Shadowchasing: My Eclipse Story

Journal, Photography, Science Tech

composite

As my great uncle eloquently reminded me, “The best laid plans of mice and men, Oft times goes astray”. No, my eclipse trip was not an utter disappointment, it was merely… dramatic. But let me back up a bit.

Anderson, SC, August 21st – 8:00AM: I get up and eat breakfast, and glance out the widow gives me good news: the skies are blue in all directions.

I had waited for this event for a long time. I have been an avid stargazer and astronomer for several years, and few events are as greatly anticipated as a solar eclipse. A long time had passed since the last one; for many people, this was the first accessible  total solar eclipse in their lifetime. I am among this group.

Of course, one of the challenges I faced was how to get equipment to the path of totality. Mailing was simply out of the question due to cost and mail carriers’ (ahem) reputation handling delicate components. For the same reason, I wanted to avoid checking any equipment on a plane. This left me the challenge of making all my equipment carry-on friendly.

Anderson, SC, August 21st – 10:00AM: I arrive onsite at my observing location at my gracious and hospitable cousins’ house. We arrived there in South Carolina the day before. I had unloaded my equipment and assembled it at the house, and then had left to spend the night at my great aunt and uncle’s apartment 10 minutes away.

Since all my telescopes were 1). large and heavy and also 2). had too much focal length, I decided against these. For those unfamiliar with the term, too much focal length means too much magnification. I wanted the entire disk of the sun to fit in the field of view of my astronomy camera. Therefore, I set about finding a suitable optic to fill the need. After some experimentation with software, I determined that a 300mm focal length would work well. Not long thereafter, I bought from ebay an old, manual Nikon lens, a Nikkor 300mm F/4.5 ED IF AIS. Perfect. It was lightweight, had the right focal length, and decent optics.

For mounting, I had at my disposal my EQ-3 (Orion AstroView) equatorial mount. While the mount head was good, and more than adequate for the load I was asking of it with the 300mm Nikkor, the tripod was a no-go. It was too long, and also quite flimsy in it’s extruded aluminum and plastic construction. Solution: I fabricated some small tripod legs from a 2×4 board. Very solid, small, and portable. The only piece missing from the mounting was a way for it to track automatically, leading to the purchase of the Right Ascension motor for the mount. Excellent: a small, sturdy, tracking mount.

IMG_1164

Portable Eclipse Rig. Have equipment, will travel.

Anderson, SC, August 21st- 11:00AM: I gather all my equipment outside, aligning my mount with north as best as I can. The temperature is really rising, setting us up for a very hot southern day. To shield my computer, I use a cardboard box so I could see the screen, as well as keep the computer from overheating. Again, for those who may be unfamiliar, I use my computer to control my astronomy camera. This little camera has no buttons, no viewfinder, or external controls: it is merely a sensor with circuitry, which has to be controlled by a computer with software. It will output raw video for later processing.  Some puffy clouds floated lazily across the sky, but I’m fine with that. As long as they remain sparse and keep moving.

So I had the equipment that would fill the need. I also brought all my DSLR equipment- D600 body, with 14mm F/2.8, 28mm F/1.8, 50mm F/1.4, and 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 lenses. I stuffed all my equipment into a carry-on bag and a camera bag, ready for the airport. There were only a few final obstacles between me and my destination: Airport security, and making sure my bags made it on the plane without them being selected for checked baggage due to full flights. Airport security was no problem (50+ pounds of glass and metal, no one blinks an eye…). Needless to say, everything made it safely.

Anderson, SC, August 21st- 1:08PM: First contact! Everyone celebrates the small bite out of the sun that we know to be the moon. After a few minutes of observing, we settle down for a while, eating lunch and cooling off in the shade. I keep an eye on my computer, which occasionally suffers through software glitches.

DSC_9230

2:00PM: Electric excitement builds in all of us as we approach the culmination of the event. We still have a little while to totality, but the temperature continues to drop noticeably. The sky begins to change- the hue didn’t exactly change, I think it is better described as merely having less luminance. However, a large cloud bank looms in the western hemisphere of the sky, and I begin to fear that it is moving eastward.

DSC_9245.jpg

Waiting for Totality. The sky’s luminance is beginning to decrease at this point

2:33PM: -Minutes to totality- The clouds obscure, and then reveal, the sun in a tense cycle. The western hemisphere of the sky is completely blocked. I desperately try to capture what I can as the sun goes behind clouds, and the landscape continues to darken.

DSC_9246.jpg

Minutes to Totality. Note that only half the sky is covered…

2:38PM: “Totality!” my friend shouts, and all the surroundings become dark. The temperature plummets. We, however, can see nothing: inopportune clouds blanket half the sky, including the now begun eclipse. Cicadas chirp, as if it were late evening. In desperation, I sit by my equipment, and take in the surroundings; Jupiter and stars are visible in the clear hemisphere. We continue to wait.

“There it is!” someone cried. I look up, and the clouds parted to show us the firey spectacle. I grab my binoculars and soak in the black orb and luminous corona. I point out to my family and friends the bright pink prominences on the limb. I hand the binoculars to my friends and desperately try to capture the scene; however, in the moment I made the wrong adjustments and ended up recording nothing.

2:40PM: I realize my mistake, but too late! Totality is ending, and I capture as many frames as I can. For everyone’s safety, I remind them that all safety filters must be worn again at this point. I feel, simultaneously, joy and defeat. I am happy that I got to see anything, but I regret not capturing it well. I came away with a little over 500 frames as totality ended (video clip above). For the next hour, clouds completely block the sun, after which they give way to a sunny afternoon and the last few stages of the eclipse.

14_40_27_g4_ap1shpnbesttry

A Cloudy Totality. Image is a stack of frames from the video

Traffic greatly lengthened our journey back to Alabama, but I did not mind that much. I had great fun and made many memories on that trip. I now look forward to 2024, when another solar eclipse will visit the United States. Until then, the wait and the planning begin again. My family, too, now eagerly awaits the enticing shadow of the moon. The drama will begin again, and more memories will be made. If you missed totality on this one, don’t miss it again in seven years. Nowhere else in our solar system has God seen fit to provide a planet with a moon that spans the same angular diameter as our star, as seen from the planet. Go see it! You will have your own Eclipse Story to tell.

 

Advertisements

Southward Sights: A Day or Two in Washington, D.C.

Journal, Photography

34079562603_86c5ebad78_k

Last week I was southbound on my way to Washington, D.C. with a small group from the University of Maine Honors College.  I had a day and a half to explore the city with a few friends, and we never had a dull moment. We packed every hour with walking, talking, eating, and seeing. Exploring the city was fun, but while I was there I also explored a new view of the world: a view through a 14mm focal length lens, which I picked up just before I left (it’s a Rokinon 14mm F/2.8). The very wide angle is fascinating, but I found that it must be used with care to use it well. It certainly teaches you to mind your lines, foregrounds, and backgrounds. A wide perspective makes everything look like it’s “leaning back” if you look upwards, such as in the photo below. It’s not an effect I’m crazy about, but it can be used effectively. I played with the perspective corrections in Adobe Lightroom to “fix” the effect in a number of photographs from the 14mm, but sometimes the effect itself is compelling. In the photograph below, as was pointed out by Scott Fillmer (my uncle, and a photographer I respect greatly), the effect creates leading lines from the pillars, bringing the viewer’s eye out and to the Washington Monument in the frame.

34047341574_9f77fb239f_k

However, adding a perspective correction can also make a great photograph. This is essentially, digitally, the same as using a tilt-shift lens. Doing this in post will reduce the field of view, so it won’t be the a full 14mm view, but that is fine for many photographs especially if you have plenty of pixels to work with. The downside is that extreme corrections can degrade image quality. In the photograph below, I used the 14mm. In the original, the pillars are “leaning away” from you, much like the photograph above. I really wanted to convey how massive these pillars are in the Lincoln Memorial, and I think the perspective corrected photograph does a better job at that than the uncorrected one. It also is closer to how I remember it looking in person.

34889904345_88c7556a18_b

You may have notice that I shot a lot of Black and White. This was not expressly my goal, but it happened to work well on a generally grey D.C. day while shooting a lot of white marble and white painted sandstone. However, color really makes the Washington Monument “pop” at night. This is interesting if you think about it, because most of the negative space around the monument is black… and the monument is white. however, the slightly blueish cast from the lights, the variations in the stone, and the small dash of color from the flags all contribute to the image.

34758309491_10676315e4_c

We saw a number of monuments and memorials, but I my favorite was the World War 2 memorial. It was very appropriate, and thought provoking. If the opportunity arises, go see it. One cannot help but think about the momentous struggle, the strength and bravery of thousands, the sad reality of this world war. I live in a free nation because young men my age stormed beaches, flew aircraft, manned warships, and lived (and died) through every hardship to combat a darkness bent on overtaking the world. If anyone out there has no respect for their military, they need to visit this memorial.

34503243020_f8e36df591_b

Another memorial worth visiting (well, aren’t they all worth visiting?) is the Korean War Memorial. A wall, a flag, a fountain, and soldier statues commemorate this war and remind us that “Freedom is not free.”

34850197596_a959ddc111_b

It wasn’t all wide angle fun in Washington, though. I found occasion to pull out a longer focal length, as was needed to photograph the Washington Memorial and the Capitol Building in the same frame.

34889891695_1899aefd77_c

Also good for photographing D.C. guards. Yeah, she’s having a great day.

34758300441_ea0455132f_b

Maine: School and Hiking

Journal, Photography

dsc_4883

Hey y’all! Since my last post on the blog I’ve gone through some fairly drastic life changes. To put my life in the last 3 months bluntly: I have moved over 1,000 miles away from the Heart of Dixie, Alabama to beautiful rough and rugged Maine. I started my studies at the University of Maine this fall. Thank goodness for fall break! I’m not going lie, the freshman semester is rough. So to take my mind off the books, I accepted an invitation to hike Mt. Chase. It’s not the biggest or roughest mountain, but I certainly enjoyed the hike. It was an amazing feeling to go out and climb 2,400 feet up a mountain, then stand on the summit with nothing else but the clear wind whipping past and Katahdin looming in the hazy blue distance. As much as I enjoyed the hike, I struggled to translate the beauty into my photographs. Hope y’all Enjoy the photos from the trail.

dsc_4861

The Trail

dsc_4866

Up to Eagle Point

The above photograph shows one of the hardest parts of the trail, although it wasn’t very difficult. This part of the trail actually doesn’t go to the summit, but to a great spot called Eagle Point. I found the climb to Eagle Point exhilarating; it starts out like most of the trail, a stony and root covered path ascending through a fairly wooded slope. Suddenly, you come upon a spot where you must scramble over a rock face and continue the trail at a steep grade, which breaks you above the trees and leads you to a clear summit with a lovely view of the autumn landscape. The photograph above shows the spot in the trail where the more vertical component begins. The below photograph is the trail leading almost to the top of Eagle Point.

DSC_4868.jpg

DSC_4890.jpg

Katahdin Horizon

DSC_4901.jpg

Katahdin

DSC_4923.jpg

Trail to the Summit

dsc_4964

DSC_4966.jpg

DSC_4977.jpg

 

Providence Canyon, GA, 2016

Journal, Photography
Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016. The Cliche Landscaper’s Panorama.

Hello everyone. Although my blog has been quiet, I have not stopped taking photos. I eagerly awaited spring this year, and I took a good many photos of flowers, etc. Perhaps I will do a post including some of them at a future date.

I am quite the (self-admitted) gear junkie, so before I go any further I must mention that (since my last post) I have picked up a new camera, a Nikon D600. It’s an absolutely spectacular tool with an amazing sensor. However this post is not about my new camera.

Recently I spent some time at Providence Canyon. I went twice, both times hiking with friends. The first time the skies were mostly overcast, and the second time was mostly clear sun (as can be seen in the first photograph). Neither time was I there for the landscape photographer’s hallowed “golden” hours of dawn or dusk. However, I made the most of it and came away with some photographs that I’m pretty happy with.

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

The first trip I made I only did the 3 mile Canyon Loop trail. Most of the photographs were taken from the vantage point of this trail, and it generally contains the best views of the canyons. These first three photographs above, as well as the four below, were taken from the Canyon Loop trail. However, from a photographer’s view, there’s not much flexibility except from staying right there on the trail, so sometimes finding compositions that work can be harder. It doesn’t help that I’m not great at composing photographs. What I mean is that the photograph that resulted after post processing wasn’t the original composition (i.e., I cropped to a different composition afterward to achieve a more pleasing image, but that I didn’t envision the crop while looking through the viewfinder).

Providence Canyon 2016

Layers, Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Tree on Canyon Wall, Providence Canyon 2016

You can also hike in amongst the canyons. You can do this if you take the 3 mile loop trail and then just follow the creek bed up among the canyons, but taking the longer hike will get you there as well. On my first trip we hiked up only a few  of the canyons, but on my second trip we hiked into almost every canyon. These two below were taken from within the canyons.

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

Providence Canyon 2016

The 7 mile Back Country Trail, for the most part, is not exceedingly scenic. It does take you near the rim of some smaller outlooks, but most of it is walking on a clearly marked path through the woods, and eventually down through the bottoms by the creek. My friends and I did come across a snake, though…

DSC_1629

Enjoy.

Maine 2015

Journal, Photography
Sailboat

Sailboat

Hey everyone, if you follow my blog you may have noticed that I take an annual trek to Maine, and that has continued this year. Maine is a wonderful place and a drastic change from Alabama…it’s a place of rugged beauty with rocky coasts, clear waters, and trees that cling to shoreline rocks with mighty roots. Oh, Maine has some really good lobster, too. The weather was really nice, at least to me! On this trip, I challenged myself to look for (and take, naturally) photographs that really said, “Maine”. I also did a good bit of dabbling in Black and White photography.

Bird

Cormorant in Maine Harbor

Cormorant in Maine Harbor

A Classic Maine Coast

A Classic Maine Coast

Maine 2015

Roots Among Rocks

Roots Among Rocks

Seagull

Seagull

Maine 2015

Maine 2015

ISS Lunar Tranist

Journal, Photography, Science Tech

ISS Transit

Hello everyone!

Determination and careful planning will sometimes pay off.

I’m sure just about everyone knows what the International Space Station is. The huge satellite is even quite visible from earth. Shining like a bright star, it glides silently overhead. You can see it, if you know when and where to look. Every once in a while, it’s trajectory takes it right in front of the moon… visible from certain minute strips of earth’s surface. Usually, you must be willing to move around a bit to see one.

That is what I did. Using the fantastic online calculator calsky.com, I noted that a lunar transit was going to occur within 20 miles of my house on February 7th. A quick glance at an extended forecast proved promising weather. Such an opportunity! I immediately applied myself to the challenges. A location on the transit centerline must be found. Not only that, I had to find a place where I could safely setup for the 1:30 AM transit. I chose a place with a large, empty parking lot.

Night before the transit: I and my dad (I want to thank my dad for coming along, being there and helping… thanks Dad!) caught snatches of sleep as we waited for our agreed time of departure. All my equipment was safely and carefully stowed in the car. I mentally went over and over a checklist, thinking of every possible thing I would need. OTA, check. Mount and accessories, check. Battery box, check. Printouts of time, lunar locations, etc. Check. Laptop and hard drive, check. New ASI120mc astronomy camera, check. We drove away, right on time. I set up at our location, and was pleased that I had forgotten nothing!

7 kilometer-wide line of visibility. 56 arc-second angular diameter satellite. 0.087 by 0.117 degree camera telescopic field-of-view. A 0.67 second long transit.

The minutes ticked down to the transit. I checked, double checked, triple checked my lunar location to the predicted path. Seconds flew by in a hurry, counting down to the transit at 1:30:39.51 AM. I checked the focus again. Then I glanced at the computer’s clock. 1:29! I frantically started the capture. The time that seemed to fly seconds before now slowed itself to a dragging crawl. A full eternity of 30 seconds elapsed while my dad and I stared intently at the screen of my computer. The clock hit 1:30. I stood up from my hunched position with a sinking feeling and a sigh. “We missed it,” I remarked aloud. I had prepared myself beforehand for this. I knew there was a huge probability that something would go wrong, and that I wouldn’t get it. I stopped the capture, and immediately went to the capture folder.

I opened the video. Neither my dad or I saw anything during the capture, but we both wanted to see it. 1, 2, 3, seconds in, and just wavering lunar craters. 4 seconds… 5… 6… 7… “There it is!” I said when an unmistakable black blot flicked across the frames. Against all the odds, I had captured the ISS on 3 frames.

Processing all the data to get this image was also quite a challenge, but I won’t bore y’all with it. Enjoy the photo.

Comet Lovejoy

Journal, Photography, Science Tech
Sunset

Sunset

I’ve been looking forward to Comet Lovejoy. To a stargazing enthusiast, reading reports of a great comet while under cloudy skies is like hearing of buried gold beneath a rock… but lacking a shovel. Anyways, January 17 found a beautifully clear Alabamian winter’s day giving way to a vibrant evening. Venus and Mercury quickly followed the sun beneath the trees (above), giving a lovely background to the orange horizon that rose up and faded quickly into deep, majestic blue. Soon after the sun set, I set my sights further into the solar system; Lovejoy was begging to be photographed. My Nikkor 50mm lens framed the comet and it’s long, slender tail quite well.

Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy (C2014 Q2) made quite a show! Having just jumped into cometary astrophotography, I’m pretty satisfied with my results. It made a pretty scene with M45, the Pleiades, just beneath it. Another first for me was using Deep Sky Stacker to stack a series of exposures. This is hard with cometary astrophotography, because not only is the sky moving due to the earth’s rotation, but the comet is moving relative to the background stars as it shoots through the solar system to swing around the sun.

Comet Lovejoy

 

The Maine Post

Journal, Photography
Lobster

What’s Maine Without Eating Lobster?

I realize it’s been a while since the last post. I’m sorry, but the reasons are Mainely good. My sister and I took a week long trip to the beautiful state of Maine several weeks ago; it was a fun and full week, and I’m sure the Maine thing we’ll remember is the good time we had.

Ok, in all seriousness and bad puns aside, here are a few photos from our week. It was wonderful trip; it was my sister Abigail’s first excursion to Maine and my third. Whenever I go to Maine it’s always an incredible experience that makes me want to go back. The primary reason for our northernly journey was to assist our grandpa, owner of Katie’s Kanoes, with a demonstration day for his canoes. The canoes he had for the demonstration day were not your typical canoes; they’re NuCanoes. The NuCanoe is a bit wider, a lot more stable, and a lot more versatile than most other canoes. On one of his NuCanoes he has a rudder with a small electric motor on it and a solar panel, which I got to fiddle with while I was up there (oh joy!). Another one was rigged with a sail. From paddling around Cold Stream Pond, to flying in a floatplane above it (thanks, Mr. Roger!), to boating on Mettawamkeag Lake (many thanks to Arthur and Reneva Smith for the lovely cruise on their boat!) we thoroughly enjoyed our Maine experience. Visit my Flickr page to see all the photos.

Abigail

Abigail awaits takeoff in rainy Atlanta

Maine!

Maine!

We Got to Ride in This

We Got to Ride in This

Mr. Roger flew a floatplane out to Cold Stream Pond to try and buy a NuCanoe from Katie’s Kanoes. He very kindly offered us a ride above Cold Stream Pond.

Cold Stream Pond

Cold Stream Pond

Along Mettawamkeag Lake

Along Mettawamkeag Lake

Sunset

Sunset

What could be better than a beautiful sunset from a canoe on a lake? Taken from the deck of a NuCanoe.