Bealeton Balloon Festival -Ground View

By Mark

One of my favorite local events is the annual hot air balloon festival at the Bealeton Flying Circus.  I convinced Roger to get up before dawn and head down there.  Now to be fair, I told him not to bother showing up before 6:30 as they wouldn’t start launching until later.  He of course got there much earlier thinking they would have the balloons all fired up and ready to go.  Not so much. 

It was a really calm morning and the biplanes were out on dawn patrol, keeping company with the moon.

Unlike last year, they didn’t let us get up close to the takeoff points where they filled up the balloons.  We had to stay behind the fences and watch as the ground crews delivered the gondolas and envelopes to the field.

One of the things I enjoy most is the bright vibrant colors.  

Soon enough the first balloons were off with suitable escorts.  

They walked the purple one over by the fence to better load the paying passengers for their rides.

This year they had some experimental balloons as well, including this one from a local dentist.  It doesn’t have a basket, just a reinforced lawn chair.   

He just flew it the length of the field then, landed and collapsed it.  That was interesting to watch as well.

Other balloonists had taken off from the airport trying to make it to the airfield to land.  Unfortunately, the winds didn’t cooperate, so they landed in the fields and farms surrounding the area.

One of features of the flying circus is the opportunity to go flying in the open cockpit Stearmans.  Roger decided it was time and he will be posting his shots from the air, which are, I hate to say, very cool shots.  

Getting in to the plane requires a lot of grace and skill and the patient assistance of the ground crew.  

Taxiing, takeoff, a very low pass across the field, and then the careful return to earth.  

.  It looked like a blast and you will enjoy the photos from the plane.  

Worldwide Photowalk 2016

By Roger (15 August 2016)

It's time to register for another Worldwide Photowalk. Scott Kelby announced this year's walk on his blog, today. He has been organizing the WWPW for nine years; Mark and I have participated every year and led walks for seven years. This year, we'll meet in Shepherdstown, WV, at 9 a.m., Saturday, 1 October.

These photowalks are always a fun social event. It's an opportunity to visit a new location; practice your techniques; and learn from other people who have the same interests. Besides, we all need to get outside and work on our step counts, right?

Our group from the 2013 Worldwide Photowalk, in Williamsburg

Mark and I visited Shepherdstown, this weekend, to map out the route. We'll start and end at the Bavarian Inn (link). They are right along the Potomac River and have an easy parking lot. We arranged to have room for us to have a great post-walk lunch and a place we can talk and chimp. You don't have to buy lunch, but we'd sure like to chat with you after the walk.

Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia. It was laid out from land granted to Thomas Shepherd in 1734 and chartered in 1762. The town has played roles in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. There are historic buildings, a street market, unique shops, a public garden, and Shepherd University. All of these attractions are along our easy route, which is less than two miles.

Worldwide Photowalks are a great way to meet other photographers. We usually bring a light camera bag – sometimes as light as one camera, one lens. There is a competition for those interested; it certainly isn't mandatory. If your photo is judged the best of the walk, you'll win a free year of KelbyOne online training. The winning photo will be forwarded to the main photo competition, where the prizes are much bigger, including a new Canon 5D Mark III and lens. Scott will have a full list of the prizes in a future blog, but the grand prize list usually exceeds $10,000 in value.

Our 2014 Harpers Ferry walkers

Our 2014 Harpers Ferry walkers

From last year's Worldwide Photowalk, in Culpeper

From last year's Worldwide Photowalk, in Culpeper

We recommend you bring lots of enthusiasm, comfortable shoes, a bottle of water, and any camera gear you want to carry. You can use any camera, including old film cameras or your phone. At one of our Williamsburg walks, one of the photographers used a pinhole camera. This year they even have a category for video if that is your bag.

You can find our walk here. Although there is no cost, you must register to participate in all the fun. If you'd like to check other locations, you can find them here. Come join us for a fun time.

Photowalk D304339

The Flying Circus

By Mark

Photographing airplanes from the ground is very hard.  Usually they are too small in the frame to get much detail and if they are against the sky, it is tough to have any sense of scale. 

Luckily, old style flying shows still exist and we are fortunate to have one nearby.  We went out an overcast but still very hot morning to see the show.

Camera EXIF data

Camera EXIF data

Because of the relatively slow speed of the aircraft, I knew I wanted to shoot in Shutter Priority mode and set my speed at 1/800th of a second.  Additionally, I changed my metering mode to spot as I really wanted the camera to focus on the airplane.   Even with that, the relative smallness of the plane versus the much brighter sky, meant that the images were going to be too dark.  I cranked in +1 EV of exposure compensation to start, but wound up having to take it to 1 2/3 EV more than the camera thought necessary.   I had my 70-200mm f2.8 on (my favorite lens), but knew that was not going to be enough.  As you look at the EXIF data, you will see that my focal length wound up being 340mm.  I used my 1.7 “doubler” which magnifies your image at the cost of 1 or 2 stops of light.   In post processing I really cropped the images significantly, removing more than 50 per cent of the image so that you could actually see what was going on.

 Created after World War 1, as the United States sold off many of the planes they had built, flying circuses and barnstormers crisscrossed the nation, giving most people their first sight of an airplane and for many, their first ride.  As the competition between shows grew more intense, the length they would go to for stunts also grew. Wing walking, if you haven’t seen it, requires a person to climb out of their cockpit and climb out onto the wing.  Since most of these aircraft were biplanes, they did have plenty of struts and wires to hang on to.

One of my wife’s fellow teacher’s boyfriend happens to be not only one of the pilots, but also is the wing walker. 

Bealeton Flying Circus Pt 2-201.jpg

Joe is a very brave young man. In real life he runs his own cattle ranch.    His first trick, once he is on the lower wing is go hang upside down, from the wing, only holding on with his feet.  

Next he climbs on top of the airplane’s top wing.  This whole process is done without any kind of parachute and often times without any tether.  At least there is a post and some foot straps because, the pilot then starts doing aerobatics.  Here is Joe going all the way around a loop.  At one point is twice as heavy as on the ground, and then he is weightless.

To cap off their show they unfurl a lovely American flag and buzz the crowd at pretty low levels.

A successful landing is one you can walk away from is an old pilot’s adage.  Here they come back to earth.   

.   If you live close to Northern VA, you should definitely make this a weekend destination.   Hours and schedule are posted on their website:    You can also buy flights in their open cockpit aircraft.  It is a lot of fun and the balloon festival is coming up soon.  

Wildlife Photography For Beginners

By Roger (7 August 2016)

If you're looking for something challenging to photograph, and you like animals, you should give wildlife photography a try. Typically, wildlife photographers make photos of undomesticated animals, in their natural habitat. Many adhere to photo-journalistic standards. They won't edit anything in the photo or manufacture the scene (through bait lures, etc.). You can find countless stories on the web about photographers being stripped of awards because they violated these rules.

You may have heard it requires very expensive gear and an unlimited travel budget, not to mention the physical fitness of an Olympic athlete. Those requirements may be a bit over-stated, but wildlife photography can be a difficult genre to break into, especially if you intend to make a living at it. The successful wildlife photographer has studied the animals and their habitats. They spend long periods in the field to gather those beautiful shots you see. However, there are many simpler, less-expensive approaches available to you, if you just like animal photography.

One of the easiest place to begin learning is your local zoo. It may not be as exotic as a trip to Antarctica, but today's zoos are making great strides to make their enclosures more closely match the animals' natural environments and eliminate unnecessary barriers between the viewer and the animals. With the safe conditions of a zoo and closer distances involved, you don't need any of the really expensive, long focal length lenses to get a good photo. Usually a lens with a focal length that tops out at 200mm will be sufficient. Most zoos will permit a monopod, which you can use for extra camera stability when the enclosures are a little dim.

Gibbon, Omaha Zoo

You still need to do a little bit of work; don't get lazy just because the zoo is easy. Find out the best time to catch the animals being active – it's usually early in the day. The animals will move as they want, so be patient. Don't whistle or make noises at them. You'll annoy the other guests, and the animals have heard it before and will ignore you. Look for the best backgrounds for your photos. Spend some time watching how the animal is behaving. Move around to find the best composition. The crowd always stops at the closest position to the animal, but moving further may give you a better angle on the animal and help you keep the crowds out of the frame. That's how I did got this coati photo.

Coati, Omaha Zoo

Beyond the basic zoo, you may be able to find animals in some other kind of captive condition. Animal parks hold animals in large parks and allow them to roam. We have one in Virginia that has 180 acres of land that you can drive through in your vehicle. (Virginia Safari Park) The animals are not predators, obviously, but you can make photos of them without worrying about bars. Since you can feed the animals, they are unafraid and may approach your car, allowing you even closer photos. Again, look at your backgrounds, and try to get a photo that makes the animals look as if they are in a natural environment.

Zebras in the park

I wrote about another captive event, back in 2014, (link), when I was talking about group shoots. The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia (link) brings raptors to some events. They'll let contributors photograph the birds during the events. With the raptors sitting on a branch, they appear to be in the wild. As I said, these types of wildlife photography aren't what the “real” wildlife photographers do, but it can give you a chance to make nice photos of animals. And, as a bonus, you are contributing to a worthy charity.


When you're willing to take your chances on the whims of nature, you can head into a wildlife refuge. In a refuge, the animals (finally) are in their natural environment. You have no guarantee of seeing any of them; you are going to have to go into the refuge to try to find them. This is where your planning, knowledge of the animals, and patience will be tested. So why would I include them in a blog about easy ways to get into wildlife photography? Because there are still some easier ways to experience the wildlife refuge. Most of the preserves around the world have guide services, operating inside, for those willing to spend some money.

My favorite refuge is the Denali National Park and Preserve, in Alaska (link). We've visited it half a dozen times. Founded in 1917, it has more than six million acres of wilderness. The animals are never fed or assisted in any manner; everything is real. However, there is one road into this wilderness. Current prices for a bus trip into Denali start at about $80.

You may scoff at taking a bus, but you would be surprised what you can see from that vantage point. The animals completely ignore the buses because they aren't a threat to them. The drivers are connected by radio to tip each other off when an animal is spotted near the road. If you get the right group of passengers – meaning they are very quiet – you can get very close to animals in the area.

Denali Wolf

For example, on one trip, our driver was tipped off about a wolf near the road. The bus stopped, and everyone was told to be very quiet. The wolf came out of the brush; walked alongside the bus; and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the road. The close up was shot with a 200mm lens and is not cropped The wolf was so close to us that I couldn't get all of her into the camera frame. The bears, below, were one of 10 sets of grizzlies we saw the year prior. Once again, we were just riding the bus.

Denali Wolf close-up

Denali Grizzlies

Denali Grizzlies

I will never be a “real” wildlife photographer. My primary interests lie in other genres, but I'm always ready to make interesting photos when they present themselves. If you are looking for ways to build your collection of animal photos, there are several inexpensive ways to begin. Use the resources available to learn your techniques; study the animals and their environments; and look for opportunities to make it happen.

Have fun, and, remember, all of your wildlife photos don't have to be big and scary.