early morning

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If you know me, I love a good road trip. Especially the ones that make you feel like you’ve hopped on an airplane and you’re miles away from home but in actuality, you just jumped into your car. So if you’re like me, I created a list of my favorite summer destination that are 3 hours or less from Washington DC with a variety of adventures waiting for you. So if you like being in the outdoors, this list is for you:

Great Falls Park:

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Great Falls Park from the Virginia side

I’ve mentioned this place a hundred times on my blog so it’s definitely a favorite. Less than 20 miles outside of Washington DC, find some peace in Great Falls Park. From the roaring falls, to plenty of space to roam or have a picnic, Great Falls is kind of an unexpected gem outside a major US city. The great part about Great Falls is that there’s a Virginia and Maryland side. You can see actually see the Maryland side while in Virginia and vice versa but they are very different.

Virginia has a better view of the falls and in my personal opinion, the park just feels a little bit more open with wider fields and more viewing spots of the falls. It’s a great place to have a picnic or go on a hike with friends.

Maryland allows you to be closer to the rocks but I personally enjoy the views on the hike on the Maryland side much more.

Don’t be surprised if you see kayakers navigating the rough waters or blue herons fishing for the dinner on either side of the park.

Alexandria, Virginia

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Old Town Alexandria at sunrise

Specifically, Old Town Alexandria. Old Town Alexandria is just 8 miles away from Washington where you can enjoy a day by the Potomac River. Surrounded by cute shops and even better restaurants, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise if you find yourself smiling while walking around the neighborhood. If you of age, The BRÜT Wine Bar is a personal favorite if you like bubbly adult drinks. Waterfront Park is a fantastic place for kids to run around and to experience free outdoor art. I can’t express how much I enjoy this cute little town every time I visit.

But Alexandria is also a great central point for many other excursions. Hop on a scenic water taxi that will take you the National Harbor in Maryland or to DC destinations such as the Wharf, Georgetown, the National Mall, and Nats Stadium. It is also along the Mount Vernon trail that gives you access to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Huntly Meadows Park, both wetland areas with boardwalks that make it fun for birdwatchers and photographers to enjoy the views.

Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive on a foggy early morning

Shenandoah National Park is beautiful summer, fall, spring, winter, whenever! Just 70 miles outside of the District, it’s the best place to get a great hike in. My personal favorite is Old Rag Mountain Trail and Hawksbill Mountain Trail. Both give you an unbelievable view of the mountains and surrounding areas. Just know that both of these hikes are steep but Hawksbill Mountain Trail is significantly shorter, so plan accordingly with the time you have in the mountains.

If hiking isn’t your thing, I highly suggest finding a rental company where they’ll take you down to the river. You can rent canoes, rafts or tubes to float your way down the river. It’s so relaxing.

But if you just want an easy way to enjoy the views, Skyline Drive has stunning views from multiple overlooks along the way.

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If you’re anything like me then you’ve been on zoom calls at least a couple of times a week due to stay at home orders placed by the government. It’s hard not to be able to see loved ones and colleagues in real life so one of the next best things to do is hop on a video call. I’ve attended birthday cake cutting zooms, girls happy hour calls, and even photo critiques with fellow photographers. So I figured I’d spice things up a bit with a new background and wanted to share some with you. I went through my archive and found a variety of images so you can swap out your real-life background for something a little different than your living room couch.

Here are instructions from the video conferencing site, Zoom on how to change your virtual background. These images are all cropped to the recommended aspect ratio.

Free Zoom Background 1: Rawlins Park

This image was created about a week before the stay at home orders were placed in the Washington DC area. Rawlins Park in Foggy Bottom right at full peak with Saucer Magnolia trees. If being surrounded by an abundance of pink flowers is your dream, then you can make it happen with this zoom background.

Rawlins_Park_Zoom_Background_Angela B Pan

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Free Zoom Background 2: Ecola State Park

If quarantine has got you dreaming of the ocean, then this may be the perfect Zoom background for you. I visited Oregon for the first time last year and to say that I fell in love was an understatement. I captured this the first morning I was there from Ecola State Park. The perfect place to watch the sunrise over Cannon Beach and the beautiful haystacks.

Ecola_State_Park_Zoom_Background_Angela B Pan

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Free Zoom Background 3: Multiverse

Taking the Zoom name literally, I thought this may be an interesting background for your video calls. This image was created in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Multiverse is a combination of light, sound, and video created by Leo Villareal. A Concourse walkway that connects the East and West Buildings and not to be missed if visiting the gallery.

Multiverse_Zoom_Background_Angela B Pan

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Free Zoom Background 4: US Capitol Storm

For a slightly more dramatic background, I thought this image of a lightning strike at the US Capitol could be interesting to use. Stormy times call for stormy skies?

US_Capitol_Storm_Zoom_Background_Angela B Pan

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Free Zoom Background 5: US Capitol Flowers

And for a slightly less striking image (pun intended), here’s an image from last summer at the US Capitol. I loved the way that the red flowers were framing the dome.

US_Capitol_Flowers_Zoom_Background_Angela B Pan

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I hope you enjoy these backgrounds. If you decide to use them, please send me a screenshot! I’d love to see them.

Stay safe and healthy!

It all started when I saw a photograph similar to this one. I had never seen anything like it before.

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I feel in love with the way it was so mysterious and the way it made the Jefferson Memorial look so obscure. Even though I had photographed a little bit of fog in 2012, I didn’t know it could get this foggy in the city until I saw that particular image.

I’m sorry I don’t have a link to the original image anymore, but I studied that picture. I wanted to know exactly where the photographer was standing and tried to figure out different ways I could have potentially captured it.

It finally happened to me on Christmas Day 2015. I woke up early for sunrise since my family doesn’t celebrate until later in the evening. I figured the best way to start off the day would be to take a quick morning walk around the National Mall. I checked the weather and it said it was going to be unseasonably warm, so why not.

I don’t remember how long the fog took to appear but I do remember it was quite a bit after sunrise. When it first started forming, I was over by the Potomac River. I had never seen fog just appear out of nowhere but something triggered in my head that if it was starting to form on the river, maybe it was forming at the Tidal Basin. I walked over as quickly as I could and there it was! It was the white Christmas I never knew I wanted.

After that, I became obsessed with finding out more about fog. How to capture it, when it was going to happen and all the best places in the Washington DC area to photograph it.

The Lincoln Memorial on a foggy morning. (L) Predawn (R) 20 minutes after sunrise

So here’s what I learned:

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Going through some images from the archives, I found this one from Ecola State Park overlooking Cannon Beach in Oregon from August of last year. Our trip to Oregon had to be one of my favorites from 2019. It’s a place that I had never been too, but still constantly think about just because of how beautiful it was.

On our first morning on the coast, Andrew and I woke up early to catch the sunrise. Frankie was still in bed. LOL. So we made our way to Ecola State Park to catch one of the best views along the coast. I am so glad I was able to get the drone up for a little bit as the sun was coming over the horizon. The pastel colors that the early morning light created is probably my favorite part of this image.

I CANT WAIT to go back. I just don’t know when that will be though.

My camera settings for this image are F2.2 at 1/400thh sec and ISO 400 with my DJI Mavic Pro.

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So the Thomas Jefferson memorial is still under scaffolding. It’s been like this for more than 6 months and I don’t like it.

There have been times when there’s been scaffolding around other memorials and monuments that I don’t mind. But the scaffolding around the Jefferson is just so much that it’s very difficult to find the good out of it. It’s there because the roof is getting restored and clean so it may not come down until later this year.

Until then, I’ve been purposely avoiding the tidal basin because it’s just so distracting. However, I met up with a few friends on Sunday to capture the moonset and the best spot to watch was the Tidal Basin. So on my way to the location, I tried my best to try to think of it differently and make the best of it.

I found this puddle that had very interesting textures in the mud and thought it went well with the sunrise clouds. I also like how you can see the entire memorial and see that it’s not entirely covered by scaffolding. Maybe next time I’ll just go to the back and take pictures of that. LOL.

My camera settings for this image are F9 at 1/5th sec and ISO 1600 with my Sony A7II and 16-35mm wide-angle lens.

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I captured this image across the street from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. My friend, Birch and I spent a very cold morning walking around Chinatown and somehow ended up in front of the museum. I asked if we could stand in this spot for a little bit because I noticed this reflection coming from a staircase railing.

At first, I was waiting for someone to walk closer to the museum to walk by, but I saw this interesting moment happen and had to capture it. It sort of reminds me of an image I posted last week at the Washington Monument. I was so concentrated on what was happening in the background that I didn’t even notice someone was about to walk in front. It’s interesting because at this time of day, there weren’t many people walking around in general so I’m surprised I captured two at the same time.

My favorite part of the image is that it looks like an optical illusion because the reflection sort of looks like it’s coming out of nowhere. I also love how the man in the front also appears in the reflection. Overall a very interesting street scene that turned out very cool.

My camera settings for this image are F5 at 1/3200th sec and ISO 320 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm zoom lens.