Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lightning Luck

To shoot lightning you either have to have a whole lot of it or extremely lucky. Last night we had a fair amount of lightning (no thunder) and I must have had luck on my side because I got a decent number of shots.   I shot approximately 95 frames and got 16 good shots, while this isn't a great ratio for normal shots, for lightning it is pretty good. 

I was shooting out my window with a Canon T4i with an 18 – 200mm lens mounted on a gorilla pod. The camera was set at an ISO 200 and I alternated between an aperture of f/9 and f/11 with a shutter speed between 5 – 15 seconds. It appeared that the sweet spot was f/9 at 6 seconds.  However there was still a lot of luck involved capturing lightning bolts. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Every year there are several sunflower fields planted at McKee-Besher Wildlife Management Area, in Poolesville, MD. The reached peak bloom on July 13 and should be at peak for the next two weeks.  So every year photographers and everyone else travels to the area to see around 48 acres of sunflowers.  Since I have been hearing about these field for the past couple years, I decided it was time to go and see them for myself.   So I got up around 6:30 AM to make the hour drive over to Maryland to see the sunflowers.

It was pretty easy to find the first set of fields because the parking lot was full, and there were lots of people loading and unloading camera, tri-pods and ladders. They use the ladders to be able to shoot down onto the fields, though the sunflowers are only about 3 – 5 feet tall depending on the field. I passed up this first area and headed further down River Road to Sycamore Landing Road where the other field was located.  I parked at the parking area then walked down the road to the field. I’m very glad I had the super strong bug spray (99% DEET) and my hiking boots because there were a lot of bugs and it was very muddy.  The sunflowers in this area were around 3 – 4 feet tall. There were also several bumble bees, which basically ignored me.   When I was done in this area I drove back to the first parking area, which cleared out, along River Road to do a little shooting there.

For this photo shoot I used both my 18 – 200 mm lens, 60mm macro lens and a graduated neutral density filter with me.  I did also pack tri-pod and ladder both of which I did not use.  The neutral density filter worked great on the sky.  I could meter off the sunflowers without blowing out the sky, thus keeping it nice and blue.  I was shooting at an ISO 200, with an f8 –f16, and a shutter speed around 1/150s depending on the light.  I ended up 71 shots that I liked.  Overall it was a very productive morning.   You can see the photos here McKee-Besher Sunflower Gallery.

As a side-note I would love to shoot in the area again, but with a model dressed in Civil War era sundress or maybe something more creative.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wildlife Photo Contest

I entered the National Wildlife Federation photo contest.  I chose to enter seven of what I consider my best photos that fit the theme, two of which were actual wildlife, two zoo animals and three are landscapes.  However I never  have high hopes when I enter photo contests because I never seem to win, but I keep trying.  Now with some of the contests I’m not surprised by the winners, but sometimes I wonder what the judges are thinking.  But photography is an art, and everyone’s tastes differ.

So if you have a chance please go and vote for my photos on the National Wildlife Federation contest site.  Thanks. I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was a pretty normal day for me, even though I live in our Nation’s Capital.  After you have lived here a few years it starts becoming a bit mundane and you start to get tired of fighting the tourists out on the National Mall.   This year my husband and I went over to a friend of ours for a backyard barbecue in the early afternoon.  It was nice, and we left around 5 o’clock to make it back into the city, so I could watch the fireworks.  Surprisingly, there was hardly any traffic.  The one thing that I do like about living here is watching the fireworks on the Fourth.

Viewing Angel from Air Force Memorial
I originally planned to go into DC proper to watch fireworks from the National Mall or over to Rosslyn to watch them from the Marine Corps Monument, but metro put a crimp in my plans.  The DC metro system was only going to run till its normal weekday time of midnight. While they would be running rush hour service from 6:00 to 10:30 for the festivities on the Mall, the trains would be utterly packed. I was hoping they would run there weekend schedule, run till 3:00 AM, thus providing more options. They can clear the Mall in usually less than 2 hours after the fireworks have ended.  However, I just did not feel up to jostling for a space on a very crowded metro strain, especially since all the trains I would be taking from either location would already have picked up people leaving the Mall.  So I went to my usual viewing location, by the Air Force Memorial.  This location does have a nice view and I got to hear the Air Force Band play before the fireworks. Also this location is in easy walking distance so I don’t have to deal with the herds of people trying to get on the metro. From this vantage point you are looking at the National Mall from an angle (see map) so you really can’t get any monuments in the picture if you are photographing the firework. (Note: The fireworks are shot from a platform that is spread across the reflecting pool between Lincoln and WWII Memorials.) Due to sequestration the fireworks show was not as long and was not as extravagant as it usually is, but it was still nice.

View of Fireworks from Air Force Memorial
I shot about 125 frames, but only kept 18 frames. The reason for culling so many was two-fold. First I accidentally turned off image stabilization, which added blur to the shots, when I switched to manual focus.  Second, I was just not happy with the overall composition and exposure of many of the shots.  If you are wondering why I switched to manual focus, it was to lock the focus.  In Auto Focus mode in low light the camera sometimes has a hard time focusing quick enough, so it won’t take the shot or will focus on the wrong thing. Usually I get around this by having the Washington Monument in the background, for the camera to focus on, but in this instance I could not get the monument in the shot due to the viewing angle.  It is also hard determine the proper exposure for fireworks, especially if you want some of the background to show up without blowing out the night sky.  I was shooting at on a tripod with a trigger at F/11, for .3 – 2.0 seconds at ISO 200 to reduce noise and get a long depth of field.   This worked well for most of the shots dependent upon how many fireworks had just gone off.   Fireworks for me are work in progress, and each year is a little better. Though I do believe next year I will have to either brave the National Mall or go to Rosslyn to get the traditional shots of DC fireworks that everyone always sees. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Folklife Festival

Example of Hungarian Woodwork
Every year right around the 4th of July the Smithsonian hosts the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall for two weeks. Each year they pick three different topics based on a nation, region, state or theme. The event is free to the public and host seminars, cooking demonstrations, music, food and other activities.  In previous years I learned how to dress a camel, make instruments from gourds, how the National Forest Service fights forest fires and how NASA made it to space.   This year focused on Hungarian heritage, endangered language and cultural heritage and the African American diversity, style and identity.   I went for the Hungarian heritage part of the festival since I’m part Hungarian.

Traditional Headdresses
While I have been to Hungary, Budapest to be specific, this festival was focused more on the traditions and cultural aspects Hungary.  I am still impressed with their woodworking skills; they use very few modern tools. They had a couple of little old women demonstrating traditional weaving and embroidery techniques as well as discussing  traditional patterns and dress. Their embroidery is impressive, which is usually of the flowers of the pepper plant used to make Paprika.   The flowers decorate everything, and the dress involves many colors mostly blacks and bold reds (which are two of my favorite colors).  

The two interesting tidbits I learned today are the Puli (the dog breed with dreads) originally hails from Hungary and Ohio has the greatest concentration of Hungarians.
Hungarian in the US

Monday, July 1, 2013

Photos Editing from Vaction

Grand Teton Mountain Range

I have completed editing my photos from my Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Vacation.  (You can see them on my SmugMug sight under vacation – Yellowstone) After reviewing and editing the little over 1000 photos from the trip I ended up with a little over 500 good photos which I posted.  Usually I divide my photos by city or landmark; however I did not have that option on this trip. Thus the photos were divided by Yellowstone geyser basin, Yellowstone landscapes, Grand Teton, wildlife, and Jackson Hole.  A few of the pictures in Jackson Hole are from my mom’s video camera; they look like they were painted.   At this point I’m waiting to receive the pictures my mom took with her camera.  Once I receive those I’ll add select ones  reduce any repeats. 

Based on the quality of the pictures I took, I like my Cannon Rebel T4i. It works well and appears to have decent low light capabilities. However I’m not as impressed with the Tamron 28 - 300mm lens. While it is a good lens, it does not appear to produce crisp pictures throughout its spectrum the sweat spot appears to be in the 100mm to 150mm range.  I prefer my Cannon 18 – 200mm lens.  When I go back to Yellowstone I believe I’ll take a lens in the 18 – 75mm range with me along with a 100 – 400mm lens so I can truly capture the dramatic landscapes and the wildlife. I might even consider a fisheye.

The only thing I have to do now is edit the video that was shot.  That will take a couple days. 

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Headshots and Tulips

Since all of Ohio is on a stay at home order currently,   I thought I would update my headshot and take some photos of the potted tulips m...