Tagged: 2011

The Cherry Blossoms Are (Were) Here

European Starling with the cherry blossoms
They left just as quickly as they arrived–This year’s peak bloom for the cherry blossoms in DC’s Tidal Basin was March 20th, with the total official blooming period lasting just over a week, much shorter than typical. Unfortunately I was away in California at the start of the bloom, and when I returned most of mornings were filled with heavy fog, ruling out any shots at sunrise. Relative to last year, the photos I took of the cherry blossoms were… different–The panoramic shot below gives you an idea of what there was to work with.

'Sunrise' at the Tidal Basin: Fog and mist during peak bloom this year made for some less than idyllic views

Gloomy weather and travel plans this year only served as a reminder that we all (anyone who picks up a camera) have to seize the opportunity to snap a photo when we have it, even if the moment feels all too fleeting or ill prepared. Though in street, sports, or event photography the moment can pass because of an ephemeral human expression or a quick moving action, sometimes there are other factors.

Landscape photography doesn’t (usually) have the element of people changing the scene, but the concept of acting fast still applies for one simple reason: Light. Light is the fundamental ingredient in all photography. That’s not to say that other considerations, like composition and editing, don’t go into a finished photo. But light is the only thing that our camera sensors (or film) see–It creates texture, shape, and color–Without light our sensors wouldn’t see anything. For that reason the quality of light has a lot to do with the quality of a photo; this may seem like a simple fact but it took me longer than you would think to figure it out.

So, unlike studio photography, when photographing landscapes there’s not a whole lot that you can do to change the lighting! That’s why one of the keys to landscape photography is to find the light that’s right and shoot before it changes.

Last year I spent two bitterly cold mornings at the Tidal Basin photographing the blooming cherry blossom trees. It was my first time doing this, and I didn’t really know what to expect. At that early in the morning I wanted to get my time and effort’s worth. What vision did I have in mind for a composed subject? Where would I shoot from when I arrived? I mean, they’re just a bunch of trees, right? Well, I learned another lesson last year that I didn’t realize until much later on: Dumb luck has a lot to do with it.

The first morning I ventured out at 5:30 am into the painful cold. I walked about two and a half miles with my gear (I could have cabbed), pulled out a camera and tripod, and started taking shots. By then there was plenty of ambient light showing up on long exposures, and I realized how amazing the sky would look at sunrise. Unfortunately I hadn’t planned a bit and wasn’t sure where to shoot from–so I started jogging down the path. I knew the sun would be up in a matter of minutes.

Thankfully there weren’t many photographers out, so I had my pick of the territory. I kept going until I found the perfect spot, a branch hanging over head with a view straight east toward sunrise. I setup the tripod, snapped a few shots, and made a few other compositions.

The Photo I Snagged With Poor Planning and Dumb Luck

Then the sun began to rise (photo above). To this day I haven’t seen sunrise like the one I saw that cold morning in March. The blue sky mixed with the golden light in a way I hadn’t seen before, or since. And then it was over as quickly as it started. The whole apex of the sunrise probably lasted two or three minutes.

Poor planning, quick adaptation, and good luck resulted in a photo that I still cherish. There were other good photos of the cherry blossoms, but none that looked like the one above. If I had hesitated, even for a couple minutes, the moment would have passed and I’d still be waiting for the the above photo to come along. And this year’s gloomy weather would have been all the more disappointing if I hadn’t gotten the shot that I wanted last year.

Below are a few other cherry blossom photos I took last year. I’ll post a few more over the next few days.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua: A Long Overdue Blog Post

I’ve been back for MONTHS and have been struggling to find time to edit photos from Costa Rica and Nicaragua and post them online—sorry to all my new travel buddies that I promised photos to!  They’re coming, I promise. Consider this post a brief synopsis of my travels, with photos coming soon!

If I had to describe the trip in one word:  BREATHTAKING.  The biodiversity and natural beauty of Costa Rica and Nicaragua are unparalleled by any place I’ve experienced.

I started the trip in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica to photograph Kacee and Jeremy’s wedding.  That was a lot of fun and really sold me on why destination weddings are such a terrific idea!  This was a fun group of guests, and for me it was more like a vacation than a photo assignment! When I wasn’t photographing the wedding I was out nature hiking, river rafting, and photographing a plethora of animals including three toed sloths, poison dart and red-eyed tree frogs, howler monkeys, toucans, and iguanas.

Howler Monkeys
Howler monkeys in Cahuita.

After the wedding, I traveled down the Caribbean coast to the town of Cahuita, where I enjoyed fantastic Caribbean style Costa Rican food (they’re a bit lighter on the rice on beans in this region) as well as the fabulous Parque Nacional Cahuita.  The national park was loaded with capuchin monkeys, sloths, basilisk lizards, and much more.

From there, I traveled to the northern Caribbean village of Tortuguero, renown for the troves of green sea turtles that come ashore at night to nest.  I got up the gall to ask the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), a group of scientific conservationists that monitor and track the turtle population in Tortuguero, if they would allow me to photograph their nocturnal work–cameras are rarely allowed on the beach at night, and the use of flash is prohibited as it may scare turtles away from nesting.  They agreed and asked me to photograph them capturing a green sea turtle, attaching a satellite transmitter, and releasing it back to sea.   In those couple days with the STC I learned more about sea turtles and their nesting habits than I ever expected.  The STC staff and research assistants were incredibly warm and educational, and my experience with them may have been the highlight of my trip.

After making a rushed morning sprint to my water taxi and connecting through Pavona, I spent about 20 hours in an unfortunately overcast and gloomy La Fortuna, which is usually quite nice for it’s view of Volcan Arenal.

Red-eyed tree frog
Red-eyed tree frog chilling out.

Making haste via jeep-boat-jeep, I found myself in Monteverde and Santa Elena, two distinct biological cloud forest reserves located less than five miles apart.  I stayed specifically in Santa Elena, a small but well traveled town that offered a mix of Tico food and international cuisine (I did not try the sushi but hear it’s good).  Both cloud forests were truly amazing and I saw a variety of wild life including the resplendent quetzal, one of Central America’s most famous birds.  Besides ziplining over the cloud forest (one of the lines was a kilometer long!), I really enjoyed getting to know the locals and tourists.  Monteverde is a place that really attracts positive and intelligent people, I’m very glad I made the trip.  Plus, I took my favorite photo of the trip here at the Renario.

After three days I finally parted ways with Santa Elena and Monteverde and headed north of the border to Nicaragua.  Swayed by a resident of Monteverde who grew up in Nicaragua, I headed unexpectedly for San Juan del Sur, a surf town town and tourist spot that is both scenic and festive (it’s quite the party town).  My new Tico/Nicaraguan friend showed me around and we had a really fun night out on the town–for next to nothing in cost.

My final stop was in the Nicaraguan city of Granada.  When I arrived at my hostel, I befriended a group of people headed for a day trip to Volcan Mombacho.  Within 10 minutes or arriving I dropped my bags, grabbed my camera, and headed out for an unexpected day trip–and I’m sure glad that I did.  On that clear day, Mombacho offered the most amazing view of the entire trip.  The view looks eastward toward the northern section of Lago de Nicaragua and the southern tip of Lago de Managua–it felt like we were standing on top of the world.  I don’t think any of us expected the view.

San Juan del Sur
The coastline near San Juan del Sur.

Granada otherwise is a beautiful city with wonderful architecture and culture.  It was photogenic in every way, during good weather and bad, and I really enjoyed the time spent there. After two nights I headed to the airport, ending my 17 day stint in the region.

As a whole, this trip was amazing.  It gave me more material to photograph than any previous trip, and pushed me out of my travel photography bubble toward the “nature photography” genre.  I learned so much about the flora and fauna endemic to the region, and was constantly in awe of the natural beauty of the landscape, culture, and wildlife.  17 days was not enough time to see everything, and I will definitely be traveling back to see areas that I missed and revisit sites that deserve a second look.

As for photos, I mentioned that I have many more to post and I will hopefully accomplish that goal soon!  For now, look out for more photos here on my blog or visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jasondixsonphotography to catch my “photo of the day!”

Below is a gallery of photos that I’ve posted on Facebook so far from the trip.

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