Some nights it’s just worth it to forgo sleep and gaze at the stars. Conditions could not have been better for viewing the Perseid meteor shower overnight.
Heading outside at midnight I waited for the moon to set and it didn’t take long for the meteors to start flying from their radiant, the Perseus constellation!
I am lucky to live in a place not hampered by light pollution so even the faint streaks of light shooting across the sky were visible. I lost count early on…
These are a little challenging to shoot and often they seem to land just outside of your frame with perhaps a tail sticking in. Their brightness varied a great deal as did their length but what struck me the most was the color! One fireball, a particularly bright meteor, was bright orange as it exploded into view, partially obscured naturally by a tall cedar tree.
Just like other times when I’ve been out photographing night events like the aurora borealis, the animals seemed to feel the energy and their sounds added music to the show.
This meteor was one of the last that I captured as dawn approached tinting the sky with pink. It’s not too late to catch some so if your skies are clear and dark tonight and into the predawn hours, pull up a cot and spend a night out under the stars.
The recipe for shooting? Patience, wider angle lens, higher iso, longer shutter speeds, a tripod, and a timer or a remote trigger. If you’ve got it, now is the perfect time to figure out how to use that intervalometer that might just be built into your camera so pull out that manual!
As always don’t get so wrapped up in getting the shot that you forget to take time to simply watch and enjoy.
On this special eclipse night, the fourth eclipse in a tetra, I wanted to do something more than just photograph a large frame filling blood moon. I kept being drawn to the idea of photographing the stars AND having a full moon in the shot. It just doesn’t happen very often that you can see the full moon and not have the stars washed out by its glow. I also knew that at 8:11 there would be an iridium flare visible for a brief moment. Not a very bright one but having shot these before I hoped that it would be bright enough. Could I capture this trifecta?
A great deal of planning needed to take place. First there was scouting out a location and figuring out where each element would be at that one moment necessary to capture all three. For this I turned to a wonderful ap called Photopills. It gave me all of the tools necessary to plot the placement of the moon and the milky way in relation to the direction and elevation of the flare. Taking some test shots showed me that shooting at 11 mm on my wide angle lens should just barely squeeze these three elements into the shot. What settings I would be using needed to be decided close to the time of the shot as I really did not know how much light would be present.
The one thing that I was certain of was that I would have one shot, just one frame, to get this. The girl likes a challenge though and certainly I filled my time before and after with capturing the beauty of this extra large moon, the likes of which will not occur again until 2033, as it rose behind the mountains, already partially eclipsed.
It was a beautiful night, with perfect weather and even a shooting star that exploded during a test shot. How lucky can one girl be? Or is luck when opportunity and planning come together…you be the judge!
More images can be viewed in the gallery idaho after dark by clicking on this link to my website.
Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.
I felt very lucky this week to have clear and dark skies for the Perseid Meteor showers and it was quite the show!
These showers occur as Earth crosses the orbital path of the comet Swift-Tuttle and bits of debris hit the atmosphere creating these fast-moving meteors. The radiant point for the showers is the Perseus constellation.
I set up early for the event anticipating a long night and dragged a camping cot out into my pasture. Much nicer than laying on the ground and easier on the neck too for hours of viewing!
I got butterflies in my stomach as my eyes adjusted to the dark and I waited to see the first of many meteors streak across the sky. Some were brief flashes while others left wonderful trails that lingered for several seconds. While viewing my images the next day I was excited to see several shots with double meteors in them. One even had two streaking along on a parallel course.
I was grateful that my Nikon has a built-in intervalometer so that I could set up sequenced shots and be shooting while I kept my eyes on the stars. The first image is a compilation of over 100 shots as the stars moved across the sky.
Was I tired the next day? Perhaps a little. Was it worth it? In the words of a friend…indeed!
Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.
Tempting as it may be to shoot things like heavily saturated sunsets that draw gasps of delight from the general public I think it is important to stay true to what you personally find to be moving. If you sacrifice that inner voice, your own personal je ne sais quoi in the hopes of a sale, you will lose the joy that comes with picking up a camera.
It’s strange but when I find myself editing an image with just the smallest of adjustments using an almost exaggerated light touch I know that the image holds more meaning for me.
Likewise when I see the work of another photographer and it makes me hold my breath even for a moment I know that their work has resonated with me and it then becomes important to find out why.
Michael Kenna is one such artist who when I happened upon his work it was like time stood still. So many of his images were utterly simple and at the same time complex in their composition and tone.
I battle with color and sensory overload at the best of times so I do find myself drawn to black and white. As a young girl I was petrified of the dark with its enveloping blackness and things that might lurk in those shadows. Never one to give in to irrational fears I pushed myself to be in that darkness and I have found it to be meditative and calming in a world that has exploded with connectivity. Now I find myself more often than not, waiting for the sun to go down so that I can explore the night using long exposures. Certainly not something that I would ever have imagined doing but if you are willing to try new things and keep an open mind, you might find your journey taking a new direction.
I do still shoot color but I find myself doing so less and less and when I look back on photographers whose work really moves me, it is almost always minimalist and black and white.
For me it is about being authentic in your work and presenting an image that is true to your own personal vision and this year as I shoot the fireworks to celebrate America’s day of Independence they will more than likely be in black and white…
and having a great adventure, all in the name of science.
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.
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
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!