Winter 2016

I’ve hinted in the past that while the vibrant “organic” colors that Spring through Fall bring make for amazing photographs. However, there is something to be said for the simple beauty of winter.  After all, the peaceful beauty that freshly fallen snow (let alone the peaceful silence of being out in the snow as it quietly falls) makes for great images.

While winter may have gotten off to a late start here on the East Coast, it made for some great photography: bringing the foggiest December on record to the Mid Atlantic.  Then in January, we were treated to a true whollop of snowstorm, bringing 34 inches to my backyard.  Some areas of West Virginia saw 40+”!  Unfortunately, this much snow made it extremely difficult for me to get to get to scenic locations to photograph, but my new pair of snowshoes got a lot of use for a week 🙂

Finally, we were able to make it up to Canaan Valley in the high Alleghenies of West Virginia for Winter’s last true stand.  While not quite as cold or beautiful as the winter of 2015, all-in-all winter 2016 did not disappoint.

Cheers!

-Tom

The Heart of Chile

For week’s I’ve debated on how to sum up/write about the areas of Chile that we visited outside of Patagonia.  For a country that stretches 4,300 Km in length, with climates ranging from the driest desert on earth to the third largest glacial ice field on earth, it is hard to sum it up by just visiting two regions.

While we spent nearly 2 weeks exploring some of the best sights that this wonderful country has to offer, I feel that we barely scratched the surface.  What I can say is that modern Chile has a lot to be proud of: a stable government,  South America’s strongest economy, friendly people, an embrace of their history, wonderful traditions, and great food…There is nothing quite like a Chilean sandwich anywhere else on earth!

I think one of the things that I like the most about Chile is the immense pride that their people have in their country.  Driving down any road, there are bright Chilean flags flying outside of just about every house.  While at a bar here, the native Chilean bartender was trying to one up his Argentinian coworker by crafting a perfect cocktail.  I have to admit he did a good job…It was probably one of the most beautiful drinks I’ve ever drank.

As passionate as Chileans are about their country, they are passionate about religion.  It is impossible to talk about the history of Chile without involving Catholicism.  The biggest crowds that we saw while in the country were gathered around churches and religious monuments.

We were fortunate enough to experience Chile’s culture in the sprawling capital of Santiago and the nearby coastal city of Valparaiso.  Each of these cities is unique and it is easy to tell that Santiago is the economic and political powerhouse of this part of South America.

While Santiago packs in the masses and serves as Chile’s economic & governmental capital, Valparaiso packs in the charm.  Some have called it the San Francisco of South America.  The great thing about this city is that it has garnered enough attention to preserve the unique buildings, but not enough attention to ruin the unique local culture.  Walking down the streets in Valparaiso is like walking through a history museum turned art museum.  Photographic opportunities abound around every street corner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patagonia: The Land That [Far] Exceeds Expectations

Since I received my first “Patagonia” brand fleece as a little kid, I have been intrigued by the mountains on the clothing brand’s logo. However, I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to visit this remote land.

Then, two years ago I started researching locations for my wife and me to travel on our next “big adventure” and I was instantly hooked when Patagonia popped up. I spent countless hours since then researching when, where, and how to go. So much so that I began to think, “Is there going to be much more to discover than what I’ve already seen on Google image search?” Luckily, I was wrong and I could not have prepared myself for the land that many say is a true “landscape photographer’s dream.” My wife fell in love with the landscape, too, and she expressed interest in returning before we even left, which certainly says something given the often “less than ideal” weather conditions and many challenges with traveling to and around this remote land.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the region, getting to/around there isn’t the easiest of tasks. It took no less than three flights  with 15+ hours of total flying time for us to arrive in Punta Arenas from Washington-Dulles International Airport. And, even after arriving at the airport, there were still hundreds of miles to drive between the individual destinations. To make matters more difficult, the wind is so great that it tests the skill of even the best drivers, blowing the car all over the road. The wind literally caused our Toyota Corolla to blow apart, causing me to do emergency roadside maintenance on the side of the road as local drivers whizzed by at 90+ mph (normal cruising speed on the straight Argentine roads). Since the next settlement, let alone gas station, may be more than 150 miles away, pre-planning is a must when visiting the region.

The same climatic engine that drives the “less than ideal” weather also creates unimaginable natural lighting. During our trip, we observed some of the most stunning lighting while 70km/hr winds were ripping across the landscape, and keeping a tripod steady, let alone hand-holding a camera, was often challenging in these conditions.

 

While most people (including me!) come to Patagonia for the landscapes, the wildlife certainly does not disappoint. My wife commented when driving through the Eastern entrance to Torres Del Paine that it felt like we were on a South American safari. The variety and number of animals in the area was a surprise since many of the animals–including flamingos, rheas, and armadillos–are animals normally associated with warmer climates. This coupled with cold weather animals, like penguins, creates an amazing biodiversity.

My wife and I have been blessed to travel often during our marriage. Our Patagonian adventure, coupled with the amazing experience we had the week prior in central Chile, certainly made this a trip of a lifetime.

A Rainy Saturday in Harpers Ferry

Who said rainy days had to be all stormy any grey? - A "sunny" bunch of Maryland's State Flower, found right across the state line in West Virginia
Who said rainy days had to be all stormy any grey? – A “sunny” bunch of Maryland’s State Flower(s), found right across the state line in West Virginia

 

As I’ve said before, just because it’s raining, doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot good pictures.  You just have to change your subject matter/techniques.  Rainy days are like challenges to me, pushing me to think of new ways to create unique images within the confines of trying not to get the camera wet.

This past weekend, my wife’s family was in town and they asked to go to Harpers Ferry…what a great idea, go to a normally PACKED summer destination on a day when the weather drove almost all the visitors away.  All of the shops/sights/attractions were open and we had the whole place to ourselves.  It also allowed us to closely interact with some of the period reenacters and get great pictures (in the nice even lighting) with few distractions.

Having someone to drive me around is an opportunity that I rarely have these days.  I decided to make use of the time by trying to create some images of the damp Blue Ridge valley countryside whizzing by my window:

 

Virginia is for [landscape] photographers

Anyone who has driven through the Shenandoah Valley within 2 hours of sunset knows how phenomenal this area can be for photography. I’ve always thought how much I’d love to have a place in the central Shenandoah Valley and drive around to photograph old farms and the surrounding hillsides. Over the next year, I plan on highlighting the varied terrain and flora of the Commonwealth. It truly is a four season state, each season bringing it’s own unique beauty. I consider ourselves extremely fortunate to live in such a beautiful area. Within 15 minutes of driving/walking from my house, I can be at some truly beautiful (and unique) places. For the moment we’ll stick to the 3 sets of pictures taken over the last 2 weekends. The first set is of the upper Shenandoah Valley taken at sunset from the Appalachian Trail at the top of Blue Ridge. Which, for reference is a 45 minute drive from my house in suburban metro Washington. How cool is that?

Speaking of suburban metro Washington, we live in the planned community of Reston, which is famous for its green space. That and it truly is a great community to live in (I personally love all of the running trails).

The 3rd set is of the northern portion of the George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park. I love the contrast of the agricultural land next to preserved federal lands.

April showers bring….April flowers!

Growing up in the South, I have always been intrigued by this old adage, since all of our flowers always came up well in advance of May.  Even further North in the Mid Atlantic (after an extremely long and cold Winter), most of our flowers will be out well before May.  It seems as if the adage was either coined by someone : A. living in Saskatchewan   B. living at an elevation greater than 5000′ or C. living in the “Little Ice Age.”

Bluebells at sunset in Bull Run Regional Park
Bluebells at sunset in Bull Run Regional Park

I’ve been telling people for months now how excited I was about Spring, if nothing else, just to see colors other than taupe, blue, and white (even thought I deeply love winter).  Well, Spring has finally sprung in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s been nothing short of spectacular.  So much so, that I think that my wife’s patience with my photography has been wearing thin, due to the fact that I’ve been devoting so much time to it.  But hey, the Cherry Blossoms and the Bluebells only come for 2 short weeks a year.

These first set of images are from a spectacular storm that arrived late one evening, right before sunset.  The results were some really interesting lighting conditions.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to leave the neighborhood to set up shots, due to the fact that I had a large pan of Moussaka (which was mighty tasty, I might add) baking in the oven.  Despite the lack of a “super interesting” venue, I really liked the results with the lighting.


This next set of images are of the Virginia Bluebells. If you’ve never seen these beauties, and are in the Mid Atlantic in mid April, make it a point to go see these. They grow in large patches in wooded river bottoms (flat places along Bull Run, the Potomac, and I’ve even photographed them along Rock Creek in the District). Where they occur, there are literally acres of these tiny blue little gems. Thomas Jefferson liked them so much that he had several planted in his garden. There’s nothing that compares to a stroll in the warm spring air along a flat trail surrounded by millions of these little guys.  The below images of bluebells are from both River Bend Park in Great Falls & Bull Run Regional Park near Manassas.

The final set of images isn’t exactly springy, but of some interesting places that I shot while out in Manassas to shoot pics of the bluebells.

Thanks for looking!

Cheers,

Tom

One of my wife's favorite pastimes while on photography outings is to grab the camera from me and take shots of me.
One of my wife’s favorite pastimes while on photography outings is to grab the camera from me and take shots of me.

The Cherry Blossoms

One of my favorite things about the National Capital and the Mid-Atlantic region are the 4 very distinct seasons…each season with beauty of its own.  I still think fall here is prettier, but Spring certainly doesn’t disappoint.  I was fortunate enough to capture  the region’s most famous spring site on not just one, but 2 mornings this past weekend.  The first set of pictures was from Sunday morning, which was clearly the best morning for photography.

This next set was from Saturday morning.  I was fortunate to have my wife along with me.  In addition to enjoying her company, this proved to be a huge help, as she helped me navigate with my equipment (in addition to helping me set up shots) through the throngs and throngs of people.  It seemed like as if every photographer who either lived in or was visiting Washington was on the West flank of the Tidal Basin…I’d never seen so much professional camera equipment in one place (easily exceeding $1million, just from what I saw)!  Fortunately, I had already found my ideal location on a previous winter morning shoot (when no one was around), so we headed straight there.

One of the few benefits of being around throngs of friendly people (some A LOT friendlier than others) is the free exchange of information with the friendlier individuals. Fortunately for me, one of these individuals suggested that I go to a neighborhood in Bethesda that has streets lined with the same species of cherry tree.  Ironically, I drive by this neighborhood every day on my way to work, but have never driven through there (except in the dead of winter).  So after the best light around the tidal basin began to wane, it was time to head over to the Kenwood neighborhood in Maryland.  Here are some of the results:

Winter’s Final Stand

A resident of Chevy Chase, MD dreams of a warmer place...
A resident of Chevy Chase, MD dreams of a warmer place…

One of the coldest months that I’ve ever known finished off in grand style.  While I must admit that winter is my second favorite season, I must admit that I am excited about photographing some more exciting colors than just taupe, blue, and white.

Here are some sights from the past week and 1/2 in the greater Washington area:

Into the Deep Freeze

It’s been a while since my last post, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy taking pictures!  With all of the frigid weather that we’ve been “enjoying” in the Mid-Atlantic, there have been plenty of great photo-ops.  After all, who knows when we’ll get another winter like this…I’ve gone out almost every day to take pics, but have narrowed it down to a few of my favorites.

The first series of photos is from one of my favorite local parks, Scotts Run Nature Preserve, taken on Feb. 17th after a fresh snowfall:

Not wanting to waste any opportunity, I stopped by Great Falls Park on my way home twice this week.  My efforts were rewarded:

The neighborhood kids made good use of both the “freshly piled” snow and the plethora of days off this week.  How I wish I had this much snow as a kid…I always dreamed of creating “snow tunnels”

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Friday morning brought the coldest temps, with some weather stations in Reston reporting -5.  I was excited just to see the car thermometer get below zero.

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Finally, on Saturday morning the weather forecast looked like we might get a spectacular sunrise right before the latest round of snow hit, so I headed down to the tidal basin.  After I got done there, I decided to head back out to Scotts Run to take some pics of the now completely frozen waterfall before the heavy snow rolled in (and made it so that I couldn’t get back home!).

Thanks to some amazing winter scenery, I had so much fun that I ended up staying around a little while longer than I planned.  I meant to leave before the snow started, but being deep in the woods in a snow storm is something truly beautiful.  There is noting that compares to the peace and quiet of falling snow.

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I even grew some beardcicles while I was out there!

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Cheers!

-Tom