Oh what a beautiful morning!

Sometimes, when the light is right, you don’t even have to see the sun to see a beautiful sunrise.  With the dust scattering the morning light towards the mid autumn sky, how can one not stop and just wonder at the beauty that is around us.  We forget, sometimes, that every day can be special.  Each day is a gift.  Our mind knows this, but our heart must feel it.  In the midst of life’s trials, there is always something that can bring love into our lives.  And in truth, as long as love prevails, beauty will always be there.

 

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Freezing in Maui

When you think of Maui, you think of warm days at the beach.   The warm waters of the Pacific lapping gently over your feet while walking, unhurriedly, in the early hours of the day, eagerly watching the sun rise over an ocean as boundless as your dreams.  You think of the Polynesian food, so delicious, that any ideas of dieting seems like a silly concern.  You think of the hikes through the pristine forests, butterflies fluttering, birds singing with joy, happy to spend another day in paradise.  You hear the occasional rooster crowing, heralding the coming of a new day, even as the first hints of sunlight begin to bathe the land with its life giving warmth.

Beyond the beaches, on a winding road that zigs and zags its way to the peak of Haleakala, is a national park that simply takes your breathe away.  Probably because at its altitude, there is less oxygen going inside your lungs with each deep breathe that you take.  You wake up shortly after midnight and in the darkness drive for hours, in the quest to see the sun blaze through the clouds,  to marvel at a natural light show that no amount of fireworks can hope to match.  You look out towards the ocean and see eternity, bathed in light so sublime that in that joyous moment, heaven and earth are one.

On top of the summit, in the hours before daybreak, in the midst of August, I was reminded that altitude has an attitude.  A cold one.  It was freezing.  It was wonderful.

It snows in Haleakala.  The wind howls at Haleakala.  It gets dark in Haleakala.  So dark that some of the world’s great telescopes are on the summit of the great mountain, mirrors trained unflinchingly at the star strewn night sky, partaking in the greatest quest humanity has ever taken.  The exploration of our universe.  We who live near the great cities forget that above our heads, perpetually moving in the celestial sphere, are the stars that the sun calls its brothers and sisters, the collection of gases, condensed and yet to condense, the filaments of light that we collectively call the Milky Way.  And at Haleakala, when the sun hides in the other side of the world, you explore.  You wonder.  You dream.

And I almost forgot.  Haleakala is a volcano.  Dormant, beautiful, imposing, surprising.  The beaches may beckon, but at Haleakala, in the ethereal grandeur of cinder cones juxtaposed with grass covered slits of rock, you can imagine, with a sense of wonder, the alien worlds that awaits us as we explore the universe.  And marvel at the delicacy of the planet that we call our own.

In the cold morning air, with twilight still approaching, I gazed upwards upon countless points of light and smiled.  For at that moment, I have touched the sky.DSC02401_sDSC02410_sDSC02476a_s

The Familiar, Redefined

You want to take a picture of some landmark or scenery that everyone else has taken a picture of.  That’s okay.  Each picture is indeed different, to some degree or another.  The thing is, you can make something a little bit more interesting by taking the picture at different times of the day, different seasons, a slightly different perspective.  You can make something familiar just a little bit different so that it becomes something that you own, so to speak.  Here are four pictures of something that everyone has seen before – the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, from the vantage point of somewhere in the Lincoln Memorial.

In the morning, after sunrise.  Don’t over saturate the colors to make it look unnatural. Some clouds to make it more interesting.  A silhouette works fairly well.

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In the middle of a cloudy day, go low, go for contrast, accentuate the clouds.  Black and white works well for this kind of picture.

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In the blue hour, add an interesting element to the composition (people having their picture taken).  With the lights on, the monument stands out against the bluish background. (The scaffolding makes it more interesting as well).

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In the evening, the Washington Monument, with the Capitol in the background, really stands out.  Make sure the lights in the walkway can be seen to add interest to the scene.  Try black and white for the night photograph.

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Four pictures of the same thing, from the same place.  Are these pictures unique?  Not really.  If you really must have that picture of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool in the mid day sun, have at it.  A little variation, however, can make the familiar a little more interesting.

I’ve lived in the Washington D.C. area for decades.  I have been looking at the pictures I have taken in Washington D.C. in the last decade or so.  Surprisingly, I haven’t really taken that many pictures of the familiar landmarks in isolation.  Sure, I have taken a lot of pictures of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol.  More often than not, these landmarks are not the focal points of the photograph.

I have taken the beautiful things around me for granted.  How many people travel halfway around the world to see the Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial?  I have taken countless pictures of countless people with these iconic monuments in the background.  I show my friends and relatives the sites that I know are beautiful, all the while not really seeing the beauty before me.  Wonder is transformed to banality.

As a matter of course, I always read Lincoln’s words when I visit the Lincoln Memorial (several times a year).  The words never lose their meaning.  It’s time to look at the familiar in the same way.  Beauty is not only in what we see, but also in what we think.  The thought for the day.  Familiarity is not an impediment to creativity.  Complacency is.

I came for the birds, but I kind of mist!

A beautiful, sunny, cool October morning was the catalyst for taking a short walk at Huntley Meadows Park in suburban Alexandria, Virginia.  Huntley is one of those hidden gems.  It has winding trails, woods, and wetlands, in a compact location in the middle of suburban Alexandria (the Fairfax County part), Virginia.  Fall migration is still in full swing, so this may be a good opportunity to get some decent pictures of our avian friends.

I made it to the open area, the marshy area that presaged the wetlands.  The birds were certainly singing.  I wanted to go further down the boardwalk, to the place where the belted kingfishers dwelt, but I stopped.  For forty five minutes or so I only walked an additional twenty five yards or so.  The culprit?

A heavy, morning mist, with the sun streaming down, on a small part of Huntley Meadows.  You can literally see the sunbeams, white mist, and a hint of color.   It looked interesting and bland at the same time.  If only there was a little bit more color on that scene.  Well, there was!  A little bit.  The dehaze feature of Adobe Camera Raw can do some interesting things.  And though the dehazed image was initially dull, one could see a hint of color in the image.  A delicate restoration of color information may result in an interesting picture.  After working with the contrast, sharpness, saturation and vibrance sliders, the following pictures came out.

 

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And as a bonus, a stalk blowing in the wind.

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The pictures came out with an “impressionistic” look.  Restating the title of this post, I came for the birds, but the light was right.