Depicting a Windy Day

In my earlier write up, I talked about walking around Huntley Meadows on a windy day.  How can one convey motion in a static image?  Blur.  Wind causes motion over time.  Decreasing the shutter speed will introduce blur to an image.  This can be used to an advantage.  Mount your camera on a tripod and pick a shutter speed around 1/20 of a second or even slower.  The result can be interesting.

Why look at the same static pictures of red, orange, yellow, green and brown leaves hanging on the branches of a tree?  Make your picture move.  Introduce blur.

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You can also select a high contrast scene and introduce a little blur.

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Light + Motion = Emotion.

Mid Autumn in Northern Virginia

It’s almost November and the leaves are finally getting some color in Northern Virginia.  It’s been a relatively dry summer and early fall.  As a consequence, the leaves aren’t really colorful – dull red, dull yellow, dull orange, dull brown.  Still, you will find the occasional brightly colored leaf or two.

Fall is a beautiful time of year here in Northern Virginia.  The weather is relatively mild.  A warm spell can appear like a punctuation mark, like a comma in the middle of a sentence.  On such a day in late October, the sun was shining and Huntley Meadows beckoned.

The birds are no longer plentiful, though they are certainly still flying around at Huntley.  The mallards have returned, but the swallows, egrets, most of the warblers and most of the herons have migrated southward.  Just when the thinning leaf cover makes looking for birds easier they migrate away.  The leaf covered trails, a clean boardwalk (the geese are in much decreased numbers), the cool but comfortable weather, the canopy of colors make for an irresistible invitation to spend a few hours outdoors

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Autumn in Fort Valley

Roadtrip!  A mild October day was the catalyst for a short, mostly unplanned trip to the Fort Valley area of Virginia.  After an hour driving westward on I66, and lunch at Front Royal, Virginia, it was time to decide.  Visit Shenandoah National Park or drive towards the Massanutten high country?

Virginia is a beautiful state.  This is especially true in the fall, when  canopies of color cover the hills and valleys that roll westward, rising slowly towards the grand chain of peaks that form the heart of Appalachia.  Fort Valley is a valley within a valley, so to speak, nestled between the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten mountains.

A mere seventy minutes from Washington D.C., Front Royal Virginia is the gateway to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park.  A launching point to smaller towns and villages that dot the Shenandoah Valley.   In mid autumn, the state roads heading west and south are transformed into colorful avenues that beckon further exploration.  A left turn at a stoplight.  A few miles later, another left turn to Virginia 678.  As the road meandered towards the George Washington National Forest, the cloud filled October sky gave way to a kaleidoscope of colors that seemed unending.  The red, orange, yellow and green hues of the still leaf filled trees transform into a sonata of color as the road weaved up and down through mountain passes and the valley floor.  A quiet Monday afternoon.  A stunningly beautiful Monday afternoon.

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Simply Beautiful

For millennia, as far back as the ancient Egyptians and perhaps beyond that, flowers have been part of the human experience.  What is the first gift that a child gives to his or her mother?  A flower, perhaps a rose, perhaps a dandelion.  Something from the garden or maybe the sidewalk.  A gift of beauty, an act of love.

Flowers of every shape and color stir our imagination.  From the simple drawings of a child, to the masterpieces of Monet, to the songs of Rogers and Hammerstein, to the photographs of Weston, to Mendel’s experiments in genetics – flowers have sparked the creativity of untold millions throughout human history.

Color, shape, dimension, form.   Family, Genus, Species.  We observe.  We study.  We categorize..  Everything is given an attribute.   Flowers are a complex thing, we say.  That may be, but we also know the immutable truth.  A flower, you see, is simply beautiful.

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Freezing in Maui

When you think of Maui, you think of warm days at the beach.   The warm waters of the Pacific lapping gently over your feet while walking, unhurriedly, in the early hours of the day, eagerly watching the sun rise over an ocean as boundless as your dreams.  You think of the Polynesian food, so delicious, that any ideas of dieting seems like a silly concern.  You think of the hikes through the pristine forests, butterflies fluttering, birds singing with joy, happy to spend another day in paradise.  You hear the occasional rooster crowing, heralding the coming of a new day, even as the first hints of sunlight begin to bathe the land with its life giving warmth.

Beyond the beaches, on a winding road that zigs and zags its way to the peak of Haleakala, is a national park that simply takes your breathe away.  Probably because at its altitude, there is less oxygen going inside your lungs with each deep breathe that you take.  You wake up shortly after midnight and in the darkness drive for hours, in the quest to see the sun blaze through the clouds,  to marvel at a natural light show that no amount of fireworks can hope to match.  You look out towards the ocean and see eternity, bathed in light so sublime that in that joyous moment, heaven and earth are one.

On top of the summit, in the hours before daybreak, in the midst of August, I was reminded that altitude has an attitude.  A cold one.  It was freezing.  It was wonderful.

It snows in Haleakala.  The wind howls at Haleakala.  It gets dark in Haleakala.  So dark that some of the world’s great telescopes are on the summit of the great mountain, mirrors trained unflinchingly at the star strewn night sky, partaking in the greatest quest humanity has ever taken.  The exploration of our universe.  We who live near the great cities forget that above our heads, perpetually moving in the celestial sphere, are the stars that the sun calls its brothers and sisters, the collection of gases, condensed and yet to condense, the filaments of light that we collectively call the Milky Way.  And at Haleakala, when the sun hides in the other side of the world, you explore.  You wonder.  You dream.

And I almost forgot.  Haleakala is a volcano.  Dormant, beautiful, imposing, surprising.  The beaches may beckon, but at Haleakala, in the ethereal grandeur of cinder cones juxtaposed with grass covered slits of rock, you can imagine, with a sense of wonder, the alien worlds that awaits us as we explore the universe.  And marvel at the delicacy of the planet that we call our own.

In the cold morning air, with twilight still approaching, I gazed upwards upon countless points of light and smiled.  For at that moment, I have touched the sky.DSC02401_sDSC02410_sDSC02476a_s

And then, Yosemite

When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer.  I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time.  My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below.  My mother was busy posing for photographs.  I was unmoved.  A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.

A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia.  If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity.  Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town.  It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home.  And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away.  So what to do?  Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look  at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time.  That part of the trip was actually interesting.  Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that.  I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me.  I just wanted to be home.

When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends.  Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me.  Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion.  I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States.  Shenandoah National Park.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Yosemite National Park.

I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite.  I was unprepared for what I saw.  I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers.  I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams.  Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals.  Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold.  Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite.  The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras.  The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home.  Yosemite.  A monument for the ages.  A cathedral for the living.  A gift of magnificent beauty for all.

Beauty in Everything

We are surrounded by beauty.  Often times, we look at everything at the most superficial level.  We see a pretty face, a pretty dress, a beautiful landscape, a stunning sunset.  We travel all over the world to see the Andean glaciers, the auroras in Iceland, the arches and hoodoos of the American southwest, the water wonderland that is Guilin.  We dream of going to far off places, depicted so beautifully by thousands of photographers and artists who share the same passion of seeing, drawing, photographing the places and things that have been universally deemed as beautiful.

We ignore the innate beauty around us.  From a child gazing longingly at the candy cane in the window, the grandmother being escorted by a loving grandchild as they cross a busy street, to a homeless man grateful for a cup of coffee that a stranger provides.  There is so much beauty in the world, if we could only look beyond our preconceptions and prejudices.  And wonder at the beauty that is everyday life.

The bluebird singing.  The stars in the night sky forming patterns that have guided mankind’s journey throughout the ages.  That feather in the grass. Pick it up and look closely.  You may be amazed at what you see.

Wet and Wonderful

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon in early September.  I’ve become quite keen on macro photography lately, and with the intermittent nature of the showers, it was time to explore the flowers at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna, Virginia.  Raindrops are beautiful when viewed closely, especially when the world around them is refracted and reflected in unpredictable ways.

The garden was not as quiet as I thought it would be.  On the Atrium at the garden, a wedding reception was getting under way.  My first thought was – well, I wonder what kind of wedding pictures the photographer will be able to take.  With a heavy overcast and the rain fairly steady, the wedding party wasn’t spending a lot of time in the beautiful garden.  Sometimes, the best laid plans are thrown asunder by water droplets from the sky.  Still.  A wedding is a celebration, after all.  I suppose wedding photographers will have contingency plans for times like this.  I am glad I am taking pictures of flowers, raindrops, and dew laden plants and not have to worry about pleasing clients on their wedding day.  I wish the newlyweds joy and happiness in their new life.  And may their special day be captured in a special way.

Back to the garden.  The overcast skies made the colors of the flowers really pop out.  It was a feast for the eyes.  The colors!

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Orange, yellow, pinks, purple, red hues, deeply saturated.  The flowers, holding the moisture in their petals. Insects, weighed down by the moisture, slowly drying themselves out in the open air.  Each droplet beckoned to be photograph.  I felt like a bee, moving from flower, to flower, getting ever closer, looking at a familiar world made even more beautiful by the transient beading of water from the sky.

Closer.  Closer still.  Until the world around the flowers can be seen reflected in the droplets that hang precariously on a ledge.  In an instant, a droplet would separate itself from a leaf, from a petal, the reflection rendered so beautifully being pulled down by the invisible force of gravity.  A drip here, a drip there.  Beading, elongating, falling.  Focus.  Focus.  Images go in and out of focus as the lens points excitedly to yet another seemingly frozen moment of time.  Click.  Click. Click.  Each drop a picture.  Each drop a memory.  Nature paused and I was transfixed.

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