Graytones — Vol.1

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Sunlit Ferns — Roan Mountain, NC © jj raia



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New Architecture

Penn Station — Moynihan Train Hall, NYC © jj raia

Originally completed in 1910, New York’s Pennsylvania Station, and its connecting east and west tunnels linking the rail line from Washington, DC to Boston, were built as a civic monument, not just a railroad station and gateway to New York City. That massive structure served commuters and the traveling public for half a century, but was eventually demolished in the early 1960’s for a more economically viable complex consisting of an office tower, sports arena (a new Madison Square Garden) and a gloomy, subterranean train station without any of the majestic grandeur and open spaciousness of the original building. Having worked in the second, depressing version for over 35 years, construction of this latest version was just beginning when I left 11 years ago. I was curious to see the new one just recently opened after literally decades of planning and construction. I had no idea what to expect since from the outside, the former Farley Post Office Building, which now houses the new station, appeared the same as when I left, with no indication of what was to be discovered inside.

Once inside, there was an immediate feeling of freedom and expansiveness which was severely lacking in the previous station of claustrophobic low ceilings, replaced now with glass roofs that opened to the sky. The grandeur of the original had been captured, although on a much smaller scale. I was enthralled as lights of various colors morphed through a series of changes to illuminate some of the structural steel in varying hues.

Marquee — Moynihan Train Hall © jj raia

Unfortunately, I did not have much time to wander around to make some photographs and was immediately harassed for using a tripod in the near empty space. I was even told I could not sit on the floor when taking a very low angle image and trying to look through the viewfinder (no moveable screen on the camera back or wide-angle image stabilizing lens). But I was allowed to crouch down as low as I wanted so long as my @$$ didn’t touch the floor! Luckily the 70-300mm I used for the three images above does have VR (image stabilization), and was able to crank up the ISO to get a reasonably sharp file. And the idea of shooting on a tripod and blending images with lighting of differing colors was out of the question at the time, until I tried the auto-align feature in Photoshop that proved it could be done (center image)! But looking through the glass to the buildings adjacent to the main Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall (above, right and left), windows reflected the early morning light on the buildings behind my position and the clear blue sky above those building in the upper windows. Had I not gotten there bright and early, shortly after 7am, the lighting may have been very different, without the opposing warm light against the otherwise blue hues of shadow and blue sky.

Then it was time to head downtown and return to the World Trade Center Site and photograph any changes that might have occurred since the last visit, or whatever else caught my eye. It had been almost two years ago when I posted some photos that you can see here from that initial visit. This time I shot more of the surrounding architecture from outside the Oculus, the soaring transit hub building, and tried some “street photography” from a distance, being too introverted to actually ask folks to photograph them. Most of them were mere cliches with none noteworthy. But there is nothing like Manhattan for a continuing parade of characters, special social interactions and situations that make just being there interesting. Getting that energy in a photo is not so easily done, so I have to tip my hat to those folks who are successful at street photography. I did try a combination of architecture and “nature” with the sole leafless tree against the soaring ribs of the Oculus. I suppose not every planted tree survives this concrete forest and this was one of those that didn’t make it.

Bare Tree and Oculus — World Trade Center Site, NY

There are too many images of murals painted on walls with people walking past, and the world doesn’t need another since the concept is no longer imaginative, but there is definitely a pull for you to take one of these, and so I fell victim to the lure and photographed someone else’s art which is something usually avoided. How would you feel if someone photographed a print of yours with some added subject matter and claimed it as their own? Yes, I agree. But one thing about the mural did have a personal connection in the name BOOG. A long time friend of mine since the 1960’s had the nickname “Boog” because he was pretty thin and not all that muscular, so the nickname given to him was taken from a baseball player of the Baltimore Orioles named Boog Powell who was a bit of a “hulk”; just the opposite of my friend’s physique. Note — Click on any of the gallery photos to see them full screen.

One of the first images taken that morning after climbing out from the subway was the shadows of the Oculus “ribs” falling on the 9/11 Museum. At first, the tip of the triangular shape fell above the roofline, so it was flipped into a vertical, while waiting a half hour for the sun to rise a bit higher, brought the tip entirely against the horizontal lines of the museum, to remain within the horizontal frame, giving the shape more focus. (Click on either frame to see it full size).

One of the most important aspects of getting to the site early was the reflected light and shadows that simply don’t exist around the mid-day or pre-dawn hours. So many of the buildings and structures cast shadows on others, while windows reflected light into shadows illuminating those darker areas. It was a constantly changing landscape of photographic opportunities as the sun rose higher in the sky that made leaving so difficult.

Subway Entrance — WTC Site, NY © jj raia

So the final shots of the day before heading back to NJ, were of the reflected light on the turquoise subway entrance across the street from the Oculus. It was a simple procedure to set up the tripod and compose the frame; the difficulty was having the patience to wait for traffic to clear for an unobstructed view, and have someone of interest walking toward the camera position without other folks in the frame. Those opportunities were few and far between. It was always a narrow window when there were no cars blocking the view, and quite often an interesting person was heading this way only to be blocked by the heavy traffic in the area. But it was the light reflecting off windows of the building on the opposite side of the street into this shaded area that gave the scene a spotlight effect; and the interesting paint color brought all the elements together.

If any of you should happen to be in New York City, visiting the World Trade Center Site it a worth while destination for photography along with a visit to the 9/11 Museum. My visit to the museum two years ago was a deeply moving experience for me, having lived through that day operating a train from Penn Station into Washington, DC and seeing the smoke in the sky from the crash of the plane into the Pentagon. A stop at the new Amtrak Station is also an interesting place to visit, but be prepared to hand hold every shot as there is an army of security personnel on hand to make sure you don’t use your tripod. I just don’t understand the reasoning behind the ban.

Another Change of Pace

Lighthouse Food Mart — Selma, NC © jj raia

This day started out the way most days do when heading out for some photography, very early in the morning. But instead of heading to a nearby lake, or downtown Raleigh, it began even earlier than usual since the destination was the small town of Selma, NC with a long railroad history, and there was about an hour drive to get there to begin finding the interesting places discovered during some basic research using “street view” in Google maps, which proved invaluable to begin the day there. With the pandemic subsiding somewhat, it was to be a group shoot with a few friends; our first in a very long time since we’d be outside and we’ve all been fully vaccinated. None of the others wanted to carpool with me since I was leaving at 4am to arrive while it was still dark and try some night shots if I found anything interesting, and wanted to take a few other shots of things I found in the blue hour before the sun came up and began lighting things.

Coast of the Carolinas — Vol.1

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First Light — Hunting Island State Park, SC © jj raia



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American Flag — World Trade Center Site, NY © jj raia




Surprise Sunrise — Better than Fog

Hint of Fog — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Since I’m always checking the weather to be aware of the possibility for any fog forming in the area, I was happy to see fog was predicted for the morning of Memorial Day, and the forecast remained the same for the two days prior. The two apps I use (Weather Bug and Clear Outside) both indicated fog, yet Clear Outside also showed the temperature would not drop low enough overnight to reach the dew point, so there was a bit of a conflict. Even though fog may have been doubtful, I headed out around 5am under a mostly cloudy sky, but hoped there might be fog over the lake.

Well, there was no fog around at all, so I drove past one of the spots I go to frequently and headed to another favorite sunrise spot, even though at this time of year the sun rises much further north and prefer that spot during the winter months. Of the many times I’ve gone there, I only saw another photographer there once, and it turned out we knew each other. This time someone had arrived before me, but I didn’t know him, so we only chatted after I had set up a little distance away and had been there for some minutes. Things were looking bleak, so we commiserated about our poor luck and had agreed that it was just not to be that morning. And things did not look to improve as the clouds were moving left to right, seemingly making matters worse.

For the image above, the tripod needed precise placement in order for there to be a minimum of intersections among the branches, rocks and reflections. It’s not that an intersection would be fatal, but may have formed a confusing and distracting dark blob within the frame. Since it was possible, and there was no need to hurry for the mediocre conditions thus far, time was taken to maneuver the camera into just the right position. The only thing interesting happening was a small amount of fog forming toward the other end of the lake. It’s difficult to see it, but it’s much lower in elevation than the cloud cover, and all the way to the left of the opening along the horizon, stretching toward the middle, in front of the clouds.

By then, the other photographer had abandoned all hope and packed up his camera, while I mentioned I would stick around a bit longer and then probably head into Raleigh to see what I could find to shoot there in the absence of a good sunrise where we were.

The Perfect Beach Day

Solitary God Beam — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Is it possible to have an obsession seeking a specific combination of atmospheric conditions during a narrow timeframe in the year, at a specific location, to make the ideal photograph there? Depending on who you ask, I may or may not be obsessed, but I certainly do have a specific image in mind at a specific spot at Jordan Lake that has eluded me for several years, and will probably continue to do so.

I’ve been going to Jordan Lake ever since 2012 when the switch was made from film to digital because it is nearby and offers something resembling “wilderness” in one of the fastest growing areas of suburban sprawl in the country. There always seems to be something new to discover, or different conditions to encounter at familiar locations, and have benefitted from so many of the visits there. I’ve come to know a few spots around this huge lake to go to for sunrise or sunset, and keep an eye out for weather conditions conducive for an interesting sky or the possibility of fog. The persistence over the years, from time to time, has resulted in being at the right place at just the right time, but those occasions have been few and far between. If you try often enough, I suppose the odds are more likely to swing in your favor at some point, rather than if you never drag yourself out of bed in the morning. But there has been one location where all the elements just never came together, at least when I was actually there. “When a tree falls in the forest…”

Jordan Lake — vol.1


This is the inaugural free downloadable folio in what hopefully will be a continuing series. There will be no set schedule as to when new folios become available, so it’s best to subscribe (below) to receive an email when a new blog is posted containing the link for the latest free folio.

Just click on the photo below and you’ll be taken to a new window in your browser where, it may take a few seconds, the folio will be available for viewing and downloading. Downloading the file is accomplished by clicking the down-facing arrow at the top right of the screen. If you’re using Adobe Reader, pressing Command or Control-L will go to full screen with a black background. Press Escape to return to normal viewing.

Jordan Lake — vol.1

Today, please remember those who sacrificed so much for us to live with the freedoms we enjoy in this great country…


Hazy Dawn — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

In early 2014, about 18 months after switching to digital, I did a few experiments with what I called blurred images, but have since learned they are properly identified as Intentional Camera Movement, or ICM. Even though I had done some previously with a basic digital point & shoot camera about five years earlier (below), there were plenty of limitations using that camera and wanted to experiment with the new DSLR having much more control over the shutter speed, aperture, etc. It was a method I would eventually use extensively later that year on a month-long trip photographing the golden leaves and white trunks of aspens in autumn.

Dancing Irises – © jj raia

Free Downloadable pdf Coming Soon!

Foggy Sunrise — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Beginning soon, the first in a series of small portfolios, focused on a single theme, will become available for free download. The initial folio will be from the continuing project of photographing North Carolina’s Jordan Lake (including the image above), with additional folios of differing themes to follow from time to time without any particular schedule. In order to receive an email notification when a new folio becomes available, you’ll have to sign up by filling in your email and click the Subscribe button below. Once enrolled, you’ll receive an email notification when another folio is available for free downloading through this blog. It’s that simple. If you’re already signed up for blog notifications, you don’t need to enroll, you’re already included.

Wildlife in the Landscape

Pronghorn — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Almost five years ago on a trip out west to neighboring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, I ran into a photographer who happened to be a Nikon Ambassador. We had just failed miserably in attempting to photograph the first rays of sunlight on the Tetons from Schwabacher’s Landing (along with dozens of other photographers), because the peaks were completely blocked by low hanging clouds and there wasn’t much to see. We talked for a while, and the conversation eventually turned to photographing the wildlife in these two parks because he was about to lead a workshop that included photographing the wildlife there. And he said something interesting that has stuck with me since then about certain compositions in wildlife photography. He said, “The world doesn’t need another perfectly exposed and perfectly focused, full frame shot of the front face of a bison, or any other animal for that matter!” He said he now concentrates his efforts more on the wild animal within its habitat; a kind of environmental portrait.