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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Best of 2017

Each year I publish a year-in-review which shows the highlights of my year in photography.  2017 is a year I am very happy to see end; it has been the most challenging personal year of my life, bringing bad news and personal injury which unquestionably held me and my photography back this year.

As some of you may know, I fell and tore a ligament in my knee in May, which culminated in surgical intervention to replace the ligament in October.  Luckily I have an excellent surgeon (he served as Surgical Team Chief for President George W. Bush while he was in office) and I am still reportedly progressing well through physical therapy.  I am doing well now, but being knocked off my feet for a month after the injury and for two months after surgery took a serious toll on my work and morale.  I am expected to make a full recovery and be back to normal mid 2018, but this injury with such a slow recovery time has been very disheartening, even with a cutting edge new surgical method employed which was less invasive and is allowing for a quicker recovery than previously able with this relatively new ligament reconstruction I've had to have.  This is why I haven't posted too many pictures this year; most of my work has been straightforward photoshoots with existing clients since I've had to be selective with what photoshoots I've taken on during my recoveries.   If my 2017 can teach you anything it is don't dislocate your bones and tear ligaments - 0/10, would not recommend.

This isn't to say 2017 was all bad; I did quite a bit of great photography before, and after (and during, for that matter) my various adventures in knee problems.  I spent about ¼ of the year recovering from knee injury and surgery, but the other ¾ of the year had quite a lot of photography.  2017 was a year about change, and that change began in January, even before the 20th, which began bringing even more change and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the year.  My knee didn't change until five months into the year, but every month held some kind of change; just two months after that quite possibly the biggest thing that has happened in my photographic career happened, pointing to the future from my past; 2018 is here, and I am eager to move forward to that future beginning now.

Washington Dulles International Airport Manager Christopher U. Browne addresses Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority guests as he "Departs the Pattern" and steps down as Airport Manager after 29 years with the Airports Authority.  Chris is now Deputy Director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Washington Dulles International Airport Manager Christopher U. Browne addresses Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority guests as he "Departs the Pattern" and steps down as Airport Manager after 29 years with the Airports Authority.  Chris is now Deputy Director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

A protestor gives a white rose to an arriving international passenger.  White roses are traditionally known to represent purity, innocence, sympathy, and spirituality.  Following President Trump’s executive order implementing a travel ban on seven countries, protests initiated at international airports across the United States where individuals affected by the rapidly enacted ban were detained. The Trump administration justified the executive order as part of the “extreme vetting” of immigrants promised during his campaign, while those opposed to the ban question the constitutionality, motives, and execution of the ban. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (D) was on-site denouncing President Trump’s travel ban in a press conference.

A protestor gives a white rose to an arriving international passenger.  White roses are traditionally known to represent purity, innocence, sympathy, and spirituality.

Following President Trump’s executive order implementing a travel ban on seven countries, protests initiated at international airports across the United States where individuals affected by the rapidly enacted ban were detained. The Trump administration justified the executive order as part of the “extreme vetting” of immigrants promised during his campaign, while those opposed to the ban question the constitutionality, motives, and execution of the ban. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (D) was on-site denouncing President Trump’s travel ban in a press conference.

Internationally arriving passengers exit the International Arrivals Building to a sea of cheering protestors welcoming their arrival after clearing customs.  Following President Trump’s executive order implementing a travel ban on seven countries, protests initiated at international airports across the United States where individuals affected by the rapidly enacted ban were detained. The Trump administration justified the executive order as part of the “extreme vetting” of immigrants promised during his campaign, while those opposed to the ban question the constitutionality, motives, and execution of the ban. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (D) was on-site denouncing President Trump’s travel ban in a press conference.

Internationally arriving passengers exit the International Arrivals Building to a sea of cheering protestors welcoming their arrival after clearing customs.

Following President Trump’s executive order implementing a travel ban on seven countries, protests initiated at international airports across the United States where individuals affected by the rapidly enacted ban were detained. The Trump administration justified the executive order as part of the “extreme vetting” of immigrants promised during his campaign, while those opposed to the ban question the constitutionality, motives, and execution of the ban. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (D) was on-site denouncing President Trump’s travel ban in a press conference.

Tom Veirs, in his glassblowing studio, giving a demonstration on how patterns are made in extruded glass, such as wine glass stems. Tom retired in May, 2017.

Tom Veirs, in his glassblowing studio, giving a demonstration on how patterns are made in extruded glass, such as wine glass stems. Tom retired in May, 2017.

Captain John Prater with a ceremonial cigar in the cockpit of his United 787 Dreamliner upon landing his final commercial flight before retiring.

Captain John Prater with a ceremonial cigar in the cockpit of his United 787 Dreamliner upon landing his final commercial flight before retiring.

Adrianna McVay graduates with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology from George Mason University.

Adrianna McVay graduates with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology from George Mason University.

Jockies on the main straightaway approach the finish line at the Virginia Gold Cup.  2017 hosted one of the rainiest, muddiest Gold Cups of recent history.

Jockies on the main straightaway approach the finish line at the Virginia Gold Cup.  2017 hosted one of the rainiest, muddiest Gold Cups of recent history.

Myself wearing a knee immobilizer at a portrait photoshoot two days after my initial knee injury.  The next day I would meet my orthopedist and find out the extent of the damage.  The doctor told me I was truly lucky that I'd only torn one ligament and had no other damage; the MRI showed no loose bodies, no damaged cartilage, and no torn menisci; all extremely common injuries with the type of fall and injury I experienced, but was able to avoid from sheer luck.  In October, later in the year, I would undergo a successful MPFL reconstruction surgery to stabilize the kneecap and prevent future dislocations, instability, and additional damage.  While this picture may be a personal low point ironically placed in a "Best of" post, this was a life-altering event, and more than qualifies in this "Year in Review."

Myself wearing a knee immobilizer at a portrait photoshoot two days after my initial knee injury.  The next day I would meet my orthopedist and find out the extent of the damage.

The doctor told me I was truly lucky that I'd only torn one ligament and had no other damage; the MRI showed no loose bodies, no damaged cartilage, and no torn menisci; all extremely common injuries with the type of fall and injury I experienced, but was able to avoid from sheer luck.

In October, later in the year, I would undergo a successful MPFL reconstruction surgery to stabilize the kneecap and prevent future dislocations, instability, and additional damage.

While this picture may be a personal low point ironically placed in a "Best of" post, this was a life-altering event, and more than qualifies in this "Year in Review."

Michaelangelo Pistoletto's "Venus of the Rags" on display at the Smithsonian's Hirshorn Museum.

Michaelangelo Pistoletto's "Venus of the Rags" on display at the Smithsonian's Hirshorn Museum.

Succulents growing in a flowerpot in Washington, DC.

Succulents growing in a flowerpot in Washington, DC.

Bokeh of exhibit lighting inside the National Museum of the American Indian.

Bokeh of exhibit lighting inside the National Museum of the American Indian.

An Operations Manager listens to an airfield radio while walking between two Plane Mates at Washington Dulles International Airport.

An Operations Manager listens to an airfield radio while walking between two Plane Mates at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Terry McAuliffe, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, speaking at Air India's inaugural event at Washington Dulles International Airport; "We don't believe in walls; we believe in bridges."  The comment alluded to President Trump's recent efforts to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Terry McAuliffe, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, speaking at Air India's inaugural event at Washington Dulles International Airport; "We don't believe in walls; we believe in bridges."  The comment alluded to President Trump's recent efforts to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Air India's 777-200LR departing Washington Dulles International Airport for the first time.

Air India's 777-200LR departing Washington Dulles International Airport for the first time.

Polo players competing at the Great Meadow Polo Club.

Polo players competing at the Great Meadow Polo Club.

"A Planespotter’s Dream Gig: A Look into the Life of an Airport Photographer;" an article on AirlineGeeks.com profiling my work as an aviation marketing photographer.  Although my photography has been featured in many articles and publications, this marks the first time a publication has written an article specifically about me and my work.

"A Planespotter’s Dream Gig: A Look into the Life of an Airport Photographer;" an article on AirlineGeeks.com profiling my work as an aviation marketing photographer.  Although my photography has been featured in many articles and publications, this marks the first time a publication has written an article specifically about me and my work.

A nighttime aerial image of T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island.

A nighttime aerial image of T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island.

Grapes growing on 200 year old vine at Newport Vineyards, a winery in Newport, Rhode Island.

Grapes growing on 200 year old vine at Newport Vineyards, a winery in Newport, Rhode Island.

Fishing vessels docked at Galilee Salt Pond Harbor in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Fishing vessels docked at Galilee Salt Pond Harbor in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Alyssa McGuire posing with a moped on her birthday on Block Island, Rhode Island.

Alyssa McGuire posing with a moped on her birthday on Block Island, Rhode Island.

A blood red sky at sunset in Fairfax County, Virginia.

A blood red sky at sunset in Fairfax County, Virginia.

In Niotta, Tennassee a man uses a paper plate to safely view the projection of the 2017 solar eclipse after the solar filter for his telescope broke mere days before the eclipse.  Solar filters were in high demand, and became unavailable months prior to the day of the eclipse.  The ray of sunlight emitted from his telescope's eyepiece was hot on the skin when placed in the beam.

In Niotta, Tennassee a man uses a paper plate to safely view the projection of the 2017 solar eclipse after the solar filter for his telescope broke mere days before the eclipse.  Solar filters were in high demand, and became unavailable months prior to the day of the eclipse.  The ray of sunlight emitted from his telescope's eyepiece was hot on the skin when placed in the beam.

The sun half eclipsed by the moon as seen from Niotta, Tennessee.

The sun half eclipsed by the moon as seen from Niotta, Tennessee.

Totality of the 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Niotta, Tennessee.

Totality of the 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Niotta, Tennessee.

The Washington Redskins Burgundy & Gold Club restaurant and bar at Washington Dulles International Airport.

The Washington Redskins Burgundy & Gold Club restaurant and bar at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Portrait of Ryan Ewing, owner and founder of  AirlineGeeks.com .

Portrait of Ryan Ewing, owner and founder of AirlineGeeks.com.

Ryan Ewing, owner and founder of AirlineGeeks.com, walks on the airfield at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Ryan Ewing, owner and founder of AirlineGeeks.com, walks on the airfield at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Local DC Brau and Atlas District Common beers on display for sale at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Local DC Brau and Atlas District Common beers on display for sale at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Portrait of Cyrina Yarbrough, Marketplace Development Marketing and Customer Service Manager at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Portrait of Cyrina Yarbrough, Marketplace Development Marketing and Customer Service Manager at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Orville, NASA's flying squirrel mascot, marshals in a Southwest Airlines 737 at Washington Dulles International Airport.

Orville, NASA's flying squirrel mascot, marshals in a Southwest Airlines 737 at Washington Dulles International Airport.

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

A Day at the Museums

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Every year I try to visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival; this year was no different.  As we always do, Adrianna and I arrived hungry and enjoyed several of the different cultural food vendors.  With this year's festival, however, that was about all we did, as we found the entire festival quite small underwhelming, particularly in comparison to previous years; it seems as though the festival has been shrinking over the last few years, much to our disappointment, as we both look forward to attending each year.  The nearby waste bins reminded me of some fine art photography series I've seen done on trash.

We perused the entire grounds of the festival, and barely anything was going on - we saw two discussion panels, which the speakers seemed to be attempting humor that was falling flat on the gathered audiences, and there were no demonstrations taking place even at the scheduled times posted.  Disappointed, we decided to hit a few of the less trafficked museums.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

At the Hirshorn we saw parts of Yoko Ono's exhibits which were nearing their close, and Ai Weiwei's "Trace" exhibit of large LEGO portraits of political dissidents.  This of course was alongside some of Hirshorn's collection of rotating artifacts on display.

One piece that initially confused us was Reynier Leyva Novo's "5 Nights," which appear as different sized rectangles of black ink on the walls, each equal to the amount of ink used in writing five totalitarian leaders' manifestos; at the museum, we did not see a plaque explaining this, but we did notice the plaque underneath the largest rectangle labeled "Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf" and we incorrectly surmised that these were placeholders for an upcoming exhibit, one of which would be a painting by Adolf Hitler sharing the title of his infamous autobiography.  It wasn't until later that evening on the Hirshorn website that all was made clear; the conclusion we'd drawn earlier just didn't feel as though it added up, and had been bugging me for clarification and correction all day.

The detail and depth in Weiwei's repeating patterns is breathtaking, and a designer's delight.  Overtones of surveillance, oppression, suppression.  The rise of Twitter, resistance, transparency through opposition.  It's bleak and hopeful and applicable to the political state in many governments the whole-World over.  It is a modern illustration of a timeless struggle.

Weiwei's LEGO art was expansive and reminiscent of 8-bit art, eliciting thoughts of the digital age in which many of his subjects relied upon in their tasks.

National Museum of the American Indian

Next we decided to visit the nearby National Museum of the American Indian.  Adrianna is part Native American, so she's visited many times and is well versed in the exhibits and history.  I, on the other hand, had never been before, and my entire knowledge of Native American history is limited one learns in 4th grade; that is, to say, I admittedly have no significant knowledge of Native American history.  Our visit was rushed because they would be closing in less than two hours, and frankly this is a museum to fully absorb a whole day would be required; I will need to return to devote an entire day to give it the attention this museum requires and deserves.

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At closing time we split a pastry in the cafeteria head off back to Virginia for dinner.

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.

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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!