Sunday, May 31, 2009

DCA Terminal Today and Yesterday

Airport Terminal (Canon XSi).

The Old Terminal (Canon XSi).

What an experience it was yesterday at National Airport.  In addition to the WWII veterans, I covered lots of ground in the terminal.  The first photo for this post is just one of many I took.  It's light, bright, airy, colorful.  It's alive, and busier than the photo might suggest.  After spending lots of time around the main terminal, I headed south toward the older terminal.  What I saw is in the second photo.

Years ago this was frenetic with all manner of activity, smoky, loud.  Alive.  On the left were the ticketing counters.  At the far end was a news stand and upstairs a restaurant.  I flew out of here many times, and saw a few celebrities in here.  Today it's little more than a forgotten museum.  The final section of terminal south of here is still active, but this one is just empty and quiet.

As of today, Sunday May 31, I have reduced over 2,900 photos to a collection of just 72.  It will be further reduced over the next day or two to something closer to 40.  This SoFoBoMo event has been exhilarating, challenging, and for a moment frustrating.  It has also been supremely rewarding.  I can honestly say I didn't expect to experience anything like this.  It's hard to believe my project has been going for just less than three weeks.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

World War II Veterans at DCA

Honor and Respect.


When I was given permission to photograph at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by the airport operations manager, he told me of some special flights that would be arriving on Saturday May 30, carrying many World War II veterans.  I made sure I would be there on time.

When I arrived at the airport this morning, I took some photos of the inside of the terminal and then took some of the terrace and tower.  National is actually a very pretty airport.  I knew it was, but got to know it just a little better today.  When the time came to await the veterans, I went to the area and sat at a table drinking some water.  Then I spoke to a gentleman whom I figured was with the vets; he was.  I ended up talking with him, a pilot, a few folks from TSA, and gave out some personal business cards.  I was hoping to take lots of photos of these heroes and give the photos to them via email.  It would be my way of giving some small honor back to them.

These people visit DC through the Honor Flight Network.  It's a great thing this organization does.  In addition to the Honor Flight Network though, the USO helped, TSA supported them, USAirways supported them, the airport operations folks helped, and a whole bunch of individuals traveling with these heroes were there in support.

Thank you Sully.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Good News Story About Photographer Access

Delta Regional Jet About to Land (Canon XSi).

I received very good news today.  I now have permission to take photos inside the terminal at National on Saturday.  I am looking forward to it.  The weather is supposed to be good that day too.

I was originally planning to go to the airport on Monday morning of this week, Memorial Day.  Last week someone on a photography forum suggested that I should be careful.  My thought was, 'You're right.'  I looked at the airport's website for information regarding photography, and found nothing.  I contacted the facility folks at the airport last week and they responded within a day.  I'd told them who I was and my intentions.  The person who responded asked a few other questions, and told me what they expected of amateurs and professionals; I'm clearly the amateur.  Their greater concern is for the passengers' privacy, a reasonable position, that.  I changed my plans so that were I to go, it would be on Saturday the 30th.  Today, Thursday May 28 I received official permission.

This shouldn't be a story per se.  I've read of cases where photographers encounter difficulties with law enforcement officials.  Doing a little homework up front has made this a non-issue.  We hear all of the bad stories.  This is one of those Good Ones.  You need to hear of these too.  Thank you, Sir.

My only hope is that I'll be up to the photographic challenges of the day on Saturday.  I think it will go just fine.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Not Just About the Aircraft

Approach Lights and Inner Marker Array with US Capitol (Canon XSi).

Tonight I organized the 220 photos that are immediate candidates for my SoFoBoMo book.  For once I actually used keywords in iPhoto, which made organizing the photos very easy.  Tag each photo and then sort them.  Easy!  At present I have two groups, one for the north end (Gravelly Point) and one for the south (Daingerfield Island), with 160 and 60 photos, respectively.

The photo I attached today was taken from Gravelly Point, looking back toward the Instrument Landing System (ILS) inner marker array and the approach light.  The US Capitol is in the background.

At the moment I patiently await further response from the facilities people at National Airport regarding taking photos in the terminal on Saturday.  If it doesn't happen on Saturday, I still have some time before the end of my month, June 12, 2009.  Should it not happen at all for whatever reason, I have enough photos to make a respectable book.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Departing, One Arriving (Canon XSi).

Saturday evening I went through all 2,500 photos for the second time, flagging the good ones of which there were roughly 220.  It isn't the definitive set for the book, as I know there are some in the large group I may use, but it's a starting point.  This smaller group is simply the photos that I really like.

The photo for this post is an Air Canada Jazz flight departing to the north, with another flight arriving behind it.  A part of me wishes I had as good access to Dulles as I do to National.  Dulles handles large aircraft, including 747-400s.  My guess is it could handle the new Airbus A380.  That's okay.  The smaller aircraft at National, such as this one, are just as beautiful.

UPDATE May 26:  I edited the photo.  It needed to be straightened.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Organizing the Book

Takeoff (Canon XSi).

Between last night and today I have begun organizing my book for my SoFoBoMo project. The challenge is all of the photos to consider. I'm pleased that I have many good ones from which to choose. The photo for today's post is one I just think is pretty.

It seemed funny not to be shooting photos today. I had to be in the office all day, which because of my schedule turned out to be 11 hours. It's no matter, I like my work. Next week hopefully I'll take the final photos in the airport terminal and then I'll create my book. I expect I'll have the book done around the end of the month.

I think I'll have the book printed. It will be my ninth, I think. While there are options other than Apple, I'll likely have it done by Apple through iPhoto. They do a very nice job. I've always been pleased with their work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Session 4, Outside Principle Photography Complete

Jewel in the Sky (Canon XSi).

I completed principle outside photography today for my SoFoBoMo project. The weather was fantastic. Winds were 10 knots from the south, so DCA ran north arrivals and south departures. The above photo was from the Washington Sailing Marina. It was one of over 1,000 photos taken this morning in about an hour and a half. On Monday, Memorial Day, I'll take a camera to the airport and take photos inside the terminal itself. That will complete all principle photography for the book. For awhile today I thought I might not take photos inside, but changed my mind. If not for the passengers, none of this would be happening.

UPDATE: I am currently working on getting formal permission to take photos inside the airport terminal. I am hoping to take photos inside the terminal on Saturday May 30.

Last night I started playing with creating the project book with iPhoto. I've made many books, so it isn't difficult. There will be some challenges however, the greatest one being that somehow I need to manage the creation of a book starting with over 2,500 photos. No matter, it's a challenge that should be lots of fun. I expect I'll have over the minimum 35 photos for the completed book. ^_^ My goal is to tell a story, and I'll use just enough to do that.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Something Different, Session 3

U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter (Canon XSi).

Today, Tuesday May 19, I shot with both the G9 and the XSi.  I realized how quickly I'd adapted to the XSi.  I love a viewfinder that I can use.  While I was a bit anxious over returning to a viewfinder after having used an LCD monitor for a few years, today I found the LCD wanting.  Regardless, the 7 photos I took with the G9 are just fine.  The 800 I took in an hour and a half with my XSi make me shake my head.  I love my little XSi.

The photo for this entry is of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.  I took this from Daingerfield Island, home of the Washington Sailing Marina.  It was a lucky shot.  They had flown over the marina building five minutes earlier and I'd gotten a few good shots.  On their second pass, they came right overhead.  Thank you guys!!!!!!

There are tendrils of a story that are evolving for my project, and the dominant one is that this is a busy airport.  Today I spoke with a former air traffic controller who used to work in Washington Center (ZDC) in Leesburg.  He confirmed that indeed DCA is a very busy airport, though a bit less chaotic post 9-11 as general aviation aircraft are no longer allowed entry.

Two shooting sessions are planned for tomorrow, one before work and one after.  Next week I'll take one final session inside the airport itself.  It's part of the story.  There may be other sessions, but time will tell.  The TAF, terminal area forecast, for DCA is for winds from the south.  Visibility is 6+ miles, and no significant weather is forecast.  This means I'll have arrivals from the north and departures to the south.  It's perfect.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Second Day of SoFoBoMo

Airbus A319 Take-off (Canon XSi).

Today, Monday May 18, I took the second set of photographs for my SoFoBoMo project.  The weather was somewhat windy from the north, so the airport ran the same runway configuration as last Tuesday.  I brought my XSi to try it.

The XSi is a nice little camera.  I really appreciate how well the G9 works, but the XSi just blows it away.  I'll still use the G9 for many of the photos, but the XSi will figure prominently in the project.  I found myself switching from fully manual to program mode, as well as manual focus to autofocus.  Continuous shooting is very nice.  In an hour and a half I shot just over 500 photos.  In addition to photos of aircraft, I have some of the environs, though I also did that the other day with the G9.  Also, today I took photos of some really neat cloud formations.  Those images may serve as backdrops for a couple of the pages in the final book.

After going through the photos, I find I will need to learn how to keep the XSi level while shooting quickly.  This is something I experienced with the G9 and previously with my wife's Sony DSC-T5, a nice little camera in its own right.  I also find it is very easy to take lots of photos with the XSi.  In part, this is because being an SLR I can easily keep tracking aircraft while photographing them.  Though I took more than with the G9, the images were generally better because I could work the camera better.

I'll be out again over the next two mornings, as well as Wednesday evening.  All three sessions I expect will be outside.  I figure I'll have one more session inside the airport terminal itself, and that will likely be next week.  After that, the principle photography for the project will be complete.  The task of making the book will follow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rush Hour

Rush Hour at National Airport (Canon G9).

Here's another from Tuesday night.  The thumbnail shows one aircraft taking off and one landing.  If you click on it and look at the larger image, you'll see another in the arrival queue.  I figured departures to the north at Gravelly Point would be boring.  Right.

This is fun.  Enjoy!  ^_^

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SoFoBoMo - It Begins

Approaching National Airport (Canon G9).

Today began the SoFoBoMo event for me, May 12, 2009.  This is one of around 175 shots I took this evening, all with the Canon G9.  The weather was finally good on a day when I could fit the start of my SoFoBoMo project, Airport, into my schedule.  It was mostly sunny and breezy, with temperatures in the mid 60s (upper teens).  I'd planned to go to the north side of the airport first, but the winds dictated that I go to the south side.  Ya gotta take 'em when ya get 'em.

The photo above was taken as a Northwest Airlines jet was preparing to land at National.  The Capitol is below the aircraft on the left, and the airport surveillance radar is below and to the right.

I went into work early today and left early.  After work I first went to Daingerfield Island, just south of National.  Winds were generally from the north, so arrivals were from the south and departures were to the north.  There was lots of traffic at the airport today.  I stayed for awhile at the south side, watching planes arrive and depart.  There were students in sailboats on the Potomac, as well as one long rowing boat.

After taking many photos from Daingerfield Island, I ate a picnic dinner.  I had a turkey sandwich with habaƱero sauce, dates, and a Coke.

After dinner I went to Gravelly Point at the north side of the airport.  Some of the photos I took were much better in that there were multiple aircraft in many photos, as well as birds.  A few of the photos show one aircraft departing and one or more in line to land.  As I said, there was lots of traffic.  It was also rush hour.

I have at least a couple more trips I want to take to the airport for the SoFoBoMo.  The primary shots will be taken with the G9.  I want to get up to speed on the XSi however to take some shots with that, potentially including them in the book.

Overall it was a very good day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Moon Over Oakton

The Moon (Canon XSi).

This is my first real photo with the new Canon XSi.  It's cropped with reduced brightness and increased contrast.  That's it.  Oh, and I did this handheld.  I'm blown away by this camera.  It's amazing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Possibilities: All That Jazz

Air Canada "Jazz" Arriving at National Airport (Canon G9).

On April 9, I spent the latter part of the morning at DCA, taking photos of planes.  This little number is a favorite, a jewel that was completely unexpected.  Whether or not the service matches their theme I've no idea.  Regardless, I'd certainly fly them just on the possibilities alone.

Possibilities.  The weather forecast is *finally* looking good for the DC area.  Monday through Wednesday next week, the 11th through the 13th, are forecast to range from partly to mostly sunny.  For me, that means the beginning of the SoFoBoMo event for me is imminent.  What will I see?  What will I photograph?  What possibilities await?

I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Camera II: Then Again...

A funny thing happened the other day.  Canon temporarily dropped the prices on their lenses.  Rebates they call 'em.  You could call it a sale.  I call it a bargain.  Regardless of what anyone calls it, the price on the Canon DSLR system I was considering dropped below the dream level to the purchase level.  As I write this I await delivery of my new Canon Rebel XSi via UPS.  It's currently on the truck for delivery.

Along with the XSi, I'd considered the Nikon D40, 60, and 90, the Sony A200, and the Olympus E-520.  The final contenders were the E-520, the XSi, and the D60 in that order, all other things being equal, and were chosen based on performance and price.  I wasn't ready to buy.  I wanted to get through the SoFoBoMo without the complications of a new camera.  I wasn't even completely certain I was ready for a DSLR.  The price dropped.  It was just right.  I bought it.

What does that do for me with the SoFoBoMo?  What about the G9 in general?

At this point, the SoFoBoMo will be shot with the G9, though I can't say I'll use it exclusively.  My thought is that I could use it for the south approaches at Daingerfield Island.  It certainly depends on how quickly and how well I adapt to the new camera.  It's funny.  When I posted the "Contingencies" article, I used a photo I'd taken last year at Dulles with my iPhone.  I realized I may even use my iPhone for a couple photos in the book.  It's a serviceable little camera for certain conditions, and while I have no specific intentions for its use I don't want to preclude its use.  Accordingly, this isn't about excluding something that might actually work.

The G9 will likely be used for the bulk of the photos for the SoFoBoMo.  It may even be used for all of them.  Then again, it doesn't really matter.  It's all about the photographs.

In closing, the sun was just out a few minutes ago.  I await a sunny day with bated breath.  That's as opposed to baited breath.  I hate eating worms.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Rainy Day at Dulles, April 2008 (iPhone).

I have 3 days planned for shooting for the SoFoBoMo. I need one really good clear, sunny morning with south winds, another good, clear, sunny evening but with north winds, and just a third morning that I'd prefer to have sunny. The first day I described will be the most important of the three, so I can't even begin my project until the weather cooperates.

My pool of available days between now and the end of June is roughly 20, assuming I maintain my otherwise chaotic life with work and family. This coming week is shot with rain. Fine. I have other days I can open, if reluctantly, by shifting my work schedule.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hearts of Space: Ambient Space Music

I don't recall when I first heard Hearts of Space (HOS), but it probably goes back just a few years to when I began subscribing to XM satellite radio.  HOS has been around for 26 years, a creation of Mr. Stephen Hill, whose photo is shown at the top of this post.  Each week a new program is produced, containing some of the most interesting ambient space and contemplative music one can hear anywhere.

There's a lot of ambient music available, some legitimately free on the net, some commercially available online or through iTunes.  Some of it is compelling and some is not.  What I've found is that HOS is where I can always find something different and usually very good.  Through here I've found the music of Steve Roach and a wonderful piece by David Lynch & Jocelyn Montgomery called The Music of Hildegard von Bingen.

You can hear each new program on Sunday for free through the HOS website.  You can also subscribe, which I have just done.  I have zero financial interest in HOS, but I do have personal interest in seeing that HOS and great ambient music endures even these most challenging of times.

In the words of Mr. Stephen Hill, "Safe journey space fans, wherever you are."


Weather is a key factor regarding when I start my SoFoBoMo project, given that once started it must be completed within 31 days.  For the traffic shots, which will be a majority of the photos, I would like to have clear blue skies in sunny conditions.  Gravelly Point would ideally be river arrivals from the north, which also requires winds from the south.  Daingerfield island would ideally be river arrivals from the south, with winds from the north.  Photos inside the airport terminal can be done in less than sunny conditions, though I think the sun could be pretty neat in National.  From the outside the terminal isn't what I'd call attractive.  Inside however, it is.

So, what's the current weather forecast?

Rain.  Rain.  Rain.

This is Saturday, May 2.  The National Weather Service, NWS, has forecast showers and thunderstorms from now through Wednesday May 6.  "Partly sunny" doesn't happen until Thursday and Friday, and then with a moderate chance of showers on both days.


I have time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Camera

For the SoFoBoMo, I'm using my Canon Powershot G9 point and shoot camera. It's a nice little camera and it mostly does everything I want.

I'm an amateur photographer. My first real camera was a Pentax K1000, a fully manual SLR. I had both a 50mm and 135mm lens, f2.0 and f2.8, respectively. I learned a lot with that camera. For various reasons, I broke away from photography for many years and now I'm getting back into it. I purchased the G9 in spring of 2008, choosing it over a DSLR, the main candidate of which was the Sony A200. In the last few months I've again been considering a DSLR. I may do it sometime but certainly not until after the SoFoBoMo event.

On the positive side, this camera satisfies a very important requirement for me. When I was looking last year, the camera needed to be one where I could "grab and go." Mostly the G9 beats that over a DSLR, though "grab and go" isn't without its planning. Batteries (of which I have a couple) must be charged before I'm ready to go. I've yet to go through a fully charged battery in one shoot, but I've come close. I'd shot 360 photos one afternoon, and the battery was about to die. I was ready to put a fresh one into the camera, but it wasn't needed.

Mostly I run the G9 in P or Program AE mode. At Gravelly Point however on my first time there, I found I needed to go fully manual with it - focus, shutter speed, and aperture. The G9 is designed to fight even that, overriding certain manual controls. Fortunately the owner's manual is good and the camera design is such that you can turn off those protections.

The only downside for me right now is that it isn't a DSLR. I expect I'll find weaknesses that matter to me in the G9, though after a year I haven't yet. I know lots of the arguments on point and shoot cameras versus DSLRs. I've also seen what I can do with it.

I'll shoot the SoFoBoMo with the G9. Afterward, I'll see what options make sense.

It Begins

Taken at Gravelly Point in April 2009 (Canon G9).

Today SoFoBoMo begins. A friend in Oregon, Amy Sakurai, is doing a one day shoot. Should be interesting. She does very well with photography. I'll be interested to see what and how she does.

There's a lady in this area who is doing something with highlighted color. Her front photo looks interesting. I hope to see hers when she's done.

My project, Airport, is my second idea. Originally I was going to do something on where I live, Oakton. The premise was that this place is more than the bedroom community it appears to be. After some research I discovered it's true. There's some Civil War history behind the place, which used to be called Flint Hill. Still, I wasn't so sure it would work as I expected, and what initial interest and passion I had for it faded.

My intention is to photograph aircraft going into and out of National Airport. Yes, it's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, aka DCA, aka KDCA. I really liked Ronald Reagan, but the airport is still National Airport to me.

That said, my goal is to photograph aircraft as they arrive or depart National. There is a park, Gravelly Point, that sits just north of runway 1/19, where you can almost touch the aircraft. This will be my primary location from which to photograph. I will also take photos from inside the airport terminal and from south of the airport on Daingerfield Island, home of the Washington Sailing Marina. With luck I'll get southbound arrivals at Gravelly and northbound at Daingerfield. I also hope to get south departures at Gravelly.