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Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

I never fail to be impressed by the power and the beauty of the Potomac River at Great Falls Park, which I visited this past Friday, my first visit there in quite some time. The Potomac River separates Virginia from Maryland and I took these photos from the overlook points on the Virginia side of the river where the park is located, about 15 miles upriver from our nation’s capital. According to information on the park’s website, “At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.”

The waters looked pretty dangerous to me and there were all kinds of signs warning people to stay out of the water and off of the rocks. Apparently, though, kayaking is permitted in certain areas. The final shot shows two tiny kayaks that I spotted as I looked downriver—you may need to click on the image to see the kayakers who are dwarfed by the immensity of the rock formations through which they were passing.

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Water lilies always bring to mind the paintings of Claude Monet, my favorite artist. Monet produced a series some 250 paintings of water lilies (Nymphéas in French) that were the main focus of his artistic production over the last thirty years of his life. One of the museums that I most love visiting is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, because it houses eight massive water lily murals by Monet in two specially-built oval rooms. It is an incredible, meditative experience to just sit in one of those rooms, surrounded by those amazing paintings. (For more details on the water lily murals, including a virtual visit, click here.)

Conditions were considerably more chaotic than calm on 10 July when I visited  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. with several photographer friends. The weather was comparatively cool and comfortable, a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of recent days, and bustling throngs of people had gathered at the park to view the lotuses and water lilies. Fortunately the crowds concentrated in clusters at a few spots and I was able to explore many of the other lily ponds in peace.

One of the things that I love most about water lilies is the way that they seem to glow from within with a soft, warm light. It is always a challenge to figure out how to capture the beauty of the water lilies. Normally I concentrate on individual flowers, but for the first photo I decided to capture a wider view with two flowers in the midst of a carpet of lily pads.

As you can see, lily pads were inevitably a component in all of my compositions. Sometimes the lily pads make me smile. Why? Maybe it is just me, but when I look at the final photo, I can’t help but think of Pac-Man, a beloved video game of my younger days. I never really got into the complicated video game systems as technology advanced, but really enjoyed the relative simplicity of Pong and Pac-Man.

 

water lilies

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was hiking about in Prince William Forest Park this week, I was thrilled to come upon this distinctive wooden bridge over the South Fork Quantico Creek in Triangle, Virginia. I have seen some historical photos of a similar looking bridge at this park, but I think that the one in those photos was of a more heavy duty construction. This wooden bridge is fairly lightweight and is definitely for pedestrian use only. In fact, the wood appears to be relatively new.

On one side of the bridge is a trail that I had been following that took me along the shore of a manmade lake. The waterfall that you see in the distance is at the extreme end of that lake. On the other side of the the bridge is a camp that is not open to public access. I crossed the bridge to take these photos and then crossed back over to continue along the trail. As you can probably tell, I took the final photo from underneath the bridge—I really liked the pattern of the floor boards of the bridge as I looked up at them.

Prince William Forest Park is the largest protected natural areas in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area with over 16,000 acres (65 square kilometers) of territory. There are more than 37 miles (60 miles) of hiking trails along streams, through the forest, and along small ridges. I enjoy hiking along these trails and in the past month have done a couple of day hikes that were each more than 10 miles (16 km) in length.

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about last Saturday in Prince William County, I was thrilled to spot my first flower on a Mountain Laurel shrub (Kalmia latifolia). I had been noticing lots of buds during recent trips, but this was the first one that I spotted that was open. I think there may be cultivated versions of mountain laurel, but it is naturally found on rocky slopes and in mountain forest areas, which was exactly the environment that I was exploring.

I simply love the shape, colors, and pattern of the gorgeous flowers of this plant. After I published this post, I decided to add a second photo, one that shows the unopened buds of a mountain laurel, their additional beauty waiting to be revealed.

mountain laurel

mountain laurel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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More bearded irises? Yes, I decided to do another posting on the colorful bearded irises in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. We are probably near the peak period right now and there is a wide variety of irises  in bloom. There is only a stem or two of some of the irises that I photographed, each with several blooms, but there is also one patch, shown in the final photo, where there are at least several dozen irises of the same type concentrated in one area.

One of the challenges of photographing these irises is that the background tends to get very cluttered. I have tried to blur the background by choosing my angle of view and camera settings, and the results are ok.

Cindy has come up with a more elegant solution—she photographs them in situ against a black velvet-like background, which requires the assistance of another person to hold the background in place. Usually her husband Michael is drafted, but yesterday in the late afternoon I was an emergency fill-in when the late day light spontaneously prompted her to photograph the irises that were blooming outside of her yard around an electrical junction box. The final photo is one that Cindy took with her iPhone of me in “action.”

What kind of results do you get with this process? Check out Cindy’s blog postings Bearded iris blooming in my garden and Bearded iris (taken last year) to see some samples of the stunning studio-like portraits of these flowers that Cindy has taken.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

photo assistant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always attracted to the beautiful forms of a fiddlehead as it gradually unfurls from a tightly coiled spiral into a full-fledged fern frond. I have no idea if the process takes days or weeks, but but it was amazing to see the various stages of development of the fiddleheads that I have spotted during recent forays into a forest in Prince William County, Virginia.

The first two photos make it pretty obvious that the fiddlehead resembles the curled ornamentation (technically called a “scroll”) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a violin that are traditionally carved in the shape of a volute (a rolled-up spiral). As I was poking about on the internet, I also learned that the fiddlehead stage of a fern is sometimes known as a crozier, the term used for the hooked staff carried by a bishop as a symbol of pastoral office.

 

fiddlehead

fiddlehead

fiddlehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last week I came across this carefully-balanced stack of rocks in a stream at Prince William Forest Park. These rock stacks are often called cairns, a word that comes from the Gaelic for “heap of stones” and can be quite beautiful. However, they can cause serious damage to the delicate river ecosystems and are illegal in most national parks—one of the fundamental policies of the National Park Service is to preserve natural resources in an unaltered state.

The Friends of the Smokies website offered these alternative recommendations for visitors who felt a desire to build a cairn in a posting entitled Don’t Move Rocks.

“If you feel so moved by the natural serenity around you, try a silent prayer.

If you feel the extreme urge to balance things, try balancing a drink can on your head (because apparently there’s a world record for everything).

And if you just want to see a stacks of things, hit up IHOP (International House of Pancakes) on the way home.”

cairn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There is something so soothing to the soul in the sounds of a stream—I sat for quite some time last Monday beside this little waterfall at Prince William Forest Park, almost hypnotized by the sounds of the rushing water.

It has been a rather quiet, contemplative Holy Week for me this year, as we have prepared to celebrate our second Easter under pandemic restrictions. Normally I attend an outdoors Easter sunrise service on Easter morning, but the Episcopal church collaboration of which I am a part instead held a Great Vigil service last night.

When I woke up this Easter morning, it was still dark and I read through all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection right in a row, the first time I have ever done that. I was struck by the differences in the details that each writer chose to include. As the skies began to lighten, I went out on my little outdoor deck that faces to the east and sang aloud three of my favorite Easter songs, unconcerned that early morning runners or dog walkers might hear me singing.

For many of us, this has been had a long, troubling year. I have found comfort and reassurance in these words from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

I wish a happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating this glorious holy day and a blessed weekend to all of you.

waterfall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes you cannot get your subject to cooperate in posing and sometimes it simply does not matter, especially when you are focused primarily on capturing the mood of the moment, rather than the anatomical details of the wildlife creature.

On a recent early-morning trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a distant Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) perched in a tree. The heron was facing away from me and appeared to be basking in the sun, trying to warm up a little after what had been a frigid night. The morning light was beautiful as it illuminated the interlocking grid of branches—in many ways that light became the main subject of this image.

There is a kind of abstract feel to this image that I really like, though it is quite different from most of the photos that I normally take. Somehow it recaptures for me the serenity of that early-morning encounter in a way that a detailed close-up shot would not have been able to do.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Normally I try to photograph the moon when it is full, but early Tuesday morning the skies were so clear when I looked out my front door, that I couldn’t help but grab my camera and step outside to capture this image, one of the few times that I have taken an outdoor shot while wearing slippers.

I posted this image on Facebook and Steve Gingold, a fellow photographer and blogger, noted that, “the full moon is always great but a partial like this offers better detail with the sidelighting and you got some nice detail.”  Thanks, Steve.

Steve is a wonderful nature photographer who lives in New England—be sure to check out his blog at Steve Gingold Nature Photography Photography Blog, where at the moment he is featuring winter images full of snow and ice.

moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My wildlife experience at this time of the year is periodically punctuated by the sound of shotgun blasts, sometimes coming from only a short distance away—it is duck hunting season. There are a number of duck blinds in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that are occasionally used for hunting. Even if I don’t hear gunfire, I can often tell that a blind is occupied, because the hunter often put out a whole lot of decoys in the water that have fooled me a couple of times.

The first photo shows the duck blind that was in use on Monday. If you click on the image, you can get a better look at some of the details, including one of the hunters, a dog in a life jacket, and part of the string of decoys. The second image shows the dog swimming back past the decoys with a freshly shot duck in its mouth—it was pretty amazing to see the dog leap into the water and swim out to retrieve the duck. The final shot shows the hunter showing off the duck, which I think is a scaup, to his hunting buddy, while the dog continue to shake off the water.

I personally am not a hunter—I prefer to shoot wildlife with a camera and not with a gun. However, I do not vilify those who choose to hunt, particularly when the hunting is managed and regulated. I am also aware that fees for duck stamps and hunting licenses often are used for wildlife conservation efforts that benefit us all.

duck hunting

duck hunting

duck hunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There was a huge raft of assorted ducks in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge early last Wednesday morning. The ducks were so far away that I could not identify individual species, but suspect that there were scaups, buffleheads, ruddy ducks and others.

I merged eight separate images in Photoshop in order to create this wide panoramic image. The process is mostly automated and I think the software did a pretty good job in producing an image that lets you see and appreciate the view I had that morning and the mood of those moments. I am not sure how well WordPress will handle a panoramic shot, but encourage you to click on the image to see more of the details.

raft of ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I really love to capture images of common birds in cool poses or settings, like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the bank of a small stream whose water had receded with the low tide.

The sparrow was moving about searching for tasty tidbits on the wet ground strewn with tiny pebbles and shells.  I was happy when it paused for a moment at a spot where I could capture its reflection in the shallow water. Be sure to click on the image if you want to get a closer look at this handsome little bird and all of the snail and mussel shells that surround it.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you capture a mood? That was what I was trying to do when I photographed these winter cattails swaying gently in the breeze on Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park.

More than anything else, I was looking to nature to soothe my soul after what had been a traumatic week. As I focused on the cattails I could feel my heartbeat slow down and I was able to breathe more deeply.

We all need moments of respite and relaxation like this.

winter cattails

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What does a wildlife photographer photograph when there is no wildlife to be seen? That was my dilemma, yesterday when we finally had some sunshine after a series of dreary days. I wanted to be out in nature with my camera, but I also wanted to avoid people as much as possible. Weekends are particularly problematic as crowds of people flock to popular areas, so I deliberately chose a remote trail at Huntley Meadows Park that took me past a partially-frozen pond.

There were no ducks or other birds at the pond. Instead I encountered a series of wonderfully abstract patterns in the thin ice atop the pond. A long telephoto zoom lens might not have been my first choice for these kinds of shots, but it worked remarkably well in capturing some of these patterns.

Initially my favorite image was the star-like pattern in the first photo below. Increasingly, though, I am drawn to the final photo that brings to mind a satellite or drone photo of a frozen mountain range at the edge of a sea.

ice

ice

ice

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Not all plants wait for the spring to start growing. Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetid) starts growing in the winter and can generate its own heat and even melt snow around it when the ground is frozen. According to Wikipedia, skunk cabbage “is notable for its ability to generate temperatures of up to 27–63 °F (15–35 °C) above air temperature by cyanide resistant cellular respiration in order to melt its way through frozen ground, placing it among a small group of thermogenic plants.” I spotted these skunk cabbage plants this past Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park.

So why am I interested in this plant? Several types of dragonflies, including the Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly and the Gray Petaltail dragonfly can be found in the kind of forest seeps where skunk cabbage grows. I am conducting advance reconnaissance of locations to explore when dragonfly season finally arrives. Last year I spotted my first dragonflies in early April, so I have “only” three months to wait for the opening of the 2021 dragonfly season.

skunk cabbage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The electric gates at my favorite wildlife refuge slide open at seven o’clock in the morning and sometimes I will be sitting in my car waiting for the parting of the gates to maximize my chances of seeing the sun rise. Traffic was a little heavier than I had anticipated last Tuesday and the gates were already open when I drove into Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge a few minutes after seven.

Dark clouds were covering much of the sky and although some color was starting to appear in the few open patches, it was clear that I was not going to see the sun itself rise. I rushed down the trail toward the water as it grew lighter and lighter, racing against the rising sun. I never did see much of the sun itself, but the reflected light was amazingly beautiful. At times it seemed like the skies were aflame with an orange flow and a few minutes later the skies were tinged with a softer pink.

Forecasters can tell me at what time the sun will rise, but they cannot predict the look and feel of any sunrise. For that, I have to be there in person, waiting expectantly with my heart full of hope. It is a wonderful way to start a new day.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

 

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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The skies over the water were full of clouds one afternoon last week as I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was utterly fascinated by the horizontal layers of cloud that seemed to be stacked up, reminding me of a stone wall of stacked stones.

Many of you know that I rarely take landscape photos, but sometimes I feel compelled to do so. To be fair, though, I should probably characterize this image as a “cloudscape,” rather than as a “landscape,” since the land plays only a minor role in it.

clouds

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Often I am mesmerized by light and shadows and reflections. It doesn’t take much to capture and hold my attention, like these pieces of wood that I spotted in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

reflection

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I traveled with several photographers to the large grove of ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba) at Blandy Experimental Farm of the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce, VA. It was a beautiful autumn day and lots of other people also decided to check out the bright yellow foliage, which made it quite challenging to capture images that were not full of posing people. As the final photo shows, I too was posing for my own version of a selfie.

I have visited this grove of gingko trees several times over the last seven years and never fail to be amazed by the exotic beauty of the ginkgos. The grove, one of the largest outside of the trees’ native China, was established in 1929 when Dr. Orlando White decided to do an experiment. He hypothesized that the sex ratio of the 600 seeds that he planted from a single ginkgo tree would be 1:1. He did not live long enough to find out if he was right, but of the 301 trees that survived to maturity and for which gender could be determined, 157 were female and 144 were male.

For more information about the ginkgo grove, check out my blog posting from 2013 entitled “Journey to a ginkgo grove” or this brochure on the ginkgo grove put out by the Blandy Experimental Farm. In the brochure you can learn some cool things about ginkgo trees, including the amazing fact that the earliest ginkgo leaf fossils date from 270 million years ago.

 

ginkgo grove

 

 

gingko grove

gingko grove

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Looking up into the trees at Huntley Meadows Park during a recent trip and lamenting the lack of brilliant fall foliage, I glanced down into the dark waters of the duckweed-spattered marsh and saw these wonderful abstract patterns of colorful shapes and textures. I love the fall.

floating fall foliage

floating fall foliage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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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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