Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fur-Lough Fotos Vol. 1

As promised, here is the first iteration of Fur-Lough Fotos! I took the opportunity on my unpaid day off to head up to the National Zoo. The weather was beautiful for an afternoon outside, not too hot and not too muggy. An odd occurrence here in D.C. in August, so I had to take advantage. 

I took several hundred pictures, 600 or so in fact, and these 11 are the best of the lot. I have to admit, I was having some trouble with the light. I wasn't totally on my game. I did, however, get to take my new toy - a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens - out for a decent spin. I think I was concentrating too much on using it and not on my settings. 

This first shot isn't from zoo, it's one of the wildflowers in my backyard. As you can see, I was working on close-ups in this set. 


Probably the cutest of the animals at the zoo, the Asian otters were a big hit with all the kids. The otters are Chowder (dad) and Clementine (mom); daughters Pickles, Saffron, Olive, Peaches, Radish and Rutabaga; and sons Pork Chop, Turnip and Kevin. You can guess which one is my favorite. 


Imagine for a moment, just how soft and furry this pile of otters is. They all kinda bunched up in a beam of sunlight and lounged about. Then some went for a swim.


Not all the animals at the zoo live in cages. This bee, and its pals were busy hitting the nectar and spreading the pollen.


This kori bustard strick a noble pose for me. This shot, along with the one of the bee, really showed me what my new lens can do. Crystal clear and sharp as a tack...as long as I get the shutter speed and aperture right.


I like the way this turned out, but flamingos have creepy looking eyes. 


A feeling I first had while watching one of the elephants was reinforced as I said welcome to the monkey house. I know that for many, most in fact, of the animals at the zoo, it is a refuge for their species. American zoos are places where species are kept from going extinct. That doesn't mean I don't feel sorry for the larger mammals. I look at the gorilla below, and the orangutans that follow, and know that genetically speaking, they're not all that different from you and me. And I know I wouldn't like spending my life in a cage. But, then again, no one's going to poach this big guy. 



The orangutans do have one advantage, it's called the O-line. The tower the ape on the left is holding onto is connected to several others by cables 45 feet off the ground. The orangutans use these to move about the park if they feel like it. They didn't feel like it on Friday.


This little gator or croc, not sure which, was just lounging about. 


Kinda like with the apes and elephants, I'm pretty sure this big guy would much rather be lunching on something brought down by some lionesses. But his meat/bloodcicle will have to do for the time being. 

I don't know if I was reading some thing that wasn't there, but it seemed to me that many of the larger mammals don't like being gawked at. This was especially true for the apes. It seemed like they made a conscious effort to keep their backs to the humans. I don't know, maybe it was my imagination. 

Not sure what Volume 2 will be, but stay tuned. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

So, July, yeah...

I spent a couple of minutes trying to come up with a way to tie this post to Julius Caesar, inventor of the month of July, but drew a blank. Nothing there. Nada. 

Also, I'd written a bit of a rant about how slightly craptastic this month has been, but after reading it I deleted it. It sounded really whiny. So, instead, how about some pictures? 

These shots were taken last Saturday (July 20) during a short walk around the National Mall between dusk and dark. How do you think our cracked Washington Monument looks as it's being repaired? Not too bad, eh?



I kind of like how the scrim changes depending on your distance and the brightness of the sky. Something I'm sure the designers intended. Except for the first shot, all of these were taken off a tripod at varying ISOs, apertures and shutter speeds. For example: the picture below was shot at ISO 200, f/9 for 1 second. Gives a nice, soft texture to the flags as they wave in the first breeze D.C. had felt in oh these many days. 



While I was concentrating on what was in front of me, the thunder rolled behind me. I tried a couple of different methods to catch lightning in a bottle, so to speak, and none of them worked consistently. I went with a modified fireworks technique - shoot as many pictures as you can - and set the camera at: 200, f/2.8, 0.6 seconds. It kinda worked, but unlike with fireworks, there's really no anticipating lightning. 



Same ISO for this one, but with a shutter speed of 1.6 and an aperture of f/4. 



One of the toughest things I've found to take a picture of is the moon. Unless you catch it right on the horizon, you're not going to get any details. As this picture clearly illustrates. The flags look nice, though.



This picture inspires me to come back one of these days and catch that bad moon rising just over the level of the flags. 



This one really works for me. You get the details of the scaffolding and the scrim, but the lights give it a whole different feel. Like the monument is encased in glass or something. 



Well, that's all for now. I promised some Furlough Fotos in the last post, but a combination of factors has prevented that. Hopefully, this coming week I'll be able to kick off that feature. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

New look, new thoughts...

What do you think of the new look? They say black is slimming...

I figured a little change, a revolution if you will, might spur me into writing a bit more. And, thanks to congress, I'll have a little extra time on my hands until the end of the fiscal year. Twenty percent more time, that is. 

I have a couple of ideas about how to spend some of it, so keep an eye out for "Furlough Fotos" coming soon to a blog near you.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On my honor…

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this here before, but I’m an Eagle Scout. Yeah, big surprise, right?

I joined my Boy Scout troop in the first week of October 1980 and went on my first camping trip the following weekend. It was glorious. We were out in the woods, learning to make fire, cooking our own food over those flames, tying knots, using knives and axes – all kinds of manly skills. Later on that evening we all gathered around the campfire and sang songs and had a great time.

I spent almost seven years as a Boy Scout earning my merit badges and the various ranks on my “Trail of the Eagle” as it’s called. I was learned skills and spent time with other boys who enjoyed the same things I did. Many of these skills, I’m sure, will keep me alive while the rest of you are the main course at future zombie buffets.

My troop has a storied history. It honored its first Eagle Scout in 1965 and has honored 169 more young men as of 2011. In 1987 I was the 59th. The list includes seven pairs of brothers – my younger brother is number 66 – and four sets of three brothers – there would have been one more, but my youngest brother never finished his Eagle. Between 1973 and 2011, there was only one year, 1989, when no one earned their Eagle. However, I think that may be because in 1988, 1990 and 1991, there were 25. Twenty-five Eagle Scouts in four years. Think about that for a minute, 25 young men who each dedicated five to seven years to achieving a goal that, truthfully, not many reach.  

Suffice it to say, it’s not easy to become an Eagle Scout.

That said it shouldn’t be impossible for a boy to aspire to that goal just because he may be gay (or doesn’t believe in a god, for that matter). It’s difficult enough in the first place. Boy Scouts of America shouldn’t force young men who are already going through the stress and fear that comes with being different – stress that can and does drive some boys to suicide – to give up the support of their peers in Scouting.

In my opinion, Boy Scouts of America, like other organizations, has been taken over by radically conservative forces. Forces who believe that because someone is gay they are also a predator just salivating at the idea of getting their sons alone in the woods. If I have a son someday, I’d like him to have the same experiences I did as a Boy Scout – they’re an important part of who I am today – but I don’t think I’d allow him to join an organization that institutionalizes hatred.

It’s time for the Boy Scouts of America to drop this ridiculous policy and allow every boy the chance to stand in front of his family and friends as that red-white-and-blue ribbon suspending a silver eagle is pinned to his chest. It’s the right thing to do.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fireworks! Ohhhh! Ahhhhh!

It's been so long since I've posted here it seems like one of the last posts I did was of my pictures from last Fourth of July. Actually, that's pretty close to the truth. Also, there's a strange new interface. Not sure I like it.

Anyway, forgive me?

A lot of you may have seen these elsewhere, but for those who haven't, I present them for your approval. This picture was shot at my standard fireworks setting: ISO 100 at f/8 for 1.6 seconds. Over the years I've come to rely on this setting since it generally produces some pretty good pictures.  

  
That's not to say I'm afraid to try new things. Since the show was about 20 minutes long, I reset my camera to test the "burst" method I'd read about earlier this week. Using the burst technique, the camera is set to ISO 200 at f/11, but the exposure is set to bulb. In this case, the exposure is about 5 seconds and multiple bursts are captured. 

I kinda like it. 

The rest of these are back to the standard ISO 100, f/8 with slightly varying shutter speeds. I didn't want to rely completely on a new technique.



This final shot was a bit of luck combine with my keeping my head up as I was riding my bike home. I caught a glimpse of the almost full buck moon rising through the pines along the Potomac and had to stop. Even luckier, they were still shooting fireworks over in PG county. All the streaks of light you see at the bottom of the frame are boats heading down the Potomac after the fireworks. It was just like the Queen's flotilla. OK, maybe not.
If you'd like to see more of my fireworks pictures, head over to my Flickr page linked over there on the right side of this page. Hope everyone had a good Fourth, and I promise to try to post more. Yep, I know, famous last words. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Discovery in the skies over D.C.

I headed up to the Mall Tuesday morning to see a sight never to be seen again ... Well, at least until they fly Enterprise out of Dulles to NYC. Anyway, as anyone who reads this knows, I'm a space buff and the chance to see the space shuttle Discovery flown over the National Mall was enough to convince me to take the day off.

It was totally worth it. Seeing Discovery on the back of its 747 carrier aircraft was an amazing sight. I never got to see a shuttle launch, so I'm glad I saw Discovery on its way to an honorable retirement at the Air & Space Museum out at Dulles.

When I got to the Mall around 8:45, it was pretty deserted. That didn't last long. Within 45 minutes there was a festival-like atmosphere going on, and a cheer went up as Discovery made its promenade down the Mall.


After flying past the Smithsonian Castle, Discovery headed down toward the Capitol. I really like this picture because it reminds me of the opening of The Day the Earth Stood Still. In the movie (the original, not Keanu's remake), Klaatu takes his saucer right over the dome of the Capitol before landing on The Ellipse.


Without a doubt, these guys had one of the best views of Discovery. Always wanted to run a crane ... Oh well.


The sky, blue with puffy white clouds, was a perfect backdrop for Discovery's flybys.


This is probably one of the best pictures I got Tuesday. You can even see the T-38 chase plane just below and behind Discovery.

As we bid goodbye to Discovery and her sisters Atlantis and Endeavour, I think it's important for us to remember all they've done and, especially, what the future holds. I've heard comments about how shameful it is that America now lacks the ability to put humans into space. True, at the moment we can't. But, for the six years between July 1975 and April 1981, from the launch of the Apollo-Soyuz to Columbia's first flight, we were also unable to "slip the surly bonds of earth."

I look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when America will send its astronauts into space, either in NASA's Space Launch System or SpaceX's Dragon capsule atop a Falcon rocket. Until then, I'll be heading out to the Udvar-Hazy Center to pay my respects to Discovery.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Before they're gone...

I cut it kind of close this year, but I did get out for the annual Cherry Blossom Photo Shoot. It was an iffy proposition, what with the blossoms all showing up two weeks early and disappearing a week before the start of the actual Cherry Blossom Festival. There's going to be a lot of disappointed people visiting this weekend and next.

Even though the blossoms are gone for 2012, they will live on here (and on my Flickr page, link to the right).

The goal for this year was influenced by a call from my dad asking for landscapes of the Jefferson and Lincoln and a portrait of the Washington that he could frame together. Told him I'd do my best, although it was going to be tough getting Lincoln in the same frame as the cherry blossoms since, to the best of my knowledge, there really aren't any nearby. I did get some good ones of Washington and Jefferson, so I'll be sending those off to him.

One thing I did decide to do was concentrate on depth of field. Rule of thumb: Smaller apertures - the ones with higher numbers (yeah, I know) - give you greater depth of field, i.e., f/32 is deeper than f/14 which is deeper than f/2.8. But shooting small apertures at 1/30 or 1/20 of a second with out at least a monopod (which I left at home) can be tricky, to say the least. So, through a combination of adjusting aperture, shutter speed and "film" speed, I kinda pulled it off. For instance...
This shot of the Jefferson Memorial was shot at 1/180 at f/10 with a 400 ISO. The higher ISO - what we used to call film speed - gave me the ability to shoot faster at a medium aperture giving a middling depth of field.


This picture of our beloved, but cracked, Washington Monument, on the other hand, has a greater depth of field (both the blossoms and the monument are in focus). It has the same aperture (f/10), but a slower ISO (200) meant I had to slow down the shutter speed to 1/60 of a second. Basically, I gained three stops from the previous picture.


I could go into all the technical details of this picture (400 for 1/125 of a second at f/10), and how they did what and why, but I won't except to say the slightly slower shutter speed put the monument into slightly sharper focus than the first picture. It's one of my favorites. So I'll leave it at that and just enjoy looking at it.


And, finally, DCist liked this shot enough it chose it for a story earlier this week, The Great Cherry Blossom Massacre of 2012. I think the title speaks for itself.