Stalking the Lyrid meteor showers…

and having a great adventure, all in the name of science.

meteor and milky way
meteor and milky way

Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.

Edwin Powell Hubble

If my mother had told me when I was a teenager that one day I would be obsessed with science and biology and that I would voluntarily go outside after dark by myself I would have thought that she should be placed in a hospital where wrap around sleeves and not well groomed poodles make the biggest fashion statement.

I will confess to going to bed early and getting up in the middle of the night for the better part of a week now all in the name of science. Always in search of new subject matter I have found the night sky to be a vast, exciting source of material for the photographer who doesn’t mind losing a few hours of sleep. For that somewhat minor sacrifice, I have been so blessed with having clear, dark skies during these showers that occur each year when Earth passes through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher.

So here are some things that you might encounter if you choose to go down this path…

  • lectures from your spouse, family and friends about how crazy and dangerous this is
  • getting chilled (depending on your location and time of year)
  • loss of sleep
  • stiff neck from staring upwards
  • being a little freaked out by the sounds of coyotes howling

For me though, all of those things were countered by the experiences that I had each night. I not only saw but was able to capture several meteors as they shot through the night sky; some of them landing so perfectly in my images that I could not have placed them better myself. I learned more about the constellations and how to find them in the night sky. Along with the coyotes howling I heard owls hooting and the haunting call of the loon. I saw a porcupine, his quills swaying as he waddled past and I could smell spring in the night air. I discovered that spending time under the night sky puts things in perspective for me. It slows down a world that has a way of becoming too fast and too busy and provides quiet time for reflection.

Was it worth the lectures?

Without a doubt

The beauty of fog…

lies in its ability to reveal just enough to let the imagination run wild!

sky crack
sky crack

A discerning eye needs only a hint, and understatement leaves the imagination free to build its own elaborations.

Russell Page

One of things that draws me to photography, especially if you shoot every day like I do, is the unexpected. I love to shoot what nature chooses to reveal and often that is only a hint of what lies beyond.

Fog for me is one of those times that should be grouped with the golden hour for its ability to transform a scene. It has such an ephemeral quality as it shifts and morphs adding its own brush strokes to a landscape. You know that if you come back again and again that it will never look the same.

 

the sky cracks open

revealing a hint of trees

bathed in swirling fog

 

Keeping an open mind when you head out to shoot will enable you to grow as a photographer. Will you seize the opportunity or will you decide that you won’t be able to see anything before you’ve even looked?

If you’re not playing…

you’re missing out on the unexpected.

cloud play
cloud play

There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.

Pablo Picasso

I think if you shoot a variety of subject matter you get pretty accustomed to quickly dialing in your settings. For the situations that I am not as familiar with, the ones that require more complex settings, I make use of the Nikon D7000’s two user defined  spots on the operation mode dial. This enables me to get a very quick starting point for shooting a scene without having to adjust multiple settings first.

I’m fortunate to have friends that tolerate my obsession with imagery and ignore my third arm…the tripod…that accompanies me most everywhere. In this particular case we were on a girl’s night up at the mountain and hanging  alfresco in the hot tub when I saw the moon slip behind some interesting looking clouds. I might add that it is a little chilly in the mountains of Idaho in March so I was grateful to not have to spend any more time than necessary adjusting my settings!

My Tokina 11-16 2.8 wide angle lens is prone to lens flare and since it was almost impossible to get away from all of the hotel and landscaping lights I thought it would be fun to try to use these flares in my “nightscape.”

I think we all have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to be shooting when heading out but for me I always find a little magic in those times when opportunity jumps in when my plans get shot down.

Have a great week and don’t forget to play…

 

 

Chasing the lunar eclipse…

can be a daunting task in spring.

spring melt
spring melt

There is no certainty; there is only adventure.

Roberto Assagioli

I had hoped to be posting an image of the latest lunar eclipse but instead came home feeling a bit like I’d been on Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.

I had already covered the bases and done my homework for potential shooting sites; carefully taking into consideration elevation and azimuth. Living in an area where conditions can be quite different all over the county I wanted to make sure that I had several options plotted that varied in location and altitude but still had a good line of sight to the full moon.

Alas, no matter how meticulously you plan for a shot there is always that factor that you just can’t control and in last night’s case it was the weather. Yes, it’s Spring in Idaho and with that come days that could be filled with sun, rain, snow, graupel, hail or all of the above. All week I’d been charting the weather for the hours between two and six AM Saturday morning. Never did it look great but ever optimistic I chose to see my weather forecast as “a glass half full.”

Having packed my gear bag and laid out some warm clothes in anticipation of spending several hours outside, I set my alarm and laid down for a catnap. Moments later it seemed, the alarm went off and final checks of the weather showed very overcast skies. Not being one to choose practicality over adventure and with a chance that this would blow through I headed for my highest point, the top of the mountain.

Cruising down the highway and slipping quietly through town the rain began to fall. Not to be deterred, I pressed on and partway up the mountain it switched over to snow…blinding, mesmerizing, and blowing snow. This, I thought, does not for a good shot make and into four wheel drive I shifted. Reaching the top and feeling like I was in one of those snow globes that I loved so much as a child, I decided that the prudent thing to do would be to return home while my tracks were still visible.

Warm and dry as I write this post I’d say it was a good night. The image that I share today is a Spring one that for me captures the beauty of solitude; something that I’m sure many of you can relate to.

I will remember this lunar eclipse, not for the shot that I got, but for the adventure that came with pursuing that shot and I have to say that was almost as good!

 

 

Heads up…

literally!

lunar eclipse
lunar eclipse and blood moon

Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.

Plato

Last October I got up in the early hours of the morning to photograph the total lunar eclipse and this one was going to be pretty special as it would culminate in a blood moon. A lunar eclipse occurs when the full moon passes through the Earth’s dark inner shadow.

The Nikon D 7000 has an image overlay feature in it that I was anxious to utilize to capture the whole process in one RAW image. I knew that I would have to visualize where each moon was going to line up so that they could be spaced across the image. Why not just use photoshop? Simply put…I like a challenge.

The set up involved a tripod and I also like to use a remote trigger to eliminate movement. What I found was that I did have to keep repositioning and refocusing the camera as the moon was dropping fairly rapidly between each phase. I also needed to adjust exposure times for each phase as the light changed dramatically. This was the final image from my camera after combining these five separate images using image overlay. I was pretty happy with the end result and only had to tweak highlights and blacks and remove a little chromatic aberration in Lightroom.

Before sunrise on April 4th there will occur the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century…it will all take place in less than five minutes. I hope that today’s post will inspire you to get out and shoot the moon. Fingers crossed for clear skies and I’ll be right there with you!

For more information on all things sky check out Earthsky.org.

 

 

 

How making mistakes…

can improve your photography.

aurora borealis North Idaho
aurora borealis   North Idaho

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.

Edwin Land

I have had several conversations lately that made me think about learning in general. I am a hands on kind of girl. When learning something new I will dissect it into manageable pieces, spend hours researching it, but then I have to get out and put it into practice. I rarely want to be shown, but would rather have the joy of discovering it first hand.

Others might prefer to be handed the formula which they can then duplicate without the risk of failure. It has been my experience though that one of the most important parts of the learning process is that time when you go out and work towards getting the results that you’re looking for. You aren’t sure what is possible and perhaps more importantly, what is not, so you experiment. It is my belief that I have learned far more from my failures than from those times when everything went perfectly.

Take last night for example…

I have been immersing myself in night photography as it opens up a whole new range of subject matter and uses my camera in a completely different way. It’s also a quiet, peaceful time without a lot of interruptions. Being as it was new moon time, hence darker skies, I planned a couple of seriously exciting milky way shots. I crept out of the house at 2:30 AM in pursuit of my images only to discover that I had grievously underestimated the amount of light pollution at my chosen sites. Strike one…

Being wide awake I changed plans and headed back home where I knew the skies would be inky black and star filled. I began a series of long exposures programmed with the aid of my intervalometer. I got over half of the shots completed and here comes a jet, high in the night sky, flashing lights through the entire scene. Strike two…

Giving myself a quick pep talk about how much I had learned for future shoots I turned around and was struck by an odd arching cloud like vision just above the trees. Can’t be a cloud I thought, I can still see the stars in it. I cancelled out the rest of my star trail shots, turned my tripod around, flipped the Nikon to the settings that I had pre programmed for the milky way, and shot. Can’t say I have ever been more surprised by what appeared on the LCD screen; not a cloud but the aurora borealis. Apparently our eyes cannot always see the colors in the northern lights especially when the auroras are close to the horizon but our cameras can!

Home run…

 

 

I find myself wishing that…

I had paid more attention in school instead of daydreaming.

Moonrise
Moonrise

For my part I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of the stars makes me dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

I photograph every day and I think that practice not only keeps my creativity at a good level but it creates opportunities for further exploration of things that I might not have otherwise searched out.

Unless you are a studio based photographer you have to just deal with whatever is thrown your way for light and weather and find a way to make it work. If it is harsh bright sunlight, I might decide to do a long exposure over water with a neutral density filter or I might do a little infrared. Cloudy darker days are good for double exposures. Sometimes you can keep notes and revisit sites when conditions are perfect for the type of shot that you imagine, but that’s not always possible. It’s nice to have options and know how to dial in your settings to shoot under those conditions.

I have dabbled on and off with night photography usually when the day has gotten away from me and the last vestiges of good light have faded. I am finding it to be a whole other world filled with wonderful visual opportunities dependent on moon phases, cloud cover, and light pollution. Knowing how to capture the night sky though has led me into another crash course that I am just now starting to understand. The digital cameras of today, when manually programmed, capture this quite readily and if you’re shooting RAW instead of JPEG you really have quite a bit of freedom when it comes to editing. Like anything else though the key is practice, practice, practice. There is a wealth of information online that provides more specific information on gear, settings, and editing.

I think if I had been inspired more in school I might have paid more attention to learning about math which would have come in awfully handy now! It’s never too late though and I have immersed myself in things like azimuth and elevation calculations…and there are things called intervalometers that are built into cameras or they can be attached to them so that you can capture star trails. Who knew?! There’s one in the Nikon D7000 and I will be using it more!

Today’s shot was one taken in the early morning hours, just seeing what results I could get from different settings. As the moon began to clear the trees I noticed first that aura of light appearing. This was not the shot I was going for but I did in the end like the effect that it created and using that opportunity gave me more information to file away for future shots.

Take an opportunity to shoot under conditions that are unfamiliar to you. You might just get inspired!