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Jason Stricker Photography | Blog

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Atlantic Dawn

Since photography must be a ‘when you have time hobby’ for me, I unfortunately don’t get many chances to pick up the camera. For the last year or two, my photographic journeys have been few, similar and coincide with vacations. This year we spent a few weeks in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which so far, have been the only chances for me to create photographs. Despite the same subject and same location, each experience is different and so are the resulting images.

Normally our excursions to the beach take place from spring through summer. We decided to change it up this year and head down to the beach when most were getting ready for autumn. Quite a different experience with far fewer tourists and cooler temperatures, but still a great time. Since this was a short trip, I only had one morning for photography.

I arrived on the beach between 5:00 – 5:30am, while most sane people were still asleep. For miles in every direction, I was surrounded by darkness and the sounds of the Atlantic. While water temperatures had cooled for the season, the waves were welcomed warmth compared to the brisk pre-dawn air.

With my feet and tripod firmly buried in the sand, I set up for my first series of shots. I wanted to use the light from the stars and the ever so subtle light from a sun that would rise in an hour to create a nice pre-dawn mood. This image includes many features, from night stars, early morning glow, flowing waves and departing clouds. One might think the dip in the horizon is due to a lens distortion, but it’s not. There is a wave on the left side and clouds on the right, which gives the appearance of a dipping horizon.

To the naked eye, I could see only stars and a deep black sky. But by keeping the shutter open for around 30 seconds, I was able to capture the light from the stars and pre-dawn glow to illuminate a scene otherwise unseen. Tip: Limit shutter speeds to 20-30 seconds in these situations to capture the actual stars. Any longer than 30 seconds, you’ll begin to capture the Earth’s rotation and star trails will result.

Atlantic DawnAs time passed and the sky filled with warm color, I positioned my camera northward towards the nearest pier. I moved further up on the beach and out of the water in order to use the sand and retreating water as interesting foreground subjects. This image was created just before the sun poked above the horizon, which quite often is the moment that yields the most impressive light.

Morning Light With Pier

Once the sun was up, the beach began filling up with morning walkers, treasure hunters, coffee drinkers and of course, seagulls. This particular bird stood along the water’s edge eating all sorts of stuff the ocean deposited along the beach. To zoom in on the bird, I used my 70-200mm lens set to 200mm with a 2x teleconverter, which allowed me to shoot at 400mm. The outcome is one of my favorite bird photos I’ve taken.

SeagullOverall, I spent a couple of hours shooting on this morning and I’m pleased with the results; hopefully you are as well. Next up, I’ll be heading to the mountains to capture autumn’s foliage at its best.

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Cedar Creek in Spring

Back in October, I ventured into an area of Shenandoah National Park that I had never visited – Cedar Creek. I found this area to be great for autumn photography, perhaps because I was lucky enough to visit during peak autumn foliage. I recently had a free afternoon, so I paid Cedar Creek another visit to see how it faired in spring.

During my first visit, I was the lone hiker along the trail. To my dismay, on this trip I was greeted with a full parking lot upon my arrival. Not that I have anything against people, because I don’t, but they tend to get in the way when photographing landscapes. Thankfully, I think most of the hikers were taking the nearby White Oaks Canyon Falls trail rather than Cedar Creek, which helped cut down on distractions. After a relatively short uphill hike to the first set of falls that seemed to take me forever (mental note – cut back on the McDonald’s), I came across the same area I photographed in October.

Strangely, the water level was lower in spring than in October, which is the exact opposite of what it should be. Besides that oddity, I remembered the area and I began to set up for some shots. Given I had previously visited the location, I already had several shots in mind. I first started with a few I did back in autumn, then began to frame new views.

For a new perspective, I moved into the middle of the creek below the third cascade, precariously perched on a wet, moss-covered rock half the size of my foot. While hanging onto my tripod for dear life (a fall of 2 inches into 6 inches of water surely meant a watery grave. Or I might have melted from getting wet, which sounds like a horrible way to go.) I framed this shot. But before I was able to snap the first shot, out of nowhere came a heard of humans, galloping down the trail from my left, arms pointing towards me with yelps of, ‘look, there’s a photographer’. For a fleeting moment, I felt like an endangered specie being hunted. Queue the big throat gulp, wide eyes and scary movie score.

Predictably, the heard of unknowns began rock scrambling to position themselves as close to me as possible, asking all the usual questions like, ‘what f-stop are you using?’, ‘how did you find this location?’ and ‘can you show me how to blur the water since we both have Canon cameras?’. As other photographers will attest, these are the usual questions we get when greeted along the trail.

Shenandoah National Park - Cedar Creek by Jason Stricker PhotographyGiven my annoyance of half a dozen humans swarming around my location like agitated honey bees, constantly getting into my shot, I tried my best to remember how to say ’I speak no English’ in French or in Latin. But given how poorly I did in French and the fact that only 3 people on Earth know Latin, I graciously replied with the completely wrong f-stop, explained I hiked along the same trail as they had and proclaimed I created my camera by hand from wood and only glued on a Canon logo to make it look legit. My sarcasm flew over their heads and down the stream, they took a few snapshots and off they went, with one staring at my camera as if to see how it was made.

If I thought long and hard, I could probably come up with someone who’d say I’m a reasonably nice guy who normally helps people out. But the task seems daunting, so I’ll save it for someone else to ponder. At this moment, I was more focused on enjoying all that nature had to offer (sans hikers) and capturing a memorable shot – not mentoring a pack of wild hikers on photography 101.

As for the results, I’m happy with how this one turned out. I especially like how the downed tree adds a little something else that creates a more interesting and dimensional photograph, and the spring green adds a nice pop to the top third of the image. Finally, to the pack of humans that momentarily prevented me from making this photograph, I bid you farewell and hope not to see you along the trails.

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A Sea of Bluebells in Manassas

Spring is back and with it comes a seemingly endless supply of flora beauty, warmer weather and blankets of pollen. It couldn’t all be good, could it? This year’s seasonal change has been different from most as we went from winter to what felt like near summer temperatures over night. And now we’re back to cooler than average temperatures. Will tomorrow bring snow, then heat warnings the day after that? Time will tell. But for now, I’ll take spring and all of it’s glory, even if it comes with buckets of pollen.

A Sea of Bluebells in Manassas National Battlefield ParkI think many were caught off guard with springs sudden rise this year; I know I was. With managing only to get out to photograph a couple of times thus far this season, I’ve made the best of it. I focused on a couple of red bud sessions at a couple of local parks, including Manassas National Battlefield Park. While driving through in the rain, I captured a couple of nice red bud shots (which can be found on my Facebook page – Like it today!), but I also noticed a large blooming of Virginia bluebells. Last year if you recall, I spent a day at Bull Run Park photographing bluebells along the river bank, but I wasn’t thrilled with the results. With all the hype about bluebells at Bull Run, I found the showing at Manassas National Battlefield Park to be much better.

A Sea of Bluebells in Manassas National Battlefield ParkHaving spied the bluebell groupings while driving through the park, I told myself I had to return and soon. So return I did, the very next morning and found a splendid showing of bluebells that trumped last year’s Bull Run showing. Skies were overcast and the air heavy with a morning mist, which offered up great lighting for me. I know that sounds odd to the non-photographer, but you’ll have to trust me on this one.

The surrounding vine filled forest, yet to blossom, failed to yield an expansive view that pleased my pallet. To compensate, I decided to get dirty; good thing I don’t wear my Sunday best while in the field. I positioned my tripod a couple of inches off the ground and onto my knees and belly I went. Having found a number of pleasing compositions, I opened up the aperture quite wide, to f2.8 in many cases, and fired away. The resulting images far exceed last year’s bluebell session and Manassas will remain on my early spring must-do photo journeys for years to come.

With a few good images captured and heavily soiled clothes, I packed it in and called it a day. And what a beautiful day it was.

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Winter Along The Potomac

Winter. To many, it’s a season to dread. The cold, dark nights, the blustery winds, thick blankets of snow are images of which many wish not to think. To a photographer, winter presents another world of opportunity. The prospect of shooting freshly fallen snow, to capture a long forgotten leaf frozen in time along a river’s edge, the contrast of a brilliant red cardinal against a snowy backdrop – the possibilities are endless.

I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t done very much winter photography. Perhaps this is the case since, until recently, I didn’t have the proper vehicle to tackle snow drifts. With a new 4×4 for this winter season, I was geared up and ready to go. But this winter, at least in the Washington, DC metro area, has been abnormally mild. It’s hard to complain about 70 degree temperatures in the dead of winter, but I was hoping for at least a couple of opportunities to take some snow covered landscapes.

Time will tell whether or not we’ll receive any real winter weather this season. Until then, I’ll enjoy the recent mild weather. So what should you photograph on a mild day in winter? Many don’t like pictures of leafless trees, so I decided to focus solely on the rocks and water at Great Falls National Park.

Great Falls National Park, Virginia

Canon EOS 5D, IS0 100, f/16, 24-70mm

For this shot, I was close to the water’s edge and cropped my shot to show only the cascading water and rock. By zooming in on just a portion of the rushing water, I was able to create a more intimate view of the falls.

We’ll have to see what the rest of winter brings, but until then, I’ll enjoy the milder temperatures and begin to dream of spring.

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Autumn Along The Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

This autumn, I made a few excursions out to the mountains of Virginia to capture the changing fall foliage. For one of my trips, I ventured down to south west Virginia to shoot along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The foliage scouting reports for this area were sounding positive this year, but much to my dissappointment, I missed the peak by a week. What made things worse was a day or two prior to my arrival, the area experienced several days of high winds that stripped the majority of the trees of their leaves.

Blue Ridge Parkway Autumn Maple

Canon EOS 5D, 24-70mm, polarizer filter

Early morning fog is quite common along the Blue Ridge Parkway and I’ve experienced it before. I was hoping to get up early and be in location pre-dawn to capture the morning fog, but I slept in. Give a guy a break; I work several jobs and have been exhausted! So this trip was turning out to be a bust, with few leaves on the trees and a mid-morning arrival.

However, I was drawn to this large maple set off the parkway in a cow pasture (that also featured wild turkey). So large and magestic, yet blanketed by strong, late morning light. The harsher than I prefer light was casting deep shadows along the trunk, so I did a two exposure shot and blended them together in Photoshop. The end result is a slight HDR image. Not the best image in the world, but one of the best I was able to capture during this trip. Blue Ridge Parkway Fence PostWhen presented lemons, make lemonade.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is also lined with a variety of styles of wooden fences, especially along the narrow points. The cloudless sky lacked the interesting character clouds can add, so I decided to isolate a portion of the fence for my other image. This image captures the rustic nature of the fence line in the morning light. While I tend to shoot more mid-to-wide angle landscapes, it’s nice to zoom in and focus on the details now and then.

While it can be frustrating to drive over 5 hours to a location only to find less than ideal shooting conditions, it’s important not to give up. Beauty and beautiful photographs can be found and made anywhere and at any time. It’s up to you as a photographer to see all forms of beauty and tackle the challenge of capturing it.

For information about the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit the National Park Service website.

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Autumn Has Arrived

Autumn. What’s not to love? Crisp air, rustling leaves, apple cider, football and of course, beautiful foliage. I’ve always had a fondness for autumn and it might be my favorite time of year – I got back and forth between spring and fall. Right now, autumn is my favorite. Come April, I’ll probably reverse that decision. Perhaps I sound like a waffling politician, but I do my best to live in the moment.

As you know, I have a regular day job and only do photography when I can find the time. A weekend warrior if you will. Each year I save up as many vacation days possible so I can take some time in mid-to-late October to explore the mid Atlantic region’s colorful display. I’m currently planning some trips to Shenandoah, some parks in Maryland and maybe the highlands of West Virginia.

Last autumn my wife and I went on a road trip through North Carolina. We started in the center/east area of Chapel Hill, wound our way to Asheville and eventually made it to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). I had been to GSMNP a few times before and loved it, but my wife had never been. Her middle name is actually named after Laurel Falls, so that was on our must do list while there.

On our trip, my wife and I were driving along Roaring Fork and decided to blaze our own trail to a small waterfall we spied from our car. We were hiking around 8am over moss covered rocks and the humidity was overwhelming. After ‘man vs wildin’ it, as my wife called it, and sweating off 10 pounds, we arrived at the falls.

 

Roaring Fork Autumn Swirl

Roaring Fork Autumn Swirl, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The stream cascaded over two small drops and was surrounded by beautifully green, moss covered stones. Mountain laurel could be found behind and to the sides of the cascades, which obviously didn’t yield any autumn color, so I focused on this leaf covered rock jut out and the leaves swirling in the river.

Be on the look out for the natural circular swirls of streams during autumn. If leaves aren’t already in the water swirling about, take a handful and throw them in. With a slower shutter speed, you can capture a nice autumn leaf swirl. I took several swirl photos at this location, some are elsewhere on this site.

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Atlantic Surf Sunrise – Outer Banks, North Carolina

A week before Hurricane Irene made landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and pelted the eastern seaboard, I was spending a long weekend in the Outer Banks.  While the primary focus of the long weekend was to get a little R&R, I did manage to drag myself out of bed pre-dawn on the Sunday we were scheduled to depart to photograph an ocean sunrise.

The water was calm, smooth and peaceful this particular morning with the only movement coming from the occassional, small wave and a few fish jumping out of the water.  How things would drastically change in just a weeks time. 

As I set up, I checked the skies for interesting cloud formations as well as the pre-dawn glow.  I found a few particular scenes to capture and fired some test shots.  Once I was happy with the tests, I waited for the morning glow to brighten and for the perfect wave.  If you’ve tried photographing ocean waves at sunrise, you know how patient one must be to get the perfect wave that has the right amount of water and an interesting pattern.

Atlantic Surf Sunrise - Outer Banks, NC

Canon EOS 5D, 28-70mm 2.8L, ND, GND

For this shot, I set my Gitzo tripod in about 1-2 feet of water.  The waves began to grow and some started breaking a couple of feet in front of me.  I fired off a round of shots and came up with this final image.  I like how the surf draws you into the image, to the breaking wave and interesting cloud formations. 

I’ve grown up vacationing in the Outer Banks (OBX), so I know first hand how it’ll be rebuilt after hurricanes.  I’m glad I was able to make one last trip to OBX this summer (our 4th this year) before the hurricane and before the beach season ended.  Here’s hoping for a fast recovery of the beaches for next year!

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Roaring Fork Panoramic Cascade

During my trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park last October, I spent several hours photographing along the Roaring Fork Drive.  I was in the park along Roaring Fork very early in the morning after a night of rain.  As a result, the woods were shrouded in a dense, wet fog, which is one of my favorite shooting conditions. 

As I wound my way down the foggy road, my wife pointed out a nice cascading stream set back away from the road, so we pulled over.  At that point, we decided to, as she claims, ’man vs wild’ it, and blaze our own trail to the cascades.  We crawled over moss covered boulders, crossed several streams and slid down wet embankments.  The resulting beauty of this area was stunning and it felt as if you were deep in the back country, despite being relatively close to the road. 

Roaring Fork Panoramic Cascade - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Roaring Fork Panoramic Cascade - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I spent hours photographing a variety of subjects before turning back for the car.  Halfway back, I came upon this scene and loved what I saw.  The cascading water, mossy rocks and fallen leaves brilliantly composed the scene.  The resulting image consists of three seperate photographs that I stitched together in Photoshop.  This is one of my favorite photographs I’ve taken.

 

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Little Stony Man Sunset – Shenandoah National Park

Last Friday I decided to take half a day off from work to spend some time hiking and photographing in Shenandoah National Park.  Unfortunately, it had been a year since I had visited Shenandoah given that I spent time last autumn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Out of all the National Parks or Virginia parks, I’ve spent more time hiking and photographing in Shenandoah, primarily because of my love of Appalachia and the park’s proximity to northern Virginia.  I’ve experienced Shenandoah in all four seasons with spring and autumn being my favorites.  While it may technically be summer, on this trip it felt like late spring given the still blooming mountain laurel and 65 degree temperatures. 

Spending the afternoon breathing in fresh air, taking in the views, hitting the trails and working on my photography was a nice respite from the daily grind.  Being an online marketer, I spend most of my days sitting at a desk working on a computer — not unlike what I’m doing at this very moment. 

For this trip, I took a quick jaunt up Little Stony Man to scout out some potential sunset photography locations and to soak up the view.  Little Stony Man is a short, rocky trail that follows a series of switch backs up to a nice rock outcropping that yields 180 degree views of the park, the Shenandoah valley and the Massanutten Mountains.  To your right, you look north along the park and can see Skyline Drive running top the mountain ridges.  To your left, you look south towards Stony Man peak, which is another rock outcropping offering splendid views.

After continuing on to Big Meadows for some wildflower and deer photography along with a quick bite for dinner, I made my way back to Little Stony Man for sunset.  This is a popular trail that is connected to the Applachian Trail (AT), so quite often you’ll meet through hikers.  I encountered several through hikers on both of my treks up the trail with one pitching camp at the top right before sunset.  I also was met with another couple and their dog ready to watch the sunset, which meant several of my vantage points I had scoped out earlier were no longer going to work.  Plan B took effect.

For this picture, I had to use a split neutral density filter along with a neutral density filter to get the right exposure and to prevent the sky from becoming washed out or the foreground from becoming too dark.  With some minor tweaks in photoshop, the outcome is this shot.  What I like about this shot is the subtle glow of the setting sunlight on the rocks (sun had just set), the interesting cloud patterns and the view of the mountains and valley below. 

Little Stony Man Sunset - Shenandoah National Park

Canon EOS 5D, 28-70mm, split ND and ND filters

Perhaps not the best ever sunset shot from Little Stony Man, but I was happy to capture this along with spending the afternoon in Shenandoah.  And getting a little fresh air and exercise is what one needs now and then, especially if you end up getting a flat tire along a remote mountain road on the way home.

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Great Falls Overlook #1

As I mentioned in my Sunset At Great Falls National Park post, I’ve been spending most of my photography time this year at Great Falls.  I’d been searching for a place close to home where I could go after work to photograph sunsets.  Why I never thought of Great Falls all these years will remain a mystery to me.

For anyone who’s visited this park, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s a popular park.  The main area of the park is filled with dozens of picnic benches, grills and people.  There are three falls overlooks in this same area as well, which is next to the entrance.  As you’d imagine, this area is popular and packed with families and kids, especially on weekends.  Crowds aren’t landscape photographers’ friends and trying to photograph in a populated area presents a variety of challenges and headaches.

On this particular visit, which was a Tuesday evening, I was pleased to find the park near empty.  Normally, I try avoiding one of the three main overlooks not because I don’t like the view, but because they’re normally swarming with people.  During this visit, I decided to shoot from the first overlook, which is usually the most crowded.  For the nearly two hours I spent shooting, I only saw one family visit the overlook.  For once, despite the roar of the falls, the park seemed quiet and peaceful, which made for a pleasant evening of photography.

The overlooks have large stone walls to prevent people from falling off the cliffs to their watery graves.  These walls serve a good purpose, but can present frustrations when trying to capture certain angles.  Signs rightly state not to climb over the wall.

Great Falls Overlook 1

Canon EOS 5D, 28-70mm, f/16, GND filter

For this shot, I positioned two legs of my tripod on the top of the wall and the third on the large rocks behind me.  This allowed me to capture this angle, but I couldn’t see through the viewfinder.  To make sure I had the correct camera angle and exposure, I would do a series of test shots and correct positioning and exposure based on what I saw on the LCD screen.

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