Digital photography by Don Roland

In recent years Don Roland has made the art and technology of digital photography into a serious avocation.  Here is some of his work.  Most of the photos of Chesapeake Bay below were taken from his bayfront home in Annapolis, MD.

In May of 2021 the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team made their annual appearance at the U.S. Naval Academy--right in front of Don's home.  He captured some dramatic images of the cloud-like effect of a jet flying near the speed of sound in moist air, typically at low elevation.  The BBC clipping below these three photos explains this phenomenon.  The first photo is cropped to show the vapor cone forming.  The second photo shows the cone fully formed.  The third photo is cropped to create a close-up view of the effect.

From the BBC article explaining what you see here:

It’s an eye-catching sight that has been captured by photographers and camera crews time and again; a military jet sweeps in low and fast, travelling at hundreds of miles an hour. As it picks up speed, it begins to be surrounded by a giant cone of vapour, a cloud that seems to erupt around the aircraft.

That, we’re often told in excitable captions, is a sonic boom.

Except, it isn’t – or at least, not quite. What you’re seeing is a physical effect that takes place as an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, but it’s not the sonic boom itself.

The vapor cones are created by a shockwave that is generated by the aircraft as it picks up speed. The shock waves are the physical effects of the aircraft travelling so fast through air. As the aircraft picks up speed, and approaches the speed of sound – around 767mph (1,234km/h) at sea level – shockwaves form around the aircraft. Across these shockwaves there is ‘discontinuity’ in the local air pressure and temperature. This causes the air to lose its capacity to hold water and condensation starts to form, creating the vapor cone. 

“The aircraft isn’t necessarily travelling faster than the speed of sound, but the air travelling over the wing is accelerated and locally breaks the sound barrier," says (Rod) Irvine, (the chairman of the Royal Aeronautical Society's aerodynamics group).

Ultimately, he says, you need to have the right climactic conditions – the kind of warm moist air that aircraft operating off carriers can find easier than most. Then, get a nearby cameraman who really knows what they’re doing and voila – you’ve captured, on camera, the dramatic vapour cloud that so many of us think is the split-second spectacle of a sonic boom

Some of Don's earlier photos

This photo, entitled "Perfect Reflection," was published in the Annapolis Capital in February, 2019.

Here is an image unlike almost anything else taken from Don's home--or anywhere else on the surface of the Earth.  It was taken on Aug. 1, 2015--the night after a "blue moon."  Here is his description of how he created this view of the moon and so many faint stars behind it.  "(This) photo is at full night at 10:45 pm.  The moon cleared the cloud cover. To photograph the surface of the moon, I needed to reduce exposure to 1/25 of a second and use the camera’s smallest aperture f/32. I used my 200 mm telephoto lens to capture the details on the surface of the moon and used the Lightroom raw processor to bring out the stars in the background. I then cropped this area you see from the full frame raw image. (1/25 second at f/32 ISO 1600)."  (Editor's note:  to make the stars more visible on a web page only 800 pixels wide, the photo has been cropped even more than Don's original.)

This photo is actually a composite of two separate images.  One is a short exposure to capture the detail of the moon itself; the second is a much longer exposure to capture the bridge, buildings and the bay.  A single image would not record what the human eye sees.  It would either have the moon's detail washed out or lose the detail of the bay, bridge and buildings.  For the progression of Don's work, see the image immediately below this one.

In this photo, added to the web page in May, 2015, Don combined six different images digitally to produce one image of this quality.  A web page only 800 pixels wide cannot begin to do justice to this kind of image.  It really belongs in a gallery as a high-resolution print. 

Don captured the October, 2014 lunar eclipse in this photo.  This is single photograph, not a composite of two separate images. This image could be taken in a single shot because the eclipse significantly darkened the moon.



Yes, that IS lightning in photos above.  If you think it wouldn't be difficult to capture lightning in a photographic image, try it sometime... 


In this photo Don caught a deer running across the lawn of his bayfront home.  The buildings beyond the bridge are on the U.S. Naval Academy campus.

Here are the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flying over Don's house. 

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