Friday, August 25, 2017

A Total Eclpse of the Sun

I took the day off on Monday to try and capture the solar eclipse, the first total solar eclipse since 1918, so that's quite a big event in my book. I had a very lazy start, hung out with Kota Kat and Rosie Lee, then finally summoned the energy to get into the car and drive to Fredericksburg, my chosen place for the mission. It was predicted that with the total eclipse being visible from south Carolina, over 2 million people would be driving down I95, which reaches from Florida up to New England, to witness the event. Not me, I was keeping well clear of that route.
Being an urbexer and also lacking in the long lens and filters needed to photograph the eclipse at close quarters, I'd decided on an old abandoned hydro power station that we'd visited some years before. Since the eclipse would only be a small part of the photo I wanted something interesting in the foreground. I made sure that I could still access the grounds and that the eclipse would work in the photo. I didn't want to shoot at the building and then find that the sun would be behind me. Putting on my solar glasses I looked up. Yup, it was there, well, all I could see was half a tiny, pale yellow sun with a vast expanse of blackness all around. There was still a good 30 minutes or so until the midway point of the eclipse so I took the opportunity to go and photograph a bridge I've always liked, wondering if I could also fit the eclipse in my frame with the bridge.
I drove down to a small park by the river, passing a mural of Chatham Bridge, and then seeing it for myself from the river bank. Completed in 1941, it replaced the 'free bridge' which in turn had replaced a previous toll bridge that was destroyed by 1937 flood waters. A history of the bridges that stood here is on this link.
A few people were in the park, sitting under shady trees and looking up at the sky through their cardboard glasses. I had thought there would be more people about but the heat was burning; I didn't blame anyone for stopping inside and watching the event on TV from their comfy chairs in AC cooled rooms.
I wondered if there was a closer point or a different angle to see the bridge from so drove along slowly until I parked on the street, hoping to see the bridge through a gap in the trees. Near the bank I looked down and spotted a hidden set of steps leading downwards. I didn't think twice. With a quick look over my shoulder I trotted down, ducking under brambles and huge leaves that were covering the descent.
A prettier photo for sure but I didn't stay long. It looked like this was someone's yard, a beautiful patio area was tucked back here, with hanging lights and canoes on a wall. At the time I thought, what a beautiful private area, but then later wondered if it flooded often. I snapped a few quick shots then scurried back upwards to the car.
I arrived back at the power station just before the middle of the eclipse. It was a weird sensation to think that about 100 million other people were also watching this event. Driving through the town I'd seen many people clutching their solar glasses, or they had them perched on their heads, or they were just standing in groups, or alone, staring up at the sun. One guy had been setting up a camera with a very long lens on his tripod in the middle of town and as I stopped and watched, another guy came up to him, holding a coffee, then reached down, picked up the photographer's solar glasses, and put them on for a squint at the sun. They stood chatting, two strangers brought together for an out of world event.
I saw families, sitting on blankets under shady trees, stepping out of the cooler sanctuary to stand and stare at that golden globe in the sky. Folks were on the banks of the Rappahannock, making the most of the low tide, and spread out on its sandy beaches, all looking upwards. But there were others who were flat out ignoring this historical happening. They sat drinking coffee or eating lunch under the canopies of cafes and restaurants, with no glasses near them and no glances skyward.
Back at the power station I walked down to the water, a large flock of geese now sharing the grassy banks by the river. I wasn't sure whether they were simply hanging out or whether, because of the eclipse, their instincts were recommending that a roost was in order. Either way, we all happily co-existed on the bank together. As a cloud crept over and covered the eclipse I used the opportunity to have a look through the viewfinder and adjust my camera settings. I then used my monitor to frame the photos. Having a few clouds in the sky was a big plus, they certainly enhanced my images, far better than just a blue sky.
Even looking in to the water was bright and I compensated as best as I could, hoping the shots would turn out OK. It was interesting, when I was later processing my photos, to see that the sky shots showed refractions from the sun so the eclipse image was thrown down a little lower in the sky. The water shots showed the actual eclipse. I was very surprised to not see any other abandoned style photos from my urbexing buddies on Facebook, it seemed I was the only one to adopt this style.
It was very strange lighting down by the water. I had expected the world to darken somewhat with almost 83% of the sun covered but it was still bright, although it was as if someone had replaced a 100 watt bulb in a room with a 60 watt; it wasn't quite right. It reminded me of early dawn light and it even felt a little cooler. I stood and savored the experience, hearing the bullfrogs croaking in the boggy area under the trees and the crickets chirping. A huge red velvet ant sporting a fluffy scarlet coat dashed through the undergrowth and a blue heron stood in the river mud listening for fish.
The eclipse had nearly finished when I left and daylight had returned to normal. I took a few more shots of the power station then decided to try one of the local breweries.
This scene made me chuckle, the wooden tower, usually seen with a water reservoir on top was in this instance holding an AC unit. Someone must like their house to be very cool!
I loved this mural on a doorway. A shame that my first thought, with today's destructive and politically correct society, was would it be vandalized. I'm hoping that because it's on private property it won't.
In Spencer Devon Brewing this fabulous artwork greets visitors at the top of the stairs. There are other art pieces adorning the walls inside, all I think by the same artist, but not to my liking, obscure and surreal images with lots of scary faces. But the beer was amazing. I asked the barman to take a photo of me, sporting my solar shades, holding my Black Tide IPA. We laughed afterwards as I kept the pose, wondering how long it was going to take him, for a good minute or so, until he told me he'd been trying to hand me my camera for ages but I just kept grinning and holding my beer. He'd had no idea that I couldn't see what he was doing through those lenses. I must have looked a right chump!
The weather turned while I was at the bar. Looking down on Stanley, the heavens suddenly opened and the rain poured down. I was in no rush to leave so waited until it had passed, which wasn't too long, but the air was thick and damp when I finally emerged outside. I was glad to be in the cool car and also very pleased that we had all witnessed the solar eclipse in such fine weather. It seemed strange that we had been part of this unique phenomenon in such perfect conditions yet now we were in the middle of a rain storm. It was almost as if we were being told, 'That's all folks, the show is over. Back to business as usual!' The next total eclipse that can be viewed in America is in 7 years time and will last over 4 minutes, unlike today's, which was just over 2 minutes. But the next one will be on April 7th, so it could be very likely that too many clouds will be present and the 86% eclipse won't be seen by us in Virginia. But we'll just have to wait and see. Hopefully see you then!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

It's Carnival Time

After a 26 mile bike ride in the morning with Steve and his dad, we sat chatting in his parent's back yard for a while without realizing how quickly the time was passing by, as good times always do. It was all too soon when I had to dash home to grab my camera and meet Richard down at the Prince William Fair in Manassas. I'd been wanting to attend this event for a couple of years, as the carnival area was a lot bigger than other local fairs, and they had newer rides, which meant better brighter lights.
I managed to get parked really close to the entrance which was a pure fluke, because I'd peeled off from the slow moving vehicles in front of me as they tangled their way across the bumpy uneven field, and just took a chance that I'd find a space that someone had vacated, and I did. As one car pulled out to leave I whipped in, thanking my lucky stars that I'd been so fortunate.
 I started making a bee line for the carnival rides once I was through the gate, but then a rich baritone voice singing Elvis songs came belting from a tent, and I had to investigate. An Elvis tribute artist called Lionel Ward was now strutting back and forth, talking to the audience, saying, "We're doing things you wouldn't believe.' I had no idea what he was referring to but looking at him I thought, 'And you're wearing things I wouldn't believe.' He really was something to observe but he exuded so much self confidence that by the time he starting singing again, I was entranced. His voice was superb and he worked the audience like the true pro he was, the guys included. I stood watching for 3 songs, my foot tapping and humming along, but the screams from the rides kept catching my attention and I had to move on. Here's a sample of Lionel here.
I walked across the grass and was soon extremely glad that I'd come while it was still light. There was a large grassy area in the middle which I soon discovered was a great way to get from ride to ride without battling through the throngs of people. But then I also realized why few of the folks were using it themselves. Large boggy swampy areas were dotted about, with no rhyme or reason as to why they were there. But they smelled awful and I was mighty glad I hadn't stumbled blindly into one when it was dark. There were no lights to illuminate the mud but I learned very quickly the routes to take as I constantly cut back and forth behind the crowds.
  I'm not usually a fan of the harsh LED lights but I was attracted to this ride, The Hydra. The colors changed constantly and it was possible to walk behind a tent and then stand directly underneath the action as the howling participants were slung up in the air over my head and then plummeted to earth immediately afterwards, all the while spinning around. There was a rather pleasant breeze as well when they swooshed over the top of my head. I spent as much time just watching and grinning as I did taking photos, my head arching forward and back with the motion.
 The Big Wheel was a bit blah as I stood observing it, tiny LED lights flashing in a gaudy unspectacular manner on a huge frame but I did find that using a long exposure on my camera brought out more interesting patterns.
 This Bozo guy was pure talent. Stuck in a cage, he taunted everyone with continuous comments, funny, insulting, sarcastic, but always hilarious. Until he got dunked into water by someone hitting the target. It only happened once while I was watching and I was astounded to actually find myself feeling sorry for him as he went suddenly silent while dropping into the tank. But within seconds he had sprinted back up to his seat and was jeering at the spectators again as though nothing had happened. As soon as he saw me pointing my camera he yelled, "I see you taking pictures. Does seeing a guy behind bars remind you of your ex husband?" It actually didn't but I still howled at his cheek. I left him, his raucous cackling following me as I headed back to The Hydra.
I kept coming back to this ride, loving the thrill we spectators got by standing so close to it. I messed about with long exposures again while Richard and his friend stood watching the riders. We were able to get really close to the action, even able to rest elbows on the flooring of the ride,  and I fully expected a shout from the operator to tell us to move away, but it never came. Check out the dude in the ground level shot, busy on his cell phone, and paying no attention to the experience whatsoever. What a boring life he must lead.
I love the booths dotted around the carnival. their old fashioned signs displaying corn dogs and fried dough, both of which I dislike intensely, but I still like the smells and watching others fill their faces with sugary treats, especially the kids, who eat the stuff like they've been starved for 3 months. Watching them trying to shoot a target or catch a duck always makes me chuckle too, their faces screwed up in deep concentration as they work on their tasks, likely more dedication here than their schoolbooks. Richard caught a shot of me taking a photo of the two wonderful ladies above, while I also captured another lady, obviously very unimpressed with the 5 second delay we must have caused.
 As I was starting to play around more with photos, trying new ways to take long exposures, some very large drops of rain fell on my head. I looked up thinking it may have come from one of the rides but their intensity increased until suddenly it was a deluge. I snatched my camera, still attached to the tripod and ran for cover under one of the booths. Thankfully the rain was pouring straight down and the narrow canopy above my head sheltered me and a few others. We all huddled together watching others scurry back and forth trying to escape from being soaked. Within a couple of minutes the open spaces were completely empty, everyone under booths or tents or pressed up against food trucks. The black tarmac shimmered from the fairground lights that were still blinking resolutely. I took just a couple of shots but then had to pack away my gear, the rain looked like it was stopping for a while. Thunder grumbled in the distance and I saw a lightning bolt streak on the horizon. It was time to go, and it seemed many of the crowds were thinking the same thing. The Big Wheel turned slowly letting people get off and I assumed the rides were now going to be stopped for the night. I walked back towards the car, running from food truck to canopy until I was near the exit and heard a familiar crooning.
Lionel was still performing, this time in a white jumpsuit, thankfully with a lot of well placed tassels hanging in front, and still holding his audience captive. I stopped to watch for a while, pleased to hear he was going to return next year. I think that next year I may just sit on a bench and stop a while. But tonight I was grateful that my car was near the exit, and within minutes I was driving down a shiny wet Rte 66, singing Hound Dog.