A Winter Day in Central Park

I was in New City on Thursday for a quick business trip with my wife.  Arriving a few hours before the business meeting, we decided to take a walk in Central Park.

 

NYCD-16-01-28-1778A Horse Carriage Continues a 150-year Tradition

The recent snow is no problem for the horse carriages, but the city’s mayor is still out to curtail, if not eliminate, them.

 

NYC D-16-01-28-1663Artists selling their works were out in force.

 

 

NYC D-16-01-28-1650As were couples recording their memories.

 

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The ice rink was busy as usual

But our destination was the zoo.  At the entrance one will find the famous George Delacorte Musical Clock, which is built on a triple archway passage into the zoo.  Flanking the clock on either side are G. R. Roth’s Honey Bear and Dancing Goat bronze sculptures dating from 1935.

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Roth’s Honey Bear

Supposedly during daylight hours, a selected tune is played by bells while bronze sculptures of a bear with tambourine, a hippopotamus with violin, a goat with pan pipes, a kangaroo and offspring with horns, and a penguin with drum glide around the base of the clock. In addition, on the hour, two bronze monkeys on the top of the clock appear to strike a bell. We saw the monkeys striking the bell, but the animals did not move while the song was played.  Still, it is a very cool clock.

NYC D-16-01-28-1669Visitors Watching the Delacorte Clock Announce the Time

 

Inside the zoo, the visitors were often as entertaining as the inmates.

NYC D-16-01-28-1672Sea Lion Striking a Pose

 

NYC D-16-01-28-1700This Snow Monkey appeared distraught that the snow in his compound had mostly melted.

 

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A Seal Creates a Kaleidoscope of Reflections as it Swims

But our favorite stop was the snow leopard compound where, if one is lucky and patient, they can capture an image that almost appears to be taken in the wild.

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Snow Leopard Cub (about 20 Months) Moves Across the Snow

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The Same Cub, Striking a Pose

The cub shown here is one of a pair of twins who, a few minutes earlier, had been frolicking in the snow.  But unfortunately, their antics were almost completely obscured by rocks and bushes so that classic, prize winning image was not captured.  So I guess I will have to….

Keep Shooting…..

 

 

Virginia Road Trip: Buzzard Rock and Thoroughfare Gap

Memorial Day weekend is great time to be in Washington DC—if you are a fan of motorcycles, parades, and ceremonies.  We decided to go the other direction on Sunday, heading west toward Front Royal and the George Washington National Forest.

We had heard about an “easy hike” near Front Royal, called “Buzzard Rock” that features a nice overlook of the Shenandoah Valley.  Not nearly as well-known as more popular hikes such as Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, or Dark Hollow Falls we guessed that it would not be very crowded.

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 Looking North from First Outlook

We arrived at the trailhead at 10:00 AM—later than advisable if you want to beat the crowds, but there were still a couple spots left in the small parking lot.  It’s a 4-mile roundtrip, with a gradual elevation gain of about 650 feet along a fairly well-marked trail.  It’s a pleasant walk up to the first overlook where one is rewarded with some nice scenery of the Valley below.  There is also a good view of a fish hatchery along Passage Creek (Image below).

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Fish Hatchery as seen from First Outlook

While the views at the top were nice, I would not place this trail on my top 10 list for Virginia hikes within a 2-hour drive of Washington.   But that’s OK, because the more interesting portion of the day was still ahead.

Our mission was to find the secret route to Chapman’s Mill, a massive historic stone structure that is in full view (about 100 yards away) of thousands of cars on Interstate 66.  My previous solo attempts had ended in failure, but now that I had the assistance of a skilled navigatrix and her wonder dog Smokey, I felt confident that success was finally within my grasp.

 Virginia 04The Ruins of Chapman’s Mill, (walls now stabilized and braced)

To give you a small sense of the challenge, Chapman’s Mill is located on Beverly Mill Road and once you drive past the mill on I-66 heading east, you must drive 8 more miles and then backtrack the same distance on State Road 55 to get there.

Virginia 05Partially collapsed Interior Wall (much work remains)

Chapman’s Mill was originally built in 1742 and, at 7 ½ stories, is thought to be the tallest stacked stone building in the United States.  The mill is located in Thoroughfare Gap, a narrow passage in the Bull Run Mountains.  The Gap was used by migrating buffalo and traveling American Indians long before Europeans arrived in the area.

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Detail of Wall, Showing Stacked Stone Technique

The gap quickly became a major route to the rich farmland of the Shenandoah Valley, was a strategic route in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War and its importance as a trade route was enhanced with the arrival of a rail line (still operating today) in 1852.Virginia 06

Interior View, showing Rusting Cogwheel (about 6-foot diameter)

The mill was a major food storage and distribution center for the Confederate forces until mid-1862 and was burned by the Confederates when they departed the area.  Rebuilt after the war, it continued to operate as a mill, passing through several owners until it ceased operations in 1946.

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Interior View Showing a Stabilizing Cross Beam

Abandoned for years, it escaped demolition in the 1960s from the planned route for I-66 through the efforts of local citizens and preservation groups.  In 1998, it was torched by an arsonist. The devastation was so extensive that the building seemed doomed to extinction.  But shortly thereafter, a non-profit group obtained the property and launched a restoration campaign.  Phases 1 and 2 (Stabilizing the walls, conducting archaeological research on the site) are completed and fudraising is underway to continue the restoration.

 Virginia 08Smokey, the Wonder Dog, Contemplates the Scene

 

The mill is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.  Click here for more information.

Last Chance! The Magna Carta

Magna Carta 01

The Great Hall, Library of Congress

The Magna Carta, created in 1215, which became the foundation for the rule of law in England and much of the modern world, is on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  As part of its 800th anniversary celebrations.   But there isn’t much time remaining.  The 10-week exhibit closes on January 19th.

Magna Carta 01A

The Magna Carta on Display

The star of the show is the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, one of only four existing manuscript copies of the Magna Carta that date to 1215.  It draws its name from its original home base, the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, England where it was first placed in 1215.

The main principles guiding our democracy today, such as due process of law, the right to a jury trial, freedom from unlawful imprisonment (Habeas Corpus), and the theory of representative government can all be traced to this document, signed on Runnymede meadow alongside the Thames River on June 15, 1215.

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Original Documents Tracing American Democracy

The story of that influence, especially on the American Revolution, is described in the exhibit by more than 70 related artifacts such as the confirmation of the Magna Carta by King Edward I in 1297; George Washington’s copy of a draft of the U.S. Constitution; Jefferson’s copy of the Federalist Papers, a journal of the proceedings of the Continental Congress, and Chief Justice Earl Warren’s draft opinion of the Supreme Court’s Miranda Decision.

If you miss this exhibit, mark your calendars for President’s Day. Monday, February 16th,  one of only two days this year when the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress will be open to the public.

Library of Congress Reading Room

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2014 Studio Tour

Studio Tour 03

Every year in the fall, the artists of Great Falls, Virginia hold an Open Studio weekend, inviting the public into their studios to learn about their art, their techniques, and why they are so dedicated to the creation of visual art.  This year, more than 50 members of Great Falls Studios are participating in this event which will be held this year on 17-19 October from 10 AM to 5 PM each day.  My studio (see images below) will be one of those open and I hope followers of my blog who live in the Washington, DC area will be able to drop by.

But there are 49 other artists as well and information about the tour and each of the participants can be found at the 2014 Great Falls Studio Tour website.  Information is provided about each of the participants so you can design your own itinerary and see works of painters, potters, photographers, jewelers, sculptors, fiber artists, and other media depending on your interests.  The site has a page with links to maps that can be downloaded.  Or you can start at the Studio Tour Headquarters in the Great Falls Library and see actual samples of work from each of our participants, ask questions from our representative who will be there, and pick up a map that will guide you through the roads and byways of Great Falls to the studio locations.  The library, normally closed on Sundays, has graciously agreed to be open on October 19th for this event.

Studio Tour 01

Printing and Matting Area, Lower Studio

Studio Tour 02

Gallery, Upper Studio

I hope to see you here.

After-Before Friday Forum

Kent ABFriday After Pan (Week 19)

The Final Image (After)

For the past four months-plus Stacy Fischer of VisualVenturing has sponsored the After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can display examples of how they process their images to accomplish their creative vision.  Sometimes the changes are substantial; other times they can be minimal.   My submission for this week’s Forum is an example of minimal change (if you don’t count the photomerge steps).   The “After” version shown above has undergone a few adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw and the only actions taken in Photoshop were a simple Photomerge, a cropping, and some sharpening.  The scene is the city of Pittsburgh taken from the sidewalk across the street from a restaurant where we had stopped for dinner (Details on location are at the end of the post)

Kent ABFriday Before (Week 19)

Original Raw Image (left side)

 The image above is one of the two photographs that were merged.  Both had the same exposure (Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 70mm; 1/6th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1600).  The reason for the high ISO and wide-open aperture is the moving boat in the river.

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Adjustments Made in ACR Dialog Window

Opening the images in Adobe Camera RAW, I made only four adjustments, the same for both images.  The screen capture above shows the changes (red arrows).  The specific settings were:

Highlights: Decrease to -39; Shadows: Increase to +45; Clarity: Increase to +18 Vibrance: Increase to +14.

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File > Automate > Photomerge

The two images were then opened in Photoshop and processed through the Photomerge routine.  The screen capture above shows the command sequence which is under “File” on the main command line of Photoshop.  After clicking on “Photomerge” (red arrow), the Photomerge Dialog window appears as shown below.

Kent ABFriday Before 04 Week 19

Photomerge Display Window

The screen capture above shows the dialog window for the Photomerge routine.  If the images are open, click on “Add Open Files” (red arrow) and the image files will be listed (other red arrow).  Usually, the default selections of “Auto” and “Blend Images Together” (yellow arrows) will do the job.  Click “OK” and the system will chug away for a little while and then display the results.

Kent ABFriday Before 05 Week 19

The screen capture above shows a small portion of the merged image and the layers palette (red arrow) showing a separate layer for each image.  The white areas in the mask icons represent the section of the image that was used. The blue arrow shows a section of the irregular border created during the routine.

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Merged Panorama Before Cropping

The image above shows the full panorama immediately after the merging is completed.  The borders are always irregular (red arrows), often much more than shown here.  The next step, before any further actions are taken, is to flatten the image.  The only remaining step in this example is a crop to eliminate the uneven edges, producing the final image shown below.  Sharpening should not be applied until the image is sized for printing.

Kent ABFriday After Pan (Week 19)

 Final Panorama

The location for capturing this image is across the street from the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto located at 1411 Grandview Avenue #2 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It is one of the better restaurants in the city and the window seats boast a view pretty close to this image.   Because the vista is pretty spectacular at twilight, it’s unlikely you will have the sidewalk all to yourself.  But if you are visiting Pittsburgh, this is a location you may want to check out.But before you go there, you should check out the other submissions to Week 19 at Visual Venturing.

Hidden Gem: Bartholdi Fountain

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Bartholdi Fountain, Evening Light

Last Friday, a photographer colleague and I went into the city to take some photographs of the Bartholdi Fountain, located directly across Independence Avenue from the US Botanic Garden.  The fountain is located in Bartholdi Park, a two-acre garden managed by the US Botanic Garden. It is named after Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the 30-foot tall fountain which is the central feature of the park.  Bartholdi is best known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty. The fountain was originally commissioned for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and was brought to Washington afterwards.  It fell into disrepair but a 3-year restoration was completed in 2011 and the result was well worth the wait. (Technical data for above image: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 24mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; 5 separate images photomerged)

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Bartholdi Park, April 2012

The park features a wonderful horticultural display that changes with the seasons.  Tables, with folding umbrellas and chairs surround the fountain and benches are placed among the plantings where one can enjoy a few moments of serenity a short distance from the US Capitol Building. The park’s website can be found here. (Technical data for above image: Nikon D700 on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens @ 70mm; 1/100th @ f/16, ISO 400)

Bartholdi Carla Steckley

Bartholdi Fountain by Carla Steckley

The best time, at least in my opinion, to photograph the fountain is during the evening twilight as shown above in the image taken by my colleague about 25 minutes after sunset.   (Technical Data: Canon DSLR on tripod with 13-85mm EF-S  f/3.5 lens; 1/20th sec  @ f/13, ISO 100)

It was an excellent evening for a shoot.  The weather was perfect, the fountain was illuminated and flowing normally, a fresh bed of pansies had been planted in the circular plot, creating a floral necklace around the basin.  The glass dome of the Botanic Garden across the street was being illuminated from within by a  green light.  A few people passed through the park while we there, but we were quite impressed  with a group of five (see image at top) who brought in a tablecloth, silverware, sparkling water, an assortment of cheeses, and other good things and had what looked like a wonderful evening as we moved around photographing the fountain.

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Bartholdi Fountain, Looking Southeast

Twilight lasts only a short time, but sometimes the lights of the city will illuminate the clouds overhead with an interesting color.  The image above, looking in a southeasterly direction toward the Rayburn House Office Building, was photographed just before we left, about 45 minutes after sunset. (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 48mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

And on nights when there is a moon, clouds are less desirable as shown in the image below taken last year. (Technical data Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @70mm; 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 800, 5 images photomerged)  This could have easily been a single image by bringing the extension back to about 35mm, but the moon would have looked quite small with that approach.

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Full Moon and Bartholdi Fountain, June  2013