Tuesday, December 19, 2017

3 Things To Keep In Mind When Photographing Historic Sites

I have been a student of history since I was in the seventh grade. I read a book on the American Revolution and never looked back. Since then, I have enjoyed reading about both American and European History. So any time I have a chance to visit a place of historical significance, I start thinking about the places I want to photograph during my stay. I also think about these three things when I plan out what I want to shoot.

1.) Think About Silhouettes: I was in Washington D.C. a couple years ago. It's my favorite city to visit, and I try to go at least once a year to visit friends and family. On this particular trip, I was staying at a hotel that was less than a mile from the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, VA. I got up pretty early and arrived before sunrise. My main goal was to get shots of the monument from several different angles at a fairly close distance. And since I got there so early, I was able to take the shots at my own pace because there was no one else around. After spending almost an hour there, I felt I had what I needed and packed up my gear to head back to the hotel. I took one last look over my shoulder at the monument before leaving the grounds . . . and stopped dead in my tracks. I got my camera back out, checked the settings and got the shot you see below. It was my favorite one of the morning, and I would have missed it had I not taken one last look back and seen the silhouette of the Marine Corps Memorial against the rising sun. Silhouettes can completely change the complexion of the shot, so look for opportunities to make them a part of your photo.

The Marine Corps Memorial At Sunrise (Arlington, VA)

2.) Look For Unique Angles & Reflections: While it's nice to get the typical postcard shot, it can be even more interesting to look for an angle that you don't see very often.  The Washington Monument is arguably one of the most photographed historic sites on the National Mall. I took several shots of it during my visit, two of which I included in an earlier blog post. But I also took this one. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky on this particular day, so I thought it would be interesting to get a shot right next to the Monument looking straight up. The end result was the illusion of the tip of splitting the sky in two. Take a look. I thought it gave a neat perspective that people don't see very often.
The Washington Monument splitting the DC sky. 

Another effect I look for is reflection. In most cases, this involves the water. And in Washington D.C. there is plenty of water to incorporate this theme. The Potomac River and the Tidal Basin are possibilities but the wind has to be pretty calm to get the desired results. The reflection pool on the National Mall works pretty well at night, but using it in a shot during the day time means dealing with a lot of crowds. But there is one place in particular where you can use reflection quite well and that is at the Vietnam War Memorial.  The names of all the fallen soldiers are etched into polished granite, which looks practically like a mirror. Being at the memorial is powerful enough, but there is something particularly reverent about seeing the people trying to find the names of friends and family members whom they lost in that conflict. My father spent a tour in Vietnam. He was fortunate enough to make it back. He knew many that did not. The shot below shows a gentleman looking for the name of someone he either knew or served with who did not come home. Getting this photo of him as he is searching the west wall is a slightly different use of reflection than what people might typically see.
The west wall at the Vietnam Memorial
 3.) Use Leading Lines To A Point of Interest: The great thing about taking pictures in the D.C. area is you can lead the viewer from one monument to another through the use of leading lines. I was at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in the shot below. It is one of the newer ones, and it is located on the north side of the tidal basin across from the Jefferson Memorial. The site is dominated by a 30 foot sculpture of Dr. King cut out of white granite. It is actually out of frame to the right in this shot. Behind the sculpture are two walls spanning across the grounds. Each panel has one of Dr. King's quotes. This shot caught my eye because the wall runs to the east and takes the viewer's eyes right to the Washington Monument, which is close to a mile away. This is another way to capture a commonly photographed site in a different way. In this case, I was able to use the monuments honoring our first President and one of our founding fathers and the most important civil rights leader in our history.

The wall at the MLK Memorial going to the east, with the Washington Monument in the distance.
I could literally spend days in Washington D.C. taking photos and still not feel like I've gotten everything I wanted. But you all probably have other places you prefer to visit. These tips would apply to any sightseeing trip, whether the destination is historic or not. The one thing I will say is that when the story behind the shot has a historic component to it, the shot itself has a different feel. I can't explain it. That's just my take. In any case, keep these thoughts in mind on your next trip, and I am sure you will get some great photos. Until next time . . .

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Here's A Great Morning Shooting Location In Phoenix, AZ

One thing very cool thing about Phoenix is that it's located in a basin surrounded by mountains in the middle of a desert. That's why its called "The Valley of the Sun." Granted, these aren't the Rocky Mountains, but there is enough elevation to give you some pretty nice views of the entire city.

One of these places is South Mountain State Park. It is about eight miles south of downtown Phoenix. Dobbin's Lookout, its highest point, overlooks the city and sits at an elevation of over 2,300 feet. It's a favorite destination in the park for hikers. Now, while I don't mind walking to get to certain shooting locations there is not always time. So one of the reasons Dobbins Lookout is one of my favorite spots is that I don't have to hike all they way up there. I can just drive my car to the top. There are plenty of great views throughout the park. But this is the best one for getting views of downtown Phoenix.

On this particular visit, I wanted to get some shots as the sun was coming up. It's about to 23 miles to South Mountain from my home in the West Valley, so I left in time to get there about 45 minutes before sunrise.  I set up my tripod and took the photos with remote to eliminate camera movement. The shot below was taken about five minutes after official sunrise using a shutter speed of 1/50s, at f/5 and ISO 640. Clearly, the main focus here was the skyscrapers, but I was also wanting to show the changes in elevation as you get deeper into the shot. In the foreground, you can see all the residential, small business and industrial areas. There probably aren't any buildings more than 20-30 feet high. Then you see downtown, where there is a dramatic leap in the height of the buildings. Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks is just slightly right of center about an inch and a half up from the bottom of the photo. It's kind of tough to make out, but it's in a gap between two taller buildings. The sun is just out of frame to the right and is starting to hit the taller buildings. Finally, as you move further into the shot, you see the Phoenix Mountains to the north. They are close to the same elevation as the South Mountains where I am. You can also see the morning haze in the distance, which usually burns off within two hours of sunrise. The best thing about taking photos at Dobbin's Lookout is that it is so peaceful. It's definitely a great place to take photos early in the morning if you don't mind getting up well before sunrise.

Downtown Phoenix in the early morning. Another day begins in the Valley of the Sun. 
But there are other interesting things to shoot at Dobbin's Lookout. The stone shelter you see below is the location's signature landmark. I took this shot a few minutes before the one of downtown: 1/60s shutter speed, f/16, ISO 100. The sun has just come over the mountain behind me and is catching the south facing part of the structure. This was one of my favorite shots of the morning.
The stone shelter located at Dobbin's Lookout in South Mountain State Park. This is a favorite destination for hikers. 

Before leaving, I drove to another part of the park to get some pictures of the desert landscape. By this time the sun was much higher in the sky. Since it doesn't rain much here, it only takes a little to make the desert vegetation to really pop. This location was on the west side of the park along one of the hiking trails. Again, you can get a sense of the rapid elevation changes from where I am standing in that little valley full of Seguaro Cactus to the top of the South Mountains.


So there you go. South Mountain State Park is a terrific place to take photos of the entire Metro Phoenix area. But that isn't all. Whether you are looking for cool structures to shoot or some beautiful desert landscape, you can't go wrong. If a trip to the Valley of the Sun is in your future, do yourself a favor and get to South Mountain to take some photos. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.  Until next time . . .