Sunset and Stars at Deer Park

The day before my birthday was unusually clear, with views across the Strait of Vancouver Island and to the east of Baker Mountain. It was also a night with no moon, and so I greeted my partner in crime at the door with great excitement–clear sky! bright stars! milky way!–and a packed picnic dinner. We drove up to Deer Park, a campground and lookout point in Olympic National Park, WA, and meandered the trail up to the top.

The view was indeed spectacular, and though we were joined with other photographers and hikers for the panoramic sunset, they all cleared out with the end of the light, and we had the starry night all to ourselves. Well, and one late-night buck who wandered in front of my camera, and paused long enough for my night picture set up (40mm equivalent lens, and a 4 second exposure) to catch his visit.

This was also my first time playing with combining multiple images together in different ways, using a couple of different softwares. There are panoramas, which are multiple horizontally adjacent shots stitched together (using Lightroom 6’s included merging). I tried one HDR picture where three shots were taken at dark, medium, and bright exposures, and then combined to get more out of the range of lights and shadows (in Affinity photo). And a couple of the Milky Way photos are also composites, with multiple 20-second exposures taken one after the other, and aligned to keep the stars bright, reduce background noise, and remove streaks from airplanes and satellites (using the Starry Landscape Stacker). I’m pretty happy with the early results, although I know there’s a lot more to learn about how much digital software can do–and how to make it look good.

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Pinnacles Stars

We wandered in to Pinnacles National Park around 4:30 on a November afternoon– around the time the rest of the parking lot was clearing out–to take some night sky pictures on a new moon night. Although it was a bit cloudier than we would have liked, it was fun to work with the clouds–and the light pollution they reflect–to add a bit more drama to the photos.

I really enjoyed watching the camera’s developing pictures reveal things my eyes couldn’t see–like the yellow glow from far-removed cities, and the Andromeda galaxy in the second to last photo. I also really liked the effect of the stars sparkling through the pine trees.

Perseids over Crater Lake

My work this summer timed out just perfectly so that I was driving from Washington back to California on the peak nights of the Perseid meteor shower. I was able to stop in Oregon to watch the sky light up over Crater Lake, which was truly breathtaking. Only one of my shots actually caught a meteor (and it’s flanked by two airplane trails) but I loved the time watching and shooting.

Lunar Eclipse, April 2015

When I photograph an eclipse, I set out with a plethora of information. I know the date of the event, the timings of everything from the first shadowy curve to the minute of deepest totality, and the curve the moon will trace through the sky relative to wherever I choose to be standing that night. I can scout my sites, set my alarm, and take full advantage of the viewing and photographic opportunities.

The one thing I don’t know in advance–because so far even NASA has not figured out how to predict it–is how dark the eclipsed moon will be. This characteristic, ranging from nearly invisible grey to bright orange, is determined by the amount of light refracted by Earth’s atmosphere onto the moon, and can be affected by cloud cover, dust, and even recent volcanic activity.

Last October’s eclipse was a bright brick red, strongly visible in the sky, but this morning I was shocked by how dark and dull the shadowed moon became. This surprise brought to mind people around the world for thousands of years who didn’t have access to celestial time tables. How must it have felt, to see something as constant as the moon in the sky, disappearing before your eyes?

Incan people believed that the moon was attacked by a jaguar, and the red shadow was the stain of his blood spreading across the sky. There are reports of communities collecting to beat drums and shout, even provoking their dogs to howl as well, to frighten off this celestial predator before it turned on Earth.

If you looked up and saw the moon go dark, would you have been afraid? Would you have assumed that everything would be fine? Would you have done what your legends said was necessary to call the moon back, or chase its attacker away? Or would you have been the person who happily slept through it all, and woke only to the constant morning sun?

Total Lunar Eclipse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The entirety of October 8th’s lunar eclipse was visible in California, beginning at 1:15am and ending 6:33am. Despite having classwork to do and a grant proposal to write, I decided this was too amazing of a celestial show to miss. I even managed to drag four other people along with me, for an almost three hour viewing party (we went home sometime after the middle of the totality). I’m already hatching plans for the next eclipse on April 4th.

Summer in the Sierras

I’ve been lucky enough to make multiple trips to the Sierra Nevadas this summer, including two camping trips in Yosemite and a visit to Bear Valley and Columbia historic gold town.