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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

It’s Later Than You Think

Spring is arriving early in Washington, DC this year and time is running out for those wanting to partake of the annual visual treats that emerge after winter every year.  The cherry blossoms still have a ways to go, but there is much to be seen already.  A good place to start is the Smithsonian Institution’s Enid Haupt Garden on Independence Avenue.  I visited it late yesterday afternoon and found the magnolia trees in perfect condition.

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Moongate Garden and Smithsonian Castle

(Nikon D810 on tripod, with 24-70mm f.2.8 lens extended to 26mm; exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400; two vertical images photomerged)

When I moved to the opposite side of the Moongate pool, another opportunity presented itself.

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Magnolia Tree and West Wing, Smithsonian Castle

(Nikon D810 on tripod, with 24-70mm f.2.8 lens extended to 50mm; exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400; approximately 45 minutes before sunset)

The above image is a view toward the north.  But there was more.  The setting sun occasionally found an opening in the clouds and provided a few brief illuminations of the Arts and Industries Building to the east as shown in the image below.

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Magnolia Trees, Enid Haupt Garden

(Nikon D810 on tripod, with 24-70mm f.2.8 lens extended to 66mm; exposure: 1/13th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400; approximately 40 minutes before sunset)

Update:  A check on the cherry blossoms early this morning (March 11) showed that it will be at least a few days before they are ready for their moment to shine.

OnePhoto Focus (March)

It’s the first Friday of the month and that means it’s time for Stacy Fisher’s famous OnePhoto Focus where everyone gets a chance to apply their magic touches to the same image.  But before we get to that, a flash back to last month when I visited the Washington National Cathedral for a morning shoot.

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Morning Light, National Cathedral

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 44mm; two images photomerged, exposure 0.5 sec@ f/16, ISO 400)

The National Cathedral has recently started a series of special sessions for photographers who wish to capture images of the interior before the doors open for the public.  The number of photographers is limited to about 25 and reservations can be made in advance. Tripods are allowed and, depending on the day some areas may not be open. Cost of admission is $30.  Details can be found here.

Now back to our main program, the monthly OnePhoto Focus.  This month’s photograph was contributed by Nancy Merrill.  The original is shown below.

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Original Image by Nancy Merrill

The building, as the sign indicates, is a theatre dedicated to the works of Shakespeare.  The theatrical theme seemed to be a good one to run with and, as we all know, theatre deals with fantasy.  So I thought I would go with that.

No need to go into the boring details of the “image prep” phase in Adobe Camera Raw, largely because Nancy has kindly provided us with a clean, well-exposed, and sharply focused image that needs no heroic efforts.  Only a few standard tweaks were applied.

The next step was to set the scene and it seemed that a visit to Photoshop’s Filter Gallery would be a good place to start.  The “Glowing Edges” effect under the Stylize tab produced an electric effect and, after a little trial and error, the image shown below emerged. The  sign was “protected” from the effects of the filter tool because I had other plans for it.

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“Glowing Edge” Effect Applied

Since this is a Shakespearean Theatre, it seemed appropriate to make that fact very obvious.  A quick online search produced an image of a poster for one of the bard’s most famous plays.  It was superimposed as a separate layer and the opacity was slightly reduced.  A mask was used to paint out the unwanted sections of the poster.

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Sign Added

With the stage and scenery ready, some characters are needed.  Back to the Internet.  This search found several willing participants: a fashion model, a photographer, and a couple descending the stairs.

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Final Image

On a technical note, the procedure I used for adding these elements was to first create a new layer above the background.  The copied images were scaled down using the Edit–>Transform–>Scale tool on the inserted layer (be sure to hold the shift key down to maintain the original aspect ratio).

Thanks again to Stacy for organizing this monthly event. You can see the other versions by the participants by clicking on this link.  And thanks to Nancy for a fun image to edit.

Another Moonrise

Mother Nature scheduled a full moon for last Tuesday evening and while the weather was mild enough, my photo colleague Joan and I watched what might be called the dance of the seven veils from 6:02 PM (scheduled moonrise) to about 6:30 PM when the image below was captured.

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Full Moon over Lincoln Memorial, February 22, 2016

(Technical data: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 165mm; exposure setting: 3 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400 taken at 6:28 PM)

The original idea was to catch the moon as it cleared the horizon, just to the left of the Memorial.  Sunset was 5 minutes before the moonrise, so we were hoping for the sweet spot in the period of Civil Twilight.  By the time we were able to see the moon, however, the evening was well into the phase known as Nautical Twilight. For details on these various twilight phases check my post on the subject here.

But that’s OK, it was a really nice evening and no other photographers were around.

On a related matter, the Lincoln Memorial is finally being scheduled for a much-meeded sprucing up, thanks to a substantial donation from a private citizen.  Check here for the details.  The announcement was made on February 12th, Lincoln’s birthday that David Rubenstein, who has also donated funds for the repair of the Washington Monument and Iwo Jima Memorial, had provided a gift of $18 million to fix up the Memorial and add a large visitor center underground.

So before this project begins, those of us who want to photograph the Memorial had best get going.  Hint:  The next scheduled moonrise is on March 23rd.

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: Thanksgiving Eve

Last night, my sister (who is a photographer based in Pennsylvania) and I decided to try and capture an image of the full moon rising.  My sister is visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday and the coincidence of a full moon in late November on a perfectly clear night with temperatures in the low 60s was impossible to resist.  The result is posted below.

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Moonrise, Washington, DC

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Keep shooting….