Pumpkin Spiced Fall

After getting the new Nikon Z7, I was excited to experience fall colors in Virginia. This area has a lot of diversity to the landscapes, and I wanted to put the camera through its paces while exploring some of Virginia’s best offerings.

In total, I drove several hundred miles to each end of the state - from Southwest Virginia and the New River Valley, to the coastline of Virginia Beach - to capture these fall photographs. I promise they are also scratch and sniff… should smell like pumpkin spice!

We’re now entering the long winter months, where the photography can be a little more challenging, but there’s another Scenic Traverse Photography adventure on the horizon. Stay tuned for more great explorations soon.

Which is your favorite?


Welcome Spring

I can't believe we're a week away from flipping the calendar to May, and here I am finally posting about spring. The fickle weather in Washington, DC has limited my photographic opportunities, but with two nice days in a row, I grabbed the camera and headed out to see the first signs of spring.

My destination this week was an old favorite - a site I haven't visited in years - Huntley Meadows. Located in the middle of the bustling suburbs outside Washington, DC, this is an unlikely location to find some of the best wetlands.... but unlikely can be good!

I started my day shooting 4x5 large format film (more to come on that in a future post). In other words, I was carrying the one camera that is basically useless for all types of wildlife photography! My goal was to focus on black and white abstracts, and every bird and mammal in the sanctuary must have gotten the memo. Never have there been so many wonderful photographic opportunities... clearly the wildlife knew I was without the right camera for the job. 

Frustrated that the wildlife was practically posing in mockery of my camera predicament, I went back and got my Nikon D850 and Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens (modified to Nikon mount) and returned to see if I could get the last laugh. Indeed, I found many of the same subjects remained very cooperative. 

I may have taken 200 photographs of this blue heron through the course of the morning. He was incredibly friendly and got close enough that I had to start backing up!

I may have taken 200 photographs of this blue heron through the course of the morning. He was incredibly friendly and got close enough that I had to start backing up!

The natural camouflage is very well done; a number of folks walked past and never noticed the bird hiding in the bushes. Of course it helps to spot these guys when you have a 400mm lens....

The natural camouflage is very well done; a number of folks walked past and never noticed the bird hiding in the bushes. Of course it helps to spot these guys when you have a 400mm lens....

These guys have this funny jerky movement, so I had to shoot fast to get lucky and catch them mid-movement.

These guys have this funny jerky movement, so I had to shoot fast to get lucky and catch them mid-movement.

So focused. So attentive.

So focused. So attentive.

One of these sticks is not a stick.

One of these sticks is not a stick.

I wasn't the only one who looked outside and noticed spring had finally arrived.

I wasn't the only one who looked outside and noticed spring had finally arrived.

A Handful of Bridges in Prince William Forest

Winter can be cruel to photographers, so I'm spending the last days of fall capturing the remaining warmth and bright colors before the grey gloom of winter arrives.

Prince William Forest Park is one of the many national parks within a short drive of Washington, DC, but it is one often overshadowed by parks like Shenandoah, Great Falls, and Assateague. It has been a number of years since I've been to the park, so I grabbed my Nikon D850 and set out to see what sort of hidden gems I could find to mark the end of the fall season.

Prince William Forest has a number of small streams that snake through a lightly hilly forest. On this particular day, the park was relatively empty, and I came upon a few bridges that I thought were ideal for photography subjects.

I used my Nikon D850 and Nikon 24-70mm / 14-24mm lenses to capture these images. I am still getting used to this new camera, but find myself getting more comfortable with it by the day.

This tree next to the bridge was not that golden when I started walking around the bridge, but a beam of sunlight came through the forest canopy, lighting this tree up in a beautiful golden light

Over the river and through the woods

This single tree really stood out against the yellow leaves in the background

The wires on this suspension bridge create a nice composition element

I stood in the water (with good boots) to get a long exposure of the creek running under the bridge

Another bridge at the edge of the Prince William Forest scenic drive

Finding Local Inspiration: Fall on a Farm

Fall has officially started on the east coast of the United States! Temperatures have finally mellowed, pumpkin spiced everything is available for sale, and the trees are starting to show their fall colors. So last weekend I headed out into rural Virginia to get a few images in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One thing I often hear from new photographers is that they don't have anything to photograph, and they can only travel once or twice a year. That sentiment represents a lack of creativity! There are photographs to be found everywhere you look. So today I'm sharing over a dozen images that were all taken within a 300 foot radius of a farm house in rural Virginia - all made on the same day (although taken at different times to reflect changing sun conditions).

You don't need need to travel to exotic locations to make some photographs, and I challenge you to find some local inspiration in your back yard!

A white picket fence surrounding the property lines. 

A white picket fence surrounding the property lines. 

Playing with reflections and silhouettes in the window. That's actually my mom sitting at the kitchen table.

Playing with reflections and silhouettes in the window. That's actually my mom sitting at the kitchen table.

A shed sitting along the edge of the property.

A shed sitting along the edge of the property.

A pile of fresh leaves on the lawn

A pile of fresh leaves on the lawn

Two ladders leaning up on the side of the workshop

Two ladders leaning up on the side of the workshop

Peeling paint on the side of the shed

Peeling paint on the side of the shed

Playing with the high contrast late afternoon shadows on the leaves

Playing with the high contrast late afternoon shadows on the leaves

The view from the back of the property

The view from the back of the property

Looking over the fence toward the neighbor's farm

Looking over the fence toward the neighbor's farm

The tree in the front yard

The tree in the front yard

A workshop with an old horse-drawn carriage in the back

A workshop with an old horse-drawn carriage in the back

A pile of leaves on a table in the yard

A pile of leaves on a table in the yard

Quick Shot: Westmoreland Beach

Several weeks ago I went to Westmoreland State Park, which is about an hour and a half from my house to it's famous fossil beach.

Although I didn't find any sharks teeth or t-rex remains, I did find a nice stretch of beach to try another stacked long exposure. This image is comprised of 13 separate photographs, each ranging from 30-40 seconds in exposure, which were then stacked and processed together. As a result, you see the long wispy movement of the clouds as they moved across the sky.

To process this image actually takes more work than it may seem; each of the 13 photographs is over 70MB in size (Nikon RAW NEF files) so my computer would choke if I asked it to stitch those at once. Instead, I converted them to TIFF files and processed them individually, only stitching them together at the very end. It is a very time consuming process and you never know how the photograph will come out until the very end - but that's part of the thrill when it all works! In all, between taking and processing these images, this photograph took almost 2 hours to make - and that's not including time spent driving or hiking!

Quick Shot: Front Line

NOTE (July 2014): These photos were taken BEFORE the US National Parks System instituted a ban on all drone photography in the parks. Please follow the laws!

Today marks the anniversary of the Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy in what has become known as "D-Day." I haven't had the chance to visit the beaches of Normandy myself, but I did want to commemorate the anniversary by sharing a photograph of another front line where American forces fought and died.

This photograph was taken at the Manassas Battlefields, where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers clashed during the Civil War. I photographed the wooden fence from above using the DJI Phantom Vision 2+ aerial drone but decided to convert the photograph to black and white to create a harsh contrast between the fence and heavy clouds above. I think the end result is a photograph with a lot of drama but that subtly tells the story of the front lines of war.

Quick Shot: Sky Meadows From Above

Last weekend was my opportunity to take the DJI Phantom Vision 2 + copter for it's second round of test flights and I couldn't think of a better and more scenic location than Sky Meadows State Park.

Nestled in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains, this park is the perfect place to get some aerial views of rolling mountains and lush greenery. The scenery was amplified by a nice day with light clouds to add interest into the sky.

Here's my favorite photograph from the shoot... it was taken from around 200ft high and edited in Adobe Photoshop and Nik's software suite. 

An aerial view of Sky Meadows State Park, taken from my DJI Phantom Vision 2 + copter.

Quick Shot: Leesylvania Fishing Pier

I posted yesterday about my adventure to Leesylvania State Park to capture my 10 minute photograph, but wanted to share another from that location of the fishing pier. Like my earlier photo, this was shot using a neutral density filter and a long exposure to blur the water and make the crowd of people milling around look as though they were never there!

Composing this photo wasn't very difficult - but the challenge was keeping the camera still. I was centered on the fishing pier, which is a wooden pier that extends some distance into the water. Unfortunately (for me), the pier bounces and shakes as people walk on it, so I actually had to time this photo for a break in the Memorial Day crowds to get 20 seconds without anyone tromping up and down the bridge near the camera. It took several tries - I felt like every time I clicked the shutter a jogger with metal boots came out of nowhere to shake the heck out of the bridge - but I finally prevailed over the lead foot joggers! This was the only one that was tack sharp with no vibrations from the bridge, which coincidentally also had the sun and clouds in the best position! 

I edited the photograph in Adobe Photoshop and using the Nik Collection of software. I think the end result looks very inviting - what do you think?

With a little luck, I managed to get a long exposure of the fishing pier looking back at the shore without anyone walking in my photograph! I used a neutral density filter to give a long exposure in the evening light.

Video: How To Catch A Fish (If You Are an Osprey)

Today my friend Tim and I went out to explore Dyke Marsh, which is in Alexandria, Virginia, just a few miles south of Washington, DC. I'd been to Dyke Marsh once previously and it was a fruitful trip, so I figured I should visit again!

My expectation, given the time of year, was that we'd see our fill of Blue Herons and maybe a few nesting birds - but the star of the day today were the Osprey's!

I've had a chance to photograph Osprey's previously at Mason Neck State Park and they're a fun bird to watch and work with; they will hover over a body of water and then dive bomb to catch a fish. In the past, I have caught parts or this process, but they are usually too far away or fast for me to get great shots of the whole sequence.

Today was my lucky day. We saw a mated pair of Osprey's who had setup a nest in the marsh and had hours to photograph them through all parts of the fishing process. I got so many cool shots from today that I thought it'd be fun to merge them all into a short gag how-to video that demonstrates how these amazing birds get their meal. Check it out!

Join Kristen from Scenic Traverse Photography for a short gag how-to video that will instruct you on catching a fish and providing for your wife (if you are an osprey). All images and video were taken on 5 May 2014 at Dyke Marsh in Alexandria, Virginia.

Quick Shot: Frozen Geese

I'd been hiking my favorite local spot, Mason Neck State Park, when creativity struck and I found myself looking at one of my least photographed subjects..... Canadian Geese! I rarely photograph Canadian Geese - they're such a common subject and have never excited my creativity - until yesterday.

I'd been out looking for eagles and other raptors, but towards the end of the hike I walked up to the edge of the Occoquan Bay to watch sunset. I was watching some water fowl fishing amongst the ice floating in the bay as the sun dipped behind a cloud. As that happened, the scene went from a washed out "meh" to being absolutely spectacularly bright yellow. I have rarely seen the sun make the water so brilliantly bright! I decided the best way to capture the scene was to get two silhouettes of the geese feeding amongst the ice chunks.

Of course, that's easier said than done - I had to wait for both birds to offer a profile view because they just looked like dark blobs on the water when they were facing me! It was a challenge to juggle the brilliant light with birds that weren't exactly cooperating, but I was patient. When the bird on the right turned for just a second I fired away and got this shot..... and good thing too! Just a minute later, the sun had emerged back out and the bright colors were gone. 

Photography is often a waiting game to get the perfect lighting or scene and when the moment is just right, we've got to be ready to take advantage of it! As photographers, we refer to that moment in time when everything is perfect as the decisive moment - I think I got it this time!

Shot with my Nikon 80-400mm on the Nikon D800. Minor edits done in Adobe Photoshop CC. If you like this photograph, you can purchase a copy as a limited edition on my website.


Quick Shot: Frozen Run

With much of the eastern United States covered in snow (including close to 7 inches at my house), it seems like a good time to pull out this quick shot of Difficult Run partially frozen. I took this a few weeks ago after cold temperatures and snow previously blanketed northern Virginia.

My first ever trip to Difficult Run left me with one of my favorite pictures from 2013, so I figured I should start 2014 with another visit to the site. This time, I was interested in shooting the scene with the ice and snow covering the rocks and falls.

This photograph was taken early in the morning, which is why I was able to get that soft yellow light on the rocks. I think the photograph has an interesting contrast of soft colors and features with harsh shapes and dark tones. 

Taken with my Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm lens, and WonderPana ND filter kit.

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Quick Shot: Difficult Sunset

I am excited to present my first Quick Shot of 2014, which was one of the last pictures I took in 2013. 

Photographers are all about great lighting in a photograph - sometimes we seek out our most common light source (the sun) during sunrises and sets. On occasion, without pre-planning, we get really lucky and the sun just happens to be in the perfect spot at the perfect moment. Such is the case with today's Quick Shot.

I'd been out photographing Difficult Run, which is a stream that comes off of Great Falls National Park (located near downtown Washington, DC). The trip was designed for me to teach my friend Tim about using neutral density filters, but I was taking plenty of my own shots. With the neutral density filter, the goal was to shoot long exposures of the water to give a whispy and flowing effect, but as I setup for one shot, I realized I was going to get a whole lot more.

As I crouched down on a rock to photograph this section of the river, I noticed the sun was peaking through from behind some trees. It was several hours until sunset, but the timing and my camera position were just perfect to get this image without having the sun be super bright in my camera. I took a few exposures and crossed my fingers that they'd look as good on my computer as they looked in my mind!

I wasn't disappointed! The photo was just as colorful and dramatic as I thought it would be. Of course, this image was only possible for a few minutes while the sun was in precisely the right spot, which makes it even more special that I got this photograph.

It was my first trip to Difficult Run, and with the success of the first trip, I know I'll be back for more soon!

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Quick Shot: Inaugural Owl

I am incredibly thrilled to finally share this photo as a quick shot. This photograph represents countless hours and MILES of work...... Why?

I've been on a quest for owls. 

I have wanted to photograph an owl for a VERY long time, but I've been particularly unlucky. Usually my owl sightings happen when I'm driving down the road, helpless to take a photo. Or I can hear an owl hooting in the trees, but can't find him in the foliage. This is the first owl I've photographed in the wild.

Background: This quest started when I saw an absolutely spectacular owl photograph in a magazine. I was moved by his bright eyes and deep gaze and instantly wanted a photograph of my own. Unfortunately, I'd soon discover that photographing owls was not going to come easily (at least to me).

Apparently my deodorant is owl repellant. Maybe it's my choice in socks. Whatever it was, I couldn't find an owl, yet all my photographer friends seemed to find them at will. They bragged about their owl sightings while I came home frustrated and empty handed. All spring and summer I listened to the owls tease me at Mason Neck State Park - their hoots might as well have said "you'll never find me!" The dense tree canopies were great camouflage from which to torture me. As the seasons changed, I felt optimistic about my chances to catch an owl - the leaves were thinning and darkness (when they are most active) came sooner in the day.

One September day I went out to Mason Neck and inquired with the park rangers about recent sightings of owls. They told me to hit the Douge Trail- owls had been there recently. I did two laps on the trail with little more than a squirrel sighting. Determined, I ended up hiking EVERY mile of trails in the park that day. I came home with no photos, having seen only a white tailed deer and some uninspiring birds. 

I was crazed. I'd dedicated 8+ hours and some blistered feet to finding an owl. I had a fire in my eyes- like a psychotic Black Friday shopper - I was going to find an owl before the end of the year, no matter what!

I spent several more days at Mason Neck repeating the process. The owls who had boasted with their hoots in the summer had gone quiet, giving no clues as to their current location. 

Desperate, I hitched my hopes on my friend Tim.... he had plenty of owl photos (even an owl as his iPhone screen saver!) and seemed to know a popular spot. Our first outing was a complete tease.... we found a hole where an owl lived (complete with freshly molted feathers) but no owls. A few days later, Tim sends me a photo of an owl he just found on a hike... dammit!

Last weekend we tried again. We hiked along the C&O canal in a spot where Tim had previously spotted an owl. Our ears were on high alert for any sound that could be an owl. We hiked.... and hiked.... and hiked some more. Nothing.

We turned around, accepting the fact that I was just an owl repellant. Tim became worried that I might actually be a bad luck charm when it came to sighting these common birds!

As we walked I noticed a shape on a tree, just a few yards from the trail. It looked like the body of a cat sitting on a limb.

It was an owl. 

Inside I was screaming and jumping for joy - outside I was calm. I certainly didn't want to scare my first owl away!

Thankfully, this owl was a great sport. He let Tim and I photograph him for the better part of 45 minutes, seemingly unbothered by us. Although my fingers were freezing from the cold, I was filled with a warmth from the happiness of having seen and photographed my inaugural owl.

Now that I've conquered this first owl, I'm hoping the second comes a little easier. I still have some work to do to get that perfect shot, but I'm at least content and can sleep without having nightmares of owls tormenting me! 

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Quick Shot: Great Falls Sunrise

The weather in the DC area abruptly went from pleasant fall days to blistering cold this weekend, but despite the weather, a few brave trees still cling to their fall colors. I decided to try and capture a last glimpse of fall this weekend with a trip to a favorite DC photo destination, Great Falls National Park.

Located on the border between Maryland, Virginia, and DC, Great Falls is a wonderful place to escape the urban sprawl. I've photographed the falls here several times, but never walked away with a photograph that I thought was particularly grand or truely captured the beauty of these falls. This time I woke up excruciatingly early to get to the falls for sunrise in the hope that the first rays of sun would cast a warm glow over the scene.

Although the sunrise wasn't spectacular, the location of the sun provided a brilliant golden light to the rocks in the middle of the river. To give the image some drama and depth, I used a long exposure to get the wispy effect on the falls. I wanted the resulting image to have lots of depth but to be very calm and inviting, and I think I hit the mark!

Shot with the Nikon D800 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens using a Gitzo tripod and ND8 neutral density filter. Minor adjustments made in photoshop. 


Quick Shot: Elakala Falls Adventure

October 27th.... this trip was all about fall colors. Autumn is in full swing around northern Virginia, so I decided to plan an extended day trip to really capture the great colors. Instead, I got snow......


I decided to head to Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia. I'd been there earlier in the year and thought the waterfalls would look great surrounded by bright orange and red trees. In anticipation of great colors, I'd purchased some new 35mm film that I could take with to shoot both digital and film of the colors. Unfortunately, when loading the film into the old Minolta, the film advance lever broke, so it was a digital only kinda day. 

This morning:

I set the alarm for 6am and rolled out the door with Davis, West Virginia as the destination. The weather was expected to be chilly, but pleasant. I loaded the car with all the essentials and a pair of knee high rain boots. The boots were in case I wanted to wade into the water, but not soak my feet.

The drive: 

With each mile that ticked by on my odometer, I was getting more excited. The further into the Shenandoah region I went, the more vibrant the trees became. My mind was racing with all of the possible shots I could/would take in short order. 

The final leg of the drive takes you up a steep mountain and past a series of power plants (gotta have your West Virginia coal)! Although they aren't "pretty" subjects, I enjoy driving next to these power plants and wondering if that plant supplies my electricity at home.  

Right as I clear the power plants, I look around and realize there are no more colors. 

Just gray

Not even pretty gray

No leaves

and SNOW! 

If I wasn't just 10 miles from my destination, I might have stopped and done a u-turn. My car flashed the snowflake symbol that apparently indicated I'd left a pleasant fall day and arrived abruptly in winter. 

I decided to keep the hope. Maybe, just maybe, the park was in a "safe area" where the leaves where still clinging to trees, despite the drop in temperature and recent snowfall. 

The disappointment: 

My prayers were not going to be answered by the photo gods today. The park was like the surrounding area - every tree (that wasn't evergreen) was naked. But I didn't drive all that way to come out empty handed, so I shelved the original plan and started a backup. 

Elakala Falls: 

This was my favorite spot during the last visit. The falls aren't "technically" accessible from the base, but years of explorers have made a crude trail down the side of a cliff to photograph the falls from below. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how wet it would be at the bottom of a waterfall, so I was stuck shooting from the rocks during my last visit. This time, however, I packed my rain boots so that I could wade into the river to get the shots I wanted. This comes with the obvious risk of falling or having your equipment take a swim, but it's worth the risk! 

Despite the recent snow, there was enough sun to melt any snowfall around the falls themselves, so I could take the photos and "pretend" I wasn't resting my backpack against snow.  

This shot: 

To get this shot, I pulled on the rain boots and slogged out to the middle of the stream. I had to be careful not to let the ice cold water get into my boots as I stepped and had to avoid dropping the camera as I teetered from rock-to-rock. After getting tangled in a fallen branch and almost having a catastrophic spill, I arrived at my destination for this shot. 

I wanted the viewer to know this photo was taken from mid-stream, and I think I successfully achieved that look by actually being mid-steam when I took the shot! I also wanted to take a long exposure to make the flows and stream really flow. There are these swirling pools in the steam and I positioned the camera to catch the swirls from the frothy water. 

This image was taken with my Nikon D800 & Nikon 24-70mm lens with an ND8 neutral density filter. It was taken at ISO 100, f/22 for 20 seconds! 

Next time:

I'm coming three weeks sooner! I'd rather have pre-autumn leaves than no leaves at all! 



Quick Shot: Shenandoah River

Welcome to fall! I love visiting new sites to photograph, although those trips are sometimes less productive than trips to places I've been before. That's because I like to visualize my work in advance, which is very tricky with a place I've never laid eyes on before. 

With the fall colors setting in, I decided to throw the dice and explore someplace new. Earlier this year I purchased an annual pass to visit all of Virginia's State Parks. I've certainly earned my money's worth with the pass but there are several parks I hadn't visited. Amongst them was the Shenandoah River State Park. 

This park sits at the base of the Shenandoah National Park, about 1.5 hours from Washington, DC. It's a decent sized park, but certainly much smaller than the adjacent national park.

One of the highlights for visitors is an overlook that offers a great view of the Shenandoah valley and the river passing through it. This view was accentuated by the bright fall colors on this clear Sunday afternoon. 

The fall colors are hanging around for another week, so be sure to go out and see them before they are gone. Should make for some more great photography!