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.
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.
By writing this post, I suppose I am starting a tradition since I wrote a worst of 2013 post last year.This time of year, there are many “best of” lists, and as I’ve already presented you with most of my best images of 2014, I decided once again to go the opposite direction once again and present the worst of the year.
First off, a disclaimer: the images presented here are not really my worst of the year. The truly worst of the worst get deleted off the memory card before downloading or are so truly horrible that they get deleted prior to my normal editing process. That said, all the images presented here would normally be deleted during my regular editing process without a second thought.
Generally editing and deleting bad images can be an educational experience if time is taken to think about why an image is bad. In other words, you can learn from your mistakes. However, when I took the time to pick the worst of the year and try to “save” them with post-processing, I found it an even more educational experience than just deleting. This is because in trying to “fix” the images, I went more in-depth into why they are bad and learned more about the limits of my post-processing work. You may want to try this exercise yourself sometime.
Now, before I start presenting these bad images, another further explanation. Last year several readers objected to my post, stating that some of my bad images were not actually very bad, and perhaps even likable. That may be true for an individual viewer, but when picking these shots, they were selected in context of my intent when shooting the image and in relation to the other images I took at the same time. For example, last year I presented a poorly exposed image of the Skagit Valley tulip fields that one reader liked. The image was made presentable by work in Lightroom, but when compared to the properly exposed images I took at the time, it was not very good. Further, the post-processing work that made it presentable caused the extreme noise in the image to be quite visible. Another consideration is the limits of presentation on the internet. A poorly focused image might look okay when presented as a 900-pixel wide image on the internet, but when zoomed into at 100%, it would look horrible. So take my word for it, these images are bad.
Okay, enough explanations and on to the bad stuff. Below are 11 of my worst images of 2014, one for each month from January through November. December is excluded because I failed to get out of my house and try to take any serious images. That in itself is a bad mistake, but I’ll leave my preference for a warm house to a rainy, cold day in the field for another post.
Each image below was shot in RAW. Except for the October image, two versions of each are presented, one without any post-processing (other than the default settings in Lightroom needed to convert a RAW file to a jpeg) and the other my attempt to “save” the image by processing in Lightroom. I few could have been further “saved” with extra processing in Photoshop, but that wasn’t worth my time. Proper technique in the field always is better than saving through post processing. With each of these images, a small adjustment in position or a correction in technique would have saved them more than any amount of processing.
Often when traveling, particularly via Interstate highway, I look for scenic byways that parallel my path. Places with scenery, where a few good photos can be taken, without going far out of my way. Washington State Route 821 through the Yakima River Canyon is such a route. If you are traveling on Interstate 82 between Ellensburg and Yakima, Washington (basically on the main route from Seattle to eastern Oregon, southern Idaho and Utah), it is worth taking the few extra minutes to travel this road. The road add about 15 minutes drive time, but less than 5 miles to the route. Of course, if you are tempted to get out and take a few photographs, go on a hike, or view wildlife, it may add much more than a quarter-hour to your trip.
If traveling south from Ellensburg toward Yakima, to reach this scenic byway, you can take the Exit 109 (signed Canyon Road, Ellensburg) and turn left onto Canyon Road at the bottom of the off ramp, or take Exit 3 on Interstate 82 (signed 821 South, Thrall Road) and turn right on Thrall Road at the end of the off ramp, then left onto Canyon Road. Once on Canyon Road, within several miles, you will be driving a 25-mile long, twisting two-lane highway that follows along the eastern shore of the Yakima River.
The river forms an oasis in the otherwise dry foothills on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. In the summer, lush pockets of green contrast with the dryland hills and cliffs above the river. In the spring, when the hills can be green, the contrast is between trees denser foliage along the river and the mostly grass and scrub brush on the hills. In fall, the riverside foliage, including a mix of cottonwoods, aspens and evergreen conifers, presents a contrasting yellows, reds and oranges. In winter, there is often snow along the river and in the hills. Whenever you visit, on this side of the Cascades, the weather is often sunny and the sky blue (no promises though!).
There are four recreation areas run by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These offer places to stop with camping spots, picnic tables, and vault toilets. They also have boat launches, which present an additional way to enjoy the canyon – by boat, canoe or kayak. The river is calm throughout the canyon, but if you do boat the river, be sure to use the take out at the Roza Recreation Area to avoid the Roza Dam that is shortly downriver (above Roza, only non-motorized boats are allowed) . The first recreation area heading south on the road, Umtanum, is particularly worth a stop. Here a suspension bridge spans the river, leading to a fine hike up Umtanum Creek. The hike leads through Untanum Canyon, away from the river, and into the pristine wildlands of the Wenas Wildlife Area . The recreation areas have a $5/vehicle daily use fee (or use an Interagency, ie National Parks, pass).
Away from the recreation areas, there are plenty of pull overs along the road to practice photography or look for wildlife. Mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, as well as eagles, hawks, falcons and other birds frequent the area. Also be aware, that in spring and summer, rattlesnakes are also common.
Most of the photos illustrating this post were from my recent trip through the canyon earlier this month. The last several are from earlier trips.