree that their intended symbolism is opaque.  Nevertheless, I have found them to be an interesting photographic subject.

Coming Soon–Iguazu Falls (Really!)

Journey to Antarctica – Part 4

First, a quick update on the Herndon ArtSpace Fine Art Photography Competition.  I was quite pleased on Saturday evening to receive a 3rd Place Award for my “Clearing Storm, Yosemite Valley” image (see my previous post here).  Maybe I should do this more often…or should I quit while I’m ahead?   Anyway, back to the saga of the White Continent……….

Antartica Map 03 Version 2

It seems that every Antarctica trip veteran we met before our departure had a different story about the weather.  Although we’ve been there only once, it’s pretty easy to see why.  Even when conditions are not extreme (i.e., enormous waves, huge storms), the weather is still volatile and often localized. This combination can make things very interesting. The following sequence of images on our passage through the Lemaire Channel is just one example.

Antarctica 19

Lemaire Channel, Looking South at Sunrise

Antarctica 20

Lemaire Channel, Looking East  (One Minute Later)

Antarctica 21Lemaire Channel (25 Minutes Later)

Lemaire Channel is about 7 miles long and a mile wide at its narrowest point. Because of the closeness of the sheltering mountains, it can be as smooth as a lake.  Icebergs, however, can block the passage especially earlier in the season.   Our destination was Petermann Island, home to another colony of Gentoo penguins and no iceberg congestion interfered (two images below).

Antarctica 22

Gentoo Penguin Surveys His/Her Domain

Antarctica 23

Gentoo Penguins on Petermann Island

Petermann Island was the southernmost point of our expedition, even though we would not have complained had the captain decided to break ranks and continue on. But such was not the case and that evening we retraced our route through the Lemaire Channel. On the positive side, we were treated not only to some very nice evening light by the setting sun but also the spectacle of a rising full moon (images below)

Antarctica 24

Sunset, Antarctica

Antarctica 25Alpen Glow, Antarctica

Antarctica 26

Moonrise, Antarctica

Next—Paradise Bay and Beyond

Taking a Short Break

If all goes according to the plan, I’ll be on my way to Buenos Aires this evening, the first leg of a journey to Antarctica.  I expect to be totally disconnected from the Internet for the next 20 days, which means tI won’t be posting anything  or visiting the sites of fellow bloggers during that time.  Also, I won’t be able to reply to any comments until I get back.  Hopefully, I’ll have something interesting to share when I return.  In the meantime, here are few images to put us all in the mood for the cold weather.

Canada 01

Sunrise, Vermilion Lakes, Canada

Canada 02Fresh Snow, Banff, Canada

Mount Rainier

Clearing Storm, Mount Rainier

Crater Lake 01

Morning Light, Crater Lake

Cherry Blossoms: Final Report

It was all too brief.  They were late to arrive, then came in with a rush, delighted us for just a few days, and now they are leaving.  For those of us who want to photograph them, it seems harder each year as more and more people descend upon this little landscape of pink trees framed by blue water and skies with constantly changing hues.

I guess it started on March 29th when the first hints appeared. An early morning fog blanketed the scene with an air of mystery, the almost invisible shade of pink suggestive of what might be in store.  The nearly deserted sidewalks suggested that only a privileged few knew of this place. For more than a week, the tease continued.  But by the morning of April 8th, the buds were beginning to open.  From a distance, the trees glowed with that distinctive pink while up close you could anticipate something better was yet to come.

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April 8, 2014, 6:43 AM, overcast sky

But suddenly, the accelerator was pushed to the floor and in the next 24 hours, the blossoms swelled considerably.  Yet the number of people was still manageable.  There was no real problem finding a place to set up.  But warning bells of experience from past years were sounding in my brain.

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Sunrise, April 9, 2014

On Thursday April 10th, the floodgates opened and, as if on signal, a human tsunami rolled into the Tidal Basin.  For a brilliant description of the crowds from the perspective of a photographer, you can’t do better than the post by Mitch Zeissler. People wandering through the scene are a fact of life for DC photographers and adaptation is the only alternative to surrender.  One approach is combining patience with anticipation.  This image below is a merge of 4 separate shots, the first three taken from the extreme left to the middle right.  Then I waited until there was a brief moment when the sidewalk in the foreground was relatively clear and took the fourth image.

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Sunrise, April 10, 2014

An obvious tactic is to incorporate the people in the image.  The tree below was a magnet for every camera phone that came by.  At any given moment some half dozen people would be somewhere in the foreground of this scene even though I was less than 10 feet from the tree.  The image here is actually a merge of 9 images shot of small sections of the tree that had no one in the picture.  But the portion immediately under the low branch arching over the sidewalk was always packed.  Then another photographer with a model appeared and the river of pedestrians kindly diverted around the tree to allow the fashion shoot to proceed undisturbed.   I grabbed the final shot with just the two of them in it.  Below it is what a photographic ethicist would call blatant cheating.  The two were removed digitally

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Early Morning April 10, 2014

         ImagePhotoshop “Cheating”

The next morning I arrived about 45 minutes before sunrise and managed to find a location that held some promise for an unobstructed composition.  The result is the image below.  This one is a merge of six images.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; Focal length 31mm, exposure 0.5 sec @f/16, EV set @ -1; flash unit off camera handheld with flash power reduced 3 stops and set at rear curtain sync.)

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Dawn, April 11, 2014

The next day was a Saturday, the weather was forecast to be perfect, and the Cherry Blossom parade was scheduled for later that morning.  It didn’t take a genius to know that the crowds would be far worse, but a friend and I bravely set forth to see what we could find.  As it happened, things worked out OK, and this is one image from that morning, taken at 6:25 AM. (Technical Data: Single image taken with Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; Focal length 70mm,exposure 1/5th sec @ f/16, no flash.)

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Morning Twilight, April 12, 2014

It was a beautiful day and about as perfect as it gets here so the long walk back to the car was quite special, if you don’t mind sharing the moment with 50,000 people.  But signs of the end were clearly visible.  The occasional small flecks of tiny pink petals floating down from the trees told the tale.  The blossoms had peaked and the downward decline had begun.  The cycle was moving onward and a year from now we’ll be back here again.  I can hardly wait.

It was a good plan, but….

One of my least favorite clichés is the advice that when given lemons, you should make lemonade.  I hear it a lot when I grumble to someone about unexpected complications that ruined a plan for a specific image.  That’s all well and good (at least you have something), but you still didn’t get what you really wanted.  I don’t dismiss this advice; you should always try to make the best of any given situation.  But many years ago a photographer gave me what I think is far better advice and that was “Keep Showing Up.”

Those who read my post of 9 March already know that this is the time of year to capture a perfect solar alignment with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  And so for the past five days I have been showing up n front of the Memorial about 30 minutes before sunrise.  What follows is a tale of following two guiding principles: making lemonade and being persistent.

The forecast for 20 March, the actual day of the vernal equinox, was for clear skies, exactly the conditions required for the image I was after.  But I awoke at 5:30 AM to find a dense fog so thick you couldn’t see half of the Washington Monument.

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and it was obvious that my chances were slim.  So I set about making lemonade.  I’ve learned you often can get the twilight blue color (see my post about Magic Hour) with cloudy weather just as you can with clear skies.  The lighting system of the Lincoln Memorial is very well balanced for this time of day.

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The artificial lamps enhance the architectural features of the building and there is just enough ambient light 20 minutes before sunrise to provide detail in the unlit surroundings.  For about 3-4 minutes, the Memorial looks like a shining jewel box set against a brilliant blue background.  The above image was shot at 6:48 AM about 24 minutes before sunrise.

The next day there was a heavy cloud cover and again things look unpromising.  But clouds can often bring drama to an

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otherwise ordinary image.  So I waited a little longer than I had the previous day in order to get greater detail on the clouds but still retain the special quality of the lighting system working its magic on the exterior and interior of the Memorial.  The above image was photographed at 6:55 AM, about 17 minutes before sunrise.

I should add that aside from weather problems, each day featured an interesting cast of characters that affected my opportunities for shooting.  It surprises most people to learn that the Lincoln Memorial is a very popular place in the early morning.  Most common is the exercise crowd.  The two most impressive in this group were the squad of soldiers in full camouflage and full equipment packs doing laps around the Reflection Pool and a trio of very fit young women who ran up and down the steps of the Memorial for about an hour with only occasional breaks for some stretching exercises.

But I digress.  On the third day the clouds were still with me and I had little choice but to make more lemonade.  At least it had been relatively warm all three days.  I decided to try my luck inside the building since I had very little of that kind of lemonade in my stock inventory.  I found a nice location on the north side of the statue that made it possible to include the key part of the statue, all of

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the dedication text above the statue, and the complete Gettysburg speech on the south wall in the background.  It may be hard to read in this version but when it is fully enlarged to about 30” X 36” the engraved writing is easy to read.  (Technical note: this image is actually 4 separate images merged together into a single image, taken at 7:18 AM, about 7 minutes after sunrise.)  I think this is the best batch of lemonade of the week.

Having already disproved the old adage that the “Third Time is the Charm” I ventured out again on Sunday morning, encouraged by the small break in the clouds to the east.  But it was more likely that the best angle this day would be to point the camera toward the Washington Monument.  A mix of clouds and open sky in the east can often bring spectacular sunrises and I thought I would try a different angle, suggested by a fellow photographer on the first day.

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If we insist on sticking with the lemonade analogy, the above image is probably Grade B, but the drawbacks (scaffolding on the Washington Monument, an near-empty Reflection Pool, and a construction crane over the new Museum of African American History) do provide some contextual interest.

So, this morning (March 24) was Day number 5 and if you have read this far, you are probably praying for a happy ending (or any kind of ending).  The forecast called for a sharp drop in temperature, some wind (ugh!) and clear skies.  And they were spot on.  The sequence of pictures below show what happened over a 5-minute period.  So it would appear that both pieces of advice were correct.  When conditions didn’t favor the plan, I was able to capture some images I would otherwise not have gotten.  And by the fact that I kept showing up, I also got the image I was after.

looking west at 7:10:38 AM Sun is partially visible just to north of Washington Monument

looking west at 7:10:38 AM Sun is partially visible just to north of Washington Monument which is behind the camera.

7:14:23 AM Sun is barely visible just to south of Washington Monument

7:14:23 AM Sun is barely visible just to south of Washington Monument

7:18:00 AM Sun is almost completely visible on south side of Washington Monument

7:18:00 AM Sun is almost completely visible on south side of Washington Monument

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7:19:17 AM

Perfect Solar Alignment