US Diaries 2.0

Clock didn’t tick for long since my first visit to US and I got a chance to visit Redmond again. Another high priority work, short deadline and huge expectations.

August 11, 2017

Hot summer evening and snacks break. A kind of perfect time to gossip about things around you. I was discussing entrepreneurship journey with my friend who was in Hyderabad for a startup conference. His zeal and passion to build something was making me go crazy and it hooked me in no time. Suddenly, my phone rang. It usually flashes name of the person at the other end only when something important comes up. Last time it did was when I had a trip to US and the second time, I got promoted.

“Hey Aashish! How are you doing man?”, my manager asked.

“It’s good”. While I was talking, another thread in my mind was trying to find clue on what might be the reason for this urgent meeting.

“Some urgent work has come up. We have to start on this immediately. Before I tell you the specifics, let me warn you that the timeline is quite aggressive and you have to be really efficient in delivering it. We have carefully chosen two engineers with strong debugging skills who can fix and unblock issues quickly.”, he explained the situation in one deep breathe.

“What is the ETA?”, I asked.

“YESTERDAY”, he smiled. “One thing that can be of your interest is that there is an opportunity to visit Redmond. I know that you love traveling. Based on the peer feedback and the work you have been doing, you have proven yourself to be the guy who gets the work done.”, he continued further.

“You can think over the weekend and tell me if you are interested in taking up this opportunity. I would like if you say yes”, he was done with talking.

Well, I didn’t know if I had a choice to press the NO button. Nevertheless, there were multiple reasons on why I wanted to work in that area. There was high visibility and sole ownership. I wanted to work on something new. Plus visiting Redmond was the icing on the cake. I didn’t need a weekend to make up my mind.

“I see it as a fantastic opportunity from the visibility perspective. I am in”, I was excited.

“Thanks man! I will let you know the dates”, he looked happy.

August 25, 2017

I wrapped up the work I was doing and started getting myself familiar with Applescript, a Mac automation language. 2 weeks later, I came to know the exact date to travel.

In my last visit to US, I missed shooting Seattle the way I wanted because of last minute ticket booking and not bringing the right gear.  Two things I did over the weekend. I started a mail thread in Microsoft Photography Club about the best places to shoot and if anyone wanted to accompany me. Second, I booked tickets in my favorite airlines, Emirates.

Technical bugs can snatch away your happiness. Just before 4 days of travel, I received mail from American Express Travel Agency saying my ticket in Emirates was not booked because of some technical glitch. The front end and back end were not in sync and there was a problem communicating my ticket booking request. What I received was the itinerary and not the flight tickets. They were in continuous talk with Emirates folks for 2 days. But no luck. I, finally booked tickets in British Airways.

Based on recommendations from my friends in company, I created a list of places to shoot in Seattle. The list topped with capturing Space Needle from different view points.

September 1, 2017

“Good morning, Mr Aashish!”, the gorgeous lady at the Checkin counter greeted. “Would you like a more luxurious and comfortable journey.”, she asked and explained the business class etiquette.

“Is it a free upgrade?”

“I’m sorry. But No”

“I think I will do just fine”, the happiness was gone in the split of a second.

The same lady was wandering around after an hour looking for me.

“May I see your boarding pass please”, she asked.

“Is there a problem?”, I asked and handed over my pass to her.

“Not if upgrading is an issue for you. Make sure you travel business next time by yourself”, she smiled.

I couldn’t believe it. Last evening I was reading some blog for free upgrade and their tips worked. This was first time I was traveling with British.

It didn’t feel any different until she asked, “Would you like to have some Champagne sir?”

Their menu never changes

I stayed in the same Marriott hotel I chose last time. I must say, they don’t like a change. Nothing had changed in 8 months. Same California grapes, juicy pineapple and waffles with chocolate chips.

My schedule in US was simple. Wake up at 4:30 in the morning, take hot water bath in bathtub, reach office by 8-8:30. Mornings are best when you want great productivity and efficiency. I got 5 free evenings dedicated to photography.

Day 1 – Kerry Park and Alki beach

I met Vijay, a Microsoft engineer and a wildlife photographer. We planned to shoot sunset at Kerry Park and skyline at Alki beach. It was a sunny day and there were chances to get good drama in sky and Mt Rainier in the behind.

The blue hour beauty

This is another picture from my Space Needle series captured in blue hour. 10 points to those who noticed Mt. Rainier in the background before reading this.You have to be really lucky to capture it from Kerry Park. The day has to be clear and sky has to be smoke free to frame the beauty of Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one postcard shot. When I was in Seattle, due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Mt. Rainier was visible on only 2 days.

Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Technique:
I took 3 pictures in different exposures when the sun was about to set. One, for the Space Needle, second for the Mt. Rainier, and third for the rest. I then blended these pictures in Photoshop to bring what I witnessed there.

PS: Did you know that Space Needle is the 8th most photographed subject in the world?

Lonely Space Needle under the moon

Kerry Park in Seattle is very famous among photographers for its postcard view of Space Needle. On a good lucky day when the sky is clear, part of Mt. Rainier can be seen too just behind the Space Needle. Vijay and I had planned for shooting sunset, blue hour and of course moon as we were shy of just 3 days from full moon. We reached Kerry 2 hours before sunset and found that there was some construction going on and it was making our frames look not as good as we planned. Making up early there came to our rescue as we were able to grab the best spot to avoid the cranes. We could feel the envy of fellow photographers.
The moon stood high above Space Needle at around 8:30 and I captured two pictures with different exposures, one with the moon in focus and the other with the Needle. I then blended those two pictures in Photoshop to get closer to what I witnessed there. Photography is about patience. We had to wait 4 hours for few good pictures.

Technique used: Exposure bracketing and blending

Day 2 – Waterfront Park

Serenity

This picture reminds me of the serene beauty, I oftentimes wish to visit. The place where there is a bridge and a big lake around. A fusion of man made and nature. Waterfront park in Seattle is quite pictureque and you can’t go wrong anytime in evening. I wanted to shoot sunset, but ended up capturing blue hour as the sky was not dramatic that day because of smoke.

Technique:
I shot two pictures at different exposures, one for the bridge and the railing on right and second for the rest. Due to dark, there was noise in picture which was corrected using longer exposure. I then blended those pictures in Photoshop.

Day 3: Columbia Skyview tower

The Great Wheel teleport

Seattle Great Wheel from 73rd floor of Columbia sky tower looked like a toy. I wondered what would it look like if it were to be teleported. I pulled out 35mm, slowed shutter to 13 seconds at f14 and pano’ed while capturing. It took 20 minutes and multiple shots to bring the wheel to perfection. The result was no less than what we get to see in sci-fi movies.

Technique: Single capture pano.

Day 4: Waterfront park

Waterfront Park was something I fell in love with. I visited there again to shoot the beautiful fountain.

Tomorrowland

Capturing this frame was like a dream come true. Ever since I owned a camera, I had this routine of checking famous photographers’ portfolio and their work. The smooth flow of waterfall and fountains always intimidated me. Their gigantic beauty and mesmerizing views has the power to render anyone spellbound and speechless.
The moment I set foot in Waterfront park in Seattle, I had this composition in mind where the fountain would be in foreground hiding part of Great Wheel in the back. I wanted to shoot sunset. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. The sunset was very dull and unfortunately there was no drama in the sky. There were two challenges in capturing this picture. One, the wheel rotates every now and then. Two, the wheel changes color thereby casting different color shade onto the fountain. I shot two pictures, one with 25s exposure to give smooth flowing feel to the water and brighten the foreground and the other with 10s exposure to lit the wheel. To make sure this blends in a perfect one picture, I waited for the right moment when wheel was not rotating and there was enough time to capture two pictures without the change in color of lights.
Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Day 5: Gasworks park

Guns in the air

Gasworks Park in Seattle is famous for its cylindrical structures. One can get one of the best views of Skyline there. A part of it looks like big guns pointed to the sky when shot during sunset. This is a composite picture. Birds have been added in Photoshop.

Love birds

Seattle is the most beautiful city I have visited so far. From magnificent skylines to gigantic mountains, from beautiful lake to green valley, from big shopping complexes to small huts, your eyes can never stop wandering. Sunset would make you wonder if this is real. I have just fallen in love with the city. I had plan for visiting Gasworks Park to shoot skyline and the large gas cylindrical structure. What I didn’t know was that it also offers a clean green valley where you can see a lot of couples roaming around. This looked like a perfect spot for photographers and love birds alike. When the sun was about to set and the sky changed its color, I saw this lovely couple holding hands and walking towards the sunset horizon. Although the park was full of people, I got lucky to frame only what I wanted.

The Piano Store

Being a Piano fanatic, I visited Classic Pianos in Bellevue. More than anything, I wanted to own a Piano since quite long. I tried many Pianos, ranging from 5k to 25k dollars. I really liked one from Yamaha and longing to get it.

Photography or Shopping?

Last day in US was annihilated in shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets. It was a tough decision as I wanted to visit the majestic Mt. Rainier and shoot the Paradise and Reflection view points. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Parts of Mt. Rainier were closed until the wildfire settled down. I heard that there was some view point which was open and I was desperate to go there. But my friend wanted to buy things for his family. Premium Outlets was 35 miles from our stay and we spent whole day shopping stuffs for our families.

I will visit Mt Rainier for sure in my next trip.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved. 

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