Now that November has come, DC is seeing peak fall foliage envelope the city. Alongside the foliage was a really nice sunset last night at the Martin Luther King Memorial and Jefferson Memorial
A couple of weeks ago, I flew out to Colorado to tour the amazing landscapes there during early fall. In fact, we decided to take the trip for my moms birthday. To this point, all of my photography trips have been solo affairs where I am completely focused on shooting. That involves staying as close as possible to the sights and tailoring my entire schedule to capturing the location with every available moment I have. This time, it was a more compromised approach to capture photos where possible, but also do the normal touring and vacationing non photographers do! Given this there was less of a focus on photography overall during this quick 3 night trip, but I must say I was pretty impressed with the flexibility my mom showed! It’s hard to follow a photographer when he is less focused on the quality of accommodations and food and more focused on finding amazing sights.
Overall we had a great time! We visited places such as the Garden of the Gods, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Crested Butte. I had the most time to capture images at Great Sand Dunes National Park, where I took the morning to explore the playground of the towering sand stacks. Other than that, we had a great time driving through the amazing mountains and just-turning leaves of the aspens of Colorado.
Through this post, I also want to describe something that has been on my mind regarding the way I am producing images as of this moment.
In my journey as a landscape photographer, I started with the inspiration that feeds so many other photographers like me. I was amazed by the gargantuan scenes with whopping color and shape that some of the most prominent photographers captured. I only dreamed of capturing the same types of images. In looking at the way they captured their shots, often times they went for extreme sharpness and resolution, exploiting every single capability of the most modern cameras and lenses. I followed suit as much as possible, learning techniques such as HDR, focus stacking, etc. and searching for wide and dramatic scenes.
This approach has worked for me, as I have become technically more proficient in using the tools we photographers have available. But over time, a couple of things have happened.
For one, I’ve spent more time closer to home (for various reasons), and have developed a style that dramatizes smaller landscapes. I haven’t been able to visit those grandiose sights I’ve dreamed of. Think Canadian Rockies, Patagonia, Iceland, and all of the other hotspots. This has made me spend more time refining my compositions to isolate the most interesting pieces of what I see. I’ve developed a style that integrates lines and shapes, however large or small. I have gone less wide angle and more zoom, often times forgoing the sky and sunsets/sunrise color in the clouds that so many photographers chase. I think this is a good thing, as it’s refined my eye in a way that has been, frankly, very difficult. I think I can apply this method back to the large scenes when I encounter them again.
Also, I’ve adopted a more fine art approach to my images as a result of working closer with the art community. I have had the good fortune of collaborating with fine art consultants in the Washington DC area and have taken note on what they find appealing. It’s rarely the super saturated sunset or sunrise that so many landscape photographers chase. It’s more subtle with color, as to perhaps be more realistic, but conversely more liberal with exposure, which adds an additional creative element that is missed in traditional landscape photography. Some themes that fine art buyers go for contradict landscape photography rules: center compositions, intentional motion blur that reduces sharpness, vignetting, under exposure and black and white. I find that this type of imagery is much harder to make well, but more fulfilling when achieved.
I’ve seen the effects of these two factors on my images. They are closer comps, more moody, and sometimes fly in the face of “good” landscape photography. Now, when I’m in the field, I may decide to handhold, open up, forgo a tripod, try a motion or zoom blur, pump the ISO where I wouldn’t before. I also am very enthusiastic about “poor” shooting conditions that so many photographers lament – blue skies, rain, fog, cloudiness. In fact, the last two trips I made were under completely blue skies and rainy conditions. I view these conditions to provide unique opportunities that are available if you stretch yourself.
My mom captured me shooting during the weekend! As you can see, lots of handheld shooting! BLASPHEMY!
There is certainly a risk in this approach as I could and have sacrificed potentially nice traditional landscape photography opportunities for something more artistic. But, I have decided that, if I am truly an artist, its of the utmost importance that I find and cultivate a unique perspective. I will always try my best to originate images and offer new takes on existing sights. I’m not the guy to hike 100miles in the barren desert to find a scene never captured. But I am a guy to challenge myself to capture that scene in ways never seen before.
It’s an ongoing process and, sometimes, a struggle that provides a meaningful challenge and motivation to continue shooting. I hope that some of you can identify with my process or results and try, yourself, to create something new. I draw much of my inspiration from artists who push the limits. I hope that over time, I can do the same.
We just came back from a one day trip in Blackwater Falls State Park and Canaan Valley in West Virginia! Though it was wet and foggy, it was really nice to see the sights in the park. I think too often, landscape photographers worry about “great” weather and colorful sunsets/sunrises. Weather like this challenges you to create something new.
I had been planning to shoot the late evening, crescent moon for some time. Finally, conditions and situations aligned and I took myself down to DC to shoot the sunset and moonset at the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and World War II Memorial. It was definitely one of the nicer evenings I can remember being out, and I think I captured a few varied looks that add to my portfolio.
Last night was clear, but beautiful as a soft pink hugged the horizon below deep blues and the clear sky, If you haven’t been to the Air Force Memorial, you’re missing out on one of the nicest structures in the city
From the archives — a shot from below the Jefferson Memorial. I used an ultra wide angle and wide aperture for artistic effect.
As a landscape photographer, often times I must plan and travel to capture a shot I want. Sometimes, it is a grueling process that involves skimping on sleep, hiking long distances (perhaps in the dark), carrying gear, and finding the way home.
This process is essential to create many provocative photographs. But it’s not the only method. Many times one can create a moving photograph by not traveling too far, but allowing your mind to wander an brainstorm creations.
During our vacation to Clearwater Beach, I didn’t make much time for landscape photography — instead, I made time for relaxing with the family. Our daily sight was the Gulf of Mexico, where we witnessed the dramatic changing of light and color with the transitions in weather. My eyes and attention were always drawn to infinity and the horizon over the water, and with the varied situations in weather allowed me to feel different emotions.
While I did not travel far for each shot, I spent time and effort in creating a series of images that captured my thoughts. Instead of traveling and finding the image, I let the image come me — through time and reflection. If I apply a similar method to my shots when traveling to a location, invariably I find better results and that I create more powerful shots. Now, your thoughts are appreciated 🙂
You know the spot. I know the spot. I’m lucky to be the official photographer for the Air Force Memorial, one of the most majestic memorials I know — in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere!
I recently finished a project to stock a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm with 5 large format canvas works! It was an awesome project and the designer did a wonderful job with the entire office (not just photography). Here’s a sample of one of the works, a 51″ x 82″ print of the U.S. Capitol. More shots of all the prints coming soon!
Today, we witnessed an excellent sunset as some storms passed over Washington DC. It was a while since I have been out, and I definitely had fun catching up with all in the my workshop group. Hope to see some of you soon!
It’s been an eventful past several months with some pretty sweeping life changes. Some great, some bad, but such is life. While these events have taken my time and thoughts away from photography, lately I have come back around to re-evaluate my plans. I constantly ask myself questions to make sure that I am following the right path. I ask myself… what makes me happy? Where am I taking photography next?
I keep coming back to the fact that more than anything, I really just love being out there and capturing images. I have to do as much as I can to keep up the momentum and get out there again. And while I love teaching photography, so much so that I joined a prominent, worldwide photography workshop company, I still want to do some exploring on my own.
I’m happy that although I have taken some time away from photography, the business side of it continues to grow. I’m actively licensing my images and selling prints. In fact, I was happy to say I had my single biggest sale of my career this summer. I continue to make concerted efforts to make my photography commercially appealing, while also trying to stay true to the art. Sometimes these goals come together – and sometimes they don’t (more on this in a future post, perhaps).
As I ramp up and get myself back out there, I wanted to share some images that I finished from the vault. DC photography remains a priority for me, commercially and artistically:
Thanks for looking and your support!
My father passed away 2 weeks ago today. While we knew his end was coming, it really did not do much to dull the pain. In the spirit of the future and my dad’s wishes, I have tried my best to think positively about the future. He was an accomplished man and always proud of me. I think he would have wanted me to publish my eulogy to him and his obituary, which I had the honor to help him write. While I will always miss my father, I truly do believe the things I said in his eulogy, and will always strive to perpetuate his legacy in my daily life.
I thought twice about posting this to my photography website — this post has little to do with photography. But it does have to do with my life’s inspiration and direction going forward along with my spirit. And photography has always been a channel for my spirit. Besides the fact that my dad was directly inspirational in me becoming a photographer (more on that here).
I also must thank every person who took the time to write a facebook comment or message, a text or email, call me, and come to my father’s services. I really do want to thank each one of you individually. If somehow I miss you, please know I am aware of each of you and sincerely found some solace and comfort in your words. They really meant a lot to me, especially in the days immediately after he passed.
Now, onto words about my dad:
Eulogy to my Father
Many of you here had the distinct honor of knowing my father but for those of you who didn’t know him well I want to give you a glimpse into the life of a man who is so influential to those around him.
My father was a vibrant soul who rode ambition, talent, and hard work to world renown breakthroughs in cancer detection and treatment. In over 20 years of work as a leading NIH lab scientist, Dr. Padman Sarma’s work resulted in significant advancements in animal and human sciences including leukemia, sarcoma, influenza, rubella, testicular cancer, and HIV/AIDS. He was also a brave pioneer who was the first immigrant from our family to the USA from India who inspired an entire community of family to follow him here.
But it wasn’t for these grand reasons that so many people were enthralled with and devoted to my father. He was a magnetic spirit who charmed everyone he met on a personal level with his wit, humor, and easygoing nature. He was electric and bubbly, eager to strike conversation, make jokes, or band together an impromptu group musical performance. He was a man of positive energy, one who always saw the bright side of negative situations and advised for cooler heads and reconciliation. He was generous with love and selflessly devoted his time to the people he cared about, especially if they had fallen ill. He was a man of great influence, whose decisions altered the course of scores of lives. He was a light hearted person, who loved to simply pass time with someone and provide full his attention to their company. He was an encouraging person, who praised everything I did and provided only support to take it further. He was an agreeable person, who valued the opinion and desires of those around him. He was a doting person, who was so enchanted with love for me as his child that on a whim and casual desire, bought me a 1200 dollar drum set which I never used. He was a patient person, one who rarely lost his cool and offered instead to help, like when I one by one lost my wallet, cash, and travelers checks when traveling abroad. He was an artful and sentimental person, who enjoyed nature and exploring and inspired my own love of the arts. He was a musical person, who appreciated a melody of any form, Indian classical or even electronic. The list goes on and on about the amazing qualities of my father, who I affectionately always called, “Appa”.
Family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances all can attest to Appa’s kind and friendly demeanor. His personality allowed him to make strong connections across the world, some that have lasted nearly 75 years. He has had many admirers who consider themselves lucky to have found themselves in his company,
The last few years of his life were extremely difficult for Appa, far more than anyone else. He was a victim to a terrible disease that eventually took his life. Each day became harder than the last, to the point where his body finally relented and decided to end his days on earth. But his resilient spirit endured and lasted with him until the very end. Just days before his passing, he was laughing at old jokes and enjoying listening to music, including the many pieces he composed. Despite everything that had happened to Appa, he mataintaned a positive attitude about life to the very end – an inspiration as to the strength of resolve that we can only hope for in our lives.
In some ways, I lost Appa some years ago but was granted a much longer goodbye that many never have with their loved ones. But When he was finally gone, I felt an incredible void carved in my soul which Will never be filled. My father, my biggest fan and advocate, my teacher, role model, my good friend, is lost from this earth. but very soon after feeling this void, my mind naturally switched to the memories of his old self. His voice that progressively diminished after the toll of Parkinson’s, was suddenly rejuvenated and reinvigorated in my mind. While I spent much of the last few years wondering what Appa thought, felt, and wanted, now that he’s free of the shackles of disease and worldliness, I now have a clearer window into his soul, and what wanted for me, than I ever did.
While I mourn the loss of my beloved father from this earth, I take solace in that I believe his soul endures. His soul has returned to the heavenly, continuous fabric from which we are all woven. It’s the same place that blesses us with new souls, like Appa’s newborn granddaughter Veda. To me, this fabric of soul not only can create new friends and loved ones, but is available to anyone who misses my father and wishes to engage him again. remember his demeanor, relay his words, recall his intentions. Soon you will feel his spirit with you and know his responses to your every question.
I will move confidently forward with my fathers soul firmly within me and voice In my ear, guiding me through the rest of my life. I will take solace in knowing what he would want for me. He would want me not to worry about him, know that he is finally without pain. He would ask me to take care of the family and be strong for them. He would ask me to chase my dreams and remember that I am capable. And most of all, he would remind me to be generous and love others, as he did. Through these continued actions in life I can maintain his legacy and inspire our family’s future generations to carry the gift of my fathers soul far into the future.
Obituary of Dr. Padman Subramanyam Sarma
World-renown NIH scientist, avid orator and musician, devoted father
Dr. Padman Sarma, a world-renown research scientist whose life’s work significantly advanced the field of cancer research, including the detection and treatment of cancer-inducing viruses in animals and humans, died on June 24, 2015 at the age of 83 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Sarma was born in India to a physician/surgeon father who was trained under the British during their rule. After receiving his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in India in 1953, Dr. Sarma studied in the U.S., graduating from the University of Minnesota with a Master’s degree in 1957 and another Doctorate in microbiology in 1959. Returning to India, he served as a Research Scientist and Veterinarian in the Pasteur Institute in Coonoor where he worked to improve tissue culture methods to help develop potent vaccines for the smallpox virus.
He immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1961. After a teaching assignment as Assistant Professor in Virology in the University of Kentucky for one year, he was invited to the National Institutes of Health to serve as Visiting Scientist where he began his noteworthy and pioneering studies on avian leukosis viruses. Upon being promoted to the position of a career NCI research scientist in 1966, he continued his research on retroviruses. In 1971, he was promoted as the head of the Animal Virology and Field Studies section.
In over 20 years of research as a lab scientist, Dr. Sarma’s nearly one hundred publications and studies significantly advanced the field of cancer research. He pioneered methods to test for cancer-causing viruses and fight cancer in both animals and humans, and enabled advancements in sciences including leukemia, sarcoma, influenza, rubella, testicular cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Specifically, Dr. Sarma:
- Dr. Sarma discovered the COFAL test, which was a simplified technique to detect leukemia-inducing viruses in genetic material of chicken tissue cells. This test helped to enable the crucial influenza vaccine, as COFAL tested to see if certain influenza vaccines were contaminated with cancer causing viruses. This test served as a model for a similar approach to detect leukemia-inducing viruses of other species and the human Rubella virus.
- Dr. Sarma also developed the COCAL test, to detect cat leukemia that grew silently in cells and discovered a wide variance in subgroups of the cat leukemia virus. He developed a purified strain dubbed internationally as the “Sarma C Strain” of cat leukemia that caused anemia in cats and aided further research on anemia for all species.
- Additionally, Dr. Sarma showed that cat leukemia and sarcoma can cross species and infect human cells and cause cancerous changes and but also confirmed that these mutations do not result in human cancer.
- Dr. Sarma was among the very first to use interferons to fight cancer. He demonstrated the interferon, an antiviral protective substance naturally produced by living tissue in response to virus infection, inhibited the growth of mouse leukemia virus in cultured mouse cells. These early laboratory studies of animal model tumor viruses paved the way for the use of interferon to treat certain forms of human cancers such as testicular cancers.
- Dr. Sarma’s later studies showed that blood protein in mice showed the ability to neutralize the infectivity of mouse leukemia virus. Based on this finding he and Wallace Rowe of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH developed a sensitive test for the quantitation of mouse antibodies against mouse leukemia viruses
In 1983, he transferred to the extramural program of the NCI as a Program Director, a position he continued until his retirement in 1995. From 1983 to 1996, he taught a Medical Virology course at the NIH, sponsored by the Foundation for the Advancement of Science at the NIH.Outside of his scientific work, Dr. Sarma also was an avid orator and self-taught musician. An active participant and leader in Toastmasters clubs, he was a charter co-founding member and club president many times of the very first toastmasters club at the NIH, the NIH Toastmasters club, which was chartered in 1969. Subsequently, he founded the NIH Evening Speakers Club in 1982 to obtain the highest Distinguished Toastmaster diploma awarded by the Toastmasters International. Both clubs are functioning very well with the several enthusiastic club members. As a mentor, he helped countless individuals to sharpen their leadership and public speaking skills. He was a composer of piano music and was proficient in several musical instruments, including the guitar, violin, mandolin, harmonica, flute, and accordion. Dr. Sarma was remarkably adept at many other activities, including architecture and design of multiple building and renovation projects in his homes, art as a photographer and proficient drawer, and even acting, serving parts in a TV drama and the movie, “Enemy of the State”. Late in his life, Dr. Sarma kept active in his local community as a real estate agent, helping his contacts and friends find homes in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Family and friends knew Dr. Sarma as a kind and soft soul, one who rarely raised his voice to a point of contention. They also pay homage to his stature as the first immigrant to the United States – whose sponsorship of family allowed a blossoming family tree that now nears one hundred members. His children knew him as a very loving, supportive, and generous father.
Survivors include his wife Raji and their two children, Nalina and Navin, and five children Sheila, Chander, Marla, Lila and Cynthia and several grandchildren through his previous marriage.
Last Sunday, I headed back to the MD side of Great Falls, otherwise known as the C&O Canal National Historic Park to shoot the sunset and the Great Blue Herons that populate the park during this time of year. This is my preferred location to shoot the herons over the VA side. If you want to know why – feel free to ask 🙂
This past Sunday, I led a workshop at Great Falls National Park to catch the sunset and the Great Blue Herons that frequent the park at this time of year. I could count at least 15 birds, all majestic and graceful in the way they spar with their rivals, soar, and hunt (successfully) in the violent rapids of the Potomac River. I am leading another workshop from the Maryland side next week — a side I prefer to shoot on when shooting the birds. Come join me!
A little over a year ago, I shared some paintings that were created with inspiration from my images. It’s really quite humbling and amazing that people can somehow identify with what I shoot and represent it in their own renditions.
Cut to this month, when another image of mine, “Girl with Dog” from Cusco, Peru in 2009 was painted by Nora Swallows. Better than the original, in my opinion! Below the painting is an image for your reference.
Inspiration is such an interesting concept. We all have this intangible feeling in one way or another that motivates us to push ourselves further than we knew possible. I can’t take credit for inspiring someone else, since I feel I’m “paying it forward” by how the environment inspires me. Regardless, it’s a good feeling.
This past Sunday, I ran a workshop at C&O National Historic Park, otherwise known as Great Falls Park on the Maryland side (at least that’s how I refer to it). We initially were at the banks of the falls, looking towards the Great Blue Herons that have begun to gather there. Seeing the potential for a particular look in the approaching sunset, we quickly scampered to another section of the park to capture this scene:
I just got back from shooting at the Air Force Memorial for the WWII Victory flyover. While a little bit removed from the action, it was still an amazing sight to see the old planes flying high above the skyline and the memorial and to chat with WWII vets themselves. I love shooting for the Air Force Memorial and the access they gave me… including a reserved parking spot and a ladder to get me in the only vantage point where I could include spires in the frame!
After an extended period away from teaching due to the birth of our first child, I resumed photography workshops in Washington DC this past Sunday. I conducted the workshop at the Netherlands Carillion in Arlington, where in the spring time there is a grand showing of tulips facing the Washington DC Skyline, including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and U.S. Capitol.
The tulips had just begun to wilt, so we searched around to find a composition that highlighted the best of the bunch. I got low into the ground to eliminate the distracting midground and used a depth of field blend to blur out some of the wilted tulips in the foreground, while maintaining their color through a bokeh effect.
On this night, we also had the opportunity to view the full moon as it rose over the eastern horizon. It was too far south to include in contrast to the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and U.S. Capitol, so I tried to get a little creative. I repositioned the camera to include only the fullest tulips and used a zoom to fill the top of the frame with the full moon. Since using a zoom exacerbates the depth of field, I used a depth of field blend: one focusing on the foreground tulips and one on the background moon, while leaving the uninteresting midground as a blur.
Thanks for looking! Hope you can get outside to enjoy this month’s wonderful weather.
Here’s a recent set of images I made from the Air Force Memorial. Not only is it marvellously grand in person, it is also a wonderfully photogenic structure. At wide angles, one can capture the great expanse to the sky and can create interesting shapes with the different angles of the Memorial’s dramatically curved spires. The sheen steel also brilliantly illuminates with sunlight, creating some exciting shape and color.
I find myself always moving to a panoramic when I shoot at this side of the Tidal Basin (near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Martin Luther King Memorial). In contrast to my last image, this was slightly later in the morning just after the sun had risen. The brighter and more direct sunlight turned the pinks in the high sky to a more orange color. But the dramatic shape and color of the sunrise was not lost.
This is a stitch of 5 images shot vertically at f/10, ISO 320, 6 sec and merged into a panoramic.
Sunrise at the Tidal Basin offers many opportunities for a landscape photographer. For one, one encounters a very nice perspective when facing due east, where the sun and moon rise and color in the sky would appear on days when weather will allow it. Also, it provides a very nice view towards the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument. Lastly, the Tidal Basin itself is a great compositional element – a fast shutter speed can render very nice textures and distorted reflections and a long exposure can reflect the sky like a mirror.
Yesterday morning, the high clouds lit up just enough on either side of the frame. I used a long exposure to reflect this same drama in the water. I actually had to tone down the color due to some white balance warming that inevitably comes while using (supposedly NEUTRAL, but not really) neutral density filters.
This image, as well as all others on my website, is available to purchase as an image license or stock image of Washington DC or for print.
NPS recently announced that the peak bloom for cherry blossoms in 2015 in Washington DC and the Cherry Blossom Festival is April 11-15 2015. You can read more on the National Cherry Blossom Festival or NPS website.
The past few years have flipped between peaks in March and April. This picture is from March 2011, when the following morning I captured my most popular image, Awakening. I passed by this image for years and finally decided to process it… I actually like it quite a bit since it shows the Cherry Blossoms in a bit different scene – under twilight and stars. I spent a bit of time dodging the stars so they would come out brighter – so I would consider this image as one where I took some fine art liberties.
Nice to see my shots commissioned for the Air Force Memorial all over the 2015 Calendar and Brochure! I counted 10 of my images (including the cover) on the calendar, and all of the images on the brochure! Go check it out next time you’re visiting the Air Force Memorial — in my opinion the most dramatic and one of the most beautiful structures in the area!
Sleet and freezing rain, while treacherous, provide a beautiful ice coating to most subjects in the environment. Trees look especially beautiful after such precipitation. I remember being so fascinated by this in my youth – especially at watching the ice come off like molding off of branches and leaves.
This sort of ice is hard to photograph. However, under the bright streetlights, the ice can reflect the light so well and turn each tree into a shimmering web. I chose to backlight for a more silhouetted look.
I went for a darker, more abstract and graphical representation of the ice in these two images just outside of Baltimore MD on Sunday night. Your thoughts are welcome 🙂
Yesterday evening, the forecast called for a cold front and a snow squall to hit our area just around sunset. A perfect time for me to capture a burst of snow at Great Falls National Park!
I scampered towards the rocks… a bit treacherous given that they were icy and snow covered. I also had to be very aware of where snow may be covering icy ponds and avoid them unless I wanted a frigid and dangerous dip into the Potomac river itself.
As I got into position near the edge of the water, I could see a misty cloud approaching from the west — this was the snow squall. Quickly, it engufled the scene. What an experience! Snow flying in all directions as the river raged past me. I could barely see past the rocky outcroppings as the snow banded together heavily.
It was a challenge to keep my lens dry. I did not even try to use my 14-24 lens, which barely has a lens hood, because I knew the lens would covered with snow and unusable. Instead, I stuck with my 24-70 and used the longer lens hood to shield, as much as possible, from the snow.
Here are three images from the scene… one upstream, one downstream, and a panorama that shows the grandeur of entire scene. The snow covered boulders make this much more appealing than in times without snow. Thanks for looking!
This morning I went down to the Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument to check out the snow that had fallen overnight. At first the morning was gray, but soon after sunrise, the clouds began to break. The sun brought a bit of warmth to the scene that contrasted nicely with the blue sky. Thanks for looking!
This past Monday, on Martin Luther King Day, I set out for a quick trip to West Virginia to hike in the snow and capture some winter landscapes. In DC, we intermittently experience snow, but the further west and higher in elevation you go, the weather changes. On average, 160 inches of snow falls each winter… significantly more than in the city.
As I headed west, indeed the road conditions changed as I approached Canaan Valley. Where we had completely clear roads, the roads became significantly more treacherous as I continued. Another notable encounter, on a side note, was seeing the industry side of West Virginia. From the Lindy Point lookout and from several spots east of Canaan Valley, you can see massive wind turbines that help to power the state. I did pass these on my way further west. I also encountered a huge, billowing hydroelectric plant upon a huge manmade resesvior. I’ll reserve any judgements about the disadvantages because of my general ignorance on this situation but will say that these were large blemishes on what otherwise is a place of incredible natural beauty.
I intended to go up to Dolly Sods for sunrise as snow was mounting there and there was the potential for fog and frost, all amazing conditions for the photography I sought. I meandered up the road to Dolly Sods, which at 3000 feet was a continuous climb in altitude. As the altitude changed, snow continued to pile and soon I found myself driving through a foot of fresh snow from the couple of inches from just a mile away. The snow continued to fall through gray and windy skies, adding to the mood but also to a little nervousness as my 4WD maintained control, but barely so. I came upon the final stretch of road about 3.5 miles from Dolly Sods and found that it was closed for the winter! While some folks had parked right there and hiked up, I simply did not have the time or prep to hike 3.5 miles each way in a foot of snow. So, I had to go to plan B.
Plan B was Elakala Falls and Lindy Point, two places I have been to several times before but in different conditions.
With snow freshly fallen from the night before, the Elekala trail was completely untouched by anyone that morning, and I set out through the snow for a short hike to the first set of falls.
I came to the frozen over falls and scrambled down the gorge, grabbing trees as support as I descended. While I had taken many shots of the falls straight on, I decided to try a different vantage point from the edge of the wall of rock. This allowed me to use the interesting shapes created in the water to some advantage.
I spent much of my time reflecting on the scene rather than trying to photograph it. If images came naturally, I began to shoot. I found myself only shooting abstract from this moment on. It was a fun exercise, and while perhaps not completely productive, helpful to restore my psyche.
I approached the water and was enamored by shapes created by the gaps in ice and the light reflected, as shown by these two images:
After this I continued out to Lindy Point. As was with Dolly Sods, the road was closed from about a mile from the Lindy Trail. This meant about a 3 mile hike, roundtrip, to get to Lindy Point. This was something I was more prepared for than up in Dolly Sods! I set out on the trail and noticed ski tracks in the snow, then the frequent passing by of cross country skiiers rather than hikers. Seems that out here, in the winter, people are used to exploring the landscape on cross country skis than just their feet!
As I observed the snow nearly everywhere, I often had to do a double-take as it looked like people threw small styrofoam pebbles into the snow! But in fact, the snow was so light and airy, it had this illusion. The snow was so light that the snow that covered roads on my way in on the cold morning evaporated (rather than melted) before I passed by on my way home.
Upon reaching Lindy Point, all of the compositions I have done or were used to seeing didn’t seem appealing at all. Instead, I waited for the light as the sun peaked through pockets of clouds and basked the hillside. As the noonish sun interacted with the bare trees, it created interesting, nearly perpendicular shapes in contrast to the straight trees. This shot feels very abstract from far away, but as you approach it closer you can come closer to reality. This last shot is probably my favorite of my short trip:
As I mentioned, while this trip was not very productive for my portfolio, it was exactly what I needed. Despite being a city/suburban guy for my entire life, never really hiking or camping throughout my youth, something about experiencing the natural landscape is so rejuvenating to me. It was worth it to spend some quiet time to myself, observing the environment, feeling the rocks and trees in my hands, and listening to the sound of soft snowfall, the distant roar of the Blackwater river, and woodpeckers in the forest.
Maybe my appreciation is based in generations of instinct as my ancestors invariably had closer interactions with their wild surroundings. This history we have with nature makes the landscape to me so incredibly human, moreso than people readily realize. I feel that many people I know in the city, normal people or even photographers, place so much emphasis on the trials and tribulations of people interacting with each other versus how we interact with the environment and therefore don’t fully appreciate photography that concentrates on the latter. Even one day exploring the relatively unassuming landscape of Canaan Valley further solidified why I love landscape and nature photography. Our surroundings are an inseparable part of us as humans, and to recover and present just a piece of the feeling of the landscape to someone else is I gift I continue to cherish.
Looking back through my archives, I stumbled upon a set of images from late 2010 at Great Falls National Park. Upon first sight of the images from this evening, I instantly recalled that THIS was the night that I truly become passionate about landscape photography and was thus the beginning of my career in the craft.
Though I had been shooting in a more whimsical way for about 4 years prior, this night at Great Falls, as the sunset faded away and twilight took over the scene, I found myself enthralled at the images I was capturing of this magnificent landscape.
When I first came to Great Falls National Park, I did not look deeply at the flow of water or the passing clouds. My eyes were on the main subject of the falls themselves. But as I began photographing the scene, experimenting with longer exposures and allowing myself time into the night, I was immediately struck by how dynamic the scene could be represented through a lens.
I had not even realized that an enormous eddy constantly spun water in circles until I had captured an exposure that showed this motion. It was truly awestriking moment. As I continued shooting into the night, I watched in amazement as clouds streaked over me in amazing form and as stars crept onto the scene. It became apparent to me that if I look at the world and our environment in a different way, allowing myself to embrace the landscape and soak in the scene from 360 degrees, I could perhaps create or capture some compelling scenes.
I did end up sharing images from that night on my facebook page, but just today was able to apply some new techniques to create some different imagery than I could 4 years ago.
This image is a two exposure high dynamic range (HDR) shot; one image for the landscape at f/11, 2 min and one for the sky at f/4 and 4 min 20 sec. This allowed me to capture quality light in both the landscape and sky with optimal depth. While I didn’t plan for this final image to be the result of these two exposures, I am glad that I was able to make it work!
I want to share a quick post about my thoughts about photography gear. It’s a topic that many people feel is very important — almost absolutely necessary — in making good images.
It’s easy to get enthralled by gear and technology. As a tech nerd myself, I find myself always looking at (read: salivating over) the newest technology, should it be mobile phones, TVs, audio, or camera gear. But how much does good gear play into the quality of images? Is good photography a result of great technology?
I remember when I got my first SLR camera. I was convinced that this is what I was missing and that instantly my pictures were going to be amazing. That was not the case. What went wrong?
The overall answer is that the quality of your photography gear will have LITTLE to NO impact on the quality of your images. Perhaps better said, terrible gear can create great photography.
The truth of the matter is that good photography is more a product of planning, composition, consideration of light, and time in the field than anything you can carry on your back.
It’s true that you can benefit from some essentials:
- It’s good to have a camera that will allow you manual controls (notice, I did not say an SLR camera) to affect the depth and shutter speed, and adjust ISO to obtain an acceptably exposed images.
- A tripod is very helpful to allow you to firmly place your camera and, perhaps alongside a remote cable, allow longer exposures.
- Some filters (like polarizing and dark neutral density filters) can interact with light and/or creative effects that would otherwise be impossible or hard to do.
- You could benefit from some security for your electronics, like a generic bag and lens hoods to guard from the elements when you are shooting.
Outside of that, everything else either has extremely specialized uses or is just outright frivolous.
Consider the tech that gets gearheads excited and their specific uses. For most people, these aren’t realistic scenarios for where their photography would go.
- A full frame camera with 36mp will allow you to comfortably print over 60″ while maintaining image quality; for photography on the web and intended for prints in your home, a 12mp camera will do great (and save you hard drive space)
- A fast lens at f/1.2 will allow you to gather faint starlight at twilight; generally, a fast lens like this will compromise depth. Even if you shoot portraits, you will likely find yourself shooting at f/4 or so, which is where most kit lenses start
- A Canon “L” lens or Nikon “G” lens will allow you better image quality only really visible at large mural sizes. All other lenses are fair game! Even if you lose corner sharpness, introduce chromatic aberration, etc. you will not notice or care until you start to print large.
While you read this you may see elsewhere that my gear includes… A 36mp camera and fast G lenses. Why don’t I practice this myself? Well, part of it is that I learned this the hard way and gathered a lot of gear before I focused on my craft. The other part is nowadays, I do print large and shoot at night and therefore benefit from some of the very specialized uses of this gear.
If you don’t believe my rant, check out the 2014 Winners of the iPhone photography contest. These images are better than most of the images I see with expensive SLR equipment and accessories, and many of them did not even have the luxury of using manual controls.
Even further, here’s an image of mine from New Zealand in 2008. This was shot with an entry level dSLR and a kit lens (Canon Digital Rebel XT and Canon 18-55 3.5-5.6) — a package that retailed for less than $500. The image quality in this shot is great! A better dSLR and lens would do nothing but make the image more printable at a large size. To this day, I have not printed this image… so I didn’t need the extra capability. Some more examples of shots with this basic package can be found in this post.
What does this mean for you? If you are a photographer and want to improve the quality of your work, spend time learning the craft and spending money traveling or taking workshops with people you respect versus spending time researching and spending money on equipment. Make a concerted effort to become a better artist and do what it takes to understand how to craft images.
I guarantee if you take this approach, you will take better pictures and will get more back from the craft of photography. Find another way to quench your thirst for gear, as I try to. There is A LOT of other tech out there to keep us more than busy 🙂
Yesterday, we had our first snowfall in the Washington, D.C. area. I for one am ALWAYS excited about the snow. Though there can be trecherous conditions and people can get hurt while driving, if people can keep as safe as possible, it really is a glorious time to be outside and enjoy the environment. Nothing beats the quiet sound of snowfall and the magical mood it creates.
I stopped by the National Mall yesterday morning to bask in the snow. It was coming down pretty hard, but light, which made the snow stick very nicely to the bare branches that align the National Mall. I spent some time just appreciating the scene before I found a lone set of footsteps leading to the Washington Monument. This made for a nice leading line and a bit more interest to the scene. The environment already had very little color, and I desaturated further into this black and white to emphasize the contrasts.
Here’s to the first snowfall — now I’m waiting for the next one!
Tonight, I led an Advanced Nature and Landscape Photography: Twilight and Night Photography field workshop at Manassas Battlefield Park. We had some great weather of nearly 60 degrees, a beautiful sunset, and great clouds with glimpses to the moon.
Here’s a set of images that follows from sunset through twilight and night.
Over the past month of so, I’ve been taking a bit of pause from photography. Just now am I getting the urge to get back in the field. Before I do so, I wanted to bring forward some images I had been working off and on. I finally present this moodier set of images from the end of 2014. Your thoughts?
Another year and another moment to reflect!
This was my fourth full year of doing photography seriously, and eighth year overall. I have certainly come a long way in these four years: learning intricate technical methods to produce modern imagery, shifting my thinking about photography from that of ‘recording my surroundings’ to ‘creating an image with a message’, teaching photography to other like-minded individuals who enjoy landscapes and artistry, and spending time planning and executing how I can make photography part of my life and career.
This year, I spent most of my time on the last point in the above list and trying to build the commercial aspect of my photography. People often ask me if I am a professional photographer, and I am not, since most of my income does not come from photography. Then people ask me if I would ever want photography to be my profession. To this I always say yes! But it takes dedicated planning and work to make photography one’s career — this I have found from my own experience.
This past year, I felt I took some incremental steps that get me closer to the career in photography I seek:
- I continued refining my portfolio. I have come closer to and have displayed a dramatic style and introspective feeling of my images and have worked to elicit some emotion from the viewers of my work. Through some weeding out of old images, refining the editing/finishing of existing images, and adding new images, I feel that my portfolio is stronger than ever — with a mix of D.C., commercially viable photographs and nature/landscape photography, with a bit less commercial appeal but certainly the same or even more passion used in their creation. I still have a ways to go here, but all progress is good progress.
- I expanded my offerings as a photography teacher. I continued conducting workshops as I have since 2012, but this year I introduced a photography bootcamp in which photographers at all levels can build their proficiency from the fundamentals on up and with the stability of one instructor. This was a success, I would say, and I hope to continue offering this in the future to cater to the large amounts of new photographers hitting the field with their brand new dSLRs, mirrorless cams, or even smartphones.
- I began solo exhibitions of my work. Part of this business is becoming known and respected, in league with other photographers and artists. To me, nothing can tell my audience about who I am better than a curated collection of my work printed at the highest quality medium. This year, I have had three solo exhibitions in and around DC of two collections [1,2]. I hope that people will be struck by the work they see and remember my name when they are looking for unique artwork.
There are many other tasks I have yet to do in order to get me to my ultimate goal of making photography my main career. I hope to continue down the path and not lose faith as I know it will be a difficult task.
In the difficulty that making an art a career is, I have also stopped to think why even do it at all. If it is my career, it would be a significant investment of time plus the opportunity cost of doing something likely more lucrative. The simplest answer I have found is that I should do something I love over something I like. There is only limited time in life, and I want to live it with as few regrets as possible. But do I love photography more than I like my day job? I think it’s a combination of factors I love: the feelings of discovery/exploration and wonder of being out in the field and the individuality and artistry of finishing images. To continue experiencing those things in my life would be a blessing and something I will continue to work towards.
Now… on to the images from this past year. As I wrote in my Top Shots of 2013 post, my goal for 2014 was to “…become more “inventive” and “figurative” when shooting in and outside of the city. It is relatively easy to recreate what is clearly in front of you rather than to look just a little longer, just a little deeper, and find that little something that is more unique…”. I think I was moderately successful in this goal. While some of the pictures you see are clearly “right in front of you”, others do take a bit of thought to gather.
2015’s goals related to my portfolio are: to continue being “inventive” with each photograph and with a collection of images, to spend more time visualizing images before I capture them, to illustrate more fleeting moments (that may either be created or captured), and to incorporate more humanity in some of my images. The last point is one that I have avoided for some time, but I feel that going outside of some arbitrary lines will be helpful in progressing me as an artist.
Please do leave any comments on this post or my set of images from 2014. See you next year!
Earlier this month, I opened my second exhibit of the collection: “DC: Impressions of Urban Nature” at The Coupe in DC.
You can see the prints anytime from now until the end of January!
The Coupe is a really cool spot. Very chill, open nearly all of the time, with great food and coffee plus a bar with a pretty killer happy hour. It’s quite a different feel than my last venue, L2, which was more of a night spot. This is more of a neighborhood hotspot in Columbia Heights.
I’ll get another, better picture with less reflections when I can get back out there. Maybe this will convince you to see the shots in person 🙂
Remember, each one of these collectible prints is available for sale. Contact me for details!
I just finished a big project to stock the Air Force Association Headquarters with images from the Air Force Memorial. The canvases were really large, ranging from a triptych of three 24″ x 36″s, to 40″ x 60″s, and one 55″ x 80″. Check out the images below:
Last week, I set out to Shenandoah National Park to capture the area during peak autumn conditions. The park definitely delivered some epic views, both grand in nature and others that took a deeper inspection.
Here is just one day in the park, starting out at the lookouts and White Oak Canyon in the north end of the park.
After sunrise, the sun continued to softly light the scene. These sun rays highlighted distant peaks that look like small undulations when viewed from far away:
I then ventured into White Oak Canyon to shoot some of the waterfalls and streams. I purposefully waited for the late afternoon when light mists filled the forest. This helped to cool down the highlights from the sun and saturate the foliage:
Eddies are commonly found in waterfalls as water collects in sidepaths on its way down the canyon. White Oak is no exception. I used some creative perspective techniques and threw in some leaves to fill the blank canvas in the middle of the frame:
The top of Lower Falls of White Oak Canyon is calm in water flow, but daunting as one looks over the edge. Nevertheless, a gorgeous sight as the river tumbles down the edge and towards the autumn-colored forest.
On my way out of the park, it continued raining and storming. I love the brooding look of storm clouds and mist and had to pull over to capture these ubiquitous but undeniably moving scenes. I really hope to own a house in mountains like these one day:
Thanks for looking, and I appreciate your comments 🙂 Happy autumn!
This past Wednesday, I held my first show … a grand opening to show off 15 large format works on acrylic facemount of Washington, D.C. You can view details on the collection here.
It was really an amazing time for me. I have been sharing my work pretty extensively over the past several years. At first, it was a daunting thing to do to put myself out there for people to see and judge. Over time, I became a little numb to it and decided that it did not matter what people thought, that I was going to do what I really liked and share it in the hopes that one day it can become something bigger. It was the same concept here, but this time I wanted to really show everyone what I have been creating these past few years. Not just images that can be seen on Flickr, Facebook or 500px. Instead, images that can be viewed in large formats and still be appreciated for their quality and detail.
I don’t know where this will take me but I am happy to have come to this significant milestone. It was difficult to find and negotiate with the gallery location, choose the images and theme, select the sizes, print and mount, install, and promote the event but somehow it all came together!
If you want to check it out, you can visit L2 in Georgetown over the next couple of months. You can either schedule a time to go in with me (anytime) or you can visit the lounge on Wednesdays (6p-2a), or Thursdays – Saturdays (9p-2a). Just tell them you’re there to see my work. In case you can’t make it out. here are some images and a video of the shots.
Now… a sigh of relief 🙂
TONIGHT, Come celebrate my biggest milestone to date as a photographer, and see my work as it was meant to be seen — NOT as a small pic on the web with a watermark, but as large format acrylic mounted, fine art pieces. Even if you can’t come you can SUPPORT me by sharing this on facebook/twitter, or telling your family and friends to come visit.
Time to hashtag this jonx. Show your support by posting with #navinsarmadc. See you tonight!!