Blog

The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Chicago: March, 2019

Wow, April was such a busy month; I’ve been sitting on these pictures since my most recent trip to Chicago in March, and am just now getting around to sharing them with you. As you may recall, I was in Chicago in February for a photoshoot, but due to circumstances outside my control, that photoshoot was unable to take place, requiring me to reschedule for the next month. I’m happy to say this this time everything went off without a hitch!

In February, once I’d exhausted all options to try and get the photoshoot to work out, I spent the remainder of my time available exploring nearby Milwaukee - I didn’t get to see everything I’d wanted to, so this trip I’d debated spending my spare time checking out the spots I’d missed. Instead, however, I chose to not have any real plan in mind in case there was trouble with the scheduled photoshoot again. Luckily once the photoshoot was knocked out no problem, all my stress was received and I could relax a little.

IAD - ORD

By chance, I was able to spot all four of Chicago’s nearest airports while on approach to ORD. Interestingly, although I was flying on a 737-900, my flight was the day after all 737 MAX aircraft got grounded by the FAA, and it actually impacted my flight. ORD already had heavy ground traffic upon landing, causing a 20 minute taxi to the gate, but upon arriving at the gate my aircraft was blocked by a 737 MAX being tugged from the adjacent gate to a hardstand, but the tug moving the aircraft broke down, blocking out entrance to the gate - my aircraft was stranded on the taxiway for an hour waiting for another tug to arrive to move the MAX out of the way, while we were sitting there watching from our windows just a mere 200 feet from our jetbridge. I ordered a ribeye and tall porter upon finally arriving at my hotel.

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Photoshoot Day at ORD

The night before my photoshoot I only got 3 hours of sleep thanks to stressing out whether the shoot would actually happen or not, despite having confirmation of the necessary paperwork. Luckily, on that drizzly morning, everything went just fine, and after returning to the hotel to deliver some requested preliminary images, I fell asleep at my computer after uploading the images. I slept long and deep that night, knowing I finally had the images I hadn’t been able to capture a month prior.

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Downtown Chicago

I didn’t even set an alarm; I needed the rest, and wanted my Friday to be a stress-free celebration of the previous day’s success. The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry had been recommend to me by pretty much everyone I have ever spoken with who’s been to or lived in Chicago, so I decided to finally check it off my list. I didn’t want to waste time dealing with the CTA, plus there’s no stop nearby the museum anyway, so I ordered an Uber all the way from my hotel in Rosemont; my driver actually shot some sports photography I found out.

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Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Transportation Gallery

Unfortunately the Science and Industry Museum has extremely limited hours, and closes at four, so by time I’d gotten there through some freak midday traffic, gotten my tickets, and gotten inside, I only had about 3 hours to explore the museum - I missed the vast majority of the museum because I decided to focus on several exhibits that interested me rather than try and get a rushed view of everything. I scheduled a tour for 20 minutes after I arrived, and I killed that time in the small Transportation Gallery and Great Train Story next door.

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The Great Train Story

I’ve seen professional train sets before, but this one takes the cake. Not only was it build around a scale model of downtown Chicago, but it featured mountains, tunnels, and even elements from other major US cities. There is even a scavenger hunt of Easter Eggs hidden all over the map, but I didn’t know about this until reading more about the exhibit at a later date.

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There was also this mad scientist kind of display on the way over to my next stop, but I’m not sure which exhibit it was supposed to be a part of, or what all it was representing - look closely, because the harder you look the weirder it gets.

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German Submarine U-505

One of my favorite movies is U-571, which tells the tale of an American submarine capturing a stranded German U-boat to obtain its onboard Enigma code machine. This Matthew McConaughey film is extremely fictionalized, and in fact the real U-571 was never captured; it was sunk via depth charging by the RAAF off the coast of Ireland. During the course of WWII, approximately 15 Enigma machine or Enigma codebook captures were made by the Allied Forces, only one of which was by US forces. In June, 1944, the US Navy captured the U-505, which provided much of the premise for U-571. However, unlike the film heavily implied, it was actually British forces that captured the first Enigma, three years prior when HMS Bulldog captured U-110 on May 9th, 1941. U-571 presents an amalgamated plot of the captures of U-110 and U-505. Although U-505 was not used in filming U-571, film crews reportedly visited and extensively studied the submarine to partially recreate parts of it for the film.

In reality, the U-505 sunk 8 ships over the course of its 12 patrols and two year service history. The US Navy launched a six ship Task Group to hunt U-505 when British Ultra intelligence intercepted generalized locations of German U-boats off the coast of Spain. The Task Group, consisting of one aircraft carrier and five destroyers, made sonar contact with the U-505 on June 4th, 1944, shortly after Captain Daniel V. Gallery had called off the search as the Task Group had exhausted their fuel. With air support from aircraft carrier Guadalcanal, destroyer Chatelain dropped depth charges that crippled the U-505, forcing it to surface. Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant) Harald Lange ordered his crew to abandon ship and scuttle the boat, but the 59 man crew could not disembark before the nine member US boarding party was able to board the U-505, close the valves filling the submarine with seawater, and disarm scuttling charges set by the German submariners.

All but one of the U-505’s 59 man crew survived the Allied assault and capture, and only three other crew members were injured. The crew was ferried to Bermuda aboard the Guadalcanal, before being transferred to a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana several weeks later. To maintain OPSEC and the illusion to Germany that the U-505 had been sunk with no survivors, the POWs were kept separately from others in the prisoner population, and all letters or attempts to communicate outside the camp were confiscated; a direct violation of the Geneva Convention. The imprisoned crew members even constructed makeshift balloons out of cellophane and hydrogen yielded from mixing cleaning chemicals in order to convey their letters over the camp walls with the hope residents of the nearby town would find them and forward the messages to their family, but these attempts were unsuccessful. Some of the POWs learned and played baseball with members of the US Navy baseball team who were tasked as guards at Camp Ruston. Upon the end of the war in 1945, the interned crew began being returned to Germany, with the last remaining captives repatriated in 1947.

As for the U-505, the United States and Allied forces had to hide the submarine to maintain the illusion to the Axis powers that they had captured the missing boat and the valuable Enigma ciphers and codebooks it carried. The U-boat was ferried to a naval base in Bermuda to be studied by US intelligence and naval engineers. To further hide the captured German U-boat, the U-505 was painted to resemble a US submarine, and renamed the USS Nemo. By 1946, US intelligence had gathered all useful information from the U-boat, and dismantled most of the ship’s interior. Having no more use for the ship, the Navy planned on using the U-505 for target practice until it sank. Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery got wind of the plan, and through his brother connected the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry with the Navy to form a plan to donate the U-505 to the newly formed museum, which was already planning on acquiring a submarine to exhibit. On September 25th, 1954 the U-505 was dedicated was dedicated as a permanent exhibit, and a war memorial to all sailors whose lives were lost in the first and second Battles of the Atlantic. In 2004, due to over 50 years being stored outdoors, the U-505 showed heavy wear from the elements, and was subsequently restored and moved to a newly built permanent dry dock inside the Museum of Science and Industry’s East wing.

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An interesting bit of U-505 history conveniently left out of the PG exhibit and tour: the U-505’s 10th patrol endured a very long and severe depth charging. Crushing under the pressure, Kapitänleutnant (Captain lieutenant) Peter Zschech committed suicide during the depth charging, shooting himself in the head in front of his crew in the U-boat’s control room pictured below. First Watch Officer Paul Meyer took over command and ensured the U-505 survived the depth charge attack. Upon returning to port, Meyer, in typical authoritarian dictatorship fashion, rather than being awarded for his quick action to take command, successfully thwart the attack, and save the boat, was simply “absolved from all blame” for the “embarrassing incident” by the Kriegsmarine.

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Henry Crown Space Center

After touring the U-505, I head over to the small space exhibit. I will never not look at space stuff. I did, however, speed through since we have two Air and Space museums here in DC, and I spent almost an entire day exploring Space Center Houston in 2016.

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Fast Forward & Genetics

This part of the museum was a little confusing, as I thought they were the same exhibit at first. I sped through these because I was mostly just interested in seeing the baby chicks!

Fast Forward: Inventing the Future was mostly conceptual exhibits about future-tech. Genetics interested me, but was overrun with kids and I chose to explore other parts of the museum rather than fight a horde of 6 year olds to read the exhibit placards.

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Science Storms

Unfortunately by time I reached Science Storms the museum was 10 minutes from closing. I got an up-close view of the several story tall tornado, but didn’t stay for the last demonstration of the day to instead check out the museum gift shop; they had lots of things I wanted, but none that would be convenient to carry around the rest of the day, particularly with the plans I’d made for later in the night.

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Pioneer Zephyr

The Pioneer Zephyr is a diesel luxury train from the 1930s that makes you feel like a character from Murder on the Orient Express by just standing nearby. On May 26th, 1934, the train set a speed record by covering the 1,015 trip from Denver, Colorado to Chicago, Illinois "Dawn-to-Dusk," in 13 hours 5 minutes, with an average speed of 78mph and a top speed of 112.5mph.

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Hyde Park

It was 4PM and I still hadn’t eaten anything except half a chicken wrap while waiting for my Uber, so I walked the few blocks over to Hyde Park for lunch. I ended up at some local place that had multiple award winning chili, so I was expecting something to rival Ben’s Chili Bowl; the chili was so bad I didn’t even finish it, but the rest of my food was what I expected. After a bit of exploring, coming across a delightfully creepy ivy-clad house, I settled down at a Pâtisserie to relax and unwind with some coffee and macarons before heading uptown to the only thing I’d really planned for the day.

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Check out how this house looks in Summer when the ivy is growing. For bonus points, change the display date and watch as the ivy slowly grows up the side of this home over the last 15 years! It’s beautiful.

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Buddy Guy’s Legends: Nellie Travis with Tommy McCracken

Now for the only thing I’d really planned on, if you can even call it that. The previous evening, while eating dinner after my photoshoot, I noticed that Buddy Guy has a blues club downtown. Although Buddy hails from Louisiana, he is a true legend of Chicago Blues… with his own Southern influences that create his unmistakable, unique tone and style of playing. Today he calls Chicago home, which isn’t too surprising.

I bought tickets to whatever show was playing on my only free evening, without even looking up who Nellie Travis or Tommy McCracken even are - if they’re playing at Buddy Guy’s own club, they’re gonna to be good. I went knowing there was a chance Buddy Guy might even be present, but that was secondary; I intended to relax with creole soul food and cocktails for the night, and enjoy some live music. And that’s exactly what I did - they had an oyster po’boy on the menu! Two of my favorite foods, combined!

Even though I arrived late - Tommy McCracken and his band started playing as I walked in the door - I got the last open seat at a front row table despite the rest of the club being standing room only!

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After the one-hour opening set from Tommy McCracken, it was time for Nellie Travis, who delivered wit with her soulful voice. Some of her songs even included audience participation - she may or may not have put her microphone to my lips during “Sweet Home Chicago…”

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Toward the end of Nellie’s first set, about five minutes before he took the stage, I spotted Buddy Guy walking through the crowd and nodding to Nellie. My suspicion turned out to be correct; Buddy Guy, the blue legend himself, took to the stage to sing a few songs with Nellie’s band. Or, if you’re familiar with Buddy, his music, and his personality, talk about life and give relationship advice.

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Buddy’s relationship advice for the night can be summarized:

  • Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so treat your lady right.

  • And ladies, treat your man right.

  • Respect one another; don’t run around playing. You’re playing with fire, and you’re gonna get burned.

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Buddy only plays full sets at select shows in January, so no guitar this time :-( But that’s okay; watching him talk with the audience with his strong, unmistakable voice was more than I could have asked for.

It was late, so after chatting with a girl at the front desk about some of her most memorable experiences working at such a unique venue, I dipped out as Nellie Travis was beginning her second set.

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ORD - IAD

Sadly it was time to head home the next morning; Chicago has really grown on me - the only thing I don’t enjoy is the cold, which is true anywhere I go. Although this trip was still chilly, the little remaining ice on Lake Michigan from February’s Polar Vortex I saw on the flight here had seemingly melted by time I flew back to DC three days later. Of note, despite all the flights I’ve taken, this was my first time on a 757. Til next time, Chicago!

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NASA's Orville and Santa Claus Visit the Dulles Funway

This past Wednesday, just a few days before taking off on his 'round the World trip to deliver toys to all girls and boys on his nice list, Santa and Mrs. Claus landed at the Dulles Funway to meet kids and wish them a Merry Christmas.

Santa's timing was perfect; Orville, NASA's flying squirrel mascot (named after Orville Wright), also dropped by to present Santa Claus with Quiet Super-Santa Transport (QueSST) technology which will enable him to circumnavigate the World faster and quieter than ever before, thanks to NASA Aeronautics.

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After the technology transfer, it was time to relax and have some fun; Santa and Orville spent some time playing with kids awaiting their flights at the Dulles Funway kids play area.

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Even flight crew stopped by to with Santa a safe Christmas flight and show off their holiday cheer!

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All that play wore Santa out, and he decided to get a massage at Be Relax in Dulles' Concourse B.  He is sure to now be loosened up and ready to fly tomorrow night!

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Meanwhile, Orville had decided to head outside and check out the aircraft; he is a flying squirrel after all!  A Southwest flight was just arriving and he helped marshal in the 737, and even  assisted ramp crew offload luggage!

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Before going back inside, Orville greeted passengers boarding the outbound flight, giving high-fives and taking selfies.

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As his day came to a close, Orville checked the flight status boards to see when he was scheduled to take off from Dulles; thankfully, Travelers Aid was there to help Orville find his way to the gate.

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...and of course on the way there Orville had to join in singing with the carolers!

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Solar Eclipse Photography Tips & Pointers

I'm sure a lot of you are planning to watch Monday's solar eclipse, and if you're a photographer I'm equally sure you've seen some information pertaining to how to safely photograph the moon's transit across our sun.  I'd like to share some information with you to point you in the right direction where you will be able to find more detail on certain topics, with a focus on optics.

Since you may be wondering, I will not be directly photographing the eclipse myself, though I do plan on traveling to the totality zone to enjoy the astronomy show, and probably document my journey and the other sunwatchers I'm sure to find.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

I won't mince words; if you don't already have the ISO 12312-2 compliant "solar sunglasses" you probably won't be able to get them.  They are long-since sold out of all online retailers for delivery before Monday, and all stores are out of them unless they get a batch of them in on Saturday or Sunday.  Here is a list of reputable eclipse glasses vendors, though expect most of them to be sold out.

American Astronomical Society (AAS): Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers

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It is extremely important to only use ISO 12312-2 compliant solar filter film glasses to view the sun at all times any part of the sun's surface is exposed; in the DC Metro area, this means you must view the eclipse through the glasses at all times, because that area is outside of the path of totality, and therefore there will always be part of the sun exposed.  Solar filters such as the film in these glasses do more than stop down visible light; they also block invisible ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light - this is key because the UV light especially can be so intense that it will permanently burn and destroy the central cones in your retinas, creating permanent central blind spots in your vision.  Without the solar filter, this dangerous UV light is not reduced to safe levels even if visible light from the sun is comfortably reduced; this is why "doubling up" on sunglasses is not a safe way to view the eclipse, and can cause just as much damage as staring directly at the sun bare.  Even with the solar filter glasses, you must only take short looks at the sun through the glasses - view the eclipse for no more than a minute at a time, taking long breaks between viewings to allow your eyes a rest and prevent eye damage which can still take place with extended viewing through the glasses.

Please read this article from NASA about more detailed information on safely viewing the eclipse.

Best Buy and Michaels seem to be the most knowledgeable about the glasses, though you should call first thing in the morning to ask about availability, and rush over in the unlikely event they have any more in stock.  Lowe's also carries the glasses, but are out of stock as well.  Home Depot is giving out unsafe advice to buy their welders goggles, but this is a bad situation, because they do not sell the required Shade 13 or 14 welders goggles - they only stock Shade 8, which is much too light, and will cause eye damage when viewing the sun.  Please refer to the link above for more information on welders goggles.

If you don't have any glasses at this point your best bet is to arrive at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia by 5AM to wait for admittance to pick up some of the limited supplies of the glasses they have.  The NASM has small quantities of the glasses they give away on a first-come-first-serve basis.  On Saturday and Sunday they have 300 pairs of glasses available, and all will go to the first groups who arrive at the gate.  On Monday, the day of the eclipse, 1,000 pairs of the solar glasses will be made available while supplies last.  This Friday morning the first car arrived at 4AM to wait; gates into the NASM parking lot are opened at 8AM, by which time a line of cars stringing all the way up to the 28 overpass will have formed.

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At this time a line is formed outside the Udvar-Hazy building (and well beyond) until admission to the building is granted at 9AM.  Another hour waiting, and the museum staff begin giving glasses to guests at the museum's opening time of 10AM.  Glasses are provided on a basis of two per group / family - realistically you can act as if you don't know one another and are a single person representing a group of two, but lets have some ethics and not abuse this - there aren't many glasses to go around, and if you can afford share a pair, then be good and let others also get to experience this rare phenomenon.  Plan to arrive early, and spend lots of time on your feet waiting in line.

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The National Air and Space Museums in DC and the Udvar-Hazy Center will be having solar eclipse viewing events at both locations; read here for details.

Alternative Viewing Methods

Welders Glass

As mentioned above, one can use Shade 13 and higher welding goggles, though this is a hard to find shade, since most stores stock much lighter shaded glass which is unsafe to view the eclipse. If you have welders glass already, and it doesn't explicitly list the shade rating, do not trust it - permanent eye damage is not worth the risk.

Pinhole Projection

An easy method anyone can perform with basic office supplies is to create a pinhole viewer.  All you need is some cardstock and a white surface to place the projection on.  Make a 3mm round hole in the cardstock and by hand focus the sun on your white surface; the eclipse will be visible projected on the surface through the pinhole.  This is in essence a pinhole camera.  You are safe to view the projection without any eye protection, though you may want some sunglasses since it will still be quite bright.

NASA: Projection: Pinhole & Optical

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Photographic Equipment and Telescopes

And here is the big reason I am writing this quick guide - I want you photographers to stay safe, and keep your gear safe.

Please, if you do not have a dedicated solar filter or solar film for your camera or other optical equipment, do not under any circumstance attempt to photograph the eclipse directly.  Without a solar filter, the intense brightness and heat of the sun's rays will burn and destroy your camera's sensor, and can become so hot it can begin to melt and etch an image in the sensitive surfaces of your camera such as the focusing screen.  You can indeed interchangeably use a telescope filter or raw solar film sheets on a camera; the key is you must have total coverage of the lens, and must never use the viewfinder for any reason.

Furthermore, "doubling up" on neutral density (ND) filters will reduce the visible light to a safe level for your sensor, but does nothing to reduce the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) lightwaves which can still damage your sensor; UV filters, and the IR filter built into every camera's sensor may not be strong enough to reduce these wavelengths to a safe level - if you choose to use ND filters, do so at your camera's own risk; you will need at least 18 stops (ND 5.4) of density to reduce the sun's visible light to a level safe for your sensor.  Unless you have a dedicated solar filter, I recommend only attempting the ND method on a camera you are comfortable with possibly breaking permanently.  If you go this method I recommend placing a lens cap over the lens at all times except when focusing (via live-view only) or short bursts of shooting; don't expose the sensor or glass to any undue amounts of the sun's rays.

For all circumstances, you must only use live-view to focus and shoot - do not under any circumstance look through the viewfinder when aimed at the sun, regardless of if your camera has a solar filter installed or not.  Solar filters for optical equipment do not as stringently adhere to ISO 12312-2 compliance which is required for safe viewing with human eyes.  Furthermore, even using the solar sunglasses to look through the viewfinder will also be harmful because of the focused intensity of the sun through the camera's optics.  Do not attempt to use the solar glasses solar filter film as a camera lens solar filter; your camera must have 100% complete lens coverage in order for it to safely photograph the eclipse; your solar glasses' filter is not large enough to cover the entire lens, save for camera phones.  Looking through the viewfinder is placing a hypothetical ant (your eye / retina) under a literal magnifying glass (your camera / lens).

If you do have all the required materials to safely shoot the sun, you will need a lens or telescope capable of reaching the 500 - 800mm range to fill the frame with the sun to a useful amount.

Enjoy It

This is a historic event; don't get caught up in your camera so much that you miss watching!

I will mostly be enjoying the journey and nature of our moon blocking view of our sun, rather than fiddling with a camera; this is rare event that I wasn't even sure I'd be available to enjoy due to other scheduled photoshoots which have now been postponed (probably because people want to watch the eclipse?).  Since I only found out I'm free in the last few days, I will not be photographing the eclipse directly because A) I couldn't find a solar filter available for sale in time for a reasonable price, B) because the risks to my gear are too great for my comfort, C) there will be a massive amount of coverage by others who are better equipped to document this event, such as those at NASA, and D) it's nice to relax sometimes.  I will instead be enjoying the eclipse through my solar eclipse glasses and documenting the journey and those I see watching the eclipse on Monday.

Hopefully you all will be able to enjoy the solar eclipse safely and easily; please, please do not take any silly risks - hurting your camera may hurt your wallet, but hurting your eyes will hurt forever - don't risk anything - stay safe folks!

Below I'm leaving some helpful links which go into more detail about the eclipse than I've outlined here; please visit them and read for more depth than the overview I've provided.

Bad Self Portraits: Summer of 2017

AirlineGeeks.com

A Planespotter’s Dream Gig: A Look into the Life of an Airport Photographer

This morning, AirlineGeeks.com features a profile of me, highlighting my aviation photography, and giving a glimpse into what it’s like when I cover large-scale corporate events.  I invite you to read the full article on the AirlineGeeks website by clicking here or the article preview below.

It is an immeasurable honor that my photography has inspired a profile to be written about me and my work. I’m proud to work so closely with so many people at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, amongst the Airports Authority, the airlines, and their partners, all of whom work hard to keep the DC airports operating smoothly, and welcoming passengers the whole-world over.

I especially have to thank Ryan from AirlineGeeks for shadowing and interviewing me during the Air India inaugural a few weeks ago. I also must thank Airport Operations; without their skilled assistance, I would never be able to cover airfield actives with the depth I capture. Finally I must thank my many partners in the numerous PR, marketing, communications, and media departments and outlets I have worked with over the years - it is because of their efforts on many projects that my photos have been presented to a global audience.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me in growing my career to where it stands today - today marks a true milestone; I can’t begin to describe how honored I am to be receiving such recognition, and I am excited to learn the next heights my career will take. Thank you!

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.