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!!
I took a quick trip up to West Virginia yesterday to check out the fall foliage. Normally, peak fall foliage in Blackwater Falls State Park, Dolly Sods Wilderness, and Bear Rocks tend to be at the end of September and early October. This year it seemed to have come a little early. Although most of the trees are still quite green, there are some nice pockets of foliage in Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls. Dolly Sods trees are still quite green, but the bushes are peak red at this point!
I had a shot in mind for the twilight at Bear Rocks. I figured yesterday was the best time to go given the moon phase (less than 2% illuminated) and clear skies forecast. I took two shots within 13 minutes of each other and blended them together into this HDR, focus stacked image:
On Saturday evening, I led another workshop as part of my summer bootcamp. This time, we discussed focus stacking while capturing the sunset in a different section of Great Falls on the Maryland side.
I don’t personally use focus stacking too much for landscape photography. But it’s another tool to keep in mind, much like HDR. If you need nothing but the utmost sharpness in your image, perhaps because you are printing very large (over 100 inches), focus stacking can come in handy as you can use the sharpest f stop in your lens at different parts in the frame to obtain an image with amazing clarity. However, you only need this technique when you require significant depth (subjects in the very foreground and very background that just be in focus). Generally, I will stick to one image for focus just to keep my workflow simple. Even when printing in excess of 100″, I find non stacked images to be quite sharp.
In the below image, I stacked two images to focus the foreground rock and background, respectively. This is a place where the image I have in mind still hasn’t materialized… Yet 🙂
This morning, I hosted a private workshop on the Tidal Basin. We went to one of my favorite spots, the Kutz Bridge, for sunrise. I constantly find myself enamored (at least for now) with the way sunrise light plays with ripples in the water; I like this effect much more than long exposures that smooth out the texture.
I merged two exposures in photoshop to produce this HDR image. I selectively chose the shadow areas to fill in with the brighter exposure — in my opinion a better way to perform HDR photography.
Your comments and thoughts are appreciated! Thanks 🙂
On Saturday morning, I led another Washington DC Photography Workshop, this time on the tidal basin.
The concentration for this session was panoramas. Panoramas are tough to pull off well, in my opinion. The key to an effective panorama is to have interesting elements placed horizontally and avoid large uninteresting areas of the frame, which I so often see in panoramic images. You have to train your eye to look from left to right and see if there is enough interest in the scene to warrant a panorama. Unless you have a tilt-shift lens, you also have to make certain considerations to make sure the panoramic image can be properly spliced together in photoshop. For example, you should shoot at mid-range (say 30mm-70mm) and avoid including subjects near to you in the foreground, as they may distort and make the stitching process in Photoshop difficult.
We also covered how to capture an HDR panorama. This is a very difficult process, especially if you do not use an automatic tool such as Photomatix (not preferred by me since it creates some unrealistic results). By blending a total of 16 images total (8 left to right and 2 exposures for each section of the panorama), I was able to coax some color out of the barren sky and obtain this HDR panoramic image of the Washington DC Tidal Basin:
After we captured the sunrise, we ventured over to the Jefferson Memorial to capture some close ups. I captured one traditional image and another abstract, wide-angle to add to an ongoing project of mine.
I used 3 exposures to recover detail in the super bright sky in this black and white HDR photograph:
It’s interesting how a slight movement here or there can make a world of difference when using a wide angle close to the subject. Here’s a good example of that at the Jefferson Memorial:
Till next time 🙂
in my summer bootcamp 2014. During these classes, I teach people how to shoot in the field and edit in photoshop. Today’s class was centered on HDR, or high dynamic range photography. We discussed when to use HDR, and how it can be done well. Generally, HDR is not always needed, but when a camera cannot capture the full range of tones from very bright to very dark.
As the sunrise had few clouds, I had to be creative in looking for a composition. What I ended up with below did actually not use HDR, but instead a long exposure using a 10 stop ND filter:
This morning, I conducted another class in my series of Washington DC photography classes
On my last trip to the Air Force Memorial, I set out to capture the three spires of the missing man formation at the Air Force Memorial as three separate image, so they may be arranged as a triptych when printed. This attempt was pretty successful, I think. I tried to have each spire hold about the same amount of space in the frame and I like how the blue background with faint stars allows the spires to take focus. What do you think?
This past weekend, my wife and I took a last-minute trip down to Puerto Rico. We found a pretty good deal from DC: a direct flight, a rental car, and a package discount to stay on the northeast corner of the island, a beautiful cliffside resort in Fajardo. We had it all figured out and I crossed my fingers that we would not encounter tropical storm/hurricane weather that is so common for the Caribbean at this time of year.
Of course, as soon as I booked the package, warning signs about Hurricane/Tropical Storm Bertha started ringing. Great, I didn’t get vacation insurance. But we were hell bent on going to the beach, so we toughed it anyway.
Overall, we had a great trip but had a lot of drama with the weather! It is really quite amazing how frequently and quickly the weather can change and how it affects the landscape. Though we arrived to warm winds and sunlight, day 2 was a complete rain out, with violent winds and intense lightning.
As the storms began, I ventured out to the northeast cliff and captured this image of the approaching clouds. I used a 10 stop filter to emphasize motion and add to the mood of the clouds over Palomino island:
Later, into Saturday, winds were in full effect. There was not much rain all day, but enough to spoil any beach/pool plans. I went to capture the fury of the wind, and soon on the eastern horizon, the real storm approached. As palm trees shook violently before me, lightning struck in the distance:
On Sunday, the storm had passed and we were able to get back to the beach. After a relaxing day, we went to see one of the sights I was really excited about: Laguna Grande, the Bioluminescent, or Bio Bay. This bay is filled with dinoflagellae that glow when disturbed. I had a picture in mind here but there was no way to really place a tripod and take a proper picture since all the bioluminescence was underwater and only accessible by a kayak. But I was just enamored with the beauty of this place. At first a faint mist, as night enveloped the daylight, every swish of our hand or kayak paddle resulted a shimmering teal color. Water cupped in our hands sprinkled out with glistening aqua sparkles. It is a sight to behold. I did the best I could to show how cool this looks and feels:
The last day we were on the island, we maintained great weather though the sea winds persisted. I turned towards our hotel (we were in the yellow section of the villa) to capture this image of the blowing trees and clouds as the sun rose.
As the sun continued to rise, I turned my attention back to the horizon and noticed how much the scene had changed over the course of the 3 nights we were in Fajardo. A cloudy, radiant sunrise that contrasted the stormy scenes sprinkled in between clear blue sky:
I went back to my stomping grounds, the Air Force Memorial, last night. I continued on assignment for the Air Force Memorial and captured a few projects that I will unveil soon. The Air Force Memorial remains one of the coolest “undiscovered” memorials within the Washington, D.C. area. Three giant stainless steel spires shoot brazenly towards the sky. As twilight comes over the scene and stars emerge, the scene is that much more grand.
Today I conducted another photography workshop as part of my Washington DC photography summer bootcamp, this time at Great Falls Par on the Maryland side. The topic is something that is hard for every photographer: shooting during mid-day sun. We discussed a number of topics, including how to deal with harsh light and shadow, and how to use accessories such as neutral density (ND) filters, polarizing filters, and graduated filters. Though it was hot, it was still a good time! We also conducted an afternoon session where we edited the images from earlier in the day in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Though many photographers will only shoot during early morning or late evening, I think it’s good to keep sharp and practice tougher scenarios and capture images during mid day. Here are a few I came away with:
I shot this first image using a polarizing filter to bring some more color to the water and separation in the blue sky from the white clouds:
I used a 10 stop ND filter to achieve this milky look and allow the clouds to streak over. Then, I converted the image to black and white in photoshop to add to the mood:
Thanks for looking, commenting and sharing!
Earlier this week, I went to Great Falls Park to continue a photography project I have been on this summer (which I hopefully can release sometime soon). What I didn’t expect was to shoot a panorama, as well! But once I saw the moon peak out of the southeastern sky, I knew I had to try.
The key to panoramas is to limit distortion and provide enough overlap between images so that the stitching software has a frame of reference to join exposures. While the former statement is not completely true for “Perspective” stitches, it is for traditional panoramas.
Another key to a good panorama is to have enough interest to fill the entire frame, just as that is important with any photograph one should take. Although panoramas are slightly different in that they are made to be seen large and that vast open space can sometimes be a good thing, you need to have some strong focal points in the image.
Here’s my most recent panorama from Great Falls National Park. If you want to know how I make my images, join my summer bootcamp which has just started! The next class is on July 27. I really enjoy teaching and thus far have gotten really good reviews. I hope that teaching these classes can lead to something more fruitful in the future.
One thing to note about this image. There are several “easter eggs” that you may find in the larger version (you probably can’t see them in this version). A zoom at 200% at the very base of the rapids and you can see one of the four Great Blue Herons I found in this image. There are probably more I haven’t found! Another advantage of panoramas — you can get crazy resolution!
Thanks for looking,
Yesterday, I kicked off my summer bootcamp of 16 washington dc landscape and nature photography classes at the Iwo Jima Memorial (otherwise known as the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial). We had a great group of motivated participants and after a slightly uneventful afternoon of light, were treated again by the post-sunset city glow that graces our city and adds drama to the sky.
Especially when there are low clouds hanging around, the faint sunlight mixed in with city lights creates a purple and pink glow right above the city. It slowly creeps across the sky from East to West. Although it is a result of some haze in the sky mixed in with “light pollution”, it is still quite a beautiful sight to behold and photograph. I think all of us were happy to try to feature that pink light above the Iwo Jima Memorial.
The transition between sunset and post-sunset light, especially around the city, can be dramatic. Case in point: check out these two images from the same vantage point, the first taken at 7:56pm and the other at 8:15pm. What a difference 20 min can make!
Just a quick post from tonight’s really amazing sunset at Great Falls. I went to shoot something I planned based on weather, time of year, scouting/past trips, and visualization, but ended up finding something completely different. From that, I note two things I have learned when shooting: 1) Have a plan, but also have some backups in case the scene (mostly weather) doesn’t come as you expect 2) sometimes, just throw all plans away and just capture the moment!
Stay tuned for more from the park… not sure weather I’ll release them one by one or as a set later on. What say you?!!?
Comments/shares are appreciated! Thanks
I went back out to DC on Tuesday to shoot in Washington DC at the Lincoln Memorial. I came a little late and was not very interested in the colors of the sky at first. So, I concentrated on finding some angles and shapes in the architecture of the Lincoln memorial:
Later in the evening after the sky lost its reddish hue, I noticed some stars peeking out from the sky. It’s so rare to see stars in the city, so I thought I would make an attempt to capture them. I used a wide aperture and high iso and some creative post processing to come to this image:
What’s next? Hmm..I’m still undecided if I will be out for 4th of July shooting fireworks… guess we will just have to see 🙂
Anticipating the approaching storms today, I headed down to the Washington Monument. I was practicing some techniques ahead of my Washington DC Nature & Landscape Photography Summer Bootcamp 2014, including perspective blending and panoramas. I’m glad I went shooting because I was again reminded about how epically beautiful the sky can be, including at sunset. It seems like each picture of the sky is unique in its shape and color — though I know that’s not entirely true.
This first image is a 3 shot panorama:
This next image is a 4 shot perspective blend:
I also was intrigued with the texture of the marble of the Washington Monument. I grouped it with the contrast of colors between the warm rock and the cool blue clouds and the shape created by the wide angle at close focusing distance. I used a wider aperture for a more artistic effect and a vignette:
If you enjoyed these shots and want to observe how I make my images, consider joining one or some of my Washington DC Nature & Landscape Photography Summer Bootcamp 2014!
I was sifting through my archives and came across my trip to New Zealand in 2008. This was when I was first toying with photography and was having fun capturing the majestic landscapes around me. If I had the chance, I would change most everything about the images I captured in New Zealand. At the time, I was shooting on Aperture mode, and figured that more light is better so I opened up to the widest f-stop for every shot I took. This is of course, not the best way to capture landscape images but it did allow me to shoot at a pretty fast shutter speed — meaning most of my shots are sharp enough. And, the most important thing is although I did not understand what to do with them, I captured each and every shot in RAW format. This allowed me to make fine adjustments to the exposure and edit the images in ways I did not know how 6 years ago.
When I teach workshops and talk to people who ask me about gear, I tell them it’s really NOTHING to do with your equipment and EVERYTHING to do with if you know what you’re doing with it. I think these pictures are prime examples of that. I shot each picture with a Canon Digital Rebel XT and the stock lens (18-55mm 3.5-5/6). This is as basic a setup as you can ask for. Although I did not capture these pictures as well as I could have, each was a good exposure and with RAW, I was able to tweak them enough to the point that I’m sharing them again.
I made each image a 2:1 panorama format so that they can be paired easily as fine art prints: framed prints, acrylic, canvas print, or whatever other media. Please inquire via email if you are interested. Thanks for looking 🙂
On May 28th 2014, my lil pup Indy turns 1.
I didn’t really grow up with pets (besides an algae eater, and my sister’s cat that she had more recently), so when my wife suggested we get a dog, I was hesitant. I was not enthused about the added responsibility and inconvenience of a pet that needed more than 5 min of my time per day. But after a while I finally caved, and we trekked down to the shih tzu breeder we know in Virginia.
Upon seeing the litter of tiny varied brown, black, and white shih tzus, one stuck out from the pack. He was curiously calm and collected and with a beautiful pattern of brown and black on his back and either side of his face. We knew he was the one and took him home.
During the next couple of weeks, I wondered if I was right that having a dog was too much work! He would not sleep at night, instead unleashing a high-pitched shriek that lasted the entire night. After a couple of nights, we decided to use our earphones as plugs to mask the his ridiculously annoying voice. This was on top of his total lack of potty training. Though this was expected, it was not fun cleaning up incident after incident after incident — anywhere from in his crate to on our white bedsheets.
Over time, he settled into his life with us and his personality began to show. It took us some time to come up with it, but he has lived up to his name. Over the past year, Indy (short for his full name, Indiana Jones Sarma haha) has proved to be an adventurous explorer and feisty friend. No square inch goes uninspected, no piece of fallen food goes unswallowed, no canine neighbor goes unsniffed. He also shows a strong stubbornness. Look him in the eyes for too long and you are begging to play… if you don’t get up and run around with him, he will bark your ear off. And to this day we have not been able to train him, to do anything! He does what he wants, when he wants… true Indiana Jones style.
Even though he’s just a little dog, he has an aura about him. People can’t help but smile and pet him when they meet him, since they feel his positive energy and kid spirit. I’m proud to say that I was wrong about having a dog, and that Indy has made my life more fulfilled. His life and needs for happiness are so simple that I feel he inspires us humans to be more appreciative.
Happy birthday… and STOP BITING THAT INDY!
I am having fun in exploring a more creative approach to my photography. All the while, I am pushing new ways for my artwork to be displayed in print. I finally feel like my goals are only an arm’s reach away. Here’s to hoping:
I also produced some some more literal expressions with these two from the vault:
In case you are interested in the version one of the last image, please see here. I think the new rendition is a bit more dramatic, realistic, and feels more balanced.
I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about how to improve as a photographer and artist. I feel like I have had stops and starts throughout this process — not nearly as easy as I would hope. While I know what subjects and moods interest me, I am curious about the narrative that accompanies my photography. What am I trying to say through this work of experiencing, capturing, and sharing? I don’t know if I will ever have one “statement” to represent me, but I am interested in refining my outputs to be increasingly “me”.
As a way to focus myself, I started a project – one that I think to continue. I am always intrigued at the varied moods that Great Falls shows me. Particularly, there are parts of the park that are peaceful and welcoming and others that are violent and intimidating. This is no better characterized than in the water. So, on Monday evening, I set out to capture water abstracts that gradually lead from calm to furious.
I would be very happy for your comments and thoughts. Remember that any of this shots can be made into photo prints and that I offer photo classes in dc and great falls focusing on nature and landscape photography. Please contact me if you are interested in either.
As a bonus, and not consistently with the theme of water abstracts, I had to capture this scene of huge logs (read: TREES), collecting at the base of the overlooks to Great Falls. These wooden remains are some 30-40 feet long by my rough estimate. It’s just amazing to see the power of our environment, even in our relatively domesticated/controlled urban area.
Thanks for looking!
Washington, D.C. has had a more brutal winter than we’re accustomed to. It has been much colder and snowier than in the recent past. As I have mentioned on this blog, I for one am OK with a real winter like this. But, it’s also fun to break out and experience warm weather in the dead of winter.
My friend and I took a trip to Belize this year to celebrate a few milestones and do some relaxation and exploring. Belize is an awesome, small English-speaking Caribbean country just south of Mexico. For such a small area, it has a wealth of natural beauty. Given we only had 4 days, I prioritized visiting the caves of the mainland and the cayes on the barrier reef, leaving the mountains and rainforest for next time.
Belize did not disappoint. It was a dry 85 degrees every day (in February!), a laid-back and (relatively) honest atmosphere, and a value when it came to lodging, exploring, and eating. Here are some highlights from my trip.
The first location we visited was the Crystal Cave, near San Ignacio on the mainland. Cave formations are numerous all throughout this area of the Caribbean — forming as ancient limestone was exposed to erosion from rainwater. Most people visit the ATM cave for its scale and number of ancient Mayan artifacts. Less visited is the Crystal Cave which rivals its beauty but offers a more unique experience with the many shimmering calcite coverings over the stalactites and stalagmites of the caves. It was a calming and eerie experience tubing through the freshwaters of the cave, and disembarking every several hundred meters to explore the formations. The guides of Cavetubing.bz were great in accommodating my special requests as a photographer.
The next day, we went snorkeling at Hol Chan near the barrier reef. I still haven’t gotten scuba certified, which ideally I would have done instead at the Blue Hole. Regardless, it was a great experience swimming 5 feet from huge stingrays and nurse sharks. I tried using a cheap underwater housing for my camera but it flooded quickly — next time I’ll try something more sturdy (expensive).
On the last night of our trip, I set out to the north end of Caye Caulker, one of many small islands that make up the cayes. On the 15 minute walk there, the scene changed from the restaurants, bars, and dive shops to a more quaint residential look. The pastel colors of some of the homes showed the easy-going character of Caye Caulker:
I had envisioned an image of small caye off of the coast with mangroves, under the starlight. I set out to find such a scene in a place where I thought I would find it. In researching other photographers images, I know there are some places that have been photographed before where it would have been much easier. But, I wanted to do my own exploration and see what I found. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the image I sought, though I did find this peaceful scene of young mangroves on the coast.
Belize is an awesome destination, especially in the dead cold of winter. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of this beautiful country. Till then, all I have is memories…
The last few years, winters in DC have been mild and boring. 60 degree days and no snow or ice to speak of. I appreciate each season and as such, like winters that actually feel like winter. Give me cold weather, sleet, snow, and everything in between and I’m a happy camper. As long as everyone stays safe, I find winter to be one of the most exciting times of the year.
This year, we got a little more snow than we were accustomed to. And, snow and cold always makes for interesting opportunities when it comes to imagery. Here is a collection of images I have taken this year that show the winter mood (and others I took along the way). I hope we get another bump or two of snow before we head into spring!
The images are arranged not by date, but my location. I hope you enjoy the collection; I welcome any thoughts and comments.
Great Falls (and one extra near our apartment)
Great Falls (and one extra near our apartment)
Air Force Memorial
Air Force Memorial
Vietnam and Lincoln Memorial
Vietnam and Lincoln Memorial
This morning, I visited the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC to celebrate Martin Luther King in remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Tidal Basin was filled with photographers and videographers from local and national TV stations. When I arrived just before sunset, everyone was turned east to watch the sunrise over the Jefferson Memorial. But I went straight to the Martin Luther King Memorial to try to capture a few images.
Since I went last, the controversial quote on the east side of the memorial was removed. While I think it was a good thing to remove that quote (given MLK never said it), I’m glad I was able to capture an image of it before it was removed.
It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, with visitors steadily gaining as morning went on. Martin Luther King’s distinctive voice rang out from speakers in the distance, adding to the reflective feeling I had. The calm colors of the sunrise and the moon’s presence really felt illustrative of the mood at the Martin Luther King Memorial this MLK day.
I just recently completed a set of images of the Air Force Memorial in Fall and Winter 2013. I hope I can create a few more winter shots before the season’s end!
Also, you can pick up an Air Force Memorial Calendar from the Air Force Association. In it, you’ll find several of my photos for months within the year.
Early in November, I set out to the U.S. Capitol to recreate a shot that has been a popular print for me: a panorama of the U.S. Capitol with peak fall foliage under gray, rainy skies. I really love the contrast of grays and fall foliage and can appreciate why this shot has been popular. However, I wanted to improve the shot’s composition and detail (it and was shot with one exposure at 21mp cropped in half (essentially 10 megapixels)). Though this can work for a large print even up to 100 inches or more, I wanted to give myself another go at this shot and see what I could come up with.
As I arrived on location, I realized there was a great opportunity for some colorful skies that night. There were high cirrocumulus clouds just hanging over the eastern horizon. I kept this in mind as I continued planning my shot.
As the sun began to set, the colors of the sky took off. I was able to capture 3 very distinct images of the Capitol as the light changed, and a couple of the Washington Monument that showcased the drama in the sky. In order to capture everything, I had to work very fast to keep up with the light, at times running across the mall to capture a shot of the Monument and back to my tripod for the Capitol. It turned out to be one of the most productive evenings I have had developing imagery for my portfolio.
Light tends to start very warm (red) and turn cool as the sun slips beneath the horizon. I ran towards the Monument and captured these two shots — mostly to share the experience and less so for my portfolio:
I turned my attention back to the U.S. Capitol, and saw that those orange clouds had drifted over to the eastern sky over the Capitol and started to turn pink, like I had hoped:
As the pink hues faded, I went for a wider angle and changed the white balance slightly to a more warm tone:
The sun continued to fade and the lights from the U.S. Capitol began to shine. The light became cooler and the contrast of colors between the trees became apparent. This is the image I sought. I captured 5 vertical 36 megapixel shots at 65mm and merged them together into a single panorama. The detail in the large version is great, nearly 20x what I had in my original image:
There is really quite an extraordinary amount of detail in this image. Here’s a small crop an about 75% zoom:
The one drawback of this evening was that the weather and sunset were so good, there were a lot of people out on the U.S. Capitol grounds. Why can’t you see them? Well, I decided to take them out of the frame. I have no hesitation when it comes to altering my images to achieve a certain look. In this case, I want this image to be printed at mural size and hung on a wall. It’s not ideal for an image like that to be overrun with distractions. As long as I can maintain reality (in that this scene actually existed), I’m good with cloning. In fact, I think it’s really cool to see the power of cloning and what it can do to an image like this. Here’s the uncloned version of the same 75% crop from above:
Pretty powerful, if you ask me.
As the night came, I came away with one more image that is probably my favorite. It’s a rather unique look at the U.S. Capitol under the purple clouds that cover the city nearly every night. The purple color is a product of the city lights mixed in with twilight. Shot correctly and with mind to accurate and realistic color, it can create quite a mood:
Hope you enjoyed a glimpse of one very productive evening in Washington, D.C.!
As another year came to close, I thought about how long it really has been since I have been working at photography. I started in 2006, and was mostly playing for a few years. I started my website in December 2008 (5 years!) and my blog in June 2010, but it wasn’t until a cold December night under the stars later that year that I decided to really take photography seriously. A few months later, I linked up with the acclaimed Floris van Breugel, who led me into Olympic National Park and helped see the artistry of the craft.
After I dedicated myself as an photographic artist and not just a hobbyist, I found photography much more fulfilling. Each picture was a figurative representation of myself, not just a representation of the literal world around me. The problem I found, though, was that I did not know what that representation of self was. What was I representing? What is my artistic message? Am I calling for action or just to observe and appreciate? Are my images speaking for themselves? What am I saying that others aren’t? So many questions stood where before, it was just a picture.
So began another journey into photography and myself. At first, I was impatient – anxious for an ah-ha moment. But finding the message wasn’t that easy for me. Some photographers have their message before their imagery, and some know it right from the start. Others exude their message subliminally through their work. Some may never find their message and instead, and either brush it off or wallow in a purgatory of blandness and repetition.
Rather than come up with an answer, I instead decided to… wait. It is relatively easy to build a working expertise in photography — all you need is to spend enough time studying technical tools and light. It is, however, much more difficult to pair that technical expertise with a coherent thought that is illustrated in imagery but still somewhat intangible. After getting quickly frustrated with an apparent lack of progress, I realized that… this takes time. No one becomes completely confident in his or her abilities overnight. But, I am happy to say I have had several companies buy large prints to hang prominently on their walls. I am happy that some artists find inspiration in my renditions enough to paint them. I am humbled when each one of my friends or acquaintances compliments my work. Overall, I am proud of the work I put into photography — planning, shooting, editing, printing, writing blogs, coding the website, and marketing. And with more work and time, I think I’ll continue to refine my message and art into a body of work that can ultimately speak for itself. An analogy that comes to mind is for me to chisel, not hammer, into the next year and beyond.
In 2013, I spent much time refining my Washington, D.C. portfolio. This was with purpose, as I taught quite a few photography classes in and around the city and because I want a marketable portfolio to help my clients see my other, non-city work. I was also fortunate to capture some local/travel shots from Great Falls, Northwest Maryland, Western Virginia, California, and Italy. Overall, I am happy with the turnout of images from this year.
As I turn to next year, I will attempt 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. That’s the goal at least.
Now, onto the images from 2013. These are only my personal favorites. I would be very happy if you would comment on your favorite, or perhaps another that didn’t make my cut.
Thanks for the support and kind words… and Happy New Year!
In September, my wife and I celebrated our one year anniversary in Italy. What a fantastic trip! Like our honeymoon in Bali, I don’t like to spend too much time with photography during these trips, since it takes away from the experience of relaxing travel with a companion. When I try mixing photography with vacation, I end up doing neither very well. That said, I did bring my camera along and captured a few images that will help us retain our memory of this amazing trip.
While we visited (and I drove through) significant parts of the country, including Florence, Siena, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast, I shot most of my pictures just at the coast. This was because we spent most of our time there and, because it was the most picturesque of the places we visited.
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to detail our trip too much. Instead, I’ll leave you with the images and move on to the next one. After all, it’s already been 2 months since I’ve been back 🙂 It’s about time I posted these.
Please enjoy and let me know your thoughts!
And one, just one image from Rome 🙂
On Thanksgiving, my family has a tradition to go around the table and mention what we are thankful for. Overall, I am always thankful for the same thing: health of those who are dear to us. Health is the number one requirement from which all other good fortunes come. I am thankful for every breath we take and every day we live without pain or sadness.
Within photography, I am thankful for something slightly different. I’m thankful for the inspiration that photography provides to me and to others.
First, I am happy that the natural world inspires me to capture and illustrate its beauty. This drive is the purpose I spend so much time with my camera, and for a passion like this, I am very thankful.
I am also thankful to be inspired by other photographers and artists in this world. I started photography not even realizing its potential for artistic impression. Over the years, skilled artists have inspired me with their unique visions of the world. Inevitably, their work influences my own and drives me to get better.
Lastly, I am thankful that my own work inspires others. I always am humbled and appreciative of the kind comments people provide on my work, the fact that they will buy it and display it prominently in their personal space, and that other artists, photographers I have taught and others, are inspired by it.
Over the past year, I was approached twice with requests to paint my work onto canvas. I obliged both requests happily, humbled that others find some of my work so compelling to spend hours on their own rendition.
Without inspiration, the intrigue of photography — to both the general public and photographers — would be lost. I’m happy to pay inspiration forward and continue illustrating our passion and humanity through imagery.
Tonight, I went to the U.S. Capitol to recreate a rather popular print of mine. I was never fully satisfied with it, and wanted to improve the end product. While I think I was successful in capturing the image I wanted, I also had to capture what turned out to be one of the best sunsets in Washington DC that I can remember. In looking up at the sky earlier in the day, I noticed the high cirrus clouds and had a notion that it might be a colorful sunset. Nothing I thought would have prepared me for the show I saw!
While I was shooting the U.S. Capitol, I kept turning around to see how the western exposed clouds looked. When they finally lit on fire, I ran into position to fire off a few to capture the moment. Here are two versions — one wider, that shows the Autumn colored trees that line the National Mall, and one closer, that silhouettes the Washington Monument:
I continued shooting past sunset to make sure I captured the U.S. Capitol shot I planned. After a while, the gorgeous clouds that enabled the orange sunset moved over the Capitol and slowly moved west. I was intrigued by the contrast between the warm colors near the U.S. Capitol and the blue/magenta sky that is so typical just past sunset while in the city. The small streak of the clouds iced it for me:
Hope you enjoyed the post! More photos to come from this (pretty productive) evening.