Silver Line Opens—Scouting Report

Before a photographer starts to capture images, he/she must know how to get to the intended location of the shoot.  In the Washington, DC area this can be an interesting challenge.  There are all kinds of transportation options, and they are constantly changing.

Yesterday brought a huge change with the Grand Opening of the Washington Metro’s new Silver Line. I stayed home on Day #1 while the VIPs, media, and first-day riders had their fun.  But today it would be just regular folks riding the rails and I decided it was a good time to start exploring.

Kent Silver Line Blog 01

Welcome Signs Everywhere

The first thing riders need to know is that not all of the five stops on this section have dedicated parking facilities, so we started at the Reston station which for the time being is the end of the line.  (In a few years, the line will extend to Dulles Airport.)  There are several free and paid-for apps for smart phones and tablets available to help with route planning, but I haven’t tested any yet.  The Washington Metro’s website has a Trip Planner that is somewhat clunky but can help with basic routing scenarios.  We decided to be typical riders and just show up.

The Reston Station has a large underground parking garage that also houses the bus arrival and departure zones, plus a secure bicycle storage area that is quite large and features a repair facility.

Kent Silver Line Blog 02

One of the Fairfax Connector buses in the Departure Zone

The elevator from the parking garage deposits you on a plaza that is surrounded by construction projects for apartments, stores, restaurants and who knows what else, so this could be a lively place in the near future.

Kent Silver Line Blog 03

Signs Guide the Rookies (like us)

The architecture of the Silver Line stations is quite different from other above ground Metro stations; I’ll leave it to architecture critics to assess their aesthetic merit.

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The Walkway in Foreground Leading to the Station

The pedestrian walkway is open and airy, with mesh screens covering the openings allowing the sound of the traffic below to serenade you during the short walk to the station.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the days when we have wind and rain.  But today at least it seemed much more pleasant than walking through a tunnel.

Kent Silver Line Blog 05

The Walkway

Inside the station, the many skylights contributed to the feeling of openness.  Metro personnel were out if full and friendly force to help anyone with questions. Signs were everywhere providing useful information. Riders lined up to get their fare cards replenished and moved through the turnstiles to the train platform.

Kent Silver Line Blog 07

More Help for the Newbies (everyone)

 We hopped on, found a seat, and settled in for the ride.  The Silver Line passes through the Tysons Corner/McLean, Virginia area (4 stops), then joins the same route as the Orange line, passing through Falls Church, Arlington, and into the District of Columbia and then out to Maryland where it terminates at Largo.  On this day, the most popular of those 4 new stations was the Tysons Corner Center where shoppers were taking advantage of this new option for getting to this sprawling complex of stores, restaurants, and movie theaters.

In about 15 minutes, we arrived at the last of the new stations—McLean—and got off to wait for a train going back to our starting point.  It was nearly deserted, but that likely will change tomorrow when the workweek starts.  There are a number of large office buildings nearby whose workers are prime candidates for the new service.

Kent Silver Line Blog 10

A Good Number of Bikers were Testing the System

Kent Silver Line Blog 09

Our Return Train Arrives

 

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Flying Over the Infamous Beltway

The ride back was equally smooth and the Reston Station was still crowded with passengers checking out the new line. Our costs for this excursion were a paltry $1.75 each because we never left the McLean Station. For all the fare card machine knew, we never boarded a train.  And parking, usually $4.85  was free on this day. So it was just the minimum fare.

It should be interesting to see how all this plays out.  If you are thinking about trying the Silver Line, the complicated part will be getting to the station. Numerous bus routes have been set up to serve these stations, and figuring out the ideal route will take a little research.  If you plan on parking at the Reston station, I’d recommend a trial run because the entrance and  interior design of the parking area is not, shall we say, fool-proof.

 

AfterBefore Friday Forum-Week 10


This is my submission for this week’s After-Before Friday Forum. The Forum is managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and enables participants and readers to exchange ideas about bringing their vision of an image into reality. The submissions from all participants for this week can be seen at this link later today.

The location of this week’s submission, Reflection Lakes, is well known to those who have visited Mount Rainier National Park.  It was photographed at sunrise, and there was an extreme dynamic range between the sunlight snow on the mountain and the darks trees in deep shade along the lake.  Other complications included a totally clear sky and a mess of construction material along the shore in the foreground.  But on the positive side, it was only a 50-foot walk from my car, it was a beautiful morning, and I had the view all to myself.

The “Before” image below is the original RAW file, with no changes made.  It was slightly underexposed to ensure detail was retained in the bright areas and none was lost in the dark shadows. (Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24mm f/2.8 lens extended to 18mm; exposure: 1/60th at f/16, ISO 800, EV= -0.67).  If you look closely at the bottom, you will see a small portion of the repair work going on. I knew I would be able to crop it out and there was nothing in the empty sky to warrant raising the level of the camera.

Kent Before 22014 07 25

I made more use of the capabilities of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) than usual, including some work with the gradient tool. The first steps lowered the brightness in the upper portions of the image and opened up the shadows in the lower sections.  The ACR settings were as follows:

Highlights:  Decrease to -49

Shadows: Increase to +66

Clarity: Increase to +51 (much higher than usual)

Vibrance: Increase to +38

Still using Camera Raw, a gradient tool was then applied.  The image below is a screen shot of the ACR dialog screen for the Gradient tool (green arrow).  The gradient was dragged from the top to the middle of the image (shown by red arrows).  The settings in the Gradient Filter section were then adjusted to decrease the exposure to -1.30, the clarity increased to +25, and the saturation increased to +47.  While these numbers sound large, the impact is fairly subtle when used in this fashion.

ABFriday After 02 Week 10 Rainier

The last bit of worked was done in Photoshop CC.  The image was then opened in Photoshop CC.  The healing brush was used to do some clean-up (a few dust spots on the sensor and a few lens flares from the sun) and then the image was cropped to eliminate the construction junk in the foreground and a bit of the sky which was detracting from the scene. A hue/saturation adjustment layer with just a slight increase was added to the overall scene and then Mount Rainier was darkened a bit more with a curves adjustment layer. The final result is shown below.

Kent After 14-07-25 Final

Thanks again to Stacy for organizing this forum.  It is always interesting to see the techniques applied by other photographers to solve problems and bring their creative vision to reality.  You can see the postings later today at VisuaVenturing.

 

 

 

After-Before Friday Forum

ABFriday Forum Week 09

This is my submission for this week’s After-Before Friday Forum.  The Forum is managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and is enables participants and readers to exchange ideas about bringing their vision of an image into reality.    The submissions for this week can be seen at this link to her site later today.

Normally, taking this photograph from this location is not permitted.  It shows the Reading Room in the Library of Congress and was taken from a balcony overlooking the room.  The Reading Room is probably the most spectacular space in the Library and the balcony provides the best overall view of it.  And the only view for most people because access is restricted to researchers with a Library-issued ID card. Photography is prohibited here (so as not to disturb the readers below) many other parts can be toured and photographed during open hours.  Details can be found at the Library’s website.

The reason that I was not hauled off in handcuffs for taking this photograph is that twice each year, the Library has an “Open House” and visitors are allowed into the Reading Room and pictures can be taken there and from the balcony.  These two days are usually on the weekend of the President’s Day and Columbus Day holidays.

So with only two chances per year, one doesn’t want to mess up.  The “After” image here was processed first in Adobe Camera Raw and then final changes were made in Photoshop CS6.  The original RAW image, before any changes were made, is shown below.  In this case, the main challenges were the lack of a tripod and the strong contrast in lighting: the overall room was relatively dim while the mid-morning light coming through the stained glass windows above was extremely bright.  Consequently, I chose a relatively high ISO and underexposed the scene by 1 stop.   (Nikon D800E with 14-24 mm f/2.8 lens; exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/4, ISO 800, EV= -1.0)

Kent Before Image Final 5240Original RAW Image

The first set of changes were made in Adobe Camera RAW, where the dark shadows were opened up and the very strong highlights were dialed back.  The results at this stage are shown below.  As you can see, the difference is not enormous, but more detail is apparent.

Kent Before Image 02 Final 5240Image after changes in Adobe Camera Raw

The specific changes in ACR for the above image were:

Highlights: decreased to -43 (to reduce the brightness in the skylights, allowing more detail to show)

Shadows: increased to +28 (to show more detail in the dark areas of the lower section of the room

Clarity: increased to +26 (in my usual range of +20-30)

Vibrance: increased to +23 (to add some warmth)

The next step was to transfer the image to Photoshop.  At the time, I was using the CS6 version and the first step was to correct the tilt with the crop tool.  Next, some adjustments were still needed in the brightness levels of certain sections of the image.  The area below the skylights was selected and a Curves adjustment layer was applied (Blend Mode = luminosity).  The screen shot below shows that a moderate increase was applied.  (The left side of the library image is cropped out in the screen shots to make the Photoshop details a little easier to see.)

Kent Before Image 03 Final 5240First Curves Layer Adjustment Applied

 Next, the blown out window in the upper right corner still needed improvement and after selecting this section, another Curves adjustment layer was applied (Blend Mode = luminosity).  The image below shows the amount which was a fairly strong pullback.  It brought some improvement but it’s not perfect; I think more work may be needed here.

Kent Before Image 04 Final 5240Second Curves Layer Adjustment Applied

Finally, the ceiling dome is still a little flat, even after the dash of Vibrance applied during the ACR processing.  This was remedied with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer Blend Mode = saturation) as shown in the image below.  The overall saturation was increased a moderate amount to +25, giving a more accurate rendition to the color of the dome and surrounding walls.

Kent Before Image 05 Final 5240

 Hue/Saturation Layer Adjustment Applied

 The final version of the complete image is shown below.   Comments and questions are welcome and I will do my best to reply.  Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for managing this forum and also to the other photographers who participate.  I have learned a lot from all of their examples.

 

Kent After Image Final 5240

Final Image

ABFriday Forum Week 8

ABFriday Forum Week 08

The AfterBefore Friday, launched and managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing gives readers an opportunity to exchange ideas about various post-processing techniques.  Each week brings together an interesting and informative selection of images and post-processing techniques.  They can be found on Friday mornings at Visual Venturing,

My submission for this week was taken last year along the Oregon Coast during a road trip down the Pacific Highway.  The scene depicts Cape Lookout, about 60-70 miles south of the Columbia River.  We stopped at the Cape Lookout State Park for a picnic lunch and this was the scene from a table that amazingly was not already taken.  As usual with a beach scene, there was a problem with contrasting light.  But the clouds over the water and Cape Lookout in the distance combined with the yellow flowers in the foreground made it irresistible.

Unlike last week, when the image required some serious interventions, this week’s choice is a more typical example where we start with a pretty decent image and use a few subtle adjustments to make minor improvements.

At any rate, the main challenge here was  during the capture phase: a moderate breeze was causing movement in the flowers in the foreground but I wanted the flowers to be relatively sharp.  The normal hyper focal technique of using an aperture of f/16 forced me to boost the ISO to 800.  I rarely go above ISO 400 so I wasn’t happy about it, but a fast shutter speed was necessary to minimize movement in the flowers.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E with a 14-24mm lens extended to 19mm; Exposure 1/800th sec. @ f/16, ISO 800)

The original image is shown as the RAW file came from the camera, before any changes were made in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

Kent ABFriday Before Week 08

Original Image as unprocessed RAW file

The first steps were taken in ACR, and the adjustments made were as follows:

Highlights: Changed to -93, ta severe reduction to cut back the brightness of the scene;

Shadows:  Changed to + 15 a modest boost to open up the shadows in the foreground;

Clarity:        Changed to +20 (not as much as I usually employ, but this seemed to be enough);

Vibrance:    Changed to +23 (to give a small boost to the yellow flowers and blue sky).

All other settings were unchanged.  The result was then opened in Photoshop CC and looked like this:

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Week 08

Image after changes made in Adobe Camera Raw

A minor crop removed some of the sand in the immediate foreground and on the right side.  This increased the importance of the yellow flowers in the foreground.

Next, an adjustment layer (hue/saturation) was applied to the overall scene.  The blend mode was “saturation” and the amount was increased to +14.  This is a relatively small change, but it made in nice difference in the sky and the yellow flowers, both of which seemed a little too flat.

Finally, the sky and clouds were selected and a curves adjustment layer (blend mode=luminosity) was applied to darken those portions and bring back the dramatic appearance that was there that day.  The final result is shown below.

Kent ABFriday After Week 08

Final Image

Observant readers may notice the man seated on the driftwood log in the center of the image: he is very hard to see in this small size.  I was somewhat ambivalent about whether he should be left in.  I finally chose to leave him there because he provides a sense of scale.  In addition, I was going for representing what I saw that day, which is also an argument for his presence.  I’m not in love with his posture, however.

Yosemite and Beyond

I am pleased to announce that a solo exhibition of my images is now showing at the Cherrydale Library of the Arlington, Virginia Public Library System. The thirteen images feature a retrospective of works from the western states of Oregon, Washington, and California.  More information about the exhibit can be found at the Arlington Library website.  Many thanks to Greg and Suzanne Embree who curated and installed the exhibit.  I am pleased with how it turned out. For those living nearby and might be interested in seeing the show, the hours of the Cherry Library are posted here.  The exhibit will be up until October 6, 2014.  Here are two images from the exhibit:

 

Kent Yosemite Valley

Clearing Storm, Yosemite Valley

Photographed from Tunnel View on May 9, 2013, shortly after a robust thunderstorm had passed through the valley.

Kent Christine Falls thumbnail

Christine Falls, Mount Rainier National Park

This is the second of two cascades that comprise Christine Falls.  This cascade is about 40 feet high and is found along the entrance road leading to the Paradise Visitor Center.  Photographed on July 28, 2013.

 

 

Sunflower Alert!

As many area photographers (and painters) know, this is the time of year that several fields of sunflowers located near Poolesville, Maryland come into bloom. They are located in McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area and are accessible to the public. I was out there yesterday to check on their status and the flowers need a little more time. Three people who were also inspecting the blooms advised me that it would be about a week before prime time.

Sunflowers Kent Blog 01Sunflowers at Early Light

The above photo was taken last year on July 16 in the field that is easiest to find (the one I checked yesterday) which will give a sense of the scene to those not familiar with this spot.  Further information can be found at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  The page contains links to two maps showing the locations of the fields.

4th of July Waterworks!

One of the less well known benefits of living in the Washington, DC area is that it has some of the best whitewater action in the world. For those who are skeptical, here is a link to an article in today’s Washington Post. And the most difficult stretch of that action is the Great Falls of the Potomac which happens to be about 3 miles from my home. I’ve been following the action for seven years now and it is always exciting. It’s pretty cool to go to an Olympic level competition, get a prime viewing spot, and not pay a dime. So that’s where I was yesterday, photographing the boaters as they practiced for a competition that was held today. Here are a few shots from the practice session.

Kayak Kent Blog 01
The water level was perfect for the center line which is perfectly located for viewing from two of the overlooks in Great Falls National Park on the Virginia side and pretty good viewing from the overlook from the Park on the Maryland side. It is also a dangerous route over the falls. A competitor was killed last year when she made an error during a practice run causing the event to be canceled. It should be noted, however, that this was an extremely rare incident; these participants are all highly skilled and numerous rescue capabilities are in position for these events. The image above was taken from the water level not normally accessible to non-boaters. I was about 100 meters from the falls. (Technical data (Nikon D800E handheld with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm; Exposure was 1/200th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400)

Kayak Kent Blog 02
This is a tight crop from the same image, so it shows the value of having an extremely sharp lens. The competition is a timed course so each competitor has to negotiate a series of cascades, finishing with this 20-foot (plus) drop and then making a sprint a short distance to a finish line (out of sight to the left). There are two runs and the boater in each class with the lowest cumulative time is the winner.

Kayak Kent Blog 03
This was taken from Overlook 2 in Great Falls National Park (Virginia side). It is about the same distance from the drop as the location down at water level. I went back this morning for the actual competition and used an old Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens. It’s been a while since I have used it, since that extra three pounds is no fun to carry in one’s back-pack. But it seemed this would be a good comparison test on sharpness. Because of its weight, I used a tripod. And as it turned out, the images taken with the 70-200 model at maximum extension are sharper than those of the 80-400 at its maximum length. This despite the fact that the images from the 70-200 have to be enlarged twice as much to match the size of objects in images from the bigger lens.
But I digress. This is a post about kayaks and the Great Falls of the Potomac. So let’s wrap it up with two images taken two years ago during another practice day.

Kayak Kent Blog 04
As noted above, the water level of the Potomac River dictates where the race will be run. The difference can be quite small. For example, the center line (first three images) is used when the water measures between 3.3-3.8 feet at a specified measuring location. That is a range of about 6 inches. There are three other routes, depending on the level measured on race day. This image was taken from Overlook 1 on the Virginia side of the park. It is an amazingly exciting viewpoint because spectators are less than 100 feet from the boater when she/he goes over. Unfortunately, there is very little room there and for a photographer with a tripod, there is literally only one optimal spot. And the Spout cannot be seen at all from any of the other overlooks. But I got lucky and saw a few boaters practicing when the water levels called for this route. Same camera-lens combination as above, exposure was 1/1,000th sec. @ f/5. This is a fairly tight crop, mainly because there was a lot of uninteresting foreground in the frame.

Kayak Kent Blog 05
But there were two other boaters practicing together and the image above is a full frame shot with the lens extended only to 100mm. It’s hard to see here, but when this image is printed large you can see the big smile on the face of the paddler waiting for his friend to complete the drop.