Cherry Blossoms at Peak

 

The cherry trees were entering the peak phase today and the tidal basin was lined with photographers at sunrise.  Last night, however, there was a full moon and only three of us (photo colleagues Joan and Cynthia) were shooting in this new location.

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Full Moon, View from Virginia Shoreline

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 165mm; exposure: 2.5 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 400; taken about 35 minutes after sunset)

While the moon was rising the cherry trees were hard at work, getting ready for this morning.  Both of the images below were taken before sunrise this morning.

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Dawn, Tidal Basin

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 24mm; exposure: 5 sec. at f/16, ISO 800; On-camera flash at reduced power to provide slight fill on blossoms, taken about 35 minutes before sunrise)

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Dawn, Jefferson Memorial

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 48mm; exposure: 0.5 sec. at f/16, ISO 800; On-camera flash at normal power to provide fill on blossoms, taken about 25 minutes before sunrise)

I suspect none of the photographers there were thrilled to see all those cranes to the left of the Jefferson Memorial.  They are in the early phases of a major development along the waterfront on Maine Avenue.  I suspect most of us will be using Photoshop to “disappear” them.

The blossoms will be with us for a few more days, weather permitting.

Keep Shooting….

Twilight and Beyond: Photography at Night (Part 2)

In the first installment of this mini-series, I suggested including the moon in a night scene as a way to add interest and provided a few examples.  In this segment, we’ll look at the moon in a little greater detail.

In the Washington, DC area, capturing images of a full moon rising has become increasingly popular, largely due to the availability of mobile “apps” to help you be at the right place at the right time.  The general approach is to find a location from which one can photograph the moon perfectly positioned in relation to one of the major monuments.   The image below was captured at the most popular of these locations, on a hill in Rosslyn, Virginia directly in front of the Netherlands Carillon.

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Moonrise, Washington, DC (September 5, 2009)

An image like this is not as easy to obtain as it would appear, even with the help of an app like TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris). Aside from the obvious need for good weather, the time between the moonrise and sunset are critical as is the precise location of the moonrise.  In the case of this image, it was actually taken on the night after the full moon.  On the previous night, the weather was cloudy, the moonrise was 13 minutes before sunset and well to the right of the Lincoln Memorial. On the night of this image, the moonrise was 13 minutes after sunset at the perfect azimuth reading—85.5 degrees.  This photograph was taken about 10 minutes later, very close to the end of civil twilight.

For those wanting to know when the next such opportunity comes, they might want to mark their calendars for October 15, 2016.  It is the night before the full moon and the moon will rise 2 minutes after sunset.  That’s a little closer than ideal, but the azimuth reading is close to perfect, at 84.1 degrees.  Not as good as September 5, 2009, but worth a try if the weather is favorable.

A word of warning:  You will be sharing this location with as many as 100 other photographers, all with tripods.

The Jefferson Memorial is probably the second most popular spot for a moonrise image, often attracting 30-40 photographers on a promising evening. The advantage here is there are more vantage points along the sidewalks of the Tidal Basin.

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Moonrise, Jefferson Memorial (July 31, 2015)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 2 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 106.2 degrees; photograph taken 18 minutes after sunset.)

A similar alignment will occur on April 22, 2016 with a full moonrise 3 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 105 degrees.

One of the challenges in photographing a full moon is exposure.  Once it gets well above the horizon on a clear night, an exposure chosen to capture a twilight scene will often result in an overexposed moon. This will happen even with illuminated buildings as the primary subject.

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Jefferson Memorial, Full Moon and Fireworks (April 4, 2014)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 21 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 99.1 degrees, photograph taken 63 minutes after sunset.)

Tactics for resolving this issue can range from hoping for a light cloud cover to blending two separate exposures in Photoshop or using the HDR bracketed exposure procedure.  Another method is to try for a crescent moon.

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Crescent Moon with Lincoln Memorial (August 17, 2015)

Photographed 35 minutes after sunset.  Note:  In this case, the photograph is taken in same direction as the setting sun.  Therefore, the twilight blue lasts longer than when you are pointing in the opposite direction.

Always consider possible locations when you travel.  Apps like TPE can be really helpful if you check the destination before you go.  For example, Mother Nature had kindly scheduled a full moon during our visit to Paris in 2014.  A check with TPE revealed that it would be possible to have it in a picture with the Eiffel Tower.

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Full Moon and Eiffel Tower (June 13, 2014)

(Technical Notes: Moonrise 8 minutes after Sunset at Azimuth 119.5 degrees. Photograph taken 50 minutes after Sunset. Twilight tends to last longer in Paris than in Washington, DC.)

The next full moon will be on February 22nd.  Pick a spot and …

Keep Shooting….

Twilight and Beyond (Part 1)

I recently had the opportunity to make a presentation to the membership of the  Vienna Photographic Society in Vienna, Virginia on the subject of night photography.  A friend and fellow photographer suggested that the subject might also be of interest to write about here.

For openers, many people might ask why in the world someone would want to go out and photograph things at night. And they have a point, because everything is more difficult in the dark.  It is hard to see what you are doing or where you are going.  And then there is the inconvenient fact that photography relies on light.

But despite the challenges, night photography opens a whole new world of photographic opportunities.  After the sun has set, the world begins to be transformed into something unfamiliar and strange.

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Moonrise, near Marquette, Michigan

As the above image shows, photographing a scene at night produces a totally different result in daylight. Much of what we see at day has disappeared while things we could not see are now apparent. Even more interesting is how a scene becomes more abstract as the light fades.  And in certain cases, you have the ability to capture the passage of time.

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Washington Monument at Night

These other worldly characteristics make it necessary to adopt a different mind-set when photographing at night.  For example, in a night-time urban environment one is dealing with many, perhaps thousands, of light sources instead of just one. But in a landscape environment, you may be dealing with virtually no light.

Although the scene may be radically different than in daytime, the photographer faces the same technical constraints.  The four factors of   aperture, shutter speed, and light sensitivity are still with us, but at an extreme level, often pushing the limits of our equipment.

There is some disagreement among photographers over the definition of “night” when discussing night photography.  For me, it covers any photograph taken in the time between sunset and sunrise.  One of the most magical aspects of this genre, in my opinion, is the slow transformation between daylight and darkness (evening and morning) which is known as twilight.

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World War I Memorial, Washington, DC (19 minutes  after sunset)

 

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US Capitol and Senate Garage Fountain (30 minutes after sunset)

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Paris, Place Concorde Fountain (73 minutes after sunset)

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Ferris wheel, Madison Wisconsin (Night)

Twilight begins at sunset, and while the sun is relatively close to the horizon, illumination is provided by the scattering of sunlight in the sky.   During twilight, the earth is neither fully lit nor completely dark.  The twilight period actually is divided into three separate phases, Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical, each of which is about 30 minutes long.  For further details on these terms check this link.

During the transition between daylight and actual darkness, the quality of light changes rapidly and close attention to what is happening in the scene is advisable.  This is especially true in an urban environment when artificial lights begin to become dominant, overwhelming the ambient light from the fading twilight.

Night Photos Washington CityscapeMoonrise over Kennedy Center, Washington, DC (20 minutes after sunset)

Night Photos Washington TwilightPhotographed 5 Minutes Later

 

My favorite technique for adding drama to a twilight scene is to include a rising or setting moon as shown below.  Taken in 2001, there was no “app” to guide photographers to the

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (7 minutes after sunset)

perfect location.  One needed a real compass and a source of information on the lunar cycle, such as the US Naval Observatory website.

Today, the easy availability of products such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Photo Pils, and others make it much easier.  But there still are a few additional elements that are helpful to know.   That will be the topic of the next installment of this series.

In the meantime,

Keep Shooting…..

Moonrise over Washington, DC

When you are trying for the classic moonrise over the city of Washington, DC, everything has to go perfectly.  Several of us made the effort on October 26th, knowing the weather would be bad on the following night, the night of the full moon.

We also knew before we arrived that conditions would not be perfect because the moon was coming up 15 minutes before sunset and it likely would be too high in the sky by the time the twilight blue was at its peak and the illumination of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and US Capitol were in balance with the ambient light still in the sky.  We also knew that the clouds could pose problems.

But, when we arrived, there was an additional problem.  The Marine Corps Marathon had been held on the previous day and our chosen location (near the Marine Corps Memorial) was also the location of the finish line for the race.  A massive disassembly effort was underway.

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Unexpected Obstructions, 20 Minutes before Moonrise

Moonrise 02Another Surprise

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Passing Truck, 4 Minutes after Moonrise (not visible yet)

But, aside from the occasional passing vehicle, there was nothing that was directly obstructing the view.   By 6:15, the official time for the sunset, the moon was already pretty high and it was still too bright to see the illumination on any of the buildings below us.

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Clouds obscuring the moon at Sunset (6:15 PM)

At 6:30, the twilight was a nice blue color, the clouds had abated, but the moon was too high.

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Ideal Twilight, 15 Minutes after Sunset (6:30 PM)

So the only solution was to back off the focal length, and take the full scene and then do some post processing cheating.  The image above was taken with the telephoto zoom extended to 200 mm and the moon in its actuual location at the time.  The image below, taken a few seconds later with a 145 mm focal length, shows the moon in a decent location.  But it was just “moved” down during the postproceesing from where it was at the time the image was taken.  Not a bad result, but not something I will post on my website or offer for sale.

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“Manufactured” Moonrise over Washington

Lessons Learned:

  1. If one wants to capture an image of the moon rising over the “Big Three” (Lincoln, Washington, and US Capitol), the specific location is right in front of the Netherlands Carillon a short distance south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
  2. Using the well-known app “The Photographer’s Ephemeris,” the moon should be rising at an Azimuth reading of about 85 degrees.
  3. For ideal twilight conditions along with the lighting of the “Big Three,” the moonrise time should be about 15 minutes after sunset.

Keep Shooting….

Ulysses S. Grant: Overdue Repair Job

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The Grant Memorial, Guarding the Capitol’s West Front (November, 2014)

The massive memorial to Ulysses S. Grant, like so many of Washington’s monuments and memorials, has long suffered from neglect.  (See, for example, a January 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal).   Now at last, as reported in today’s edition of the Washington Post, a restoration project is underway.

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Scaffolding for the Grant Memorial Restoration (August, 2015)

When I first photographed the memorial I knew much about Grant, but nothing of the history of the statue.  But I had available a most valuable resource: James M. Goode’s imposing reference, “Washington Sculpture” and found a story that fascinated me.

In 1901, a young, unknown sculptor, Henry Merwin Shrady, submitted design for a prestigious commission: a memorial statue of Ulysses S. Grant and the largest ever commissioned by the US Congress at that time. His 22 competitors were experienced, well-known artists and a furor erupted when the 31-yar old was selected.  He was selected a second time when one of the losers demanded a retrial.

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Artillery Group, on South Flank of Main Statue (January, 2010)

This one work would consume Shrady for the rest of his life, which tragically ended 20 years later and just a few weeks before the memorial’s dedication.  Before he began his work, Shrady conducted intensive research on Civil War history, immersing himself in the details of uniforms, military practices, and the anatomy and physical movement of horses. He was loaned actual uniforms by the secretary of war. West Point and other military schools conducted special drills for him to observe artillery and cavalry maneuvers.  And he investigated much, much more in his unending efforts to bring authenticity to even the smallest aspects of his work.

But despite his premature death, the memorial Shrady produced was unlike any other in the U.S. up to that time. It is vast, with a base 252 feet wide by 71 feet deep, and was the largest bronze-casting project ever undertaken. At its center stands an equestrian statue of Grant. Flanking him, albeit some distance away, are clusters of warriors: a Cavalry Group to the north and an Artillery Group to the south.

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Cavalry Group on North Flank of Main Statue (November 2014)

(Note the tarnished green stains and missing sword blade; note also the face of the fallen soldier under the hooves of the lead horse-thought to be a self portrait of the artist)

Shrady obtained numerous postponements, fending off demands for deadlines while dealing with numerous challenges such as a fire that destroyed the foundry responsible for casting the bronze components and political fights over the proposed location of the memorial.

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Artillery Group at Twilight (November 2014)

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Setting Moon, Grant Memorial and Washington Monument

I’m looking forward to the completion of the renovation project, the memorial will have a totally different look, and new opportunities for photography.  But when the scaffiolding is taken away, those who live here should go back and take a close look at what is by far the most dramatic work of sculpture in the city.  In the meantime,

Keep Shooting……

 

 

Holiday Season in Washington, DC- Part 2

The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol became a regular tradition in 1964.  After some difficulties with keeping a live tree alive, the US National Forest in 1970 became responsible for finding a suitable tree and installing it on the west lawn.  Each year, a different National Forest is selected to contribute the tree. This year, it comes from the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota.  Compared to the National Christmas Tree on the ellipse, the U.S. tree Capitol grounds is less elaborately decorated in a style essentially unchanged at least since I first photographed it in 2002.

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 Capitol Christmas Tree, 2002

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Capitol Christmas Tree, 2010

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Capitol Christmas Tree with Snow, 2010

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Capitol Christmas Tree, 2014

Keep Photographing…

I admire photographers who undertake a mission to take at least one image every day for a specified period of time, often an entire year.  I don’t think I could pull that off, but they have a point.  One needs to keep practicing their craft so it’s a good idea to get out  fairly often even if you don’t have a specific subject in mind. So one afternoon last week I went out for a “practice session.”  The following images were all taken within about 90 minutes.

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US Botanical Garden and US Capitol Building

I just happened to catch a glimpse of this view as I was walking toward the Disabled Veterans Memorial.  I stopped and tried a few variations even though though the plants were in shadow.

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Late Afternoon, Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

The late afternoon sun was doing a nice job illuminating the west end of the Rayburn House Office Building and the lack of wind made it possible to capture a nice reflection in the Memorial’s pool.  I’m not thrilled with this angle, however, and another session might be a good idea.

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Heading back toward the Capitol Building, I was confronted with this composition and set down the tripod, hoping that I could get a picture before I was discovered by the ever vigilant Tripod Police.  There is nothing that motivates one to photograph quickly and efficiently like the knowledge that people with weapons are looking for you.

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U.S. Capitol Building and the “Artillery” Sculpture

This image of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial shows a portion of one of the large sculptures flanking the Grant stature about 100 feet to the left. This has always been a highly dramatic sculpture but now, with the bizarre appearance of the Capitol Building, their pose of wild panic might be viewed with a different interpretation than originally intended by the sculptor.

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Evening, Ulysses S. Grant Statue and U.S. Capitol Building

This was the last image of the evening.  I decided not to press my luck any longer with the the Tripod Police. Plus, I had added a number of images to my inventory documenting this stage of the Capitol Dome Restoration Project.