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.
This past Saturday morning, I led a workshop at Great Falls National Park. We are just hitting peak fall foliage in the Washington, D.C. Area, and wanted to capture this beautiful time on camera.
We were treated to a beautiful sunrise. I scaled down some rocks (being very careful while doing so) to capture the next two images: one vertical and one, 3 shot panorama to show the scale of the rocks. In just a few minutes, the light changed pretty drastically from a pinkish to orangish hue:
Of course, it is fall season and I would be remiss if I didn’t include a shot showcasing the trees. Since the trees ring around the waterfall, it takes a decent zoom to illustrate the trees in their autumn luster. I waited for the sun to peek through the clouds and over the rocks to illuminate the foliage and the waterfalls beneath:
This past Friday, I led my 15th class within my meetup group. Fall colors are just starting to show on the Tidal Basin beneath the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.
In between instruction, I went for two shots, one normal and one panorama. Enjoy!
On Friday night, I returned from a 10 day trip with my wife to celebrate our one year anniversary. What an incredible trip! I took some shots along the way, but kept the focus on relaxation and touring each city we visited. I don’t like to mix too much photography “work” with vacationing with family — but still have a few images to share.
In keeping tabs of situations closer to home, I found that Blackwater Falls State Park was nearing peak fall foliage for the autumn 2013 season. No time to waste! After getting in from Italy at 6pm on Friday night and being super jetlagged, I woke up at 4am on Saturday morning and booked it to West Virginia to shoot a day of fall colors.
First things first though. I had my eye on one locale near Dolly Sods that I wanted to check out, so I scouted it for a future visit. As I scaled the dried out river, I found a cool triangular cave formation from a rock jutted out 45 degrees from the ground. Using a wide angle and polarizer, I reduced the glare in the bottom left of the frame to show the rocks and allowed glare in the bottom right to balance with the water flow illuminated by the rising sun:
As the day progressed, I came towards Blackwater Falls State Park and visited an icon of the area, Elakala Falls. Elakala falls is such a popular spot in the fall, and it’s frequently shot with a long exposure to show water flow and eddies swirling with leaves. While I stayed with this theme, I wanted to show something a little different as well. The falls are located in a gorge that does not have a clear view to the sky. However, I wanted to emphasize the blue skies above so I used a reflection within a pothole formation. Slight polarization limited glare on the far rocks but still allowed a reflection:
As I continued observing Elakala Falls, I noticed that as the water dropped from the rock ledges, they formed interesting triangle formations, almost in the shape of dark hooded figures crowding around each other. The shape was only briefly visible every few seconds, so I chose a relatively fast shutter speed and kept shooting until one shot reflected the mood, shape, and texture I was going for:
Last but not least, Lindy Point. This is a great location to view the sunset at Blackwater Falls State Park, given that it looks due west through Blackwater Canyon. I came earlier in the day and found that many trees had peaked during this area. I planned to come 1.5 hours before sunset to get my composition set, but had no idea what awaited me once I arrived.
What an amazing gathering of folks at Blackwater Falls for sunset over the river. 75+ people in and out, enjoying the weather. Perhaps 15 folks trying photography, some of whom mentioning the works of artists who I am familiar with. A workshop group based in Blue Ridge with the instructors chatting me up about gear. A nice group of friends and two dogs enjoying some cold ones atop a rockledge cliff (why didnt I ever think of this!). It was a bit hard trying to get spot on the cliff faces, but I took my time. After checking each side multiple times, observing the foliage, the rocks, the sun, the anticipated location of the stars and milky way, I confirmed my composition. I took this one shot while scouting a shot towards the north:
Slowly, all those who had come to watch the sunset left. Some complained that it wasn’t as vibrant as they would have hoped. I can understand the sentiment and the desire to see a killer light show that takes over the whole sky. But I am also of the opinion that every sunrise/sunset has its advantages/disadvantages and reasons to be unique. Soon after sunset, I was the only one left. I kept shooting into twilight for the shot I was planning and that I had never before seen in Blackwater Falls.
The first shot was the original shot I planned. I didn’t want to include the milky way, but just the blue/purple mood of twilight with stars, clouds, and the foliage below. Venus made these shots that much more effective, as the planet beamed like in a dream:
As twilight progressed and the milky way shined, I tried one more composition to emphasize it in the sky. The name of the photo came to me as I was shooting past the huge rocks towards the stars shining above:
I hope you enjoyed these images of peak fall foliage in autumn at Blackwater Falls State Park. Next up, images from Italy!
Following up on Part 2 from my trip to the Eastern Sierras, my next destination was the Lundy Canyon and Lake Tahoe.
Not a whole lot of time to write about what adventures I had since I’m boarding a plane to ITALY in a few hours!
Needless to say, after a few days of hiking I was pretty worn out. With about a day and a half left, I decided to do a day hike to Lundy Canyon before booking it to Lake Tahoe before my flight from Reno the following morning.
I usually perform photography during “magic hour” – sunrise or sunset, since it’s the best time of day for soft beautiful colors. Given that I was in the White Mountains the day before and on a flight the next day, it just wasn’t feasible. So, I went on a day hike into Lundy Canyon.
This is one of those times when the feeling mattered much more than the shot. What a great hike! Mid 70s, a warm breeze, and an amazing canyon filled with waterfalls, tall trees, wildflowers, and interesting rocks. I later made it to this waterfall, which was surrounded by fragrant yellow wildflowers (the shot just didn’t materialize).
I hiked out of the canyon, into my car, and drove straight to Lake Tahoe. After 3 hours, I finally arrived and began exploring the area. Many of you have heard of Tahoe before, as I have. I thought it was some sort of entertainment hub — not the beautiful freshwater lake it is. I came upon Sandy Point Harbor and did note the many people there, but couldn’t help but appreciate the beautiful scene of large boulders displaced from the mountain and deposited at the shore. I pointed west, hoping for some color, but was instead intrigued by the rays of light as they played around the boulders.
So ends my images from the Eastern Sierras. Next up, ITALY!
Following up on Part 1 from my trip to the Eastern Sierras, my next destination was the White Mountains.
The White Mountains are a few miles away from Bishop, California. A desert mountain, the area looks like a gray, barren wasteland, with occasional shrubs and nearly no wildlife except for beetles, marmots, and small birds. And… Bristlecone Pine trees: beautiful, gnarly, and old trees rising up from the gray ash. These trees are some of the oldest beings on earth (some being nearly 5,000 years old) and after their death, still stand erect for many years. Standing tall on the White Mountains at 11,000 feet and away from most city light, these trees are witnesses to spectacularly clear, starry night skies. For all these reasons, I traveled up into the White Mountains.
Upon first arriving to the Eastern Sierras, I noticed the drab looking, gray and brown mountains and cliffs. As I ascended up the White Mountains, those grays and browns turned brighter colors: light grays, reds, and white (hence the name of the mountains). At the same time, as I climbed elevation, the air got thinner abd the mid-day blue sky turned deeper and deeper blue. The deep blue sky against the brightly colored, rolling peaks of the White Mountains almost made me feel like I was underwater, though I was the exact opposite of that:
As I continued up towards Schulman and Patriarch Groves, home of the bristlecones, I began noticing some short yellow shrub-like flowers just barely rising from the gray dirt. Tiny marmots darted back and forth in the road ahead of me, hiding in these shrubs and their homes as they searched for whatever little food existed in the landscape. I stopped in an area that I felt encompassed the daytime character of the White Mountains, with a few yellow shrubs scattered in the foreground, a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds above, and bristlecones hanging on to their existence in the white hills in the distance:
When I arrived closer to the Bristlecone trees, it was still daytime. I took this time to scout the trees and determine the best location for sunset and twilight. As the sun continued to bear down on the landscape, I noticed the stark shadow cast by one of the twisted, dead trees and positioned it to streak across the frame. I used a small aperture to accentuate the light of the sun to create a “sunburst” or “sunstar” effect and a black and white rendition to enhance the stark mood of the scene:
After my first night at Mono Lake and some research, I determined that the milky way should appear to the south/southwest of the location I was shooting. So, I continued scouting compositions pointed that way. Milky way shots are especially common from the White Mountains area for the reasons I stated above (dark skies and high elevation); however, I wanted to try something slightly different than the time-lapse, one tree compositions I had seen. Being drawn by the barren quality of the granite rubble and the rough life of the Bristlecones just hanging on the side of the mountains, I decided on my composition just after sunset. I used soft, twilight rays to illuminate the foreground and continued to wait until the first stars showed. Soon, I could see the milky way with my own eyes — a large orange band going across the entire sky. With the use of today’s camera technology, the camera pulled out much more detail than my eyes could ever see, but helped create an unforgettable image for me:
Just a few more images left from my trip to the Eastern Sierras. Stay tuned…
Tonight, I hosted another Introduction to Landscape and Nature Photography class in Washington, D.C. This time, at the newly lit Washington Monument.
The weather was perfect — mid 70s and high clouds. Everything looked perfect for a brilliant sunset. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the color stayed a muted blue. Right when I thought all hope was lost, the entire sky was engulfed in an orange pink. Despite a few construction artifacts, the view to the monument was very nice and complemented by the radiant color:
In early August, I traveled out west for a good friend’s wedding in San Diego. Given I am rarely on the west coast, I took this trip as an opportunity to explore a region of our country that I hadn’t previously.
My first thought was to search for any interesting locations within driving distance of San Diego. But I quickly learned that any such location (like Death Valley) would be some 110 degrees fahrenheit during early August. Broadening the range a bit, I decided on a short flight out to Reno, Nevada and a drive just south from there to visit a higher elevation and cooler part of California: the Eastern Sierra Mountains. Over the course of the next three posts, I’ll cover my trip from the major locations I visited around the Sierras: Mono Lake, the White Mountains, and Lake Tahoe.
Though I’m not a scientist, I love to learn about how beautiful parts of the Earth are as they are. I stand in awe of a natural site, thinking about the long history of violence, happenstance, change, and silence… and soothing questions come to my mind. How could this possibly get here? How could it be so beautiful? What came before it, and what’s next? What else is out there, in the world and the Universe? Why do I even find this beautiful, isn’t it just water, rock, and air? Is this beauty the mark of God?
These questions make me research each place I’ve ever photographed or ever will. Each answer is one step closer to the truth. So here goes my semi-informed summary of what I found intriguing about the Sierras and surrounding region.
The Sierra Mountains, like most other dramatically beautiful natural sites in the world, are a product of continuous tectonic forces. As the giant plates of the Earth smashed together on one end and sank at another, a plume of granite rock formed just below the surface and pushed upwards. The rock pushed through an ancient sea, displacing the ocean and revealing the hardened sediments that were accumulated within the water. As the mountains continued to push upwards, wind and rain eroded most of the ocean sedimentary rock, leaving the characteristically gray mountains that populate the Sierra region. Glacial events served to cut the granite rock into interesting shapes, as best illustrated perhaps by Yosemite Valley’s Half Dome.
While volcanic activity continued in the Sierras, it also created the White Mountains and other ranges just to the east, and with other geologic changes caused the relatively recessed area to form the Owens Valley and Mono Basin. In the basin formed the saltwater, terminal Mono Lake, which held the runoff from the nearby mountain water and developed salinity as salty minerals continue to be deposited but never dumped. There Mono Lake has stood for nearly a million years, before recent human activity revealed it’s hidden beauty.
In the mid 20th century, tributaries to Mono Lake were redirected to feed Los Angeles’ waters system. As the supply to the lake dwindled, so did the lake’s depth. With that, marvelous limestone formations, created when volcanic hot springs interact with the salty Mono Lake, were revealed. These fantastic tufa formations line the edges of Mono Lake, are iconic of the area, and were a big reason for my trip to the Eastern Sierras. It’s an irony that human meddling with nature results in humans marveling at a natural occurrence. Fortunately, California has set a goal of restoring the lake’s original depth within the next 20 or so years, which will result in water again covering these rocks. Until then, we can appreciate the tufas revealed at Mono Lake.
On to the trip itself. I flew into Reno on Sunday afternoon, following my friend’s wedding. Shaking off the hangover from a long couple of nights, I got off the plane in the late afternoon and headed South to try to arrive to Mono Lake by sunset. 140 miles and more than 2.5 hours later, I finally arrived. While I normally like to have a composition in mind about an hour before sunset, I was only getting out of my car about 15 minutes before it! I was in a rush, and did what I could.
I headed straight for South Tufa, an area with a particularly interesting set of tufa formations. I parked my car as close as I could, then started hiking through rabbitbrush towards the shore.
Looking out into the distance to the lake, it seemed like an easy enough hike over the brush. I quickly realized it was not. The rabbitbrush grew larger, wider, and seemingly stronger the closer I got to the water. At one point I was literally stuck in between two bushes when I decided to take another way. While moving back through the brush away from the shore, I noticed two things: a pugent, but sweet smell from the rabbitbrush and a colorful sunset just above them and the nearby ridgeline. The yellow tips of brush highlighted the last streams of sunlight and the dead brush contrasted with its shape and cooler color:
As the light faded into twilight, I finally found my way to the lake shore. In many cases, I’m done photographing after twilight. But another reason I decided on visiting the Eastern Sierras was the opportunities for night time photography. Being 8000 feet in the air during the late summer months, I was hoping to catch some starlight and milky way shots that are near impossible near Washington, D.C.
After a couple of test shots, I found an amazing view right into our own galaxy. Smoke from the just blazed Rim fire added some haze and color in the sky. I framed the milky way to race across the frame as the tufa towers zig zagged around it.
The next morning, I headed back down to South Tufa to catch the sunrise. As I started got down to shore, I noticed really clean and easy walkway leading back up to near where I parked. In the darkness, I couldn’t find this access point and instead struggled in the rabbitbrush! Oh well, guess it was worth it for the experience of bushwhacking — I guess it’s what the natives did back in the day when they wanted to visit the Lake.
An iconic location, I pretty much resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to capture anything too unique out of that morning’s shoot at Mono Lake. I know many photographers who have shot there and everywhere in the dramatically beautiful west of the USA, but I did not expect to see the 6 professionalish photographers lurking around the tufas that morning.
Regardless, the sheer size and span of the tufas across Navy Beach was an impressive sight. I used a panorama at a semi-wide angle to capture it all, but not allow the wide angle distortion to miniaturize the tufas in the water. All said, this image is 150 megapixels — a size that could easily be printed as a mural:
As the sun continued to rise over Mono Lake, I was captivated by another tufa formation away from shore. As the sun shined warmth on the tufa and the rabbitbrush beneath it, the scene was iconic of the landscape of the area:
I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of my series from the Eastern Sierras. Next up, White Mountains (and some more starlight photography).
As I continue to process the images from my Eastern Sierra trip, I wanted to leave you with some other work I have been developing for the past several months.
For the past few months, you may have noticed that I have shot and posted many images of the Air Force Memorial, in Arlington, VA. It just so happens that I have been working in an official capacity for the Memorial. My work will be featured in many publications for the Air Force Memorial, including the 2014 Calendar, murals, and magazines.
So far, this relationship has allowed me to take some images of the Air Force Memorial that have not yet been captured. I have captured a dramatic, full-on view of the Memorial right after a strong storm, amongst other views and more that I will share with you over the coming weeks.
More recently, after some inspiration from renown wilderness photographer Marc Adamus, I have been trying some perspective blending techniques to capture even more unique views of the Air Force Memorial. The structure itself rises so high off of the ground, that often times, it is difficult to capture the Air Force Memorial in a single shot. Therefore, I have been using multiple exposures to cover a larger field of view than traditionally allowed, and blending/transformation techniques within Photoshop to merge the images together to form a cohesive view. Using this technique, I was able to capture a composition that has not yet been seen: an eastern exposure to the rising sun and Washington Monument, with the entire Air Force Memorial in the foreground.
I hope you enjoy this shot and the others to come. Once I get copies of the other Air Force Memorial publications, I’ll be sure to post them here.
Thanks for any comments!
Earlier this month, I went on a 4 day lightning tour of the Eastern Sierras, including Mono Lake, the White Mountains, and some small sights in between. As an East Coast city guy, it is always a fantastic and memorable experience to travel out west. Dramatic geologic events of the past still show their mark on much of the landscape — unlike the East where time has allowed erosion to whittle down the environment to a more conservative look.
While I continue to develop my shots and write the story from my trip, I wanted to leave you with the first image I created while there. This may just be my favorite image from the trip, if not it is certainly one of the most unique scenes I have shot. Being near Washington, D.C., we do not get a chance for as many dark skies and therefore a window into the stars above and our own galaxy, the milky way. On my first day, I set out to capture a scene at Mono Lake looking towards this dramatic celestial show. I hope you enjoy it! I will tell the whole story of how I found and captured this scene in a post early next week.
Thanks for any comments! More to come…