Watching the Falls by Todd Henson

A lone photographer watching, and photographing, Great Falls along the Potomac River.

One morning years ago I was photographing the falls at Great Falls Park in Virginia. This is the location where the Potomac River narrows and drops in elevation, creating these amazing rapids and water falls. You can return to this location over and over and see something different each time as seasons change, water levels fluctuate, atmospheric conditions shift, and people enter or leave the scene.

I love photographing these falls. They are such a grand and powerful example of nature so very close to Washington, D.C. This morning there was a layer of fog hugging the river, obscuring the distant elements in the scene. Fog can be a natural way of simplifying a photograph, helping to focus our attention on one element or another.

What drew me to the scene this day was the lone photographer standing on the rocks to the upper left. He was framing a shot of the falls just as I was, but my shot included him. I like the lone figure, hunched over his tripod, concentrating on the falls. Such a grand scene, enveloped in a layer of fog, and this lone photographer.

There are times I prefer including only the natural elements of the scene, just rocks, plants, water, wildlife, but not people. Other times including a person can add a sense of scale to the scene. It can also affect the mood or emotion of the image. Perhaps the viewer will imagine themselves as the person in the scene. Or maybe they will wonder about the person and their story, what brought them here, what they are thinking or feeling.

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Capturing Candid Moments at a Festival by Todd Henson

A member of Embajadores del Folklore after performing a Morenada dance.

This is the third and final post about XXX Festival Boliviano, the 30th annual Bolivian Festival held at the Prince William County Fairgrounds in Manassas, Virginia, on September 3, 2017. As with the previous posts, be sure to click on any of the photos for a larger view.

Here is an example of a performer looking right at the camera.  This performer was with Tinkus Bolivia who performed a Tinkus dance.

Another example of a performer looking right at the camera. In this case I was in a lower position looking up at this performer with Morenada Bolivia USA who had just performed a Morenada dance.

In the first post I shared photographs of several of the dance groups that performed. In the second post I shared many photographs of individual performers. In this post I look at capturing candid moments. These might be interesting moments during a performance, but are more often captured between or after a performance when the performer has relaxed and perhaps taken themselves momentarily out of the persona they portray while dancing.

I love this photograph of two young performers with Tinkus de San Simon USA, who performed a Tinkus dance. One performer is looking down the route they would take towards me, and the other is looking back towards the rest of their group.

In this version I captured a lone young performer from Tinkus de San Simon USA, who had performed a Tinkus dance. She is facing away from me, looking towards the American flag and back towards the rest of her group. I really like the moments captured in these two images.

I like trying to capture these candid moments because I think they help tell the story of the event. They show another layer to the performance and the performers. For example, we see the exhaustion when someone takes the mask off their head, the beads of sweat dripping down their face. And in that moment we can see the effort these performers put into their performance.

In this photo I captured the moment after the performer from Fundacion Socio Cultural Diablada Boliviana removed his mask after their final performance of a Wititi dance. You can see his exhaustion as he lifts his head towards the sun.

And in this photo we see another performer from Fundacion Socio Cultural Diablada Boliviana who had removed their mask after performing a Wititi dance.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I don’t consider myself a people photographer. I rarely photograph people. But I am just as attracted to a stunning portrait or to impactful examples of street photography as I am to photographs of the subjects I most often shoot (nature, wildlife, outdoors). So I really enjoy events like this Festival, where I can practice photographing people in a challenging environment, trying to capture action and movement, but also trying to find and capture those more intimate moments between the dancing, trying to show a little more personality to the performer.

Here a performer from Tinkus Tiataco pauses during the Tinkus dance, raising her hand to her mouth. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? 

Here is a moment when a young performer from Salay Bolivia USA pauses, raising her hand to her head, just after her performance of a Salay dance.

This photo captures a moment from a Tinkus dance performed by Tinkus Bolivia. I believe the girl with the whistle is leading her group within the dance. I like her pose and the positioning of the other people with the image.

Here is a small group of performers from Morenada Revelacion Cocanis VA USA just after performing a Morenada dance.

The next time you find yourself at this sort of event, or just out about town with your camera, consider looking for moments you can capture, moments that help tell a story about the subject. And if, like me, you usually shoot nature, consider occasionally photographing something different, such as people, events, or street photography. It’s a great way to learn. And in the end, light is light, and anything you learn about light in one environment can almost always be applied to a different environment.

A performer with Fraternidad Alma Boliviana raises her hand at the end of, or just after, performing a Tinkus dance.

Another performer from Fraternidad Alma Boliviana after performing a Tinkus dance.

I tried to frame this member of Morenada Bolivia USA amongst the colored feathers of other dancers in his group. They had just performed a Morenada dance.

In a moment captured after her dance, sunlight creates colored reflections on her face from the sequins in her outfit. She is a member of Fraternidad Folklorica Cultural Caporales Universitarios San Simon Filial VA, who performed a Caporales dance.

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Luray Fireworks from Skyline Drive by Todd Henson

First grouping of multiple fireworks images.

Luray, Virginia, home to Luray Caverns, sits in a valley visible from Skyline Drive, the road that stretches from one end to the other of Shenandoah National Park atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had always been curious what Luray’s Fourth of July fireworks would look like from Skyline Drive, so one year my brother and I decided to find out.

Skyline Drive and Luray are actually pretty far apart, probably 6 to 8 miles. Being able to see Luray from the road makes it seem much closer than it is. And as large as fireworks seem when they burst, you have to be close for them to have any real impact. So the fireworks were far smaller than I’d imagined.

Second grouping of multiple fireworks images.

Third grouping of multiple fireworks images.

We weren’t the only ones curious about the view, though, as the overlook quickly filled with cars and people. I imagine many were camping in the park and these overlooks were the closest they could come to viewing the fireworks without leaving the park.

As small as the show was from this distance I still enjoyed watching and photographing it. I debated not posting anything from this trip as the photos are not very good fireworks photos. But I enjoyed the trip and thought you might enjoy seeing what fireworks in a valley look like when viewed from atop a nearby mountain.

First set of fireworks, groups from earlier in the show.

To create these images I imported them all into Photoshop and merged together multiple shots, combining individual fireworks into groups. The horizontal images were composed of fireworks set off in sequence. For the vertical images I selected whichever displays I thought went well together, creating my own groupings. You’ll see some of the same displays in multiple images.

Second set of fireworks, groups from midway through the show.

So far these are the only fireworks I’ve attempted to photograph, though I’m sure I’ll make more attempts in the future. I hope this encourages you to give it a try. Find a local fireworks display, pick a decent location, set up your camera on a tripod, and experiment with different shutter speeds, see what works for you.

This image is a single photograph towards the end of the fireworks show.

All these images were shot at ISO 200, which was the base ISO of my camera. Using the base ISO would force longer shutter speeds after dark, which would allow nice streaks of light as the fireworks burst. I had the camera in manual mode to allow me to choose the aperture and shutter speed. This allowed me to keep the scene dark since it was at night. In an auto mode the camera would have attempted to lighten the scene. I set the aperture between f/16 and f/25, though I could have used other apertures. My shutter speed was between 8 seconds and 30 seconds. Looking back, I should have put the camera in bulb mode, where the shutter would remain open as long as I held the shutter button (or remote release, which I would recommend). Then I might have captured more bursts in a single image.

All the photos were shot at 200mm, which was the longest lens I had at the time. As you can see in the uncropped image, this left a lot of blank space in the frame, so I cropped the rest of the images on the computer. If you’re closer to the fireworks this shouldn’t be as much of a problem.

Uncropped version of the final image, showing how far away Luray was from Skyline Drive.

Now it’s your turn. Next time there will be fireworks in your area grab your camera, tripod, and remote shutter release, and head out to find an interesting location. Try to find something of interest in the foreground that will be lit by the fireworks, maybe a building or a bridge. Having something interesting in the frame can make a much stronger fireworks image than just photographing the fireworks themselves, which is what I’ve done here.

Give it a try. See what you can create. And don’t forget to enjoy the show!