If it weren’t for the modern SUV one might look at this and think they were looking at a photo taken many, many decades or centuries ago. Arlington National Cemetery has always had an air of mystery and solemnity about it from the time it was created. Kevin Wolf does an excellent job of capturing the scene on a foggy winter morning. The layers of history are distinct and yet blend together so well due to the monochromatic nature of the photo. Without color to distract the eye we can look around and pick out different details hidden by the fog.
Arlington House was built in 1803 by George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of George Washington. During the Civil War the property was taken by the Union army and used as a place to bury their dead to ensure that General Robert E. Lee, Custis’ son-in-law and leader of the Confederate army, would never return to live there. After the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in 1921 the number of visitors and vehicular traffic heading to the cemetery increased. In an attempt to ease the traffic jams the Arlington Memorial Bridge was built in 1932. On the hill below Arlington House the eternal flame at President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite is visible at night. These are just the things shown in this photo, there’s so much more going on in the acres of land just beyond this scene.
We get used to seeing these sites and others around the city as we go about our daily lives and it’s easy to overlook them. They start to blend into the background. It really is amazing how much history surrounds us. Washington DC is such a layered city, in more ways than one, and sometimes it’s nice to take a moment to appreciate just how lucky we are to live here.
Well positioned sunrise photos are always good, but when you can get that big ball of orange light in your shot it takes on a whole new life. In addition, you’ll get super-bonus points for getting a building, any building, in the shot. But when you can do it with the buildings being the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, you deserve special recognition, like Kevin’s photo above. It has it all: the sun directly behind the dome; a uniform orange dawn sky; the sun as a perfect circle; and even a perfect silhouette, with no atmosphere distortion, of the Statue of Freedom. Pretty amazing.
As I mentioned in last week’s Week In Review, the Fall Equinox was on Sunday. That meant that the full moon last week rose almost perfectly from the east. What I didn’t mention is that the sun rises perfectly from the east on both Equinoxes (Spring and Fall). Since the timings and placements of these celestial bodies have been known for centuries, with the right tools it’s very easy to plan out a photo shoot to get your own well placed shots. I use the Photographer’s Ephemeris which provides a map and lines showing the movement of the sun and the moon for a given location; it’s very intuitive to use (plus the desktop version is free). So get planing, as the Spring Equinox is March 20th and I hope to see people out taking some sunrise shots.
Typically a photographer doesn’t take a long exposure during the day; this makes sense. A long exposure, which is when the shutter is left open for an extended period of time, rather than a fraction of a second, will let in more light. The day time being when the sun is out, that means you would typically have a worthless, blown out exposure. That is, unless you had a little piece of equipment called a neutral density (or ND) filter, which reduces the intensity of the light entering the camera. These little pieces of glass can open a whole new world of photography to those who want to try it.
And if you do try it, you can get stunning pictures like Kevin got above. This thirty second exposure of the Air Force Memorial, during the middle of the day, while using an ND filter, looks like something from a dream. There are multiple features of this photo worth pointing out: the motion blur of the clouds; the fascinating play of light on the metal arms of the sculpture; and, of course, the color of the sky. Kevin says that the color is not from post processing and is simply how the light interacted with the filter glass. Truly an excellent photo; makes me want to go buy one of those filters and start playing!
Have you been following the slow rise of the scaffolding around the Washington Monument? I sure have, and I’m fascinated by it! A cool little factoid about the world’s tallest obelisk: it was the world’s tallest structure for five years, from 1884-1889. Think about that: it is one of the world’s tallest structures and it is now covered in scaffolding. My mind is blown every time I think about that.
Kevin has a great shot here of the scaffolding topping out. He did a very nice color conversion to a slightly off black and white tone, which creates a great contrast between the stone and metal (and it gives a great look to the clouds too). Kevin’s been following the ascent of the metal girders just like me and has some other great shots here, here, here, and here. This is an all around excellent shot, and one to cherish as a piece of history.
Time lapse videos have always fascinated me, particularly the ones showing traffic (like this one). These types of videos give the impression of incredible speed, even if the cars aren’t going that fast. To capture the essence of a time lapse video in one still photo is easier than you think; generally all you need is a decent camera, a tripod, and some traffic. But it’s also almost impossible to know exactly what you’re going to get. With long exposures you generally have to open the shutter and then figure out what photo you took. To get an interesting photo that’s more than just lines, you have to get lucky.
Take Kevin’s photo above. First there is the standard white/yellow colored headlights from oncoming traffic, giving the sense of movement. But what is that blur of multi-color in the middle? It’s a bus, with it’s front displays causing that play of light. Notice how the greenish-yellow coloring slowly fades as the position of the bus changes, relative to the camera. It’s the same with the red highlight lights, where they suddenly come into existence and just as suddenly stop. I can bet Kevin didn’t know exactly what he was going to get when that bus showed up along Pennsylvania Ave, but I’m also sure he wanted it in this shot.