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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Hani and Rita: Married May 7th, 2017

Hani and Rita were married at a sweet ceremony in Chantilly, Virginia, surrounded by family and friends who gathered for the occasion.  After exchanging vows and rings, Hani and Rita joined me at a few locations for portraits celebrating their two years dating, engagement in March, and now newlywed status.  Congratulations Hani and Rita!

Alyssa in DC: 2016

I must admit to having an (arguably) bad habit; I place my personal photography behind my work photography.  That's not a bad thing; the bad thing is how far behind I place my own work.  In something that's become almost as much a tradition as a Summer vacation with Alyssa, this is the second time in a row I've taken more than 8 months to edit the photos I shot on Alyssa's trip to DC.

This time around I insisted that we take things a little slower than the previous year; doing something every single day for a week in 2015 really wore me out, so 2016 was a more relaxed trip.  Plus, that allowed us to catch some of the Rio Olympic Games!

We didn't do anything worthy of photos the first two days (it was mostly spent fixing her computer), so this blog starts on Day 3!

Day 3: Luray Caverns • Skyline Drive • Stony Man Mountain

Luray Caverns, Luray, Virginia

Alyssa is always jealous of my hiking pictures when she sees them, so we always plan at least one hike when she's here; since I thought Luray Caverns would be something she'd enjoy, I planned our entire day in the Shenandoah Valley, starting with Luray Caverns.

It'd been a few years since I'd been to Luray Caverns, but of course Alyssa had never been.  Things have clearly changed since the last time I'd visited; of all the times I've visited, I've never actually been given a tour before.  Actually, I've never even had to stand in line to get in.  Every time I've been you've just paid for entry and you're given free reign to walk around the cavern at your own pace.  Not this time though; we actually had to wait in line, and once inside we were part of a guided tour with around 30 people.

A very different experience than my previous visits, but still enjoyable.  I've previously taken the audio tour, but I found the guided tour more educational and much more enjoyable.  The only reason I can guess for getting a guided tour this time and not my other visits is this is the only time I've been to Luray Caverns during Summer, which is of course peak tourism season, plus all those students are out of school and available to intern at the Caverns.

Something that really, REALLY bothered me was that the intern bringing up the caboose of the group had a serious disrespect for the nature and longevity of Luray's formations.  On several occasions I spotted him touching the stalagmites and stalactites with his bare hands.  He clearly knew he wasn't supposed to be doing it because he stopped when he noticed me watching him and our eyes met.  Incredibly disrespectful to the 64 acre underground natural phenomenon.  Just touching the mineral deposits that compose the stalagmites and stalactites leaves skin oil and other contaminants that halts their growth.  Currently most of the formations in Luray Caverns grow at a rate of 1" every 120 years, but that permanently stops when contaminants destroy the fragile conditions required for the formations to grow.  It has been argued that it's bad that (a small) part of the caverns has been opened to the public - I mostly disagree with this because I think more-or-less sacrificing only a small portion of the cavern is the best way to display and educate the public about the natural phenomonon.  That being said, it makes me angry that Luray Caverns staff themselves can be found palming the formations and at one point even dragging his palm against the wall while walking.

But let's get back to some positive.  Luray Caverns is home to The Great Stalagpipe Organ.  Although it's called an organ, the instrument is actually a lithophone; that is, a percussion instrument using rock to create tones.  The "organ" was designed and installed by Leland W. Sprinkle, who found two in-tune formations, and shaved down an additional 35, to create the instrument with 37 notes spread across 3.5 acres, making it the world's largest musical instrument.  Each limestone formation is fitted with an electrically actuated rubber mallet and electric pickup (similar to an acoustic-electric guitar pickup), and the tones are amplified through a PA system.  Performances of the organ are live, but automated / pre-arranged just like a player piano.  The organ keyboard itself is locked-out except for special occasions such as weddings and other events.  The Great Stalagpipe Organ can be heard on Pepe Deluxé's album Queen of the Wave played by Paul Malmström.

The organ has a playlist of songs it can play at random; here is my video of the organ playing during our visit.  If you know the name and composer of the song, please let me know in the comments!

Stony Man Mountain

Next stop was Stony Man Mountain.  You of course have to take Skyline Drive to get there, so I hopped on at the Thorton Gap entrance, and more or less drove South to the trailhead, stopping here and there for the occasional overlook; I've seen pretty much all of them, but Alyssa of course hasn't seen any.

Years ago I hiked Little Stony Man, so when we went up Stony Man I was very surprised how much shorter and easier the trail was to get to the summit.  Stony Man's summit trail is pretty much a straight shot up the mountain, taking very little effort or time from the parking lot.  The trail is lightyears easier than the Maryland Heights Trail in Harper's Ferry I took Alyssa to in 2015 - that one's difficulty, despite my warning her, really caught her off-guard.  This one was much easier than I'd planned on.  Beautiful overlook at the top, and by chance we found some cool rocks on the edge of the trail that made for some awesome outdoorsy portraits as the fog began to roll into the valley below us.

And thanks to Alyssa for catching this photo of me.  (Edits are mine.)

Skyline Drive

We still had a few hours of daylight left, and before continuing South on Skyline drive, we dropped in on the nearby Skyland Lodge to check out the gift shop if anything caught Alyssa's eye - I eyeballed a marbled coffee mug that I ended up getting a few months later during my annual Fall trip along Skyline Drive.

We went for a leisurely drive as the fog got thicker, running through the gears with the windows down in the beautiful, and surprisingly dry, weather that day.  I've never seen fog on Skyline Drive before (maybe because I've only visited in Fall before this?), and between that, the thick tree cover, and golden setting sun, it was a very surreal drive back by time we decided to turn around and head back.  I insisted on stopping at one overlook just after sunset to catch a cool toned photo of my car - it's much easier to do this sort of thing in the Summer when there are practically no other people and cars to contend with.

Day 4: International Spy Museum • National Portrait Gallery • PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard at The National Postal Museum • Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants

International Spy Museum

Oh, the International Spy Museum.  A museum I've walked past more times than I can count, yet had never visited.  I'd even been to the now-closed-for-relocation Crime & Punishment museum, which, by the way, I can't recommend enough.  Day 4 was the longest day of our adventures because we squeezed the most in, beginning with a reservation to Operation Spy at the International Spy Museum... unfortunately we arrived 2 minutes late, and they wouldn't let us into that or rebook us to a later time even being 2 minutes late!  With a little, um, prompting... they at least refunded us.  The day didn't start off very well, but that was the only hiccup for the rest of the day.  We did get into the rest of the museum, and frankly I'd like to go back, because even after spending hours exploring, I'm pretty sure I still didn't see everything or get to read and learn as much as I'd like since it was packed with Summer tourism.

The second half of the museum is whatever rotating exhibit they have visiting; it was the spy tech from the James Bond universe.  Really cool stuff, being a Bond fan as most people are.  The only suggestion I'd make is better separation between fact and fiction; all of the "artifacts" are fictional, and I'd have enjoyed seeing more explanation of how the fictional items tie into factual technologies; there was a little bit of that, but I was still left with a little unease knowing that a lot of the people visiting probably thought some of the movie props were real-world artifacts.  Awesome Bond collection exhibit nonetheless.

National Portrait Gallery

Next we went a few blocks over to what has always been my favorite museum in DC; the National Portrait Gallery.  I unfortunately missed the portrait of Colbert over the water fountain a few years back, but one of my couples was fortunate enough to see it; that's actually where James popped Danielle the question!

PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard at The National Postal Museum

We spent a good portion of time in the National Portrait Gallery, but we didn't dilly dally too much since I was making sure we had enough time to make it to the National Postal Museum.  Visiting here was a complete surprise for Alyssa, because I'd eagerly been awaiting the exhibit's opening, and I had purposely never mentioned it, waiting for Alyssa to get into town before seeing it.

I've followed PostSecret since Frank Warren began the project from his Germantown home in 2005.  I don't look up the newest secrets every Sunday they are posted, but I do read them once or twice a month; Feedly catches everything for me to read later on.

For the uninitiated, PostSecret doesn't need much more introduction than this: people across the World anonymously send in handmade postcards bearing their secrets and their souls.  Usually the cards have original artwork or photographs, other times they're relevant imagery that highlights location or timing.  And on some occasions, entire items are mailed, such as wedding rings, dolls, and other mementos leftover from past relationships and events.  (Full Disclosure: The Museum of Broken Relationships in LA is in my top five of locations I want to visit on the West Coast.)  Mailing a secret is an outlet to creatively share your secret when you may not have the strength or ability to share it with anyone else.  PostSecret quickly amassed a worldwide following and subsequent support community, as it unites everyone with their own personal struggles through shared humanity.

Fun fact: every single postcard Frank has ever received, all 500,000, was present at the exhibit.  So, if you've ever sent in a secret, you can rest assured it is somewhere in the photograph below...

I captured most of the secrets on display, and I've included a small gallery of some select secrets you can scroll through and read below.

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants

After a long day of museum hopping, it was time to sit back and relax with some half-smokes and "doughboys" at Nats Park.  I neglected to tell Alyssa that I'd gotten us seats in the N-A-T-S-NATS-NATS-NATS-WOO! section.  The Nats beat the Giants 5-1, so section 313's reaction caught her off guard the first run or two.  Those were pretty great seats, right on the rail.  That said, the only seats I've had at Nats park I didn't like were in the outfield; Nats Park provides a great view of the game pretty much anywhere you sit, regardless of level.

After the game we went over to check out who was playing at The Bullpen on Half Street.  People were playing soccer, inspired by the Rio Olympics, in front of Jeff from Accounting performing.

Day 6: Imran and Hina's Wedding • Brine Oyster Bar

Imran and Hina's Wedding

The next morning was Imran and Hina's wedding in Virginia; the weekend before I'd been in Houston for their wedding based there.  The wedding here was much smaller as usual.  I just relaxed and enjoyed with Jake and Alyssa; I'd referred Imran to Eddie early that year to shoot his wedding.

Imran Hina Wedding.jpg

Brine Oyster Bar

After the wedding, Jake, Alyssa, Eddie, and I head over to Brine in Mosaic District and met up with Loreal for our own little wedding after-party.  I ended up trying raw oysters for the first time, and found that I love them.  I'd had steamed oysters plenty of times, but never found a raw bar I trusted and been in the mood to try it at the same time until then.  I'm looking forward to next time I get them; maybe the next time Natalie is in town we'll have to go back to the oyster bar in National Harbor since that's the place we first met each other.

Dramophone: Summer of 2016

Some fun backstory here is that at this point Eddie had been brainstorming his proposal to Loreal with me.  He pretty much had it planned out at this point, and just an hour earlier while shooting the wedding, he pulled me aside to show me a picture of the ring he had for her.  He popped the question a few weeks later on a trip to Hawaii, and the rest is history!  Now I’m hearing all the wedding planning brainstorming lol.

Day 7: Stone Tower Winery • Departure

Stone Tower Winery

For Alyssa's last day, I *had* to take her to a winery.  She'd been begging me the entire trip, and we kept putting it off and putting it off.  So with just a few hours before her flight, we made it happen; I took her to my favorite winery around here, which also happens to be probably the classiest and closest to a Napa vineyard in the Northern Virginia Region (Potomac Point Winery is a very, very close second in my book, if you're curious).  Alyssa's the biggest lightweight I've ever met, so after just a tasting she's tipsy in all these pictures.

But give her just one glass of wine on top of the tasting and she was... super-tipsy?  Tipsy enough that she zapped herself on an electric fence while petting the horses in a neighboring pasture.  At least she wasn't naming them like Patrick famously named the goats at Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn...

Departure

I did a stupid on the way to the airport.  Alyssa had gotten a wine glass from Stone Tower to take home with her; it was wrapped up, placed "safely" on the back floorboard where nothing could get to it.  Well, after Alyssa was done scrolling through the pictures on my camera, I reached back and dropped my camera onto the back floorboard... where "nothing can get to it!"  *CLINK!*  Well at least it sounded pretty when I shattered it!

Stone Tower's wineglasses are oversized, laser cut and engraved, and most importantly for this story, they're crystal.  I don't know of any other vineyard that uses crystal wine glasses.  The winery was closed; there was no time to go back even if they were open.  I told her to relax; I had one of their glasses at home and I ended up mailing it to her... along with the bag of broken wine glass shards, just to screw with her.

The sun set as we arrived to the airport.  We got there early enough to get dinner before her flight began boarding - I think I've turned her on to Five Guys - I'm a bad influence I guess.

Alyssa has a bit of a granola obsession, which I learned the first time she came (I was finding granola wrappers and crumbs in my car a month after she'd left 2015!) but this year wasn't as bad.  I still found granola!... but at least everything I found was unopened, and the crumbs were relegated to the passenger side leg bolster.  Improvement!

Who knows what our next set of adventures will be, but I'm looking forward to them!

Houston, Texas: July, 2016

Lately I've been catching up on some personal work leftover from last Summer.  Today I'm bringing you pictures from my short trip to Houston to be a part of Imran and Hina's wedding.  Since I was there for several days, of course, the wedding was only a portion of everything I did while on my first trip to Texas.

Arrival

This was only my second time flying out of DCA even though I am there often enough for photoshoots.  It was a pretty day, although it had a low, hazy ceiling, so I captured some pretty pictures of the airport while taxiing, but began battling haze with a little altitude.  I did still manage to catch some great shots of the new MGM Casino (it was still under construction at this point) , and National Harbor... and the DC Water and Sewer Authority; water treatment plants look pretty cool from the air too.

Arriving in Houston, the terrain is noticeably very flat, with long stretches of interstates and service roads, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and snaking rivers.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) reminded me a lot of Dulles, however their facilities seem to be more spread out and reliant on shuttle busses.

Reaching downtown Houston was a shocker; not only was downtown very small at only a few blocks of city space, but on a Saturday, at noon, there were *literally* no people to be found.  There was no traffic downtown; never once did I have to stop and wait for traffic when crossing streets.  There were no people walking around.  Half of the businesses weren't even open.  I was the only customer in a coffee shop which, inexplicably, had three employees working.  There was an international grocery store with an amazing wine selection upstairs that had a few customers inside, but that was about it - Houston, at lunchtime on a Saturday... completely dead and devoid of life.

Arriving at the hotel at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), I found that directly next door was an... establishment... called "The Landing Strip."  I just found it ironic that Imran's wedding was being held at an airport Marriott with a titty bar a stones throw away.  It actually became a running joke of the trip, culminating in me sitting down in Imran's lap before his wedding, straight out of the shower, wrapping my legs around him and sensually saying, "Hey baby, is this your first time at The Landing Strip?" just to get a reaction out of him; it was pretty funny!  You can't make this stuff up!  That actually happened the next day, while everyone was getting ready for the wedding, but I shot these pictures as the sun set on my first night in Houston.

Johnson Space Center • Imran and Hina's Wedding

Imran's wedding was at night, so that left all day to go explore.  I'd already seen downtown, which was disappointing, to put it politely.  I decided to see something guaranteed to make me smile; I head over to Johnson Space Center, just 20min from the hotel.

Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition

Little did I know until walking inside, the Mythbusters (who had just a few months prior aired their last episode) had a full exhibit visiting the Space Center.  Not only did I get to meet the real Buster, but I got to see artifacts from all my favorite myths; Jamie's steel sphere from "Painting with Explosives," Adam's Flatus Ignition Seat from "Franklin's Kite," Adam's Tornado Shield from "Storm Chasing Myths," and a destroyed hot water heater from "Exploding Water Heater."

By the way, if you haven't seen it already, go check out White Rabbit Project on Netflix; that's where Kari, Grant, and Tori ended up after being cut from Mythbusters.  It's a very Mythbusters influenced show, but with a modernized program format that fixes a lot of the staleness Mytbusters struggled with toward the end, and the extremely high production quality we've become familiar with from Netflix.  I cannot recommend the show enough.

Johnson Space Center

The rest of Johnson Space Center (or Space Center Houston, as the museum portion is called) contains all the space geekery you expect; I love it.  Most of the exhibits here focus on historic space missions, such as the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Outside the Space Center is of course one of Johnson's most noticeable, newest additions, and the most relevant to me; NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft I photographed and followed for a week in April, 2012, which led to some amazing opportunities for me, and which I consider to be the launchpad for much of my career today.

It was a surreal experience boarding the retired 747 for the second time in my life, knowing that everyone else seeing the aircraft with me that day are enjoying a museum piece, but I was on board while the aircraft was still in service and even met the flight and ground crews, and they autographed copies of my photos on a table that's now blocked off as part of an exhibit.  Knowing that I've been on the upper deck and sat in the pilot's seat of this aircraft, whereas now it's not even open to the public to view... it was a surreal feeling, and it's still truly an honor to have been invited to be part of such a journey in 2012.

For fun below, I'm including some side-by-side comparisons of what the SCA looked like in 2012, and what it looks like now after its decommission and subsequent transformation into an exhibit.  You'll notice that in addition to some hardware being moved and a lot of plexiglass being added, they've also had to add fireproofing and sprinklers for fire code, and they've added carpeting, HVAC, standard glass entry doors, and of course lighting.  Crew-members and mission critical employees have also signed all over the fuselage, as is tradition.

Since it's closed to the public, here is what the upper deck looked like in 2012.

And finally, a few more photos of the SCA in it's final resting place as it is today.  This table is where the crew autographed my photos.

Astronaut Training Facility

Later in the day, after some inclement weather had passed through the area, campus tours finally resumed, however unfortunately there was only time for one tour before having to leave, and I didn't get to go on the tour of Mission Control like I'd wanted.  Seeing the Astronaut Training Facility was still interesting, and I was able to snag some awesome swag at the gift shop before heading out.  I still don't have my SCA 747 & Space Shuttle Discovery scale model though :-(

Imran and Hina's Wedding

Finally was the main event; Imran and Hina's wedding.  I was just a guest, which is an odd feeling for me since usually I'm behind the camera.  I didn't even bring my camera to the wedding; these are a few photos off my iPhone.

Departure

The next morning immediate family (which I'm considered in Imran's family) was invited for brunch.  After that, there were still a few hours to kill before catching the flight home.  Checking out the Texas' Gulf beach and getting some photos of the EcoBoost Mustang rental seemed like the best thing to do.

Mustang on the Beach

I was extremely disappointed with the beach in Texas; it seemed *very* dirty.  The Mustang, however, was very satisfying.  The EcoBoost Mustang, even with two fewer cylinders, makes only 20HP less than my G37, though since it uses a turbo to achieve this, the power came on with a delay.  Still a very peppy, very capable car.  Would I buy one?  No; this rental had less than 3,000 miles on the clock and already had multiple rattles, probably since day one from the factory.  But it was still a fun, very hoonable ride; I may have gotten a few donuts in this thing... which is convenient, because Houston seemed to be a never-ending sprawl of donut shops, fast-food joints, rug stores, and titty bars; between all that and the beach, it was time to skip town.

Departure

Flying home, I got a little work done, but eventually got distracted by the band of thunderstorms we were passing over about halfway home; this was my first time seeing lightning from the sky, and it is a beautiful sight.

With a steady hand, and a bit of luck, I was able to capture this photo of the storm over Charlotte, North Carolina.  I even managed to get some video footage too!

Finally, we landed at DCA (also only my second time flying into Reagan), and the lights of Alexandria was a welcome sight just before touchdown.

Nina and Ian: Married April 4th, 2016

Nina and Ian met me through Nina's brother Bayard, who I've had the pleasure of working with now and then since we first met in 2005, most recently working together at the Castleton Festival's annual gala.  The weekend Nina and Ian got married was a twofer; Amy and Brandon's wedding in rural Maryland was two days beforehand.

Nina and Ian's wedding day was threatened by rain showers, but luckily the bands narrowly missed Ida Lee Park, located in the heart of Leesburg, Virginia, only kicking up some wind and sprinkles during our portrait session.  By evening, the sky had cleared for a pink and orange sunset.  The party continued that cool night until Nina and Ian's friends and family gathered to light sparklers and send the newlywed couple off to their honeymoon.

As always, the fantastic Eddie Kyle assisted me in photographing Nina and Ian's big day.  Check him out on Facebook and his website!

Amy and Brandon: Married April 2nd, 2016

On a cool, Spring day, Amy and Brandon, who I first met last Summer at Rachel and Andrew's wedding, tied the knot in beautifully rural Walkersville, Maryland.  Their wedding day started out looking like it would be rainy, but the clouds parted during the ceremony and let the blue sky shine through.