Old Familiar Places

By Roger (6 April 2015)

I love to travel with my camera. If you're looking for someone to travel far and often, I'll volunteer. I've been lucky enough to move from city to city around the US and to several in other countries. I really love to visit historic locations and lived, for six years, in a city that was more than 2,000 years old. It is such a thrill to see new places; have unique experiences; and meet new people. You want to put all of it into your camera.

Narrow streets of a medieval town, Poznan, Poland

Narrow streets of a medieval town, Poznan, Poland

At the same time, don't forgo frequent visits to a nearby location. There are many advantages to photographing in an area you are familiar with.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

For me, a good example is Williamsburg, Virginia. It's just a couple of hours from where we live now, and we used to live even closer. Both of my daughters graduated from the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg. Mark and I led the Worldwide Photowalk there for three years. I've walked the streets of Williamsburg many, many times. I know I will be back there, again.

If you've never been there, you might be overwhelmed by the whole spectacle. The walk around it is about 2 miles, and some of the best attractions for photographers are not obvious. The weather may not be favorable to make the photographs you hoped for. You probably don't have time to investigate all the locations and displays. There is never enough time.

Because of my familiarity with the town, I have favorite spots: locations where something is always going on; locations that have great photo subjects and backgrounds; locations to watch and photograph people.

I didn't see this shot the first time I visited.

I didn't see this shot the first time I visited.

The first time you visit a new location, you feel compelled to bring all your gear, so you're ready for everything. (Or is that just me?) Carrying a heavy load of gear will slow you down and give you back problems. These distractions can impact your ability to get the shot you want. For places I visit frequently, I know which lenses worked best and which ones to leave at home. The whole experience is different when you know you can re-visit a location. I don't feel bad if I can't get the shot I planned – I'll just put that on my list for the next visit.

Also, if you pay attention during your post-processing, you'll notice things that can help you on your next visit. We have a somewhat famous cherry blossom festival, here in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Mark and I have been to it a few times. Most people cram around the far side of the Reflecting Pool, wherever they can find a space, and point their cameras at the Jefferson Memorial. The sun rises behind the memorial, so it's a pretty shot.

The Jefferson Memorial, with a crescent moon

The Jefferson Memorial, with a crescent moon

I've post-processed many photos from here and have had time to reflect on what I should have done better. Our photo group is headed there in a couple of weeks, so I went out, this past weekend, to verify a certain spot that gives me an angle most will miss. I took several reference shots, zoomed in, with just the memorial. No one else was there because the blossoms are still buds. The blossoms are later than usual due to our cold winter. Can you see the detail I wanted in the photo below?

I hope those clouds are there in two weeks.

I hope those clouds are there in two weeks.

When you arrive at the proper time for this shot, it is still dark. Which makes sense, right? You can't catch the sunrise behind the memorial if arrive when it's light out. You can't see into the rotunda that early. I want to be able to see old TJ between the columns, with the sunrise as a backlight. Because I've been there several times, I know this location. New photographers won't even know to look for it. This is another advantage to going back to a location several times. I found this view when I was post-processing the 2013 photo. That time, I just got lucky in my choice of location. Luck is not something you should plan on when making photographs.

100% zoom

100% zoom

So, don't be afraid to go back to a location more than once. The more familiar places offer opportunities to improve on your skills; allow you to be more relaxed; and give you time. Time to thoroughly think through and make the photo you want – although, my offer to travel some place new still stands. Have fun.

Winter Travel

By Roger (6 Feb 2014)

While Mark is hibernating, working away in his cave until the temperatures are warmer than 80, I love winter and getting out in it. I've been out around town during our recent snow events because, if you want a photo of town, in the winter, during a snow shower, at night...well...you have to be there.

Old Town Manassas snow shower

Old Town Manassas snow shower

My first photo weekend for 2014 was a trip to Smithfield, Virginia. It is a lovely town, situated on the Pagan River. They had eight inches of snow a couple of days before my arrival, and much of it was still there. It's only a few hours from my house, and I've never been there. That's reason enough for me, but the initial draw was another of the Civil War sesquicentennial events.

There was a small skirmish at Smithfield on January 31 and 1 February 1864. A small Confederate force repelled an equally small Union raiding force. There was fighting up and down Main Street until the Confederates brought out a couple of cannons. The Union gunboat Smith-Briggs was brought into the Pagan River to pick up the Union soldiers and effect a retreat. The Confederates fired a shot that disabled the gunboat, putting an end to that strategy. Prisoners were gathered, and the boat set ablaze. When the munitions exploded on the boat, there was more damage to the town. Your history lesson for this week is concluded with the obligatory photo of cannon fire.

Cannon fires in Smithfield re-enactment.

Cannon fires in Smithfield re-enactment.

After making some photos at the re-enactors' camp, I set off for the Main Street area on a one-man photowalk. Since I had never been there before, I was looking at everything with “new eyes.”

What a great place, full of friendly folks! I live in a suburban neighborhood in northern Virginia; it is very conveniently located but not terribly interesting. I really liked Smithfield's tree-lined streets and the big, old houses with turrets and fancy porches. It seemed like the idealized small town where the old folks sit in rocking chairs on the porch, while they play endless games of checkers.

Don't you just love these old homes?  Church Street, Smithfield, VA.

Don't you just love these old homes?  Church Street, Smithfield, VA.

Smithfield Inn porch rockers.

Smithfield Inn porch rockers.

I'm old enough to know that the reality of heating and maintaining those houses may have dampened my fantasy of living there, but, since I was only there for the day, I didn't have to deal with that conflict. The historic and picturesque town made for a very pleasant photowalk. After a couple of hours and five miles, I meandered back to Smithfield Station (link), at the end of Church Street and the approximate location where the Smith-Briggs exploded and sank. What luck – right there was an excellent restaurant to cap off a great day.

You can see why I'm always trying to get you (and me) out there. You will see skill improvement and have more fun if you keep your photography muscles toned from frequent use. I make sure I designate some time for some dedicated photography work every month – regardless of the season. I work on post-processing and other small stuff during the week whenever I can, but I also need to schedule chunks of time solely for my photography.

This trip allowed me to add to my personal project and work on a variety of photo subjects I wouldn't normally pursue. You, obviously, don't need to spend the night away from home every time you go. But, when your wife is having a sisters weekend at your house, don't grump about it – grab your camera and hit the road for some fun.

Wish there were some interesting clouds for the sunrise at Smithfield Station. Guess I'll have to go back and try again.

Wish there were some interesting clouds for the sunrise at Smithfield Station. Guess I'll have to go back and try again.

The Dawn's Really Early Light

My photographic year has gotten off to a terribly slooooow start thanks to a lot of work stuff.  I have not had the camera in my hands for weeks and that was making me grumpy (er?). This last weekend Sarah decided we needed a little get away and wanted me to take some more pictures (she is wonderful!).  So we drove over to beautiful Annapolis, Maryland.  Our hotel was literally over the water so we both got up at 0 Dark Hundred and went out onto the pier to shoot the sunrise.  I had planned on this so I was prepared.  For these kind of shots, you really need your tripod due to the long exposures.  Anything over 1/30th of a second and the blurring is just unacceptable.  As you can see from the .exif data, I was shooting in Manual mode and had chosen f/10 to put the whole scene in focus.  I kept adjusting the shutter speed to get the images to look decent in the display. These images have been processed using the Adobe Lightroom 4 Beta and the noise reduction algorithm really is an improvement.  Even though I had jacked the ISO up to 640—pretty much the maximum usable value for the D300, I could still see a lot of noise.  It was more evident due to the calm water.One of the other features of the new version is just the overall processing algorithm, it was visibly faster and made the colors appear just like that early morning.  

We had a really relaxing weekend with some good food, some nice wine and a view from our room which captured the magic of the Chesapeake Bay.  …plus I got to take some photos.