Friday Photo: Gentrification Edition

Ted's Bulletin at 14th and Swann
Ted’s Bulletin at 14th and Swann, NW, Washington, DC.

The pace of change in this city is breathtaking. The above photo is a brand-new Ted’s Bulletin, a local chain featuring “adult milkshakes” and reinvented comfort food. It’s part of a slew of new development along 14th Street – condos, bars and coffee shops that offer a virtually uninterrupted hipster paradise in the center of the city.

It’s unbelievable for anyone who remembers what this neighborhood was like in the 90s. I lived at 15th and Swann and avoided 14th St – it was nothing but urban blight. You hurried through the neighborhood lest you be accosted by drug addicts and homeless people. And you certainly didn’t go to the other side of 14th – god knows what was happening over there.

14th and Swann was home to a laundromat. On the same block was a methadone clinic. Across the street was a used-car lot and a second-hand store. The neighborhood was gritty and half-abandoned. It had been that way since the 1968 riots and seemed like it would never change. But it did.

For better? Worse? A lot of my novel Murder in Ocean Hall takes place in this neighborhood and the book reflects my ambivalence about the change. It’s undeniably for the better but I also hate that 14th Street has become a playground for conspicuous consumption, a place to buy skinny jeans, eat crepes and go to brunch.

I liked the grit, and miss it now that it’s gone.

Instagram Does Video!

I’ve never been much of a YouTube user. I never saw the point in Vine. I was impressed with the video capability of the iPhone 5, but didn’t use it much, without the ability to share the clips.

Until now. Instagram does video!

The little square photos that Instagram produces are cheesy and amateurish, like Polaroids sitting in an old shoebox. That’s the point – Instagram is a fun way to share pictures of daily life.

And now you can create short video clips in Instagram. It works the same as taking a picture except you the hold down the video camera button in the app. You can take 15 seconds worth of video, in one long clip or several smaller clips. Video stabilization is on automatically. Once you’re done, you can apply filters to give it that Super-8 look or just use it as is.

You can’t edit your clip. It’s pretty much point, shoot, share.

For photos, I shoot with the iPhone Camera app first and then import the ones I like into Instagram. You can’t do that with videos. You can only shoot clips using Instagram.

Without the ability to edit, and having to use the Instagram app, you have to plan out your video shoots. You only have one take to get it right.

I shot this at Gravelly Point, near Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. I wanted to get a video of a plane of going over the bike trail as it came in to land.

In my first take, I ran out of film. I hit the video button when the jet turned toward National but it didn’t reach me before my 15 seconds were up. For the next shot, I waited until the airplane got closer and panned up as it went over my head – the video stabilization was impressive!

Instagram Video is not quite dummy-proof (it took me a couple tries to figure out) but it’s pretty damn close. While it has some major limitations (no way to edit), it’s the easiest way to share short video clips.

You can save your clips to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even FourSquare but not Flickr or YouTube.

Mind-boggling to think how far iPhone video has come in just the last couple of years. In the old days – 2010 – you needed a video camera, a Mac and Final Cut Pro to make a movie. Your iPhone has replaced all those tools.

Oh, and I used Embed Instragram to embed this video.

Photo Strategy: Serendipity with a Little Bit of Planning

Do I have a photographic vision? Goals? A business plan? No, that would take all the fun out of it. Instead, I am guided by serendipity. I wander about the city taking photos.

But I don’t leave everything to chance. I try to be at the right place at the right time. I’m drawn to visual events, like Santarchy, where hundreds of faux Santas caused mischief on the National Mall. That’s where I got this photo, which was featured on InstantDC.

Merry KissmasThis was on a Saturday in December. I had heard about Santarchy through Twitter and had seen the previous year’s pictures. I knew the route the Santas would take so I got on my bike and waited for them on the Mall. I wanted a picture with the Capitol in the background. I got a picture of a Gagnam-style Santa (how dated that seems now) and then I saw Gene Simmons. I rushed ahead of him so I could get this shot with the Capitol over his shoulder.

And he really did say, “Merry Kissmas.”

So I guess my photographic method doesn’t entirely rely on chance. I plan ahead, think about my shots, and try to get in the right position to take them. It’s serendipity with a little bit of planning.

But I try not to think about that too much. I don’t want to be a Photographer with a Vision. I don’t want to be an Artist. I just want to enjoy taking photos.

Surrendering to Serendipity: My Year in Photography

I like wandering the city taking photos. I’m a chronicler, a recorder, pursuing the things I am interested in – city life, the arts, travel and strong horizontal lines.

And in 2012, I got to do so much of what I love – taking boozy Instagram shots of art gallery shows, capturing photos of bike culture and recording life in this city, from protests to performance art.

Here are my favorites from 2012.

iPhone Impressionism

It was the year of iPhone impressionism, where I used Instagram, Flickr, Slow Shutter and other apps to capture the city around me. When I take photos, I’m not looking for realism – I’m looking for symmetry and beauty in the urban environment. I’m showing an idealized Washington, a place of warm tones, strong lines and order.

Taxis on 17th St

there is a light that never goes out

F St from above

Late in the year came the controversy over Instagram’s odious Terms of Service. That inspired me to check out the newly updated Flickr mobile app, which has great filters like Narwhal (seen below) and doesn’t shrink your pictures down to tiny squares.

performance art at the Hillyer

My New Year’s Resolution is to use Flickr more and Instagram less.

Continue reading “Surrendering to Serendipity: My Year in Photography”

Mount Vernon Trail Photo in Virginia Biking Map

mount vernon trail
Mount Vernon Trail

I have a photo in the Bicycling in Virginia Map, a publication by the Virginia Department of Transportation. The above shot is from the Mount Vernon Trail, just across the Potomac from the Jefferson Memorial. I took it on a beautiful spring morning, when the flowers along the bike path had just began to bloom.

You can order the map for free. It’s a handy guide to the state’s numerous bike trails and routes. From the monumental views of the Mount Vernon Trail to the fall foliage of the New River, the Old Dominion has some of the most scenic bike trails in the nation.


After months of winter, that spring morning was so pretty that I waded into the daffodils to get the photo below. It’s a little Instagram picture but was published earlier this year in Momentum, a biking lifestyle mag.

“Being there” is 90% of photography. Within a few days, the daffodils were gone and the light wasn’t the same. I’m glad I got this picture when I did – it’s one of my favorites.

biking along the Potomac

Instacanvas Insta-Survey

Receiving an email survey from a company is not unusual in American life. Amazon, Caribou, Five Guys, Target – you’ve probably been been given the opportunity to rate the experience on a rigid five-point scale.

Instacanvas gallery now open

It’s unusual when you have the opportunity to provide feedback to an actual human, like I did with Instacanvas, the Instagram artist marketplace. Instacanvas turns your Instagram creations into beautiful canvas prints and gives you the opportunity to sell them online. It’s free to sign-up.

Instacanvas has reached out to actual users of the service and scheduled calls with them, to see what they could do better. I had the chance to talk with Todd Emaus, Co-Founder of Instacanvas. He asked about what I liked about Instacanvas, what I thought they could do better, ideas I might have for product enhancements.

In surveys from other companies, I’ve seen the question, “Do you think Company X cares about you as an individual?”, which I thought to be absurd. Starbucks does not care about me. I’m just a data point in the millions of transactions they conduct every day, to be crunched by soulless MBAs in Seattle.

But a company that assigns a person to call me personally – maybe they do care. Perhaps they do want me to be successful and design an “insanely great” product that meets my needs. It’s a thought, a tiny hopeful one in the spreadsheet world of American business.


Washington Monument at sunset
buy me on Instacanvas

Rant over. What did the Instacanvas guy say? Todd said they’re planning on rolling out more contests and greater social media integration to promote the company.

I asked – what are successful Instacanvas artists doing? They are:

1. Tagging their photos so that they could be found easily. Using tags like #bike, #scenic, #landscape, #sexy and so on.

2. Promoting the hell out of their work. They Tweet, Facebook and email continuously, with news of their online store and new photos for sale.

Check out my gallery when you have a chance. It’s filled with photos of iconic sights from Washington, DC, plus pictures of city life beyond the monuments.

GE Lights Photo Walk: Insta-Marketing with Instagram

How do you get consumers to learn about new products and build engagement with your company?


Lured by the promise of an open bar and the chance to wander the city taking pictures, I attended the GE Lights Photo Walk. Sponsored by GE and organized by iStrategyLabs, the idea was to have a couple drinks at a downtown bar and then take photos and videos of Washington’s monuments at night. Using Instagram and the video-sharing service Viddy, participants were to tag content with the hashtag #GELights. The event was limited to 250 participants and the prizes were two trips to London and a “re-lamping” of your home.

One missed opportunity: at Penn Social there was no information on GE Lights. Handouts, swag and some actual GE Lights to look at would’ve been a good idea.

After two hours of drinking, staff from iStrategyLabs gently herded the well-lubricated techies toward the door, so that they could get pictures of the city at night.

I headed toward the Navy Memorial. I didn’t want to get the traditional night shots of Washington landmarks. Since the contest was about lights, I wanted to get pictures of bright lights, with lots of lens flare, something I knew the iPhone and Instagram were well-adapted to do. I got this:

Navy Memorial at nightI like the flags whipping in the breeze and the fact that it takes a moment to realize that you’re looking at the mast of a ship.

I tagged my photo in Instagram with #gelights and headed home. It was really fascinating to watch photos from DC and around the world get uploaded to Instagram with the #gelights tag.

What’s next? The photo with the most “likes” on Instagram wins a trip to London.

Would you sit through a commercial on GE Lights? Not if you could help it.

But attending an event that is fun, social and with just a slight bit of marketing is a much easier commitment to make, especially if it involves playing with our favorite gadgets. An open bar is not required.

Instagram is a powerful way to connect with consumers, because it is participatory. Rather than passively watching a commercial, consumers are actively involved in creating an experience.

While GE has been a leader in using this social photo-sharing service, it’s not the only company creating some awesome Instagram marketing.

The era of the 60 second commercial is over. The future of marketing is prizes, experiences and audience participation.

A Grab Bag of iPhone Photo Apps

The iPhone is more than a phone and much more than just a camera. It can do things that are impossible to do on a “real” camera, like effortlessly stitch together panoramas and instantly share pictures worldwide.

These creative possibilities were explored by Jack Davis in “iPhoneography: The New Frontier of Creative Photography,” a free seminar at Photoshop World in Washington, DC. Davis is an award-winning photographer and the author of the Photoshop Wow books. In an hour-long free talk, he shared the dizzying number of iPhone apps he uses.┬áHere are his favorites:

Snapseed – Give your photos a grunge look, put them in interesting frames and make them look like old film. The iPad version of this app is gorgeous.

ProHDR – There are enough adjustment tools in this app to produce HDR that doesn’t look totally fake.

Photo fx (Tiffen) – For $2.99 you get a lot of the tools and adjustments of the desktop Tiffen program which costs hundreds of dollars.

PhotoSync – Wirelessly transfer photos between your computer, iPhone and iPad.

Photo Sender – This app allows more flexibility in sending images from your iPhone to your computer, email and social media, including the ability to send lots of images all at once.

FastCamera – Indulge your inner sports photographer and shoot hundreds of images a minute.

360 Panorama – I remember the old days (just a couple years ago) when shooting panoramas required a DSLR, a tripod and an expert knowledge of Photoshop. Instead, let this 99-cent app do it for you!

You Gotta See This! – Cheesy, but fun, this app lets you create a collage of images, as if you scattered a stack of Polaroids on a table and took a picture. Again, another complicated Photoshop task now done with a click.

King Camera – This app bills itself as a replacement for your big camera. We’ll see.

Big Lens – Another camera replacement, this app does nice depth of field shots.

SlowShutter – I love this app and have written about it before. It’s great for photos that show movement.

Instagram – You can’t talk about iPhone photo apps without mentioning this social media app.

Olloclip 3-in-1 Lens – This is actually a piece of hardware, a little lens to get fisheye, wide angle and macro shots.

This is just a sample of what Jack Davis uses. His iPhone and iPad were crowded with dozens of more apps. All these great and easy ways to create beautiful imagery demonstrate the fun of iPhoneography.

Friday Photo: Washington Harbour Edition

Washington HarbourPhotos can lie. This one certainly does. While it looks like a picture of a lonely and mysterious scene, the night was anything but. I stepped away from friends for a moment to snap this iPhone pic. To the right was a packed bar blaring pop music into the night.

It’s an Instagram pic, using the Inkwell filter and the super-sexy radial focus tool. The focus is on the figure in the background and the rest is blurred out a bit, which I think adds to the mystery. The photo was also featured on DCist.