Thursday, March 31, 2011

Washington DC Cherry Blossoms and Sunrise at the Jefferson Memorial

Cherry Blossoms with Sunrise through the Jefferson Memorial-1

Each morning I have made a pilgrimage to photograph the cherry blossoms ringing the tidal basin adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. I never get tired of this.  In order to challenge myself creatively, each day I take a different lens – and only one lens.

Cherry Blossoms with Sunrise through the Jefferson Memorial

By limiting myself to a single lens a couple of things happen.  First, rather than towing along a bunch of gear, I have a free hand to hold my coffee.  In addition to this principal benefit, I am challenged creatively within the constraints of the lens I chose to bring.  This is a very helpful exercise.

Cherry Blossoms with Sunrise through the Jefferson Memorial-3

For this visit to the cherry blossoms, I used the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II.  I love this lens, and in my opinion, it is by far the best value in the canon line up.  If you know of anyone considering moving from a point and shoot to a DSLR, I recommend they buy the camera as a bare body.  Don’t pay the extra cash for the kit lens.  Rather, spend $100 for this great lens.

Cherry Blossoms with Sunrise through the Jefferson Memorial-2

Check back soon as I continue to document my daily trips to the tidal basin.  And just for good measure, here is a photograph that does not include the Jefferson memorial.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Washington DC Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise

Washington Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise-5

The cherry blossoms in Washington DC are a spectacular sight.  So much so that in addition to the Cherry Blossom Festival, parades, road races and so on, there is an annual migration of photographers to the tidal basin adjacent to the Jefferson memorial.

Washington Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise

So the fact of the matter is that the scenes you see here were simultaneously being shot by 75 other photographers.  Sunrise on the tidal basin is much like the crowd at the taco truck when lunch time approaches.  Fortunately, as a group I find photographers relatively courteous and the elbowing kept to a minimum.

Washington Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise-1

This year I took a little different approach to photographing the cherry blossoms.  In the past I have gone for the wide angle landscape shots using my 17-40mm.  This year I decided to focus on tighter shots using the 70-200mm.  I am pleased with these results and happy that a simple change of lens, resulting in a new perspective, added a new creative component.

Washington Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise-4

Each of the shots featured in this post are three shot bracketed HDR photographs.  Speaking of which here is a little tip if you are doing HDR photography on a somewhat regular bases.  Most DSLR cameras have a programmable selection on the main dial.  For us Canon folks, it is the “C” setting.  I use this for my HDR setup.  In other words, if I am shooting and see something that deserves HDR, I just switch to “C.”  My settings saved in this mode are f/8.0, ISO 100 and a three shot bracket at +2, 0 and –2.

Washington Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise-3

Setting up the saved settings like this helps me focus on the creative process and less on camera settings.  It is a true shame to stand around wasting time fiddling with your camera settings when your focus is more appropriately dedicated to composing a good photograph.

Washington Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise-2

I will be back at the tidal basin again tomorrow at sunrise.  I will be the tall guy smoking a cigar as long as my 70-20mm lens (it helps maintain a little elbow room among the throng).

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Cherry Blossoms are Back. Welcome Spring!

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin

My last couple of posts were a stark meditation on the passing of winter (A Mediation on the Passing of Winter Part I and Part II).  The temperatures of spring we have been waiting for in DC have not yet arrived (43 now and a high of 39 forecast for Sunday), but a sure sign of spring is here – cherry blossoms.  The trees are not yet in full bloom, but yet enough to brighten the spirits.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin-2

For those of us who either live or work in Washington DC, the Cherry blossoms are bitter sweet.  They are certainly welcome for their beauty and sign of coming warm weather.  However, along with the blossoms come throngs of tourists.  Honestly, I don’t mind tourists.  I think everyone should take the opportunity to visit DC.  On the other hand, I am not a fan of the traffic that comes with the tourists.  DC traffic is never great, but when tourist season arrives, traffic can be unbearable.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin-1

But enough negativity – enjoy the photos of the cherry blossoms.  I am certain to be out shooting more over the next week as the blossoms mature.  Check back soon.

The three shots featured here were all taken with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II.  I decided to shoot with the 50 today with the intent of reproducing the perspective you would see if you were standing in my shoes.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Meditation on the Passing of Winter (Part II)

I don’t normally do this, but I got quite a bit of feedback regarding my post from earlier this week “A Meditation on the Passing of Winter.”  In response to the feedback, I put together this slide show of the full body of work dedicated to discarded Christmas Trees on Capitol Hill, Washington DC.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Meditation on the Passing of Winter

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree

In Washington DC, we are finally getting to the point when temperatures in the mid 50’s (F) can be expected along with a bit more warming as each week passes.  As this welcome transition takes place, I thought it would be a good time for a short meditation on the passing of winter.

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-3

These photographs were all taken on Capitol Hill in Washington DC during the second week of January.  January is not the best time for DC.  It is cold (particularly cold this year), the trees are barren, and the first couple of weeks mark the time when people toss their dead Christmas trees to the curb for disposal.  Add a bit of slushy, melting snow, and the starkness of short January days is complete.

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-5

Processing the photographs as black and white, the sight of dejected, used, dead Christmas trees and half melted snow conspire to evoke an emotion I commonly associate with January. 

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-6

I have about 50 photographs in this “Meditation on the Passing of Winter” collection which all work well together as a group.  Enjoy the rest of the photographs, and hopefully you can make this your last thought of winter for this year.

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-11

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-12

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-15

Capitol Hill Christmas Tree-22

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

National Cathedral, Washington DC, at Night

National Cathedral at Night-1

For quite some time I have had a lingering shoot on my photography work list that I just never seemed to get around to checking off.  In January I was finally able to make it happen, and made it out of the house very early on a Saturday morning to photograph the National Cathedral in Washington DC at night.

National Cathedral at Night

For a long time I had visualized the shots I wanted.  The key parts of the shoot included shooting at night, shooting in winter when the trees were barren, and shooting on the weekend when I could easily find a parking spot.  Combining these three prerequisites with the need to get up well before sunrise kept this shoot on my work list for much longer than most other planned shoots.

National Cathedral at Night-2

My shoot was successful, and these are a few of the photographs I was able to make.  I particularly like the way the stark trees interplay with the cathedral.  And with very little color information, it made complete sense to process them as black and white.

Each of the photographs are 5 shot HDR images taken with a Canon 17-40mm f/4.0 L at 17 mm.  I am also pleased with the HDR processing.  I am finally closing in on my goal of producing HDR images that don’t look like HDR images while still taking advantage of the real value of HDR; bringing out the details in both the highlights and shadows.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Food Photography Tips (11-15)

Polenta spinach ricotta and pancetta

This is the third and final installment of food photography tips resulting from what I have learned during my recent period of dedication to food photography.

In Food Photography Tips (1-5), I presented the first set of tips:

  • Tip #1:  Shoot Low – Angle Matters
  • Tip #2:  Composition Rules Work for Food Too
  • Tip #3:  Fill the Frame
  • Tip #4:  Find Some Action
  • Tip #5:  Eat Well

In Food Photography Tips (6-10), I presented the second set of tips:


  • Tip #6:  Shoot with a Shallow Depth of Field
  • Tip #7:  Shoot with a Long Lens
  • Tip #8:  DO NOT Use the Flash Installed on Your Camera
  • Tip #9:  Add Color
  • Tip #10:  Capture the Textures

And now for the final 5.


Tip #11:  Use Props Judiciously


Props are good if used with a bit of restraint.  All the normal things you might find on a table (silverware, glasses, linens, flowers, wine bottle/decanter, cooking utensils, kitchen gadgets, etc.) are all fair game.  The thing to remember is that the food is the star.  If you go to heavy on the props, the star will not shine so brightly.  Also be conscious of distracting colors, patterns, or shapes of props.  Props should provide context, set a mood, and support the star of the show.  They should not compete for top billing.


Plated Empanadas


Tip #12:  Think About Plates and Plating


Bonus! Two (or maybe more) tips in one!  Selecting the right plate is an important decision that has a number of implications including how you “plate” the dish.  First, I recommend staying simple.  If your plate is too cool for school, you draw attention away from where you want the viewers attention.  Second, I recommend small rather than large.  Small plates make the food look bigger.  A lot of empty space on a big plate can be distracting.  This is where the plate affects the plating (how you setup the food on the plate).  If the plate is too small, you may be limited in staging the food attractively.  If you have too large a plate, the food can look lonely.  Somewhere there is the plate that is “just right.”  If you don’t have the “just right” plate, err on the side of small. 


Lamb and Cauliflower Puree


Plates also very with respect to the lip height.  Higher plate lips can hide the food.  I recommend sticking with a simple plate with a low lip height as a general rule.


Finally, plating a dish is an art in itself.  Without getting into the realm of food styling where all the Hollywood tricks are used, there is a lot you can do to make the food look appealing.  Plate it fresh. In other words straight from the pan, onto the plate, and in front of the camera while everything is juicy, steaming, melting, bubbling, or whatever your food might be doing.  Garnishing in a restrained manner can also add a good bit of appeal (see tip #9:  Add Color).


Tip #13:  Don’t Forget Your Color Balance


When I am shooting any of the great food I write about at Craig’s Grape Adventure, I generally run up against the challenge of shooting with several different light sources.  The lighting in the kitchen is different from the lighting at the table.  And to make things worse, the light may be coming through a window, halogen lights, fluorescent lights, or incandescent lights…all at the same time.  With all these different light sources, the photograph can become cast with a blue or yellow hue.  Suddenly, your cheese cake looks more like key lime pie…not good.


The next photography is one that needed a good deal of color correction…still not confident I got it right.


Plated Lamb-1


There are plenty of options to deal with this.  On the high tech end, there are gizmos and gadgets that you can photograph and have some magical piece of software do the correction in post processing (a great example is the X-Rite Color Checker Passport).  You can rely on your camera’s auto white balance (not always reliable), you can manually adjust the white balance settings in your camera (a bit better than auto white balance), or you can just deal with it on the computer.  Personally, I take care of it on the computer.  Adobe Lightroom does a great job of handling white balance, and where it misses slightly, I can adjust it to match the tones and hues I want.  However, when I have a few spare coins, I will definitely be purchasing the  X-Rite Color Checker Passport.


Tip #14:  What to Shoot, and What NOT to Shoot


What luck!  Another two for one tip!  Here is the big secret – shoot the things you find appealing and attractive.  If it is not attractive and appealing, don’t shoot it.  It really is that simple, but let me elaborate a bit because there are a couple of important points in these simple statements.  Food photography is not photo journalism, and you shouldn’t feel compelled to shoot a disaster as it unfolds.  Just last night I photographed one of my wine pairings for  Craig’s Grape Adventure.  A wonderful 2006 Ledson Zinfandel paired with my interpretation of Shepherds Pie as an homage to Saint Patrick’s day.  I’m not saying it is impossible to make shepherds pie look good, but it is not easy.  Some food (like shepherds pie) takes a great deal of effort or creativity to make it look good.  And some dishes, while absolutely delicious, are better left to senses other than the visual.


2006 Baron Herzog Chenic Blanc with smoke chiecken polenta and Pancetta


The other category of things that fall into the “do not shoot” category are the details you may have overlooked like the spots on the wine glass, the little sticker on the decanter, the price tag on the bottle of wine, the drippings on the plate, and so on.  My point is to pay attention to the details and be conscious of not only the things you want IN the photograph, but those things you don’t want in the photograph.


The photograph above is a good example of not paying attention to the details.  The sticker on the flowers and the pepper grinder should not be there.  Pepper grinder!!!  Am I admitting that my food is not perfectly seasoned???


Tip #15:  Pay Attention to the Light


I saved the most important tip for last.  Unfortunately, this is the most complicated aspect of food photography (or any photography for that matter).  I intend on writing a separate post (or series) on lighting food, but for now I will talk about some generalities.  First and foremost, photography is all about light and shadows, and forming the right balance between the two.  While having sufficient light for a good exposure is important, that is only the first step.  Once you have enough light for a good exposure, you then need to think about where the light is coming from and what kind of light it is.  More so than other types of photography, lighting for food photography is more about defining shape and texture.  Proper lighting adds depth and makes an orange appear more as a sphere, a hotdog as a cylinder, and a steak as a cube with depth and dimension.  Improper lighting makes each of these shapes flat and therefore less interesting and less appealing.


Three Eggs-2


I still have much to learn about lighting food.  But I promise you I am working hard at it and will pass along the benefit of my research and experimentation when I have something substantial to offer.


Have fun and go make some great photography.