Twilight and Beyond: Photography at Night (Part 2)

In the first installment of this mini-series, I suggested including the moon in a night scene as a way to add interest and provided a few examples.  In this segment, we’ll look at the moon in a little greater detail.

In the Washington, DC area, capturing images of a full moon rising has become increasingly popular, largely due to the availability of mobile “apps” to help you be at the right place at the right time.  The general approach is to find a location from which one can photograph the moon perfectly positioned in relation to one of the major monuments.   The image below was captured at the most popular of these locations, on a hill in Rosslyn, Virginia directly in front of the Netherlands Carillon.

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Moonrise, Washington, DC (September 5, 2009)

An image like this is not as easy to obtain as it would appear, even with the help of an app like TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris). Aside from the obvious need for good weather, the time between the moonrise and sunset are critical as is the precise location of the moonrise.  In the case of this image, it was actually taken on the night after the full moon.  On the previous night, the weather was cloudy, the moonrise was 13 minutes before sunset and well to the right of the Lincoln Memorial. On the night of this image, the moonrise was 13 minutes after sunset at the perfect azimuth reading—85.5 degrees.  This photograph was taken about 10 minutes later, very close to the end of civil twilight.

For those wanting to know when the next such opportunity comes, they might want to mark their calendars for October 15, 2016.  It is the night before the full moon and the moon will rise 2 minutes after sunset.  That’s a little closer than ideal, but the azimuth reading is close to perfect, at 84.1 degrees.  Not as good as September 5, 2009, but worth a try if the weather is favorable.

A word of warning:  You will be sharing this location with as many as 100 other photographers, all with tripods.

The Jefferson Memorial is probably the second most popular spot for a moonrise image, often attracting 30-40 photographers on a promising evening. The advantage here is there are more vantage points along the sidewalks of the Tidal Basin.

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Moonrise, Jefferson Memorial (July 31, 2015)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 2 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 106.2 degrees; photograph taken 18 minutes after sunset.)

A similar alignment will occur on April 22, 2016 with a full moonrise 3 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 105 degrees.

One of the challenges in photographing a full moon is exposure.  Once it gets well above the horizon on a clear night, an exposure chosen to capture a twilight scene will often result in an overexposed moon. This will happen even with illuminated buildings as the primary subject.

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Jefferson Memorial, Full Moon and Fireworks (April 4, 2014)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 21 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 99.1 degrees, photograph taken 63 minutes after sunset.)

Tactics for resolving this issue can range from hoping for a light cloud cover to blending two separate exposures in Photoshop or using the HDR bracketed exposure procedure.  Another method is to try for a crescent moon.

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Crescent Moon with Lincoln Memorial (August 17, 2015)

Photographed 35 minutes after sunset.  Note:  In this case, the photograph is taken in same direction as the setting sun.  Therefore, the twilight blue lasts longer than when you are pointing in the opposite direction.

Always consider possible locations when you travel.  Apps like TPE can be really helpful if you check the destination before you go.  For example, Mother Nature had kindly scheduled a full moon during our visit to Paris in 2014.  A check with TPE revealed that it would be possible to have it in a picture with the Eiffel Tower.

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Full Moon and Eiffel Tower (June 13, 2014)

(Technical Notes: Moonrise 8 minutes after Sunset at Azimuth 119.5 degrees. Photograph taken 50 minutes after Sunset. Twilight tends to last longer in Paris than in Washington, DC.)

The next full moon will be on February 22nd.  Pick a spot and …

Keep Shooting….

A Winter Day in Central Park

I was in New City on Thursday for a quick business trip with my wife.  Arriving a few hours before the business meeting, we decided to take a walk in Central Park.

 

NYCD-16-01-28-1778A Horse Carriage Continues a 150-year Tradition

The recent snow is no problem for the horse carriages, but the city’s mayor is still out to curtail, if not eliminate, them.

 

NYC D-16-01-28-1663Artists selling their works were out in force.

 

 

NYC D-16-01-28-1650As were couples recording their memories.

 

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The ice rink was busy as usual

But our destination was the zoo.  At the entrance one will find the famous George Delacorte Musical Clock, which is built on a triple archway passage into the zoo.  Flanking the clock on either side are G. R. Roth’s Honey Bear and Dancing Goat bronze sculptures dating from 1935.

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Roth’s Honey Bear

Supposedly during daylight hours, a selected tune is played by bells while bronze sculptures of a bear with tambourine, a hippopotamus with violin, a goat with pan pipes, a kangaroo and offspring with horns, and a penguin with drum glide around the base of the clock. In addition, on the hour, two bronze monkeys on the top of the clock appear to strike a bell. We saw the monkeys striking the bell, but the animals did not move while the song was played.  Still, it is a very cool clock.

NYC D-16-01-28-1669Visitors Watching the Delacorte Clock Announce the Time

 

Inside the zoo, the visitors were often as entertaining as the inmates.

NYC D-16-01-28-1672Sea Lion Striking a Pose

 

NYC D-16-01-28-1700This Snow Monkey appeared distraught that the snow in his compound had mostly melted.

 

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A Seal Creates a Kaleidoscope of Reflections as it Swims

But our favorite stop was the snow leopard compound where, if one is lucky and patient, they can capture an image that almost appears to be taken in the wild.

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Snow Leopard Cub (about 20 Months) Moves Across the Snow

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The Same Cub, Striking a Pose

The cub shown here is one of a pair of twins who, a few minutes earlier, had been frolicking in the snow.  But unfortunately, their antics were almost completely obscured by rocks and bushes so that classic, prize winning image was not captured.  So I guess I will have to….

Keep Shooting…..

 

 

Twilight and Beyond (Part 1)

I recently had the opportunity to make a presentation to the membership of the  Vienna Photographic Society in Vienna, Virginia on the subject of night photography.  A friend and fellow photographer suggested that the subject might also be of interest to write about here.

For openers, many people might ask why in the world someone would want to go out and photograph things at night. And they have a point, because everything is more difficult in the dark.  It is hard to see what you are doing or where you are going.  And then there is the inconvenient fact that photography relies on light.

But despite the challenges, night photography opens a whole new world of photographic opportunities.  After the sun has set, the world begins to be transformed into something unfamiliar and strange.

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Moonrise, near Marquette, Michigan

As the above image shows, photographing a scene at night produces a totally different result in daylight. Much of what we see at day has disappeared while things we could not see are now apparent. Even more interesting is how a scene becomes more abstract as the light fades.  And in certain cases, you have the ability to capture the passage of time.

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Washington Monument at Night

These other worldly characteristics make it necessary to adopt a different mind-set when photographing at night.  For example, in a night-time urban environment one is dealing with many, perhaps thousands, of light sources instead of just one. But in a landscape environment, you may be dealing with virtually no light.

Although the scene may be radically different than in daytime, the photographer faces the same technical constraints.  The four factors of   aperture, shutter speed, and light sensitivity are still with us, but at an extreme level, often pushing the limits of our equipment.

There is some disagreement among photographers over the definition of “night” when discussing night photography.  For me, it covers any photograph taken in the time between sunset and sunrise.  One of the most magical aspects of this genre, in my opinion, is the slow transformation between daylight and darkness (evening and morning) which is known as twilight.

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World War I Memorial, Washington, DC (19 minutes  after sunset)

 

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US Capitol and Senate Garage Fountain (30 minutes after sunset)

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Paris, Place Concorde Fountain (73 minutes after sunset)

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Ferris wheel, Madison Wisconsin (Night)

Twilight begins at sunset, and while the sun is relatively close to the horizon, illumination is provided by the scattering of sunlight in the sky.   During twilight, the earth is neither fully lit nor completely dark.  The twilight period actually is divided into three separate phases, Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical, each of which is about 30 minutes long.  For further details on these terms check this link.

During the transition between daylight and actual darkness, the quality of light changes rapidly and close attention to what is happening in the scene is advisable.  This is especially true in an urban environment when artificial lights begin to become dominant, overwhelming the ambient light from the fading twilight.

Night Photos Washington CityscapeMoonrise over Kennedy Center, Washington, DC (20 minutes after sunset)

Night Photos Washington TwilightPhotographed 5 Minutes Later

 

My favorite technique for adding drama to a twilight scene is to include a rising or setting moon as shown below.  Taken in 2001, there was no “app” to guide photographers to the

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (7 minutes after sunset)

perfect location.  One needed a real compass and a source of information on the lunar cycle, such as the US Naval Observatory website.

Today, the easy availability of products such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Photo Pils, and others make it much easier.  But there still are a few additional elements that are helpful to know.   That will be the topic of the next installment of this series.

In the meantime,

Keep Shooting…..

Hidden Gem: Mexico’s Monarch Preserves

Well, the Google Doodle beat me to the punch yesterday, marking the 41st anniversary of the discovery of the overwintering site of the Monarch butterfly.  But that’s OK, I’m going ahead with this anyway.

D-11-01-18-0271 (Keynote)Monarchs Overwintering in Mexico (2011)

By the mid-20th century the existence of the monarch migration had been well known for many years, but not its full route.  Every August and September, millions of monarchs in the eastern United States and Canada would start flying south toward Mexico and disappear.   Then, around March, they would reappear on a northward journey. The location where they spent those intervening months was unknown.  It was one of nature’s great mysteries.

Until January 9, 1975.

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In that year, a group of scientists following clues left by tagged butterflies that had fallen on the journey south were led to a place high in the mountains of Mexico’s eastern Sierra Madre Mountains. There they found millions of butterflies clinging to the branches of the oyamel trees that grow at altitudes as high as 11,000-12,000 feet.

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The fact that these small creatures can actually make the trip of several thousand miles is not the most amazing part of the story.  What is most incredible is that none of them had ever been there before. Yet each year a new torrent of monarchs, separated by three or four generations from those that flew there the previous year, finds its way to those same oyamel trees.

I became entranced with this story in 2001, after reading “Four Wings and a Prayer” by Sue Halpern who traveled to Mexico in a truck with legendary monarch tracker Bill Calvert and experienced first-hand the spectacle of the monarch migration.

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My own journey started shortly afterwards with a trip to Cape May, New Jersey,  a key crossing point for the southbound monarchs over Delaware Bay.  Butterfly researchers at the Cape May Bird Observatory demonstrated the technique of tagging the monarchs and how the tracking depends on anonymous individuals who find a tagged butterfly and report the information of where and when to research centers.

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Tagged Monarch Before Release (2001)

A few days later, I caught up with a researcher in Lorton, Virginia who was tagging southbound monarchs in a field of yellow wildflowers (image below).   He had almost

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Migrating Monarch, Lorton VA (2001)

reached his annual goal of 500 taggings, but was despondent over the fact that this waystation for the monarchs was about to become a shopping center.

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Lorton, Virginia (2001)

Seven years later, I was at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, on the south shore of Lake Superior, when I spotted a few flashes of orange.  It was a pair of migrating monarchs just arriving from their 100-mile-plus flight across the great lake from Canada.  They still were over 2,500 miles from their destination.

Monarch

Migrating Monarch, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI (2008)

In the fall of 2010, a friend called asking if I would like to join her on a trip to see the overwintering sites in Mexico. My answer was quick and the following January, we found ourselves on a long bus ride from Mexico City to the mountain village of Angangueo. But this was just the first of many transportation modes we would use in the coming days such as the back of pick-up trucks, riding horses, and finally hiking on our own at lung-busting (to us at least) altitudes of 11,000 feet and higher.

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Getting Closer, but a Tough Hike Awaits (2011)

But it was all worth it.  Photographs really can’t communicate the scale of the scenes we witnessed.  There are so many butterflies clustered on the trees that the branches bend downward from the weight, occasionally even breaking.The image below shows a small section of a stand of trees in one of the preserves.  Imagine that no matter where you look from this position, all the trees surrounding you are covered from top to bottom with what seem like orange leaves but really are butterflies.

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Monarch Clusters on Oyamel Trees, Mexico (2011)

Mexico does try to protect the sanctuaries, although illegal logging is one of many serious threats.  But on the positive side they enforce strict (5 mph) speed limits on a highway that occasionally is also used by the monarchs when searching for water outside the preserves.

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Monarch Crossing, Mexico  (2011)

An equally serious threat is the loss of habitat in the United States.  Remember that shopping center in Lorton, Virginia? There has been a steady decline in the numbers of monarchs reaching the preserves over the past decade, but there was a slight uptick last

Monarch 13

Chart of Monarch Counts in Mexico (1994-2014)

year.  Preliminary estimates for this winter are cautiously optimistic, with hopes that they might reach the levels of 2011, when I was there.  Keep your fingers crossed and….

 

Keep Shooting….

Hidden Gems:  Hartford’s Sculpture Walk at Riverfront

Tomorrow’s meeting wasn’t going to start until 9:30 AM and the hotel was a 2-minute walk from the Connecticut River.  A quick check of The Photographer’s Ephemeris app revealed there would be an opportunity for a sunrise illumination (at 7:05 AM) of the Hartford skyline across the river.  OK, set the alarm for 6:15 AM.

Arriving at the river’s edge the next mornioing about 20 minutes before sunrise, I had a few minutes to check things out and noticed a stairway leading up to Founders Bridge. At the top of the stairs,there was a magnificent pedestrian walkway, wide enough for a car and way better than anything we have in Washington.

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Founders Bridge, Hartford Connecticut

And it turned out this was no ordinary promenade.  It was part of the Lincoln Sculpture Walk that follows a course through two riverside parks, one on each side of the river.  Made possible by a $500,000 donation from the Lincoln Financial Group, a local firm, it features 15 permanent sculptures dedicated to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. Those who know my photography know that the Lincoln Memorial is one of my favorite subjects.

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“Emancipation,” by Preston Jackson

This sculpture, “Emancipation,” was fortuitously (for me) placed right a few steps from the stairway landing.  It is one of two works in the Sculpture Walk by Preston Jackson, a prominent African American artist from the Art Institute of Chicago.  It depicts a female slave carrying her infant and a few possessions toward freedom.  The soft illumination of the twilight minutes before the sunrise seemed to underscore the power of the work.

As the sun edged above the horizon, the colors began to illuminate the city’s skyline.  The image below was captured one minute after sunrise.

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Sunrise View of Hartford from Founders Bridge

But I could see that there were might be more potential down below along the river’s edge and I retreated down the stairway and found a good spot to wait. My luck continued as a series of clouds continued moving in from the west and the light breeze began to subside.  And sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the golden light reached its peak.

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As I walked back to the hotel, it seemed that going out for a morning walk was a lot better than sleeping in.

 

Keep Shooting…..

 

Moonrise: Thanksgiving Eve

Last night, my sister (who is a photographer based in Pennsylvania) and I decided to try and capture an image of the full moon rising.  My sister is visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday and the coincidence of a full moon in late November on a perfectly clear night with temperatures in the low 60s was impossible to resist.  The result is posted below.

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Moonrise, Washington, DC

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Keep shooting….

 

Hidden Gems: The Christmas Angel

Knowing where to be and when to be there is often the key to a special image.  Most of the time the “when” is hard to know in advance.  But one opportunity that occurs like clockwork every year is the phenomenon known as “The Christmas Angel” at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

At the back of the Cathedral (opposite end from the entrance, known as the apse), high on a wall, there is a row of statues of angels spaced at regular intervals.  The statues are not particularly remarkable because they are in the shadows and one would not normally notice them.  But there is one statue that becomes a major attraction for a few minutes each day in the months of November and December.  A stained glass window high on the opposite wall is perfectly located to allow a shaft of light strike the back wall of the nave at midmorning.

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Photographed at 10:41 AM

The image above shows the light striking the wall to the (photographer’s) left of the statue, which is hardly visible.

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Photographed at 11:21 AM

Thirty minutes later, the light has moved to the right and begins to illuminate the statue.  By 11:20 AM the statue is fully illuminated and will remain that way for about five minutes.

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Close-up photographed at 11:22 AM

After a few minutes the light begins to disappear as the sun moves out of position.  See the image below.

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Photographed at 11:43 AM

By 11:40 AM, the light was essentially gone.

Keep shooting….