Washington National Cathedral

Nat’l Cathedral-Facade

In May I had the opportunity to visit the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Technically, it is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC. I accompanied friends as we attended a concert by a string quartet. The cathedral is being renovated. Although I had been to the cathedral while in graduate school many years ago, I saw it with new eyes, this time as a photographer. It was late afternoon when we arrived, but night had fallen by the time we left.

The cathedral is the second tallest church building in the United States, and the fourth tallest structure in DC. In fact, it is taller than the US Capital, so a special act of Congress was required for it to be built.

Several features mark the cathedral, including the “creation” rose window. The nave is lined by state flags. As you look on the left, Rhode Island’s flag is the sixth down the line.

Nat’l Cathedral-Rose Window

Other features include the high altar, carved from limestone. Texas limestone was used for the Christ figure, but limestone from a quarry outside Jerusalem was used for the rest. The Canterbury pulpit is where Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his last Sunday sermon before his death. Outside the Children’s Chapel the floor is inlaid with state medallions.

Enjoy this little slide show from the National Cathedral.

What Was Lost Today

ND-West Rose Window

The tragic fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris today destroyed magnificent treasures of Christianity. Begun in the 12th century and completed in the 13th, Notre Dame predates the Protestant Reformation and thus belongs to all Christians. I seek in this post to give you a poor representation of the beauty of Notre Dame. Please excuse the very poor images here–they are purchased slides from my trip to Paris in 1980. Now much faded and distorted, they were never very good.

As you no doubt learned in an art history course at some point, the structure of Notre Dame made a striking advance in architecture at the time. Early Christian cathedrals were modified from Roman style basilicas, with circular arches. A modern example of this style is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This style of construction leads to a more ponderous feel. What designers of Notre Dame wanted to achieve was a much more soaring effect, with lots of windows and light. This demanded a new architectural design, the gothic arch. With the greater strength the gothic arch provided they could raise the ceiling, insert side windows, and support massive rose windows. Those who have visited Notre Dame never fail to be impressed by these colorful masterpieces. To support the walls of the cathedral architects required the use of flying buttresses, impressive in their own right.

UPDATE: As of this morning, April 16, reports are that the structure is not deemed secure, but the organ and west rose window are OK.

The images in this gallery give you some slight hint of this magnificent edifice, meant both to inspire and to instruct.

How It All Began

Red-breasted Nuthatch Eating Suet

These little guys used to be a regular at my suet feeders during the winter. Then for a few years none appeared. This winter, however, a pair seems to appear sporadically. Red-breasted Nuthatches do nest in Rhode Island. In fact, I spotted a nesting pair a couple of summers ago while participating in the RI Bird Atlas. So, why a post about them when their cousin, the White-breasted Nuthatch, is so much more common? Here are the Whites, for comparison.

White-breasted Nuthatch with seed
My White-breasted Nuthatch Foraging

My father taught me to love the natural world. While serving in India during World War II he collected butterflies. An unfortunate plane crash took out his efforts, as well as the pilot, sadly. My naturalist education began with the study of butterflies when I was in the fourth grade. We spent summers in Michigan, so I became rather proficient with species from central Ohio and northern Michigan, though they are quite similar.

The next step for me was birds. I loved watching them come to our home feeders. One of my absolute favorites was–and still is–the Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are slightly smaller than their White-breasted cousins. My father broadened my birding experiences over the years. More than once we drove from Columbus to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Toledo. As any serious birder will confirm, these locations are among the premiere places to see warblers. As these colorful little birds migrate to their nesting grounds in Canada they stack up along the shore of Lake Erie, feeding and resting, awaiting just the right conditions for taking off over the lake. I remember one time, after a morning of constant warbler sighting and identifying, we were sitting in the car eating lunch. The warblers literally dripped off the tree in front of the car! What a memorable experience.

By the time I reached the seventh grade I wanted a pair of binoculars of my own. “OK,” said my father, “but you have to pay for them yourself by saving your allowance.” At that time Columbus was home to a company that made binoculars–Burton. I needed $65.00 to purchase a pair of 8-power binoculars suitable for birding. It took me a year, but I made it. My father drove me to the factory store, and I handed over my hard-earned cash for my new birding companions. I vaguely remember that Burton was bought out by another company, but I can’t remember exactly who. Perhaps it was Bushnell. At any rate, a Google search yielded this ad from a hunting magazine.

Hunting magazine ad for Burton binoculars.

I had those binoculars for several years, until an unfortunate roll in a canoe proved that they were, indeed, not waterproof.

Binoculars today usually look quite different. The Burton ones were of the porro prism design, the only thing available at the time. Because of the interior placement and shape of the prisms, the objective lenses in porro prism binoculars are wide-set in relation to the eyepieces. This makes them awkward to hold. The roof prism design allows for the objective lenses to be in line with the eyepieces, making for lighter weight and greater comfort, at the expense of greater cost. This article gives some historical insight on the shift from porro prism to roof prism binoculars.

From butterflies to birds to nature as a whole. I love it all. In recent years I’ve added photography to the ways I enjoy the natural world.

Recuperating

This month of February, probably bleeding into much of March, is consumed by recuperation. I had total knee replacement February 6. That was for the right knee; the left was done last August. Just trying to keep them a matched set! All is going well, as it did the last time. I highly recommend the total joint replacement center at Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as the talented physicians of University Orthopedics. My doc is Dr. John Froehlich, about whom I have only good things to say–as does my physical therapist.

Cyclamen At Home

This beautiful cyclamen is a gift from a very dear and generous friend who has been helping me recover. The photo was a challenge in lighting and background, given my limited mobility at present. I set the plant on my kitchen counter and used a distant wall as the background. The wall is yellow, though, and that color combination did not please me. Also, I needed more light on the plant itself. So, speedlights to the rescue. For the main light I used a Nikon SB-5000 flash and reflected it off of the pink aluminum foil that came with the plant. I used a small Nikon macro flash with a diffuser for a secondary light on the right. To address the wall color I used a third flash, a Nikon SB-600 with a green gel, directed on the wall.

Thanks again for good friends who help make life more cheerful.

Wolf Moon Eclipse–Partial?

As was well noted by the media, January 20-21, 2019 presented a total lunar eclipse, visible in the Western hemisphere. So, what’s the deal? Why am I only talking about a partial eclipse? Let me explain. When the opportunity to photograph this astronomical event arose I did research. Lots of it. How do you focus on the moon? How does the exposure change as the eclipse progresses? What equipment is needed for the best result? Can you hand-hold the camera for a good exposure of the moon? Lots of information, some very helpful, is available on the internet. I had my ideal images in mind, and had scouted out the location I hoped to go to. Then things changed–like a very unfavorable weather forecast. Snow. Single digits. Wind. And the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and KC Chiefs. What else could go wrong?

Let’s begin by comparing these two photos from the slideshow.

Partial Lunar Eclipse
Waxing Gibbous Moon

The image on the right was a practice image. Using my Nikon D500 camera with the Nikkon 300mm f/4 PF lens, could I get an acceptably sharp image of the moon hand-held? Well, yes, this is acceptable, but hardly good. The light from a full moon is essentially the same as a landscape during daylight. That is, you could start testing exposure using the Sunny 16 Rule. However, a much longer shutter speed is needed during totality, when you can see the stars along with the moon.

The image on the left is from the partial phase of the eclipse. This was taken with the same camera-lens combination (both images are cropped), using a tripod. So, if I could get this image, why not the total eclipse?

Well, after the football game I decided to see if the weather had cleared. Indeed, it had! Hardly a cloud in the sky–or a degree on the thermometer. So, I bundled up carefully and ventured into the back yard to give it a try. What follows is here as a lesson of what can go wrong, even when you do the research and prepare.

I knew the moon would be at a high elevation–over 80 degrees above the horizon. But, it did not register in my aging brain that the moon would therefore be nearly overhead. That means the camera must point directly up. Try that with a camera on a tripod! Then try to see if you have the moon in focus. Clearly, I did get one image in focus, the one of the partial eclipse above.

Further, I had intended to modify my schedule for changing the exposure so that I didn’t have any shutter speeds faster than 1 second. With the lens and camera I was using, the 600 Rule for astrophotography called for an exposure no longer than 1.3 seconds (600/450, the full-frame equivalent) . I had not done this, however, because of the ominous weather forecast. So, I ended up going with the exposures on my carefully planned sheet–8 seconds during totality. Way too long to avoid motion blur. My cold brain didn’t think to move my frigid fingers to make the adjustments necessary. Here is the result. Lesson learned–but no chance for redemption until at least 2020.

The Moon and the Stars (Lunar Eclipse)