By Roger (31 January 2016)

We got a bit of snow, last weekend. About 30 inches. For some of us, this is a great time to get outside and make some photos.

I've spent large chunks of my life in snowy regions, so, unlike most northern Virginians, I'm not driven into a panic attack when the flakes begin to fall. In fact, I like to get out early – before the plows start blocking streets and people put lots of footprints onto the sidewalks and into the drifts. If that's at night, I'm even happier, since most people will be off the roads and out of my photos.

We had a past blog that covers some of the precautions to take with your camera out in these conditions and some adjustments you may want to take on your exposure settings (link), so I'll skip those in this blog.

As the storm was coming in, Friday night, I went out with a couple of other photographers, Robyn and Pete, on a quick trip into Old Town Manassas. We had the entire area to ourselves. Great conditions.

It is always nice to have other people with you when you're out. It just makes the cold and snow more enjoyable. And, you have other eyes to make sure you don't get so into your camera that you miss some random vehicle headed your way when you're in the middle of the road. ;-)

We parked at the Amtrak Station and set out on foot, toting tripods and camera bags, looking for some quick inspiration. We only had a short amount of time, but, hey, you need to get out there when the time is right.

Pete is a fan of long exposures, so his first shot is a six second exposure of the park, near the train station. This is where a tripod is a must. Unless blurred photos are your artistic statement, you're going to need a sturdy place to put your camera for such a long exposure.

Long exposure, from Peter Guyan

One of the joys of shooting with other people is comparing how differently you shoot the same subject. Pete and I were standing next to each other, under a small gazebo, when we heard a train's warning blast. Both of us spun our cameras around. We were only going to get one shot. We didn't coordinate who was going to shoot what, just both made quick decisions on what we wanted.

Pete went for the long exposure, with a five second shutter speed. As the engine moved through the station, the lights on the cars became a blur. The rest of the scene is sharp and the exposure was correct for the lamp post. It would be very easy to blow out the highlights in this kind of shot.

Train station long exposure. Photo by Peter Guyan

I was concentrating on the station, trying to get the engine as it pulled into view. My exposure was a quarter of a second. I got the motion blur of the engine and snow. If I had a second chance, I might have used an eighth of a second, to slightly reduce the motion blur of the engine, but I like how the engine's headlights illuminate the falling snow. The snow was really coming down by this time.

Train arrives in Manassas Station

At our next location, just a couple of blocks away, Robyn lined up on the steps of a local restaurant, Malones. It is in an old church, so it has nice sweeping stairs and interesting windows. She went to monochrome in post-processing for a moody photo, about tones and shapes.

Monochrome staircase. Photo by Robyn Wiencko

I put my camera in almost the exact same spot, although I swung my camera into the building a little more. I liked the warmth of the lights on the steps, contrasting with the cooler lights from the windows. Since the colors are what attracted me, I left mine in color.

Snowy steps, at Malones

When you're out with other photographers, it is always fun to compare how differently you each shoot the exact same scene. We didn't talk about what we were seeing or how we wanted to capture the scenes, we just each have a different view. That's why photowalks work.

The snow will give you opportunities that a spring day doesn't. You can experiment with exposure settings and lighting beyond the more common sunrise. Now, I'm a big lover of sunrises, but you can't always shoot the same thing. All of the effort can pay off as you advance your photography skill set.

Robyn and Pete stopped by the battlefield, on their way to our meetup, to make a couple of photos there. For those who worry about having fancy equipment, Robyn is shooting a lower end Nikon, with just the kit lens. It hasn't stopped her from making some fine photographs. The snow shimmering in fading light caught Robyn's eye on these old weeds. I think she made one of her best photos to date.

Winter weeds. Photo by Robyn Wiencko

My plea to you: get out there. Yes, it is cold. Yes, you may need to take a few precautions with your gear. It is worth it. And, we always have fun.

If you want to see more of Robyn's photos, you can find her on 500PX (here) and Flickr (here). Pete's photos are, also, on 500PX (here) and Flickr (here). My thanks to both for letting me post their photos.

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 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.

Fall Already?—How Time Flies

We had the great fortune to have Sarah’s daughter visiting us this last weekend and took advantage of the gorgeous weather to get out and see some of the local scenery.  It has been dramatic how quickly the leaves have changed all across the area. We found a 19th century farm nearby that was celebrating their heritage as part of the local Civil War history.

It was fascinating to listen to the local members of the Warrenton Antiquarian Society act out the lives of the residents.  This gentleman portrayed a younger man to joined the local Confederate militia two weeks before the First Bull Run battle and was promptly wounded and died.

 After such arduous learning we had to relax in the pumpkin patch.

That also proved very tiring, so we wandered off to visit a few local wineries.  Most of the harvest is completed, but a few grapes are left hanging for late harvest wines to come.  We wound up lounging on Marterella’s patio to reflect on just how lucky we are.