Virginia Road Trip: Buzzard Rock and Thoroughfare Gap

Memorial Day weekend is great time to be in Washington DC—if you are a fan of motorcycles, parades, and ceremonies.  We decided to go the other direction on Sunday, heading west toward Front Royal and the George Washington National Forest.

We had heard about an “easy hike” near Front Royal, called “Buzzard Rock” that features a nice overlook of the Shenandoah Valley.  Not nearly as well-known as more popular hikes such as Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, or Dark Hollow Falls we guessed that it would not be very crowded.

Virginia 02

 Looking North from First Outlook

We arrived at the trailhead at 10:00 AM—later than advisable if you want to beat the crowds, but there were still a couple spots left in the small parking lot.  It’s a 4-mile roundtrip, with a gradual elevation gain of about 650 feet along a fairly well-marked trail.  It’s a pleasant walk up to the first overlook where one is rewarded with some nice scenery of the Valley below.  There is also a good view of a fish hatchery along Passage Creek (Image below).

Virginia 03

Fish Hatchery as seen from First Outlook

While the views at the top were nice, I would not place this trail on my top 10 list for Virginia hikes within a 2-hour drive of Washington.   But that’s OK, because the more interesting portion of the day was still ahead.

Our mission was to find the secret route to Chapman’s Mill, a massive historic stone structure that is in full view (about 100 yards away) of thousands of cars on Interstate 66.  My previous solo attempts had ended in failure, but now that I had the assistance of a skilled navigatrix and her wonder dog Smokey, I felt confident that success was finally within my grasp.

 Virginia 04The Ruins of Chapman’s Mill, (walls now stabilized and braced)

To give you a small sense of the challenge, Chapman’s Mill is located on Beverly Mill Road and once you drive past the mill on I-66, you must drive 8 more miles and then backtrack the same distance on State Road 55 to get there.

Virginia 05Partially collapsed Interior Wall (much work remains)

Chapman’s Mill was originally built in 1742 and, at 7 ½ stories, is thought to be the tallest stacked stone building in the United States.  The mill is located in Thoroughfare Gap, a narrow passage in the Bull Run Mountains.  The Gap was used by migrating buffalo and traveling American Indians long before Europeans arrived in the area.

Virginia 07

Detail of Wall, Showing Stacked Stone Technique

The gap quickly became a major route to the rich farmland of the Shenandoah Valley, was a strategic route in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War and its importance as a trade route was enhanced with the arrival of a rail line (still operating today) in 1852.Virginia 06

Interior View, showing Rusting Cogwheel (about 6-foot diameter)

The mill was a major food storage and distribution center for the Confederate forces until mid-1862 and was burned by the Confederates when they departed the area.  Rebuilt after the war, it continued to operate as a mill, passing through several owners until it ceased operations in 1946.

Virginia 09

Interior View Showing a Stabilizing Cross Beam

Abandoned for years, it escaped demolition in the 1960s from the planned route for I-66 through the efforts of local citizens and preservation groups.  In 1998, it was torched by an arsonist. The devastation was so extensive that the building seemed doomed to extinction.  But shortly thereafter, a non-profit group obtained the property and launched a restoration campaign.  Phases 1 and 2 (Stabilizing the walls, conducting archaeological research on the site) are completed and fudraising is underway to continue the restoration.

 Virginia 08Smokey, the Wonder Dog, Contemplates the Scene

 

The mill is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.  Click here for more information.

AfterBefore Friday Forum–Week 50

The philosophy of the After-Before Friday Forum is to discuss how to take an image you’ve captured and change it into the image you want it to be.  Usually, the approach is to make the changes during “post-processing” where the original image is optimized using Lightroom, Photoshop, or some other software program(s).  But there are no rules, so this post will have a new wrinkle—how to improve the original image by evaluating your results in the field and making some significant changes on the scene before you get anywhere near a computer.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before

 “Before” Image

The first image of this scene (Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota) is shown above.  It is what I call a “Parking Lot Shot.”  I saw the scene, liked the leading line of the path up the hill as it curved around the tree on the hill, and stopped the car to take the shot.  But I wasn’t thrilled with the result.  There was something missing.  The empty sky looked….well, empty.  Behind me was a path up another hill that would give a different angle so I walked up that hill and realized that there was a totally different scene waiting to be captured.  I took the shot and liked what I saw much better.  A little more work would be needed in Photoshop, but this one seemed to have more promise.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before 02

2nd  Image, from the Hillside Above

On returning home, the first step was to give a small boost to the overall contrast, and I used a Curves Adjustment Layer.  I chose the Linear Contrast preset (red arrow), left the Blend mode on the default setting of “Normal” (yellow arrow) and the Opacity at 100%  (green arrow).  The screen capture below shows the settings.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before 02A

Adding a Curves Adjustment Layer

Next, it seemed that the greens needed a little punch to restore the look of what I saw that afternoon so a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was used, with the colors set to “Green” (green arrow), the Saturation to +42 (yellow arrow), the Blend mode on the default setting of “Normal,” and the Opacity at 100%.  The screen capture below shows the Hue/Saturation settings.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week27 Before 03A

 Adding a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer

The mountains and sky in the background were too light, and a gradient filter effect was the logical way to go.  I created a new layer, selected a gradient (foreground to transparent), and dragged the mouse down to the large tree (red arrow). I have promised in the past to do a more detailed discussion on the gradient tool, and I still intend to do so.  But not today.  I chose “Soft Light” as the Blend Mode (yellow arrow) and left the Opacity at 100%.  The settings are shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before 04A

Using the Gradient Tool

But the sky at the very top edge still was a bit too bright.  So the Gradient Tool was deployed one more time.  But only with a slight touch.  The mouse was dragged down a very short distance, the Blend Mode was “Soft Light” again, but the Opacity was cut back to 80%.  The final result is the “After” image for this week and is shown below.  The differences from the original “2nd shot” are small, but the difference between the first and second locations is pretty substantial.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 After

So, it often is a good idea to evaluate initial results in the field and make some adjustments in the point of view rather than passing the buck to Photoshop right away. Or, as I like to say….

Keep Shooting…..

Check out the submissions of the other participants this week.  There is always something interesting over there from some very talented photographers. You can find them by clicking here.

ABFriday Forum Week 49

World War II Flyover

Last week we witnessed a rare event in Washington, DC.  Successive waves of World War II aircraft flew down the Potomac River to Memorial Bridge where they made a left turn and flew over the National Mall.  I thought it would be a perfect subject for Week 49 of Stacy Fischer’s AfterBefore Friday Forum, where participants can exchange views about different post-processing techniques. My Before Image is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 49 Before

The “Before Image”

A total of about 50 planes were involved.  In the weeks leading up to this day, every local photographer with a telephoto lens was plotting where to be for the perfect shot. My choice (above) was Theodore Roosevelt Island, located about one mile before Memorial Bridge and the left turn the planes would be making. It had a perfect view of the Key Bridge and Georgetown and I was sure that they would be flying right over the bridge (so said the published schedule) before starting the left turn.

It was a great location, shaded from the bright sun, a comfortable spot to sit while waiting, and only one other person found his way there.  Many other strategies were apparent:

2015 05 15 Flyover 02

Stand Up Paddlers move into position

2015 05 15 Flyover 03

Office workers claim spots on the Key Bridge

2015 05 15 Flyover 12

Kayakers ready for the action

The first wave—4 small trainer aircraft– arrived on schedule, but far too high to be included in the frame with the bridge.   A trio of  bombers approached in a nice tight formation.  Unfortunately, they were way off to the left.  The image below is heavily cropped with 85% of the frame (all sky) excluded.

2015 05 15 Flyover 04

(Technical Data: Hand Held Nikon D800E with 28-300mm f/3.5/5.6 lens extended to 300 mm; Exposure: 1/3200th sec. @f/8.0, ISO 400)

There was enough time between each wave to change lenses or make other adjustments.  Eventually, I switched to my 70-200mm lens with a 1.7x tele-extender.  This is a much bulkier combination than the little 28-300 so I ramped up the shutter speed as an even larger plane came in, again too high and just to the left of the bridge.

2015 05 15 Flyover 06

(Technical Data: Hand Held Nikon D800E with 70-200 0mm f/2.8 lens plus 1.7x Extender, extended to effective range of 340 mm; Exposure: 1/5000th sec. @f/8.0, ISO 800)

Shortly afterward, another group swooped in and the 340mm lens was able to get only three of them.

2015 05 15 Flyover 07

Again, too high and too far left.  But don’t get me wrong.  It was very cool to see all these planes roaring overhead.

It was clear by now that there would be no enormous print of a WW II plane buzzing the Key Bridge hanging on my studio wall.  But all was not lost—ABriday Forum was coming up and the theme is “No Rules Post-processing. “ So perhaps if I didn’t like what I saw, perhaps I could create something I did like.

So, using the original image of the three planes above, I “cloned” them into the Before Image of Key Bridge, taken a few minutes before the Flyover started.  The result is the “After Image” for this week’s AfterBefore Friday Forum.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 49 After

The “After Image”

Eagle-eyed viewers might notice the trio is arranged differently and also that the propellers are blurred a bit.  An aviation expert told me slow shutter speeds are needed to get a more realistic effect with the propellers.  Problem is, naturally, that the entire plane would be blurred becaue both the camera and the planes were moving.  So a touch of the Radial Blur filter in Photoshop provided the effect.

It would, of course, be unethical to pass this off as a real photograph of what happened. But it didn’t turn out terribly bad.  I had better luck with the first four planes in the Flyover, the only ones that actually did fly over the bridge.  They were too high to be seen as shown below, but the angle of view is less weird.

2015 05 15 Flyover 09A

The Clone Tool in Action

Please check out Stacy Fischer’s Visual Venturing Blog and see the contributions by the other participants.  They can be found by clicking here.

New York City- Part 2

Spring is the best time to be in New York City.  Unfortunately, it is also the best time to be in many other places such as Washington, DC.  But when one has business in NYC in late April or early May, one must bring a camera.

The afternoon stroll through Central Park on our first day only whetted our appetite.  So it seemed that an evening visit to the top of Rockefeller Center would be a good way to end the evening.

NYC 01

Top of the Rock, looking south

(Technical: Nikon D800E, resting on balustrade, with 24-70 mm f/2.8 extended to 24 mm; Exposure: 0.6 sec. at f/16, ISO 800.)

NYC 02

 Setting sun, Top of the Rock, looking west

(Technical: Nikon D800E hand held, with 24-70 mm f2.8 extended to 42mm, Exposure 1/640th   sec. at f/10.0, ISO 800.)

The next day, we took the E Train to the World Trade Center to check out the progress on the new PATH Terminal designed by Santiago Calatrava and visit the 9/11 Memorial.  The last time I had been there was in May 2013, shortly after the Memorial had opened and security had been exceptionally strict.   They have relaxed a lot since then.  One can stroll right into the grounds.

NYC 04

View of one of the two reflecting pools, surrounded by waterfalls.

NYC 03

The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze around the twin pools.

Brookfield Place, housing scads of places to eat and shop, is right across the street in Battery City Park.  We only had time for a quick peek, but I am definitely going back to explore Le District (billed as a French market) in detail. This place is gy-normous.

NYC 05

The Winter Garden Atrium looking out toward the Hudson River

New York 06

View from Brookfield Place looking toward the PATH Terminal under construction.

The new PATH Terminal is suffering a lot of ridicule in the New York media. But, having seen structures designed by this controversial architect in places such as Valencia, Barcelona, Milwaukee,  California, and Buenos Aires, I expect it will be impressive once it is finished (assuming the engineers can fashion his design into reality).

The next morning we headed over to the High Line, a 1.5-mile elevated train line that has been transformed into a highly popular aerial greenway.

NYC 06

Tracks from the former NY Central spur line are integrated into the design

NYC 07

If it’s New York City, there will be a fashion shoot

NYC 08

Hidden Gem: The High Line Hotel courtyard, just a block away from the actual High Line, is a great place for a coffee break.  Previously part of a seminary, it was once a large estate and apple orchard owned by the man who is thought to have authored “The Night Before Christmas.”

NYC 09

The High Line has numerous, and often amusing, public art installations

NYC 12

The new Whitney Museum is located at the southern terminus of the High Line

NYC 11

It was opening day and the line stretched for several blocks.

NYC 10

But the view up there is supposed to be great

Maybe on the next visit….

Keep shooting.

Spring in Central Park

Central Park is my favorite go-to location whenever I’m in New York City,  and tthe spring weather last week made it especially tempting.  Starting from a point at 67th Street and Central Park West I wandered in a generally eastward direction and then south.  No real plan except to end up at 5th Avenue and Central Park South.  The pictures below are roughly in the sequence they were taken.

NYC 02

Looking Northwest toward Terrace Drive

NYC 05

The tulips were at their peak

NYC 03

This classic scene may dsappear if the NYC Mayor has his way

NYC 01Virginia Bluebells in Central Park?  Who Knew?

NYC 04

 The Carousel Building

NYC 06

Slow Piitch Softball Game

NYC 07

Looking Southeast from the Wollman Rink

NYC 08

There was a lot of this going on

NYC 09

Looking North toward the Capstow Bridge

NYC 10

“Desire Lines” by Tatiana Trouvé

Now you may be asking, what do these racks of spools have to do with a walk in Central Park?  As it turns out, quite a lot.  Click here to find out more.

And if you are interested in finding out what flowers are blooming where (and when) in Central Park you can go to this link here.

Keep Shooting…..

OnePhoto Focus–May 2015

Those of us who participate in the AFterBefore Friday Forum have full control over our destiny every week of the month—except the first week.  On this week, iInstead of choosing anything we want from our own images, we have the “opportunity” to work on a single image selected for us.  As the day approaches when the “Chosen One” is to be unveiled, this participant at least, has flashbacks to those days just before his final exams.  The eternal question: “What will be on the test?” looms ahead.

This week’s image was graciously provided by  Shane Francescut and when I saw it, I was speechless.  Well, not really, but I digress.  Let’s look at the image.

2015 05 01 PhotoFocus Before

Original Image

After some thinking, I thought I would take a different tack from last month when I subjected the provided image to a lengthy sequence of exotic Photoshop devices that caused formal protests from the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and Green Peace.  This time it would be a quick and merciful coup de grace.  Or, in a nod to the theme of OnePhoto Focus, it would be done with “OnePhotoshop Tool.”

But I cheated.  I had the RAW version of Shane’s image and made the standard exposure adjustments in Adobe Camera that I make with almost every image.  The result and ACR settings are shown just below.

2015 05 01 PhotoFocus Before 02

Results of ACR Process

ACR Settings: Highlights: -100; Shadows: +100; Whites: +47; Blacks: -8; Clarity: +30; Vibrance: +30

Then, I opened an Adjustment Layer–>Curves (Blend Mode=Difference) and chose the Negative Preset. (Blue arrow in screen shot below). This has the effect of completely reversing the tonal distribution of the image.

2015 05 01 PhotoFocus Before 01A

Next, I set an anchor point on the diagonal line through the histogram and dragged the point left and down (red arrow).   The Preset Panel now reads “Custom” indicating I have made a change to the Preset previously chosen. The result is show below.

2015 05 01 PhotoFocus After

Fiunal Result

That’s it.  I kind of like it.  Anyway, it didn’t take long –Less than 2 minutes, counting the ACR steps.

Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions are appreciated.  But be sure to zip over to Visual Venturing to see what everyone else did.

Antarctica–Lessons Learned

Last December I wrote a guest post “Up for Discussion- Travel Photography” for Leanne Cole, a talented photographer and writer in Australia.  Both she and I were planning major trips to completely different destinations—New York City and Antarctica—and we asked readers to offer their thoughts on what gear we should be taking.  The responses were numerous and full of good ideas.

After my Antarctica trip was completed, Leanne suggested a “Lessons Learned” post might be of interest.  I saw it as also as an opportunity to thank those who commented on the original article.   Their collective wisdom was of great help in my pre-trip research.  On the subject of pre-trip research I would also recommend a post by Susan Portnoy,  an exceptional travel photographer and writer based in New York City.

My Lessons Learned essay, along with a number of images from Antarctica, has just been posted on Leanne’s site so If you have an interest on how to prepare for a major photography trip, please check it out here.  Leanne’s blog has a wide readership so there is bound to be some interesting commentary from her followers.

Antarctica 08

Early Morning, Antarctica