WTC Memorial Cross  © jj raia

WTC Memorial Cross © jj raia

Almost a year ago in August, on a trip up north, I made a visit to NYC’s World Trade Center site to see its changes since the devastation of 9/11. I had visited several years after the attack when the Freedom Tower had yet to reach its full height, and neither the museum or the transportation hub were completed. And I also visited the site about two weeks after the destruction while the mountain of rubble remained, and the smell still hung heavy in the air. That visit will remain locked in my memory forever. This visit was to see what rose from that rubble.

The main photographic reason for going was to see first hand what I had only seen in architectural renderings: Oculus, the Port Authority transportation hub of Lower Manhattan. It really lived up to the hype I projected upon it, and would probably visit the site often if I were still living in NJ, but had to make due with just a couple of  hours. I did previously post a few images from the visit (Click Here to see that post), but just never got around to working on a few frames for which I had specific intentions.

Having been completely destroyed all the way down to the lowest levels underground when the Twin Towers collapsed, this important train station reopened to the public 15 years later in 2016, and includes 800,000 sq/ft. of subterranean space. Above ground is a glass and steel structure designed by famed Spanish architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava, intended to resemble “a bird flying from the hands of a child,” bringing a sense of hope to a site of tragedy. Viewing the architecture for the first time, I was amazed at how enormous the odd shaped edifice was, soaring about 125-feet into the air and then sweeping outward, floating over the ground. At 350-feet, it is longer than a football field, and 115-feet wide, with the main concourse approximately 34 ft below street level, and 160 ft below the apex of the operable skylight that runs its length. It is nothing less than breathtaking.

From the photography of the architecture that day, I wanted to try something a bit different than the usual landscape photographs. Several of the frames were purposed to be “booked”; duplicating the frame in Photoshop, flipping that duplicate horizontally, and then matching the two identical ends together to make a mirrored image on an expanded canvas. The original thought was for them to be monochromatic, but the subtle colors of the blue sky and reflected light from surrounding buildings was evident on the exposed white architectural framework, allowing for a variety of approaches. And since they would be abstracts, quite a bit of artistic license would be allowed. Colors could be changed, enhanced, muted or eliminated all together in gray tones. The hope was to dive headlong into the explorations of some geometric forms and shapes.


Throwback Thursday No. 26


Images from the Film Archives — 1994

Queen Anne's Lace in Winter — Middlesex County, NJ © jj raia

Queen Anne’s Lace in Winter — Middlesex County, NJ © jj raia

You wouldn’t know it from the photo itself, but taking it took quite a bit of effort and determination to get the shot. However, any adversity overcome, any mountain scaled, or river crossed to record a photo, has nothing to do with its success. On the opposite side of the coin, I’ve often said that I’ve been fortunate at times to be at the right place at the right time, and that the only requirement was to trip the shutter.

Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.

Ansel Adams

But we have to remember too, that much effort is often expended in pursuit of an image with absolutely nothing to show for it. All we can do is persevere. I guess if the pursuit of photography continues long enough, those two sides of the coin will tend to balance out.

Concerning the image above, we were hunkering down during a winter storm that was nearing its end when the snow began to turn into sleet and freezing rain. I could see the nearby vacant lot from my living room window where the Queen Anne’s Lace began to bend under the weight of the ice, and I felt there had to be a photo there. But was it worth trudging out there in the midst of a storm for only a possibility? The single thing that tipped the scale to go out, was the umbrella holder attached to the tripod to protect the camera from the elements. My firm belief is that water and electronics do not play well together, so I try to avoid them doing so whenever possible.

Umbrella & Tripod

Umbrella & Tripod Set-Up

Different Things

Reflections — NC Museum of Art © jj raia

Reflections — NC Museum of Art © jj raia

A week ago, I set out early in the morning for the continuing quest of the “illusive shot” at Jordan Lake, but found there to be no clouds to color the sky, or any reflections in the water due to a rippled surface. So I headed to the North Carolina Museum of Art, a place where I would not be searching for landscape photos, but just wander around the grounds, keeping an open mind, and see what falls in front of the lens. It was simply an excuse to be out and enjoy some fresh air more than anything else.

The first stop at the museum as the sun was just rising, was the iconic shot of a reflecting pool tucked between two wings of the east building; a spot with which folks from the area are quite familiar. I ended up taking the shot only because I liked the warm color of the sunlight on the dome in opposition to the cool tones throughout the shade in the rest of the scene, and of course the beautiful reflections, and I probably placed my tripod right on the marks left by countless previous photographers. After all, there were “circles and arrows” pointing them out, so you couldn’t miss them if you tried! It was a shot just to get the ball rolling so to speak, and is included at the end of the post merely as a comparison to how the same spot appeared a little more than an hour later.

Another Ten Minutes

Web — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Web at Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Two weeks ago, I posted a few photos whose component parts were all taken within a ten minute period at North Carolina’s Jordan Lake on a recent morning (to read that post, Click Here). This is what happened in the minutes that followed.

There must have been hundreds of spider webs in the area, all glistening in the backlit glow of the sun since it had risen above the fog, each lined with water droplets from the moisture in the air. And even though this type of image is not new, I had never even made the attempt, probably because it’s nothing new, and because I never owned or used a macro lens. But I thought I’d give it a shot with the 50mm lens because I felt the morning shoot was over anyway, and they were along the way back to the car. What really tipped the scale to make the photo, was being able to use the beautiful, soft color of the sky reflection in the water as the background. The photo above was taken at 6:36am.

High Water — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

High Water — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

After the spider web shot, I continued back along the road toward the car, passing the scene I’ve been trying to photograph all spring. It seemed the clearing fog was being held up somewhat by the shoreline trees beyond the singular row in the foreground, seen peeking out above the fog, and I clicked off several frames of differing exposures, again using the 2-stop soft split ND filter to hold back the sun and sky. I thought I would have to blend several frames to properly portray the sky, but was amazed that the sensor could handle the extreme tonal range in a single frame. The one area where the highlights were blown out was the sun’s reflection. There were no pixels to darken or saturate. So processing moved to Photoshop where, using the cloning tool, I was able to blend the area surrounding the blown out reflection, into that area and give it back some color and life. This image was exposed at 6:46am, ten minutes later.

With the water currently at high levels, I’ll be on the lookout for conditions that may be conducive to finally capture that elusive shot of the flooded row of trees, reflected in the surrounding water, with an otherworldly sunrise sky!! Fingers crossed…





The Right Tool

Approaching Storm — Corolla, NC g© jj raia

Approaching Storm — Corolla, NC g© jj raia

In Thursday’s post, I mentioned an extra final step in the processing to an image of a hammer and nail set, that was suggested in one of Alister Benn’s You Tube videos from his channel Expressive Photography. Since his work and passion have mostly to do with the landscape, I decided to try the same method on one of my landscapes that was a bit of a disappointment when originally processed last fall. (Check out Alister’s web site by Clicking Here, or here, and don’t forget to look up his You Tube Channel, Expressive Photography, for insights and more great suggestions for your photography. Many, many impressive images on Instagram as well).

During a trip to NC’s Outer Banks, there were some really interesting cloud formations late one day, and I headed to where there would be a good view looking west across the sound at Whale Head Bay, hoping there might be some sunset light if there were breaks in the clouds along the horizon. I did some long exposures (132 sec.) with a 10-stop ND filter to smooth out the ripples in the water and blur the clouds, and some short exposures (1/10 sec.) to keep the clouds crisp, but no sunlight ever did appear. As mentioned before, the processed images were lackluster, and did not have the impact I’d hoped for to really illustrate what was happening that afternoon.

Add Lighting

Hammer and Nail Set © jj raia

Hammer and Nail Set © jj raia

A quick assignment from the photo group was to make an image that had to do with the word “set”. The word has an awful lot of definitions with many not easily translatable into a photograph; as in “The concrete hasn’t had time to set up.” In order to not come up with something expected (and boring), as in a set of glasses, I came up with a subject I always referred to as center punch, but is actually called a nail set. It is used with a hammer to drive a nail further into wood without putting a dent into the wood with the head of the hammer. The resulting nail indentation is then covered over with a matching color filler, and it almost disappears.

The hammer that was used in the photo is one that has special meaning, not because of its age, but because of the history behind it. It was given as a Christmas gift when I had finally reached the age of realization that gifting was reciprocal, that it was not a one-way street. I probably wasn’t more than twelve years old when I unloaded some of the money I’d saved from the piggy bank, rode my bike down to the local Sears & Roebuck, selected this one from many options, wrapped it in a shoebox, and proudly gave to my father that year. I had matured a little that holiday. About forty years ago, that hammer was added to my own tool collection, and has sat alongside the hammer my father gave to me just before I got married. It was the one thing I took to remember him by after he passed away a few weeks later. It shows its age, but still works like a hammer.

Increasing Depth



Rainy Winter Day — Mercer County, NJ © jj raia

Rainy Winter Day — Mercer County, NJ © jj raia

Out of a series of photos taken at a small nearby lake on a visit to NJ last winter, this photo was never processed until very recently. The original judgement concluded other images taken from the same sequence, of the same general scene, were deemed to be more worthy of the time to bring the raw file to match the hopes and desires at the time of exposure. But judgements can change over time, and different choices are possible in finalizing which files show the most promise to become what was the original intent.

As is usually the case, searching through my files for a particular image, brings me across many photos that never even rated a flag, used to indicate a particular frame deserves additional attention and possible processing later on. Originally, this particular frame didn’t even warrant the lowest form of interest by simply adding an indicating flag or star in Lightroom. Neither of them was attached to this image.

So it was surprising to me that I lingered over the image for a few moments, and decided to jettison my original search that brought me to this frame in the first place, and give it the “quick test” to see if more time was warranted. The test is simply moving four sliders in Lightroom: Highlights to minus 100; Shadows to +100; Whites into positive territory and Blacks into negative territory, each to taste, and decide from there. In literally seconds, the image will take on a character that initiates more interest and exploration, or indicates the original judgement was sound, and the frame probably belongs in the trash along with countless others.

Ten Minutes

Clearing Fog — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Clearing Fog — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

To create an image, everyone goes through several steps and/or procedures beforehand to make each individual photo as good as it can be. After all, no one sets out to produce a mediocre image. There may be research for locations or subjects, the actual shoot, some post processing of the images, and finally if necessary, printing. But the question arises, where does that creative process begin?

Many times it can begin with an idea, or a pre-visualization of a particular subject or definitive set of circumstances. Conversely, especially in street photography, it’s more a method of “shooting from the hip”, instantly reacting to the subjects that are encountered. Landscape photography can take on some semblance of a street shoot in that photographers are always reacting to the continual changes in light, color, cloud cover, camera placement, and a whole host of other variables. And so it was on a recent Sunday morning…

Intimate Encounters — Vignettes

Granite Detail — Sequoia NP, CA © jj raia

Granite Detail — Sequoia National Park, CA © jj raia

Quite a bit of time was spent deciding on a title for this video, when for me, titles are generally, but not always, superfluous, especially for individual images. The viewer should be allowed the freedom to formulate the words of a title if he or she has been sufficiently moved to do so. The original thought for a title was Vignettes, because for the most part, each image in this latest video seems to fit one of the definitions as “…any small, pleasing picture or view” or “…a small illustration or…photograph which fades into its background…” All the images seem to fall into a category of a small, simple, cohesive and pleasing arrangement of elements that could have been easily overlooked, lost amidst the surrounding chaos.

But then the word Harmony seemed to ease into the discussion. Although harmony is “…most often associated with music, as any simultaneous combination of notes being played or sung, especially when blended into chords, that is pleasing to the ear,” it certainly may be appropriate in describing the reasons for creating some of the images in the first place, but substituting the word eye for ear in the definition. Briefly stated, it is simply when things seem right or suitable together, they are in harmony.

Yet the dialogue continued, for each of these subjects stirred something within me beyond the eye or ear. Almost overwhelming, these scenes set in motion an undeniable urgency to photograph them as an expression of what was seen, heard and most importantly, what was deeply felt. And so the word Soulful was considered as well.

Almost three years have passed since the photo above was taken, yet it languished on a hard drive among the many images from a three-week trip through California in 2017, suffering the humiliation of being “overlooked” once again, just as it may have been countless times out in the field. After all, it was there to be seen right alongside a road inside the park. I suppose at first sight it struck a chord within me as it has most recently when it was properly processed after its rediscovery. It seems to speak in a poetic cadence, yet remains motionless on the screen as I stare at it, all the while listening to its voice as I did back then. Simplicity and strength intertwined, drawing a delicate life from the crack in cold stone.

Click Here to see the latest in the series of videos, Intimate Encounters — Vignettes.

To view prior installments in the series, click on the links below.

Be sure to subscribe to get notification of when the next in the series premieres.

Intimate Encounters — Trees

Intimate Encounters — Water

Intimate Encounters — Desert

Intimate Encounters — Coast

Intimate Encounters — Blurs