Category Archives: Blog

The Palm Forests of El Yunque

When hiking through mountains, the types of trees you see change as you pass through various elevation levels.  I’ve experienced this while hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to some degree in Shenandoah National Park.  For example, at lower levels you see a lot of oak trees and once you climb above 4000 ft, you see more firs and spruces. 

On my recent trip to El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, I hiked through a palm forest.  Due to a lack of time, I wasn’t able to hike into the highest peaks of the rain forest.  Perhaps the canopy would contain much different trees, but I’ll have to find out the next time I return to El Yunque.  Since I had never hiked through a palm forest, it was interesting to see the palms, mosses, vines and tropical plants.  Mixed throughout were some very large trees as well.

The Palm Forests of El Yunque

The Palm Forests of El Yunque

I wanted to hike out of El Yunque with at least one image that captured the overall feeling of hiking through the palm forest.  I accomplished that with this photograph, which showcases moss covered pines, a lush forest floor and the overall intensely green ambiance of the rain forest.  Despite seeing a lack of wildlife that I mentioned in this post, this was a memorable hike that I’d recommend to all travelers.

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El Yunque Rain Forest

My wife and I are fans of caribbean travel, especially to one of our favorite islands, Puerto Rico.  On our recent trip to Puerto Rico, we had the opportunity to visit El Yunque National Forest.  El Yunque is a rain forest located in the eastern mountains of Puerto Rico’s main island and is managed by the United States Forest Service.  Neither of us had hiked in a rain forest, so we were eager to check it out.

Much to our surprise as we traversed over a wet, rocky trail on our way to a nice vantage point, we noticed a lack of wildlife.  We saw a few snails, lizards and heard plenty of coqui frogs, but no glimpses of the elusive and endangered Puerto Rican Parrot.  No monkeys or tucans or panthers either.  Have no idea if those animals even can be found in El Yunque, but we both had a preconceived notion of what we’d see in a rainforest.  Perhaps the exotic animals, if they exist, were in a more remote location of the forest.  Or perhaps we were confusing rain forests with jungles.

El Yunque Rain Forest

Canon EOS 5D, 28-70mm

As we made our way along the trail through periods of rain, we came to a rustic, stone tower on one of the peaks.  From the top of the tower, we had panoramic views of El Yunque rain forest that stretched to the ocean.  Just as I started shooting, I noticed the rain storm we hiked through was catching up to us.  I fired off a series of shots that I later stitched together in Photoshop.  This panoramic captured the amazing view, the mountains, the ocean, the palm forest canopy and the approaching storm.  Given I only had a few moments before it began to pour, I’m quite happy with the photograph.

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A Meadowlark Spring

A Meadowlark Spring

Canon EOS 5D, 24-70mm

Spring is the renewal season, which brings rainy afternoons, blooming flowers and enough pollen to turn any car green.  For me, spring is either my favorite or second favorite season of the year; I can never make up my mind.  My other favorite is autumn, which I’ll blog about in five months (stay tuned).  After a long, cold winter, spring awakens not only flowers and trees, but my desire to be outside photographing the season change. 

In recent years, I’ve spent many spring Saturdays photographing flowers at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in northern Virginia.  If you’ve never visited this gem of a park, I highly recommend you do.  I’m such a fan of the park, my wife and I ended up getting married in it.  It’s nestled in a secluded wooded area in between Vienna and Tyson’s Corner and offers walking trails, gazebos, ponds, bird watching and of course a multitude of seasonal flowers. 

While I’ve chosen to spend this spring photographing Great Falls National Park, I have missed my annual visit to Meadowlark.  I decided to pull an image I took a year or two ago at Meadowlark to share on this blog.  I always liked the lines, color and somewhat wide aperature setting in this photograph.  When I look at this photograph, it reminds me that nature is full of patterns and unique lines.  Unfortunately, we tend to be so busy that we don’t see everything nature has to offer.  Hopefully this image will help remind you of that.

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Sunset At Great Falls National Park

I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited Great Falls National Park, both the Virginia and the Maryland sides, a number of times over the past eight years or so.  Strangely, I’d taken very few photographs despite the reoccurring visits.  Most trips were focused on hiking or picnics, with the occasional snap of the shutter here and there.  For whatever reason, I never attempted any serious photography until recently.

Great Falls Sunset

Canon EOS 5D, 28-70mm, f/16, ISO 100, GND filter

As you know from my last blog post, I visited Great Falls (Virginia side) during National Park Week and captured an image that showcased an over flooded Potomac.  I returned to Great Falls Saturday evening hoping to photograph another sunset, but with a calmer Potomac.  While the water level had retreated some and more of the iconic boulders now peaked above the rushing waters, it was still murky and higher than average.

On this visit, I chose to once again blaze my own trail, but rather than finding a focus point below the falls, I opted for one adjacent to the main drop.  Setting up a few feet from the edge of the rock cliff, I found a decent shot to frame and fired some test shots.  While not my favorite scene, I felt it was the best I was going to get from this location.  As time passed and I took dozens of photos, I became dissatisfied with the results. 

A heavy cloud blanket rolled in, which  ruined my shot.  I decided to turn around and shoot downstream towards the falls and away from the western setting sun.  This turned out to be a good decision because the cloud formations were nicer and the last few glows of the setting sun nicely illuminated the sky.  And the resulting photograph turned out much better than my original ideas.  This experience reminded me never to settle on a photographic vantage point if you’re not totally satisfied with it.  Capturing fading light is difficult and finding the best location is key to making photographs over pictures.


Great Falls Flooded

In honor of National Park Week, I decided to visit the national park closest to my house – Great Falls.  For those of you not familiar with National Park Week, entrance fees are waived at all national parks and rangers typically host a variety of different programs, hikes and more.  I encourage you to visit a national park this week!

Great Falls Flooded During Sunset

EOS 5D, 19-35mm, graduated neutral density filter

The northern Virginia area has received a lot of rain in the recent days and weeks.  As a result, rivers and streams have flooded their banks.  In the case of the Potomac River, which is featured in this photograph, run off from the mountains and local streams flow directly into the river, causing floods.  During heavy rain storms, especially ones that continue over the course of several days, the already gnarly rapids at Great Falls turn even more dramatic. 

The ferocious roar of these unwildly rapids can be heard several hundred yards away.  During my visit, I came across a ton of debris and trees that had been swept into gullies and up onto the boulders.  When looking out towards the falls, gigantic trees and logs whizzed by at lightening fast speeds.  Normally a hazardous area where on average 7 drownings occur each year, the danger factor increases tenfold during floods.

I don’t know of too many photographers who are willing to stand at the predetermined overlooks to capture the shot every other visitor captured.  As you probably guessed, I’m not one of those photographers.  As I slid down the slippery rock faces with my gear clunking behind me, I remembered I’d forgotten my hiking boots.  Sneakers don’t cut it, especially on wet rock, but there was no turning back. 

I positioned myself as close to the river bank I could get without falling in, probably too close for most people’s comfort level.  I felt the distant stares of people on the safe overlooks, fingers and binoculars aimed directly at yours truly.  As I focused on not drowning, I tried not to think of what the onlookers must have been saying about this crazy guy who’s surely about to slide off the slippery rocks to his watery grave.

A benefit of my location was obtaining a nice balance of lichen covered rocks, the swirling rapids and interesting cloud formations during the sunset.  A negative on this location was that every ten minutes or so, waves would come crashing down on the rocks just below my camera and completely soak me.  Times like these make me thankful for my sealed camera and lenses. 

I captured around 200 images in the hour and half I sat precariously perched on the rock ledge.  While I walked away with a number of okay shots, two stood out at my favorites and the best of the group.  Yes, it can take hours and even several trips before a photography can capture just one or two good images.  After much deliberation, I finally chose this image to showcase in my blog after my wife and brother both picked it as their favorite.

Learn more about National Park Week.

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White Roses

White Roses

EOS 5D, 24-70mm, f/2.8, 1/100

We recently had white roses in our home.  What made these stand out from other flowers, roses in particular, is that they nicely opened up.  Trying to find something to do on this past rainy Saturday afternoon, I decided to get out the camera and snap a few shots of the flowers.  I mostly shot in f/2.8 to obtain a nice bokeh (blurred background).  While the flowers were beautiful, I couldn’t get a pose that I really liked. 

This is the best of the bunch.

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Virginia Bluebells At Bull Run

Virginia Bluebells at Bull Run

Canon EOS 5D, 28-70mm, f/3.5, 1/320

After a night of rain showers, I ventured to Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville, Virginia in hopes of capturing a good shot of Virginia Bluebells.  This was my first visit to this park and I had read most of the flowers could be found along the river.  I had been warned the trail to the river bank would be muddy since it was along the river’s flood plane, but had no idea just how muddy it would get.  Donned with my ‘work’ jeans and hiking boots, I started down the muddy trail.  After a dozen yards or so, the trail better resembled a long, stagnant stream than a hiking trail. 

Finally making it to the Bull Run river, I chose to venture left down the path less taken.  Almost immediately, I found myself surrounded by an array of Virginia Bluebells.  While a beautiful display, I think the blooms will peak in another week.  In order to get decent close up shots, I was forced to lower my tripod to only a few inches off the ground.  As a result, I myself had to crawl around in the mud in order to see through the view finder.

I ended up not sticking around for very long as a rather large photography club arrived on scene.  Since they were cramping my style, I packed up the gear and called it a day.  While I’m not all that satisfied at the outcome of my bluebell shots, I did get a couple of C-level shots.  More importantly, it was a pleasure spending some early morning time in the woods.

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Wide Aperature Pine


EOS 5D, 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO 400

The other day I was playing around with my new 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, attempting to get some forsythia shots.  Forsythia shots were a bust, but I did capture this image of a pine tree branch, which was next to the forsythia.  While not one I’d put in my favorites folder, I do like wide aperature photographs.  I like how only a select area is sharp, while the rest is a soft blur. 

To achieve the selected focus and blurred background, I chose to shoot the image at f/2.8.

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Day of Organizing

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently acquired two new Canon L lenses – 28-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 IS.  While I haven’t been on any photo excursions with them yet, I finally got around to putting them in my bag.  And that meant I had to clean out my bag for the first time in years.  This wasn’t an easy or quick task. 

I mainly use a Lowepro photo-style backpack, in which I carry my camera body, three lenses, filters, batteries, etc.  My two new lenses, particularly the 70-200mm, are much larger and heavier than my older lenses.  As a result, I had to move around the foam and velcro sub dividers to make room.  I might need to hit the gym so I can carry the bag for more than five feet. 

I removed my Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 workhorse lens, but definitely not getting rid of it.  I’ll use this as my backup mid-range lens.  I also removed my Canon 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 to make room for the 70-200mm.  Removed as well are two 82mm filters, a 58mm Conklin step up ring and several 58mm filters.  Everything fits, but it’s very heavy!

Now I have a bag full of photography gear I’m looking to sell.  Suppose I’ll get around to posting them to eBay, along with boxes of other items I have floating around the house.

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Cherry Blossom Impressionism

It’s cherry blossom blooming time again in the Washington, DC metro area.  Local residents greet this time of year with a mixture of joy and grief.  The area never looks as beautiful as it does during early spring, but everyone in the world seems to flock here to take in this attraction.

Cherry Blossom Impressionism

Canon EOS 5D

I’ve photographed the cherry blossom festivals around the National Mall several times, but I’ve never been happy with the results.  It’s extremely difficult to get decent images without a million people either being in the shot or knocking your tripod and camera.  I’ve tried getting to the Tidal Basin at 5am only to find dozens and dozens of other photographers AND people already crowing the scene. 

I much prefer getting out of the city to make my photographs and this is what I did for this image.  Taken a couple of springs ago a few hundred yard from my home, I avoided the crowds and lack of parking.  With a gentle breeze blowing and a slower shutter speed, I captured an ‘impressionist’ image against a beautful blue sky.

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