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Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first three installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘, ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2 ,’ and World Watercolor Month 2020—part 3.’ This fourth installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 22 July was “valuable.” I decided to depict nature in a landscape done entirely in Payne’s Gray, because during this time of quarantine, nature has been a refuge for me, of inestimable value for my peace of mind. There is no particular significance to the color—I imply liked the idea of using a single color and focusing on values.

The prompt for 21 July was “organic.” When I thought of the word organics, all I could think of was fruits, vegetables, and fertilizer, none of which I wanted to paint. Instead I painted an “organic” landscape with no man-made objects in it. As you can see, all of the objects were stylized as I experimented with a different shape and brush strokes for pine trees.

The prompt for 20 July was “wiggle.”  I decided to do a little painting of a Northern Water Snake that I photographed swimming in the shallow water of the Potomac River earlier this year. The color and pattern is not quite realistic, but I like the way that I captured the snake’s undulation.

The prompt for 19 July was “favorite scent.” I love the smell of pine trees, so I tried to paint a mountain scene with pine trees in the mist after watching a YouTube tutorial by Grant Fuller. My version seems to have an almost Asian feel to it that I really like. This is probably my favorite painting of this little group.

The prompt for 18 July was “soft.” It’s a bit of a stretch, but I like to think the two little sumi-e style birds that I painted have soft feathers on their tummies and are soft-spoken. The birds look a little cartoonish, but I like the way that they seem to be engaged in a conversation.

The prompt for 17 July was “spontaneous.” After watching some YouTube videos about painting loose landscapes, I decided to try an imaginary landscape without any reference photo. I had no idea what my result would look like and used techniques that included applying some of the paint with a palette knife, which explains the brilliant splotch of ultramarine blue in the middle of the painting. I like the colors and the feel of the painting and like to imagine that it is a lake in the crater of an inactive volcano, but you may well see something different.

As I look over these six paintings, I realize that I have used no bright colors at all—it seems that everything is blue, gray, or brown. That definitely was not intentional. Perhaps I will try to brighten things up a bit for the next installment as I push on towards the goal of trying to paint each day in July. Thanks again for your support and indulgence as I veer off my normal creative path.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

valuable

organic

wiggle

scent

soft

spontaneous

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some of you may recall that I periodically dabble in watercolor painting. July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge is which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com.

Last Sunday I posted photos of my first four little paintings in a posting called “More fun with watercolor.” The response to that posting was so overwhelmingly positive and encouraging that I feel emboldened to post a second installment, showing my efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 10 July was “Fast” and I quickly attempted to paint this stormy beach scene using only two colors, Ultramarine Blue and BurntSienna. My inspiration came from a YouTube video lesson called Watercolor Postcard Paint-Along: Beach with Rocks and Stormy Sky. The wonderful instructor, Lynne Baur, runs a channel called Dragonfly Spirit Studio. How could I not be attracted to a channel with that name? Lynne has a PhD in mathematics, but abandoned that career track to pursue art and now is “an active participant in the “healing arts” movement, in which original artwork is used to help create a welcoming, soothing and uplifting environment in hospitals, medical clinics, wellness or fitness centers, nursing homes, and other places of health and healing.” You can learn more about her and her work at dragonflyspiritstudio.com.

The prompt for 9 July was “Fruit” and I painted some watermelon slices. The shapes are a little wonky, but I like the different colors that I was able to mix for the painting.

The prompt for 8 July was “Fall.” I did not feel inspired to paint something autumn-themed, so I went in an entirely different direction. It is a bit of a stretch, but the three downward-facing petals of an iris are called “falls,” so I struggled to paint an iris.

The prompt for 7 July was “Free” and I decided to free my inner child by using really bold color colors to create a hummingbird-like critter and stylized flowers in shapes and colors that I don’t think exist in the real world. My bird was not totally from my imagination, though, but was very loosely based on a bookmark that I had received in the mail from a wildlife conservation organization.

The prompt for 6 July was “Flow” and I decided to try to paint some Chinese goldfish in a style borrowed from sumi-e ink painting. I had watched several videos on this subject and was most inspired by a YouTube video by Henry Li of blueheronarts.com entitled “How to Paint Goldfish Step by Step with Henry Li.” I really am attracted to the idea of capturing the essence of a subject using a minimum number of strokes, but some of the brushstrokes demonstrated in the video seem to work more effectively on the thin rice paper used in Chinese painting than on my thicker watercolor paper. I may return to this subject in the future

The prompt for 5 July was “Favorite Color” and I chose Ultramarine Blue and completed my painting with only that color. My little scene with the cyclist was inspired by the design on a dishtowel that hanging from my oven door. I was feeling a bit bold that evening and began to paint the central figure without any kind of preparatory sketching. I like the overall feel of the little painting and the blue and white color combination reminds me of the designs on some of the china and pottery that I have seen during my travels in the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere.

I had a lot of fun producing these little paintings, mostly in a sketchbook. I am starting to feel slightly more comfortable with my materials and a little less self-conscious about what I am doing. I think that all of us need some kind of creative outlet. Even though I am comfortable expressing myself with my words and photography, it is good, I think, for me to deliberately make myself uncomfortable by trying something new from time to time, which may allow me to stretch and grow. As I stated in my previous painting posting, “There is no shame in being a beginner.”

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

Fast

Fruit

Fall

Free

Flow

Favorite Color

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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At this time of the year there are still so few dragonflies around that I will try to photograph almost every single one that I see. Sometimes that involves photographing them when they are flying, as I showed in a posting earlier today. At other times, I am forced to shoot them when they are a long way away, as was this case with the male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) in the photo below.

I had already made one loop around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge looking primarily for insects and decided to switch to my telephoto zoom lens and focus on looking for birds during a second loop. When I was walking past a small pond, however, I spotted the dragonfly flying over the water. I could tell that it was a Common Whitetail, a species that perches fairly often, so I decided to see if it would land.

Eventually the dragonfly perched atop some thick vegetation not far from the water’s edge. Unfortunately the area between the two of us was marshy and there was no way that I could get any closer. Even with the lens cranked out to its longest length (600mm), the dragonfly filled only a small portion of the frame.

I decided to try to treat the shot like a landscape and include the water of the pond in the background and the curling stem on which the dragonfly was perched in the foreground. I am pretty happy with the way the shot turned out, a kind of environmental portrait of the Common Whitetail dragonfly.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The sun had just risen when I arrived last Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. How, I wondered could I possibly capture my impressions of those wonderful moments as the new day was dawning?

I hastened to capture an image while the sun was still low on the horizon and grabbed the first photo below while standing at the edge of the parking lot. There was a soft mist lingering over the fields and in my second shot, I worked to capture the stillness and serenity that I was feeling.

When I finally arrived at the shore, the sky and the water seemed to be almost the same color with a narrow, darker strip of land separating the too. I immediately thought of the moody, minimalist landscape shots that Michael Scandling regularly features in AMAGA Photography Blog. Michael likes to coax each pixel into submission and I confess that I did not work on my final image as much as he would have, but it is a kind of homage to his wonderful work.

So there you have it, three distinctive images that together give you a sense of what I was seeing and feeling in the early morning hours, a time of day that is perfect for introspection and reflection.

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I am out in the wild with my camera, I am usually looking for creatures to photograph.  There are moments, however, when the beauty of the surroundings simply draws me in and for a while I can block out the stresses of the world. At this time, when our “normal” world seems to be crumbling before our eyes, I think we all need to find ways to step away from media reporting, take a deep breath, and find fresh perspectives—this is how I do it.

Here are a few photos that I took on Tuesday at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge. In the first image, I was struck by the successive layers of vegetation, some dried, some evergreen, and some showing reddish traces of new growth. The texture of the cattail captured my attention in the second image—as it moved in the gentle breeze, the it cattail would release a few fluffy seed heads that floated through the air. The final photo shows a small observation platform at the end of a trail. I was struck by the amount of vegetation that has grown up and almost engulfed the small structure and blocked the view to the water.

 

Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge

Cattail

Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time I try to take detailed shots of the birds that I photograph, but somethings that simply is not possible. This past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the ducks all stayed in the deep water, far from the shore on which I was standing. As I gazed to my right and to my left searching for closer ducks, I became increasingly fascinated by the bare branches of the trees overhanging the water.

Even though I was shooting with a long telephoto lens, I decided to try to capture the landscape that was drawing me in. If you look closely at the two images below, you will see that I have included some distant ducks, but clearly they were not the focus of the photos. A wider lens might have capture the environment better, but would have risked drawing the viewers’ eyes away from the tree shapes. I don’t take landscape-style photos very often, but sometimes that is what the situation seems to call for and/or permits.

distant ducks

distant ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even though I arrived at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday morning as the electric gate was opening at 7 o’clock, I was a little too late to photograph the the sun rising over the water. However, I did manage to capture some shots of the early morning color through the trees.

It is always tough for me to take landscape-type shots, especially when there is not an obvious subject. In this case, I was content to capture the colors and the patterns in images that feel almost abstract to me.

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I am photographing wildlife, I have to make decision about composition really quickly. I generally have only a few options to capture the subject and then I try to work with what I have gotten when I do post-processing. With a landscape, though, I have the chance to think more deliberately about composition while taking the shot and not merely afterwards.

Last week when I arrived early in the morning at Prince William Forest Park, fog was hanging over a small pond. As I walked around it, I decided to try to capture the scene in several different ways. In my first attempt, I placed the fence in the lower portion of the image to emphasize the height of the trees. In the second shot, I placed the fence in the upper portion of the image to focus more attention on the reflection. In the final shot I switched to landscape mode and included more of the tree to the right.

Which one works best? None of these shots will win a prize, but for me the first one does the best job of capturing what I was seeing and feeling at the moment. I think it is a valuable exercise, though, for me to explore a number of possibilities when taking a shot, because it allows me to think of creative possibilities as I change perspectives rather than adopt a “one and done” mentality.

fog

fog

fog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Thursday I went for a hike in Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. According to Wikipedia, the park is the largest protected natural area in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area at over 16,000 acres (65 square kilometers) and has over 37 miles (60 km) of hiking trails.

One of my favorite trails runs along Quantico Creek, a swiftly moving creek that flows through a large part of the eastern portion of the park. The trail, which runs roughly parallel to the creek, is hilly in places and the creek is sometimes not visible, but I can always hear the therapeutic sound of the flowing water.

The first two photos show waterfalls just below a dammed section of the creek—there is a small pond/lake just upstream. The smaller waterfall in the second photo is just to the right of the one shown in the first photo.

Parts of most of the trails, including the creekside one, were covered with wet fallen leaves, but occasionally I would come across narrow bridges that helped me cross marshy areas with relatively dry feet, like the one in the final photo.

I did not see much wildlife during my hike, but that was ok—the solitary walk in the forest was its own reward.

waterfall

waterfall

path in the woods

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How much gear do you carry with you when you go out to take photographs? Each time that I get ready, it is like planning for a trip. More gear means that I will be more ready for the full range of situations that I may encounter, but more gear means more weight. So what do I do? I compromise. During the winter, I tend to have my 150-600mm zoom lens on my DSLR and during the summer I use a 180mm macro lens as my primary lens. I will usually have a second lens in my camera bag, often a 24-105mm lens, but often it goes unused.

For greater flexibility I usually carry my trusty Canon SX50 super zoom camera. It is lightweight and versatile, with an equivalent field of view of 24-1200mm, a 50X zoom. Like me, it is a bit old and slow and has some limitations, but it lets me capture wide-angle shots in the winter and distance shots in the summer without having to change lenses on my primary camera in the field. It also lets me shoot in RAW,  my preferred format for capturing images.

On the 2nd of January, I was chasing the sunrise. I knew that sunrise was scheduled for around seven o’clock, which is the time when the electrically-controlled gates of my favorite wildlife refuge slide open. I was a little late leaving home and as I drove south on the interstate, I could see the sky turning a beautiful shade of red. As I entered the refuge, I could see that the colors were starting to fade. As soon as I got to the parking lot, I grabbed my SX50 and captured the second shot below with the engine still running and the car door open.

I turned off the engine, grabbed my gear, and headed for the water. Along the way I stopped to capture the third shot below, a view across a frosty field. When I finally got to the water, I could see that the sun had already risen. However, the clouds reflected some of the brightness of the sun and added drama to the scene and I was able to capture the wide view that you see in the first photo below with the SX50.

In case you wonder why I did not post these photos earlier, I simply forgot to upload them immediately from my “second” camera. It was a nice surprise for me when I looked at them on my computer screen for the first time yesterday. The images validated for me the value of carrying this camera with me for its multi-purpose capability, a kind of photographic Swiss Army knife.

 

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The colors in the sky were soft and beautiful early last Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The reflections in the water were equally beautiful. What a wonderful way to start the day.

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At the end of each year I am faced with a decision about whether to do a review of the year and/or select my favorite photos. Some years I have done a selection based on the number of views received; some years I have chosen my personal favorites; and some years I have opted to do no yearly retrospective whatsoever.

This year I went through my postings month by month and selected two photos for each month. Rather than give an explanation for each selection, I have provided links to the postings themselves to make it easier for interested readers to see the images in the context of the original postings that often include additional photos and explanatory information.

This has been a rewarding year for me in so many ways and I have had a lot of wonderful experiences capturing images. Thanks so much to all of you for your support and encouragement. Stay tuned for part two, which should appear in the next few days.

 

Northern Cardinal

January 16, 2019 Cardinal in the snow (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/01/16/cardinal-in-the-snow-3/

 

winter sunrise

February 4, 2019 Reflected sunrise colors (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/04/reflected-sunrise-colors/)

 

mountains in Germany

February 22, 2019 Mountain views in Germany (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/22/mountain-views-in-germany/)

 

 

Northern Mockingbird

March 30, 2019 Mockingbird seeking seeds (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/03/30/mockingbird-seeking-seeds/)

 

 

Uhler's Sundragon

April 12, 2019 Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/04/12/uhlers-sundragon-dragonfly/)

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

June 24, 2019 Hummingbird Moth (the posting was on 2 July, but the photo was taken on June 24) (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/07/02/hummingbird-moth/)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Landscape photography has always been problematic for me—it often feel like I am taking a photo without a real subject. I spend most of my time in photography trying to fill the frame with a single subject using telephoto or macro lenses, so it is hard to pull back and see the proverbial “big picture.” Sure, I realize that the actual landscape is the subject, but I have trouble “seeing” wide in my mind as I think composing a shot.

My experience in Paris changed my perspective a bit, because I took a lot of wide and even ultra-wide panoramic shots there. So last week when returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located less than 20 miles (32 km) from where I live, I consciously thought about capturing some of the different types of environments there.

The first shot shows one of the streams that flows through the refuge. I can often find herons, ducks, and occasionally deer along the edges of the stream. The stream is affected by tidal surges coming from the Potomac River and in this image the water level causes me to think that it was low tide.

My favorite trail runs parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Small birds hang around in the vegetation at water’s edge, water birds congregate in the deeper waters, and Bald Eagles can often be found in the trees overlooking this tails. During warmer weather, this trail is a great location in which to hunt for dragonflies.

Wide trails crisscross the refuge, which used to be a military installation. The trails are off limits to the vehicles except for official ones. I never know what I might see when I walk on these trails. On occasion I will stumble upon groups of wild turkeys, flocks of migrating birds, and turtles crossing the road.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief overview of the environment in which I have been taking so many of the insect, bird, and animal shots featured on this blog. It is good to remind myself yet again that what is familiar to me is unusual and maybe even exotic to someone in another part of the country or of the world. So periodically I will try to mix in shots like these to make it easier for you as you accompany me on my journey into photography.

 

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

 

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am back from Paris now, but very much still under its influence. My final night in Paris, I walked down to the Seine River just before midnight. A light drizzle was falling, but I did not care. If anything, the rain made everything more beautiful, creating additional reflections on the cobblestone streets. As I crossed a bridge over the river,  I could see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, its searchlight piercing in and out of the clouds. It was magical!

I was having a great time trying to capture the scene when suddenly the lights on the tower went out. It was as if the Eiffel Tower had suddenly disappeared. I knew that the tower’s lights were not on all night, but I did not expected them to be extinguished right at midnight. Reality sometime has a way of crashing in on moments of fantasy.

One of my readers, Michael Scandling, challenged me to be out walking the streets at midnight to see if I might end up in the 1920’s having a drink with Hemingway. Obviously he too had seen the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris. The lead character played by Owen WIlson spends a lot of time wandering the streets of Paris and suddenly at midnight he repeatedly ends up in the 1920s, rubbing elbows with famous authors, actors, and artists of that era. Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to talk to icons like Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali? The movie additionally has wonderful footage of many places in Paris that are very familiar to me. It is one of the few DVDs that I have purchased in the past ten years.

Alas, real life does not generally play out as it does in the movies. Instead I quietly continued my walk, watching as waiters stacked up chairs in restaurants and lights began to dim as Paris prepared to sleep. For many in Paris, it was the end to just another day, but for me it was special, it was midnight on my final day in this special city, at least for this trip.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is finally beginning to hit me that my stay here in Paris will soon be coming to a close. Will this shot from yesterday evening be my final image of Notre Dame de Paris in the fading light of the day? Perhaps I will have a chance again tomorrow.

We’ll always have Paris.

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the view of Paris from the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre and have tried repeatedly, with varying degrees of success, to capture panoramic images with both my Canon DSLR and my iPhone 11.  One lesson that I have learned from this experience is that it is hard to judge how they will turn out when I am actually shooting them.

I was pleasantly surprised when reviewing yesterday’s images to see that I had captured some flying pigeons as I panned across the sky with my iPhone The placement of the birds was lucky too, given that the left part of the sky did not have the orange tinge present on the right side of the image.

panorama from Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Age is a relative thing. I chuckled a little yesterday when I read a sign next to this spectacular Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) that characterized it as a “young man,” despite the fact that it was planted in 1895. Putting aside the fact that there are male gingko trees and female gingko trees, a concept that blows my mind, gingko trees, which originated in China, can live to be 1200 years old and are “potentially immortal.”

I spotted this tree while visiting the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil. This botanical garden, located near the Bois de Boulogne on the edge of Paris, dates back to 1761 and has an immense complex of different greenhouses, some with groupings based on botanical species and some geographically based. I was particularly struck by the ones ones focused on the Sahara desert and one focused on tropical South America. In the latter case, I had to keep wiping off the lens of my camera, because it was fogging up in the steaming heat of the greenhouse. Unfortunately, some of the greenhouses with the most spectacular plants were only open when gardeners were physically present, so I was not able, for example, to see their collection of orchids.

The leaves of the gingko tree were mostly faded and fallen this late in the year, but I still  marveled at the size of the tree and the golden carpet that surrounded it. A sign noted that in 2011 this tree was 82 feet (25 meters) in height and its trunk had a circumference of 13 feet (395 cm).

I think that this gingko tree was the only one of its species at the garden. Somehow I felt like a personal ad, “Young male gingko tree in Paris seeks companion.” I wonder if there is a special category for its type on dating apps.Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I got up early yesterday morning to try to capture a sunrise here in Paris. The sunrise was pretty much a bust, but on the way to my location, I captured this image of a full moon over some shadowy Parisian roofs.

It is always tricky to take a shot of a full moon—the camera wants to overexpose the moon, leaving a glowing white circle. In order to get the moon looking right. I usually have to underexpose the image by a couple of stops, which leaves the content of the rest of the subject barely visible. I hope that you can just see the curve of the domed roof to the left of the moon and a roof with some chimney pipes just below the moon.

I was hoping to have more time to take additional photos, but as I made adjustments to my camera, the moon disappeared in the clouds and quickly dropped lower on the horizon.

moon in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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So much of Paris merges together when viewed from the step of Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre, in part because new construction in Paris was limited to 121 feet (37 meters) as of 1977. One notable exception is the Montparnasse Tower at 689 feet (210 meters), which is quite visible in this photo from yesterday evening—the height limitation was imposed in reaction to the construction of this building in 1973, whose size and appearance were loudly criticised. (By comparison, the Eiffel Tower is 1,063 feet tall (324 meters.)

In case you are curious, the giant ferris wheel is a temporary structure in the Tuileries Garden for what I think is a Christmas market. When I first arrived in Paris, the circular portion of the wheel was only partially completed. Since that time, the wheel was completed, cabins were added, and, as of yesterday, the wheel was moving, probably in test mode.

In recent years, the rules on construction have been relaxed and some taller buildings are planned, primarily on the outer edges of the Paris. I highly recommend an article at newweek.com entitled “Will Skyscrapers Ruin Paris?” that argues, in part, that the traditional architecture of the city is part of what sets the city apart from others in the world.

Here is one thought-provoking paragraph from the article:

“When a dense area has low buildings, it forces residents to interact and puts more life out on the streets—a large part of what gives Paris its character. According to Swiss writer and philosopher Alain de Botton, five stories is the ideal height of a city building because anything higher begins to make us feel “insignificant, small, and trivial”—all words rarely used to describe life in the City of Lights. It’s no wonder artists and scholars have flocked to Paris for years for inspiration. Would the same be true if the spirit of Paris were essentially locked away in modern towers?”

In the 1942 classic movie Casablanca (my all-time favorite movie), Rick (Humphrey Bogart) famously told his ex-lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), “We’ll alway have Paris.” Will we?

Montparnasse Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I got up early yesterday morning, hoping to get some photos of the sun rising over Paris from the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica, the highest point in Paris. Unfortunately it rained on me the entire walk there and while I was there. The sun did not cooperate and it is tough to take photos in limited light when it is windy and rainy.

I hope to try again when the weather is better. In the meantime, here is a composite panoramic shot that I took earlier in the week that gives you an idea of the view from that spot. I am curious to see how WordPress handles a panorama shot and encourage you to click on the image to see some of the amazing details.

I took a series of eight shots and stitched them together with the Photo Merge feature of Photoshop. Only later did I come to realize that I might had been able to achieve a similar feature with my new iPhone, but I am still so unaccustomed to it that I have not even used the phone (or camera in it) in several days.

It was a bit cloudy and dark the day that I took these photos and it is a bit hard to pick out landmarks. One of the most notable landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, is not visible in the image—it is off to the far right, hidden by the trees. As I was walking away, I caught a glimpse of the tower and by climbing on a wall and leaning against a railing, I was able to capture the second image below. You can definitely see how much the structure towers over the surrounding buildings (pun intended).

Panorama of Paris

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During my three-week vacation in Paris, I am staying in a small studio apartment that I rented through Airbnb. It is located on the top floor of an old building on Rue Montorgueil, a pedestrian zone in the center of the city that is lined with shops and restaurants.

One of the apartment’s wonderful features is that it has a balcony overlooking the street. Although I have had to bundle up a bit in the cool November weather, I love spending as much time as I can sitting outside, observing the people below. The first shot shows one of my first dinners here. I don’t usually photograph my food, but this image gives you a sense of the balcony setting as well as a look at some of my basic food groups here.

The second shot gives you an idea of the view from the balcony. Yes, it is a long way down, but it is literally not for the faint of heart, because you have to walk up 96 stairs in a narrow winding stairway in order to get this view.

The final photo shows one small set of the stairs I have to climb. On each of the six floors, there is a small landing and one apartment to the left and one to the right.

dinner in Paris

Paris balcony view

Paris apartment stairs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The content of my blog will be radically different during the next three weeks because I will be in Paris, France, not Northern Virginia. The “wild life” that I am likely to photograph in Paris will definitely not be the same as the usual (and unusual) creatures that are featured regularly in my posts.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that in the past I have made week-long work trips to places like Vienna, Austria and Brussels, Belgium. During those trips I generally had limited periods of time to simply wander through the streets. I am now fully retired, so my upcoming trip to Paris is strictly for pleasure, not for business. I do not have a detailed itinerary beyond my airline flights and Air Bnb reservation—I am going to just follow where my feet, eyes, and nose lead me.

Paris has a special place in my heart and in my personal history. I majored in French language and literature in college and spent my junior year of college studying in Paris. During those day, when I spoke and thought and read in French, I felt a sense of liberation from my introverted, bookwormish self to the point that some of my friends noted that my personality changed perceptibly when I switched languages. How else can I explain why I was entranced by 19th century French romantic poetry?

In some ways this is a repeat of a similar trip I made in November 2011, after I ceased working full-time as a government employee. (I worked part-time as a contractor for almost eight years after that.) Both trips were intended to be journeys of discovery and re-discovery. Not long ago I qualified for Medicare, which means I am certifiably growing old, and since then I have been quite contemplative, pondering the past, present, and future and looking for those strands in my life that been consistent.

Anyways, I thought I would feature a few photos of Notre Dame that I took in November 2011. It was during that trip that I discovered the joy of shooting with my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel XT. The first two images below show the exterior of the cathedral as it was so beautifully illuminated in the evening. I took the final photo from behind the altar. It saddens me greatly to realize that after the tragic fire earlier this year, I will not be able to take similar shots of Notre Dame during this trip.

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Like dragonflies, there are many species of nature photographers—some prefer to perch in one location for long periods of time, waiting for the action to come to them, while others are in constant motion, aggressively seeking potential prey. As most of you probably suspect, I put myself primarily in the latter group and spend a lot of time walking when I am out in the wild with my camera.

Last week I visited Prince William Forest Park, a hilly, tree-covered oasis that is the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres, according to Wikipedia. I have explored this park on numerous occasions and one of my favorite activities is walking on the trails that run parallel to creeks that run trough the park. Normally when I am doing so, I am scouring the shorelines looking for dragonflies and other wildlife.

This time, though, I was in a contemplative mood and was repeatedly struck by the interplay of the light and shadows and by the textures and sounds created by the flowing water. I obviously can’t convey the sounds in still photos, but here are a few photos that capture some of my impressions from my walk along Quantico Creek that day.

I realize that these are quite different from my usual photos and are a bit more “artsy.” It’s fun for me to mix things up a bit from time to time and attempt to photograph some different subjects.

Quantico Creek

Quantico Creek

leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve noticed that recently I have been really sensitive to lighting and moods and not just to specific subjects. It’s problematic for me, because it is so difficult to figure out how to capture a feeling.

That is part of what was going through my head when I took this photo early in the morning this past Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The sun had already risen, but it was still low in the sky. I loved the way that shafts of light were visible coming through the trees. It was a cold morning and mist was hanging over the still water of a small pond. Could I possiblycapture the details that took my breath away?

So what do you think, or more importantly, what do you feel?

sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the feeling of the early morning, when the sun is just beginning to rise. Some mornings begin with fog hanging over the fields, giving the scene an eerie feeling. On other mornings, the sun adds color to the sky and produces beautiful reflected light in the clouds. I never know what the sunrise will bring when I set out in the dark, but I love to start the way watching darkness give way to light.

I captured these images on separate mornings during this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.


early morning

sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the early morning hours and enjoy watching the darkness give way to the light. This morning I was pleased to be able to capture the predawn colors and then the actual sunrise at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It was a wonderful way to start the new day.

dawn's early light

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The moon was especially beautiful early yesterday morning—an almost perfect half moon. I love photographing the moon, no matter what phase it happens to be in,

I zoomed all of the way in with my 150-600mm telephoto lens and was able to capture the first image. I love the way that you can see so many details of the moon. However, the image is lacking a bit in context.

I zoomed out with the same lens and captured the second image. I would have like to have included some wonderful landscape features, but I was shooting in my neighborhood and had to be content with including the tops of some trees. In many ways the second image does a better job than the first in capturing the sense of serenity that I was experiencing at that moment.

half moon

half moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How do you capture the beauty of a landscape in a single shot? I shoot landscape shots so infrequently that I feel somewhat helpless when trying to do so. Normally they are kind of an afterthought, a second option when there is no wildlife around.

Last week in Germany, however, I was surrounded by mountains. I knew I had to get some shots of the mountains and I took a lot of them. As I reviewed them, though, not very many stood out. I decided to play around a bit and eventually came up with a couple of images that I really like. Both of them were taken from the destination point of the little cable car that I featured in an early posting.

The first image is one that I converted to black and white using an old version of Nik Silver Efex Pro software.  The second shot is a panorama image that was stitched together from three separate handheld images using PhotoMerge in Photoshop Elements. The third image is the color version of the first image prior to using the conversion software.

It was a challenge for me to step out of my comfort zone and try a different kind of photography. In my experience, feeling uncomfortable is part of the learning process. This year I am going to consciously look for more opportunities to take landscape photos and see where that takes me.

mountains in Germany

mountains in Germany

mountains in Germany

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am glad that I have neither a fear of heights (acrophobia) nor of closed-in spaces (claustrophobia) or I might not have enjoyed my ride last week on the Laben Bergbahn, a small cable car in Oberammergau, Germany.  The little  gondola cars (I think that is what they are called) took us up a steep slope that rose from 900m to 1684 meters (2952 feet to 5525 ft). A plaque in the car says it holds 11 people, but they would have to be really little people for that to be true.

Halfway up the mountain, there was a stop, leaving the car swinging a little in the breeze. The sign in the second image below was of only minor comfort as we waited and waited to start moving again—it seemed like we were hanging there for a really long time.

Laben Bergbahn

Laben Bergbahn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Yesterday I bought a round trip ticket on the Laben Bergbahn, a small mountain cable car in Oberammergau, Germany that took us quickly from 900m to 1684 meters. Some folks, however, bought a one-way ticket up the mountain and used an alternative mode of transportation to come down.

I am not sure if I am courageous or crazy enough to jump off a mountain like that and paraglide to the bottom.

parasailing

paragliding

paragliding

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During most of my travel overseas, I stay at hotels operated by US chains, generally the Marriott. The accommodations are predictable, albeit a bit generic, no matter where I am in the world.

This week in Oberammergau, Germany, I am staying in the Alte Post Hotel, which is almost the antithesis of a hotel chain.  It is old, unique, and charming.

According to information in the hotel, it was initially known as the Lion Inn and was first mentioned in chronicles in 1612. Merchants frequently stopped in as early as the 17th century. In 1851, the first postal station was opened at the inn. In 1864 the inn, minus the postal station was purchased and the new owner renamed it as the Alte Post  (Old Post).

The hotel is a little quirky, but friendly, with lots of wood paneling, as seems to be the style in the region. The first photo below shows the front of the hotel. The second photo shows the view from my room that looks out onto the spectacular mountains.

Alte Post

Alte Post

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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