Missed seeing the aurora borealis again…

or did you?!

aurora borealis
aurora borealis

The job of the artist is to create mystery.

Francis Bacon

Did I ever chuckle when I came across this quote. Busted! Read on to see what a secretive lot we photographers can be!

This is my longest blog post to date BUT if you have ever been disappointed by NOT seeing the northern lights when others have raved about or captured fabulous images of them AND you live below 50 degrees latitude…read on!

If you can tolerate the ground-work laying information in the next couple of paragraphs without your eyes rolling back in your head I will then get to why you may have seen the aurora borealis and not even known it!

Trending this past week were photos of the aurora borealis dancing in the night skies over North America and other parts of the world as well. There are people FAR more adept at explaining what these light displays are but basically it begins with a CME or coronal mass ejection. This is a cloud of gas ejected from the surface of the Sun. When these winds of charged particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field it excites those atoms causing them to light up.

For viewing purposes the important thing to know is the global geomagnetic storm index or KP number and it ranges from 0-9, with 9 being the highest. Using this number enables you to see if there is a possibility of seeing the aurora in your location. Spaceweatherlive.com is a wealth of information on this number and how to find your value.

Back to the photos…

This week I saw some very beautiful images of the northern lights shot during the early hours of June 23, 2015. The KP index was predicted to be between 7 and 8 and for my viewing purposes in Northern Idaho, I need between a 5 and 6 to give me a good chance of seeing lights. The evening did not disappoint and along with the greens I captured with my Nikon some lovely spiking pinks dance across the night sky along the edge of my pasture. I am fortunate to live in a place with dark skies and little light pollution which greatly improves the chance of seeing these.

You might have noticed that I did not say that along with the greens I saw some lovely spiking pinks.

What my eyes saw when I walked outside was this..

aurora borealis
aurora borealis

but I knew that what I was seeing was the northern lights because of a chance discovery that I blogged about in March here.

I suppose it is the job of the artist to create mystery but I have read too many comments from people bitterly disappointed after getting up to witness this altogether infrequent sight at my latitude to NOT provide an explanation and hope to those who have seeing this on their bucket list.

I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, latitude 53 degrees, and recall seeing the aurora borealis in all of its colorful glory. After many years away in more southerly climes we moved north once again to Idaho, latitude 48 degrees.

I was puzzled and disappointed that while others were out in my same area capturing beautiful northern lights shots…I never once saw them but I was looking for color. After my March discovery thorough research into this showed me that the human eye uses rods and cones. In the retina cones perceive color, work in bright light, and are used in the day. Rods perceive light and shadow and are used at night. Camera sensors in the DSLR’s do not have these limitations so they capture the full range of color and light.

The simple explanation is as you go below 50 degrees latitude, the northern lights are weaker and will to most people be viewed more as shifting patterns of light in the white to gray range and NOT the colors that the DSLR is capable of capturing. I would expect that eyes differ so possibly and depending on KP strength some people might still see some color. Travelling further north will diminish the differences between what your eyes see and what the camera captures.

The next time the KP index is high head out away from the city lights and enjoy searching the night sky and if you see dancing patterns and sheets of light you will have watched the aurora borealis!

 

Drawn to the simplicity…

of this rural farming scene.

20150611-DSC_5197-Edit
farming

Simplicity is the glory of expression.

Walt Whitman

I would have loved the opportunity to move around and set up the perfect composition for this shot but sometimes you just come upon something that grabs your attention.

With the rapidly sinking sun I had but a moment to get this shot and something about its simplicity appeals to me. It’s not a grand bridge, a lone tree or a craggy mountain backlit by the sun; some of the things I would ordinarily seek out for a sunset.

It’s just the end of the day in a farming community where the days are long and success depends on the vagaries of nature.

Scenes like this one remind me to be grateful that I live in a country with vast, beautiful open spaces where every inch is not covered in concrete. As the light faded and the temperature cooled I was left only with the sound of grains rustling in the faint breeze and small creatures settling in for the evening…

sim·plic·i·ty
[sim-plis-i-tee]
clear and uncomplicated.

When I look at his expression…

it makes me smile.

20140726-DSC_9222-Edit

To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless march.

Susan Sontag

I think that one of the most challenging niches in photography would be that of the portrait photographer. There is an immediacy to the shots and certainly an extra layer of difficulty added simply by the challenge to produce shots that are pleasing and flattering to the subject. I much prefer the candid shots.

Those that know me know that if my camera is not already at hand, it is very, very close! That often gives me the opportunity to steal a quick, relaxed shot like this one of a friend’s husband when they came to visit.

I began thinking about this after a conversation with another photographer friend. While on a recent trip she opted to leave her DSLR out of the mix and use her phone camera because she felt that she was missing too much.

It was an interesting thought and one that I have considered from time to time but the anxiety of not having at least the bare minimum of gear with me fills me with dread. Also in my thoughts were as someone who photographs every day and uses multiple lenses, I am able to dial in a quick shot almost at the same time that I am raising the camera to my eye. How long would it take before those combinations of numbers did not come so easily to mind when going for that quick, in the moment shot?

I leave you with this thought…they say that we have five senses but like me, has your camera become an additional ‘sense’ for you?

Dew laden dragonfly…

what’s on your bucket list of shots?

dew not disturb
dew not disturb

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Zig Ziglar

I have an ever-expanding bucket list of photographs that I would like to take in my lifetime. I think having such a list goes hand in hand with seeing opportunities to photograph. I always carry my camera with me just in case a shot presents itself but I also love those times when I can carve out some time just to go find my shot.

Years ago I saw some breathtaking photographs of dew covered insects and ever since then have been on a search to find a dew laden dragonfly. On this morning I opened the door to let my dog out and saw a sparkly dew covered world. Tiny droplets clinging to every surface it seemed… would today be the day?

Pulling on a pair of Boggs and screwing on my macro lens I headed out to my pasture in search of insects and hopefully, just maybe, a dragonfly? It’s not like I haven’t done this before, I have searched high and low for the dragonfly with no success but often the hunt can be just as fun.

I wondered what the neighbors would think if they saw me crouched in the wet grasses peering intently at every strand; getting colder and more damp by the minute! And then I saw it…amidst the lupines, sparkling like a little jeweled ornament, covered from his eyes to his wings in tiny droplets.

Taking care not to disturb him I gently pushed some leaves out-of-the-way to photograph him and then replaced them afterwards. They are quite vulnerable in this condition, unable to fly until their wings dry and I checked back from time to time to watch the progress until he finally flew away.

Getting a chance at a shot that you’ve been searching for is exhilarating but as is human nature I just want to do it again!

I would love to hear in a comment what’s on your bucket list of shots and in the meantime I’m going out to watch for a heron in flight carrying a twig for his nest!

 

In your search for the next great image…

don’t forget to capture the moment.

a moment
touch

We do not remember days, we remember moments.

Cesare Pavese

As a landscape photographer I am often guilty of not capturing my own life and those special family moments within it.

I am the one who goes on a trip with family or friends and can count on one hand the number of images with those people in it. Granted, I find people to be not the most cooperative of subjects and in today’s world many prefer those in the moment ‘selfies’ that they take with their iphones or ipads!

There are special moments though that should not be passed up and on this day I was present enough to recognize that and to capture what was right in front of me.

Henry, a 14 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, was one of the great joys of our life. He was funny, incorrigible, uncooperative at best, and oddly enough always smelled like hay?!

This image was taken in the last months of his life and I treasure it for so many reasons. I was sitting on the steps, camera in my lap, having just been out photographing some winter snowfall. Henry had been marching around barking at the roof plops, that snow that slides in an avalanche fashion off of metal roofs after the sun comes out, when his Dad came home from work.

There was a lot of barking and wiggling around and then I think my heart broke just a little as his hands supported this old dog who leaned into the sun and took in the love that he had always known…

click

and then he was gone.

What is it about artists…

and old barns?

the old barn
the old barn

I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it…I always want to see the third dimension of something…I want to come alive with the object.

Andrew Wyeth

Perhaps it’s my years spent working on old wooden boats but I too find myself drawn to these old, dilapidated structures that were once filled with life and now lie vacant, slowly returning to the ground upon which they were built.

This particular barn stands fairly close to the edge of a road that I travel frequently and one could easily miss it as it sits sheltered by the trees that have grown up alongside it.

It was a typical fall morning. The kind when the cold overnight temperatures have dropped a shroud of fog onto the landscape below. As the sun gained strength the light became quite soft and beautiful. The foliage had a deep saturated color and the nearby water shone with subtle reflections. For me it was an opportunity not to be missed.

I love to use the in camera multiple exposure feature not to fill the outline of a person’s head with leaves as is more commonly seen, but to use it for more subtle qualities. I love the painterly effects that it can imbue on an image and I hurried to paint this old barn with my camera.

I will often return home from photographing with images that I did not plan on. Part of living an artistic life is being prepared to capture what is presented to you on a daily basis. Whatever your medium, carry at least part of it with you at all times and when you see a moment, you can react to it with spontaneity and make it come alive!

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

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…