Blue Hour

Cherry Blossom Festival 2019, Washington DC

Being a local, I can vouch that spring is the best time to visit Washington DC. Just when locals bid goodbye to the long brutal winter, tourists pour into the city from all around the world to see the arrival of spring in the nation’s capital. Approximately 3,000 cherry trees around the tidal basin area go to their full bloom during this time of the year. These trees were presented as a gift from the Mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington DC in 1912 as a symbol to celebrate the friendship between Japan and America. In DC metro area, the arrival of spring is celebrated with the Cherry Blossom Festival which is a month long program that involves various outdoor activities including the marching band parades, music, showmanship and many other events. These pink and white cherry blooms look so amazingly beautiful, they leave the viewers wonderstruck. Above all, this festival is a stunning opportunity for photography enthusiasts from across the country and all around the world.

During the peak bloom period, it can be a real struggle to find a good spot to photograph without getting tourists or other fellow photographers in the frame. Last year, I reached the tidal basin area at around 6:30 AM and quickly realized that I was late. Because of the crowd, I was not able to take a single photo the way I had imagined. On the good side, I was able to put aside my camera and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the cherry blossoms. Learning from my past experience, I decided to go little earlier this year but still bumped into few tourists and a couple of photographers who came to photograph the sunrise. While people were waiting for the sunrise, I was setting up the camera on the tripod and getting ready for the blue hour shots. It was a cold and a windy morning, and taking a long exposure shot for the blue hour was a challenging task without getting part of the image blurred. After finding a proper composition, I took a few shots but it all came out blurry because of the swinging tree branches. I patiently waited for the wind to stop and managed to get one good shot. The picture below was taken at aperture value of f/11, exposure time of 25 seconds, ISO 64 and focal length of 22mm using the Nikon D810 body and the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G lens.

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Baltimore Inner Harbor - Blue Hour Photography

The blue hour is the period of twilight early in the dawn and late in the dusk when the Sun is well below horizon and the short blue wavelengths of sunlight illuminate the sky instead of the longer red wavelengths. During the "blue hour", red light passes straight into the space and the blue light is scattered in the atmosphere and reaches the earth's surface. Blue hour is very popular among landscape photographers who like to produce rich sky colors early in the morning or later in the evening mixed with the artificial light sources and other subjects, buildings for example. I also love shooting night cityscapes because of the rich colors and the mood it reflects. Last Friday after work, I drove to the Baltimore city to try some blue hour photography. Baltimore Inner Harbor is a familiar spot to me where I have shot before and I chose this location for the blue hour photography because I wanted to include the buildings and its reflection on the water mixed with the blue hour sky and create a contrasty and a high dynamic range picture. I reached there before the sunset and walked around the harbor to find a good composition. Once I found the right composition, I setup the camera on the tripod, adjusted the camera controls and waited for the blue hour to start after the sunset.

I set my camera into an aperture priority mode (A) with an aperture value of f/11 and ISO 200 while the camera adjusted the shutter speed for me automatically. Initially, I took few shots to test the colors and the composition and once I was happy with the result, I bracketed for the 5 shots with an EV value difference of 1 (-2EV, -1EV, 0, +1EV and +2EV). The shot below is an HDR version of those five bracketed shots merge into one using Adobe Lightroom.

Blue Hour Photography (click the image to view full size)

I used Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens on Nikon D700 body and focused manually into infinity so that I can get the entire frame from the foreground to the background in focus. I also used the shutter release cable to minimize the camera shake which helps to produce the sharper image. If you have any question or comments about the photographs or the process of taking this photograph, please let me know in the comment section below. Happy Shooting!

Night Photography Around The National Mall

One of the best things Washington DC Metro area residents could do is go out at night and shoot around the National Mall area. I have probably done it more than ten times in seven years but it gets better and more exciting every time. It will be difficult to go out and shoot during the winter season but it gets better starting April-May and until October. Since it is the capital of the free world, you can never count on the day traffic even on normal working days and, it will be almost impossible to park anywhere or get there on time if it is a special events day like Cherry Blossoms festival or Memorial Day weekend etc. If the weather is nice, you will see many local residents and tourists visiting around the national mall area and spend beautiful evening with their friends and family. The national mall, monuments and the museums are probably one of the most popular destinations for the tourists and the photographers from all around the world. I have met many professional and amateur photographers who come to DC to capture historic landmarks and also learned a lot from them during those random meet-ups. If you are planning to shoot there at night, you might want to carry a tripod with you. To avoid any blurriness in low light condition and specially if you are trying to shoot with more than couple of seconds of exposure, tripod is a must have tool. It is also a good idea to carry shutter release cable or wireless shutter release device to avoid any camera shake while using camera on tripod. It will be no problem using tripod around the National Mall but you will have to be careful using it inside Memorial buildings. I was trying to use it inside Lincoln memorial to get a closer shot of Lincoln but guarding officer didn't allow me to use it. I saw people using the monopod but the tripod was not allowed for some reason.

Along with these photographs, I have included the brief location, name of the memorial and the camera settings for the individual shot. If you have any questions or comments about these images, please mention them in the comment section and I will try my best to answer them.

This shot is taken from the World War II memorial looking towards the Washington monument. I think it was undergoing some inspection or damage repair caused by the earthquake in 2011. You can see the scaffolding on the side of the monument. The monument came little overexposed than I would prefer but since there was nothing of interest in detail, I left as it is.

Washington Monument at Night

Washington Monument at Night

Focal Length - 32mm     Aperture - f/8     Exposure - 10 sec     ISO - 400

This one is the World War II memorial which is dedicated to those Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during the World War II. It was past midnight and the fountains were already turned off. You will see the fountains with the lights in my other shot below.

World War II Memorial at Night

World War II Memorial at Night

Focal Length - 16mm     Aperture - f/22     Exposure - 30 sec     ISO - 1600

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial is the latest addition to the historic landmarks around the National mall. I think I was there at around 2 am in the morning and I noticed a group of international college students and their professor were visiting the memorial while their guide was explaining them about the monument and the Dr. King's role in the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Memorial

Martin Luther King Memorial

Focal Length - 35mm     Aperture - f/16     Exposure - 8 sec     ISO - 400

This is the picture of the World War II memorial while the fountain lights were still on. In this shot, I tried symmetry composition.

Word War II Memorial Fountain

Word War II Memorial Fountain

Focal Length - 24mm     Aperture - f/16     Exposure - 10 sec     ISO - 200

This shot is taken from the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial looking towards the Washington monument. You can also see the World War II memorial in between and the Capital Hill behind the Washington monument.

Washinton Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

Washinton Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

Focal Length - 75mm     Aperture - f/14     Exposure - 8 sec     ISO - 200

I hope you like these photographs and also hope that it will encourage you to get out from your comfort zone and do some experiments with your camera.

Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod And Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head

When I bought my first tripod about two years ago, I didn't care too much about the quality. I was rather focused on the price and got fairly priced tripod for around $50. My first DSLR was Nikon D60 which I bought with the kit lens and I was not having problem using that tripod with the D60. But when I upgraded my camera to Nikon D90 with a bigger lens, 18-200mm VR II, I felt the need for a sturdy and strong tripod to hold the camera (and the lens attached to it) without worrying about it falling off the tripod. I have had a bad experience (tripod legs fell apart) with my previous cheap tripod when I was shooting July 4th fireworks in New York city.

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Legs

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Legs

After doing some research and reading online reviews, I bought Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod with Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head. I could go with Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod and 498RC2 ball head but I felt like to go one step up just to be safe for the future gears. Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod shares all the features with Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod but the 055XPROB is a more sturdy, heavier and a little taller than the 190XPROB. When you are not doing photography, you can actually use the 055XPROB for the weight lifting purpose as well. I guess little bit of humor doesn't hurt, and in fact, we all need it as a daily dose.

Let me summarize the basic differences between the 055XPROB and the 190XPROB.

Manfrotto 055XPROB Vs Manfrotto 190XPROB

1. Weight Support

055XPROB - Supports up to 15.4 pounds

190XPROB - Supports up to 11 pounds

2. Base Area

055XPROB - Leg diameters 29.4, 25, 20 mm

190XPROB - Leg diameters 25, 20, 16 mm

3. Height

055XPROB - Min/Max. height 3.9"/70.3"

190XPROB - Min/Max. height 3.3"/57.5"

4. Weight

055XPROB - Weighs 5 pounds

190XPROB - Weighs 4 pounds

Both gears are designed with the same basic principles and share common features like extending the center column and fold to make a horizontal arm and both are made out of solid aluminum material.

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head works great with both tripods and gives an extra feature to those photographers who love to shoot panoramic shot using horizontal pan (Manfrotto 496RC2 Ball Head lacks this feature).

This ball head has been totally redesigned for better ease of use. A newly designed friction control knob allows the photographer to achieve superior control when handling the camera and making micro movements without having to totally lock and unlock the ball head. The knobs have been redesigned to be more ergonomic, easier to handle and more user-friendly. The ergonomic shape allows the user to better lock the ball securely. A re-positionable locking lever allows the user to place it in a comfortable position in order to use it in the most convenient way; just pull it outwards, put it in the best working position and then release it. This model features a RC2 quick release plate including an additional safety system that prevents the accidental detaching of the camera from the head. The locking lever securely locks the head both in the +90°, -90° ball positioning and in the 360° pan movements for panoramic shot or even getting panning effects. With solid aluminum construction, this head is the ideal support for all the traditional or the digital small or medium format cameras weighing up to 17 pounds.