On my recent trip to Baltimore, I spent an afternoon at the National Mall in Washington, DC. It seemed to me, with cold weather and snow, as well as being on a Tuesday, there were very many people there. It may have been because the snow closed down the government, so a lot of people had the day off, and that it was sunny and not really that cold. Or it could be there is just always a lot of people there. It is a popular tourist attraction after all. Regardless, with all the people, it made it a challenge to photograph the monuments without a lot of people in my shots.
A great method to remove people from your shots is to use a really long exposure (typically several seconds to minutes). With a long exposure, people moving through the frame are not recorded. To get really long exposures, use a neutral density filter. As I was carrying my tripod and a neutral density filter, I was tempted to use this method to get a shot of the Lincoln Memorial during the afternoon, as it seemed to be the place with the most people gathered. However, even an exposure of several minutes (which I don’t think I could have gotten due to bright light) was probably not good enough in this case because a lot of people were standing in place for minutes at a time. A ten-minute exposure might have work, but I didn’t have the equipment with me for that.
Instead, I came by later, after sunset, when there were many fewer people about. Then using an 8-second exposure, I was able to capture the monument without people (actually, there is the “ghost” of two people in the shot, but I can remove them later with cloning if I want).
Actually, waiting for evening is a great method for controlling crowds. Typically there are many fewer people about and the light is often better than in the middle of the day. In the shot of the Washington Monument from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I planned the shot during the afternoon when many people where in front of the war memorial wall, but came back after sunset to make the shot. I shot from this location for about 15 minutes, during which time, only one group of people passed.
Another method is to frame the people out of the picture, as worked for the image here of the Jefferson Memorial. Look for pleasing compositions above the heads of your fellow visitors. A corollary to this method is to shoot details, rather than the big picture, thereby cutting people out of your compositions.
Of course, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes you want the entire building or you want foregrounds that shooting high above people’s heads cannot give. In that case you can try to go with a wide-angle shot. With a wide-angle perspective, you can make the people visible in the shot look much smaller and less of an obstruction, at least if they are not close to the camera. This method worked well for the shot of the Washington Monument with the flags.
Or you can just go to areas that are not as popular. By visiting less popular sites, you don’t only get the advantage of fewer people in the frame, you can capture shots that are more unique (rather than the same shot of the popular attraction that has been shot a million times). Very few people were visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which is where I took the shot below of the Jefferson Memorial with the snowy tree in the foreground.
Travel photography presents many opportunities, including shooting interesting people and cultures. But sometimes, you views without the people in them. Using some of the methods described above can often allow you to capture shots people-free.
I’ve been spending the week in Baltimore while Tanya attends a conference. While winter has been very mild back in western Washington, it is very cold here. This morning, the low temperature was 2 degrees. This has not stopped me from getting out to do some photography. Here are a few quick shots from Annapolis, Maryland. Thanks to friend and fellow travel photographer Walter Rowe for suggesting Annapolis. It is a great place for travel photography, and I will have to get back some day when it is not so frozen. These shots were taken several days ago, when the temperature was only in the 20s. I’ll post some more shots from the trip after I get home. Meanwhile, enjoy these shots from frozen Annapolis.
Every year I seek to capture a few snowy scenes for possible calendar use. At Robinson Noble, where I have my day job, we produce a calendar every year for clients, and I supply all the images. There seems to be some unwritten law that requires the December and January images to have snow in them (sorry that my northern hemisphere bias is showing here!). The problem is that I’m not that much of a winter person, so I don’t get out much in the cold season. Plus, the easiest place for me to get snow images is Mount Rainier National Park, which is only 70 miles from my home. However, the calendar needs variety, so the January and December images can’t be taken in Mount Rainier National Park every year. Now add in that this winter has been very warm in the Pacific Northwest and there is not much snow.
So with all this in mind, I took last Monday off work to go and find some snow. Tanya, Nahla and I drove east into the mountains. At Snoqualmie Pass, it was very dark with mixed rain and snow falling. We kept driving. Coming down from the pass, the weather improved, as it usually does, with sun and mixed clouds. While this area is typically snow-covered in January, it was not this year. We kept driving. We left the interstate and headed toward Blewett Pass and we finally found snow and sun together. We stopped at the top of Blewett Pass and got out the snowshoes. While snowy, the snow wasn’t deep, perhaps about a foot at the parking lot.
We hiked off the northern end of the lot, west along a forest service road. Most of the time we were in the forest, but the views did open up at a few spots. It was an easy snowshoe hike and a nice day to be out. I captured a few shots that might be worthy of being on the calendar next year (let me know if you agree). Mission accomplished.
One of my favorite places to shoot in Tacoma is the Museum of Glass. With its unique architecture, reflecting ponds, and setting on the Thea Foss Waterway next to the historic Albers Mills building, it provides plenty of fun compositions. Though it can be photographed any time of day, I especially like photographing there at night. I really like the varying metal textures of the hot-room cone and “wing” over the elevators on the upper plaza, and how they reflect light at night. I also quite like the contrast between the brick of Albers Mill and the metal of the Glass Museum’s hot-room cone. There is something magic about shooting there in the dark with long exposures; you are never quite sure what you will end up with in your shot. What the camera sees is always different from what the naked eye sees. With practice, I’ve learned to anticipate what my long-exposure images of the Glass Museum will look like, but I always get a couple of surprises as well.
Last Tuesday, about five of us from the Tacoma Mountaineers went down there to shoot. We stayed about two hours and had a good time playing around in the dark. There were very few other people round to potentially mess up compositions; but doing night photography, other people don’t matter too much. With long exposures, they can walk right through your composition and never be seen. It’s the magic of night.
There are quite a few light sources around the area, both from the museum itself and from neighboring properties, so the exposures don’t have to be too long. Most my exposures were one to three minutes using ISO 100 with f-stops of f/8 – f/16. What makes things interesting from a photographic perspective is that the lights have many different color temperatures. There is a general orange glow to the area from sodium-vapor lights that are common in the city, but there is also green, yellow, red, blue and even purple light in the area. There seems to be no “correct” white balance due to all these various light sources, so it is fun processing in Lightroom and playing with the white balance sliders to find pleasing sets of colors. Typically I like one color setting for the buildings, typically something warm, and a different one for the sky. On the photos shown here, I used the Lightroom paintbrush to tone down and darken the orange tone of the sky that results from the city street lights.
Enjoy these images of night at the Glass Museum, and as always, feel free to leave a comment.
I find it helpful to look back and see what my photography was like in the past. That is one reason I occasionally post an image taken five years ago (and, okay, another reason is that I don’t have any great new stuff to show). It is also fun to take an old image that I hadn’t done anything with and see what I can do now. In this addition of the 5 years ago series, I give you an image I took in New Orleans. In 2009, Tanya and I went to New Orleans for a convention. December is a great time to visit there, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again at this time of year. New Orleans is a fun city for travel photography (and for the food too!). The image above is of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, also known as the St. Louis Cathedral, in Jackson Square – a wonderful building to photograph.
The image above was taken in color, worked in Lightroom, sent to Photoshop, and converted to black and white with the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin (I do love that plugin). I was not too impressed with my original image, shown here without any processing other than the default settings in Lightroom. Looking at the unprocessed version, I can see why I chose not to do anything with it five years ago. I’m lucky I didn’t delete it. Part of the learning process for me has been gradually gaining the ability to look at a less than perfect scene or image and imagine what can be done with it. I’m still improving on this ability today. I don’t think I could have made the image above from this starting RAW file five years ago.
If you would like to see a few more photos from that trip five years ago, please visit my New Orleans gallery on by website.