Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Natural History Photography Blog

Lunar Eclipse April 4 2015 from Joshua Tree National Park

I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to watch the lunar eclipse of April 4, 2015. Photographically, I was not sure what I was going to do. I’ve made a series of lunar eclipse sequence images (lunar eclipse October 8, 2014 and April 14, 2014 version 2 version 3). While these images are visually appealing and challenging to make well, I really wanted to do something different for this eclipse, push the creative comfort zone so to speak. Fellow photographer Garry McCarthy and I mulled over some ideas on the drive up to Joshua Tree but after arriving I was still at a loss. I deliberately left my 500mm lens at home so I would not fall into the trap of trying to photograph closeups and sequences that way. In fact, I brought my fish eye lens to force myself to look for something different. We headed to the arch, a spot we often go to for night photography and the place at which Garry (with some help from me) originally planned and executed the “Milky Way Arch over Arch” photo, which we have subsequently re-photographed in many variations over the years. A little pondering, a pause for a Santana’s chicken burrito, some crawling around on the rocks looking for angles, and then thankfully I had finally had an idea for a different kind of sequence and a different angle on the arch. At least something to try.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence through Arch Rock, April 4 2015, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015.
Image ID: 30713  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
 

I wanted a composition that told the story of the entire eclipse from start to end in one photograph, and in which the Joshua Tree NP setting was clearly evident. I recalled the exposure settings I had used during the last eclipse and realized that the variation of the moon’s light is too great to capture with just one exposure setting, but that could work to my advange in depicting the entire smooth path of the moon through the sky. I took a wild-ass-guess at the best aperture, shutter and ISO to use, set up my camera on a small tripod wedged into some rocks, turned on the intervalometer and let it go all night. The result is the following composite image, depicting the moon from about 1am until 6:30am, including the lunar eclipse from when it began at 3:15am until it set behind the rocks in the distance. The frame is “Arch Rock”, but in an unfamiliar angle. 890 individual images were taken to make this image. The stars and eclipsed moon are shown at about 5am, when the eclipse was at its “peak”, the moon being in its “blood red” phase and lit only by indirect, refracted light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The color of the moon is indeed red in the full res version but its hard to make out on the web. The path of the moon is flared toward the top due to high altitude clouds which were passing by, but as the eclipse began the skies cleared and the moon’s path through the sky becomes smoother.

We also realized that during the eclipse, the milky way would become visible, something that is typically impossible to see during a full moon. In fact, the strength of the moonlight would gradually fade in such a way that we could wait for it to exactly match the milky way and starlight above, allowing us to photograph the arch lit by a perfect amount of moonlight, right at astronomical twilight when blue just begins to appear in the sky, without resorting to using any artificial light at all. The result was this image: Milky Way over Arch Rock during Lunar Eclipse of April 4, 2015. (Note: I think this is the highest quality panorama of this scene I’ve ever photographed, and I’ve practiced it many many times. It will print 4.5′ by 7′ with no interpolation.)

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015
Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015.
Image ID: 30717  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 8903 x 14184
 

We were also treated to a 22° lunar halo an hour or so before the eclipse occurred. Often mistakenly called “lunar corona”, the lunar halo forms when moonlight refracts through hexagonal high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22° the sky is darker inside the halo. It formed a complete circle for about 45 minutes. We were freezing our asses off and, while this was a superb distraction, once it was gone we still had to wait and freeze until the eclipse began. Why is it still so cold in the high desert in April?

Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park.  The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo
Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park. The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo.
Image ID: 30711  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
 

Cheers and thanks for looking!

Elephants (Three Different Ones)

I am starting to post my images from a fantastic safari experience in Kenya in September, and searched on the term “elephant” in my own stock files and found these three came to the top. I immediately thought “Elephants (Three Different Ones)”. Yes, I am a Pink Floyd fan, naturally. And no I don’t mean that kind of pink floyd. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Elephant arch and stars at night, moonlight, Valley of Fire State Park
Elephant arch and stars at night, moonlight, Valley of Fire State Park.
Image ID: 28435  
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA
 
Bull elephant seal exits the water to retake his position on the beach.  He shows considerable scarring on his chest and proboscis from many winters fighting other males for territory and rights to a harem of females.  Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California, Mirounga angustirostris, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon
Bull elephant seal exits the water to retake his position on the beach. He shows considerable scarring on his chest and proboscis from many winters fighting other males for territory and rights to a harem of females. Sandy beach rookery, winter, Central California.
Image ID: 15458  
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California, USA
 
African elephant herd, Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Loxodonta africana
African elephant herd, Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
Image ID: 29531  
Species: African elephant, Loxodonta africana
Location: Amboseli National Park, Kenya
 

Stars, A Galaxy and … Wind Turbines?

On a lark one evening in 2014, my buddy Garry McCarthy and I headed out to the desert to do some night photography with only one caveat: try someplace new (in other words, not Joshua Tree again). We headed east and somewhat south with sort of a plan but really it was mostly the blind leading the blind. Eventually we got on spot, broke out the lights and flashed them around while clicking away with the cameras and what followed was one of the most industrial, industrious and unconventional photography sessions I’ve had. Thanks to Garry’s mad lighting skillz acquired on many landscape astrophotography trips, we came away with some creative and fun images. How big are these wind turbines? About 250′ tall at the rotor’s axle, and another 185′ for the blade, for a total reach of 435′ above ground. Pretty damn big! Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Wind Energy Turbines, at night with stars and the Milky Way in the sky above, the moving turbine blades illuminated by a small flashlight
Wind Energy Turbines, at night with stars and the Milky Way in the sky above, the moving turbine blades illuminated by a small flashlight.
Image ID: 30239  
Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,
Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,.
Image ID: 30242  
Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,
Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,.
Image ID: 30248  
Stars rise above Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades
Stars rise above a Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades.
Image ID: 30227  
Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,
Express Wind Energy Projects, moving turbines lit by the rising sun,.
Image ID: 30246  
Stars rise above Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades
Stars rise above a Wind Turbine power generation facility, with a flashlight illuminating the turning turbine blades.
Image ID: 30224  

Lunar Eclipse Photo Sequence, October 8 2014

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014, San Diego, California
Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29412  
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA
 

I have made a few photographic sequences of lunar eclipses, including several of the total lunar eclipse of April 15 2014 (version 2, version 3). I wanted to do something similar for the October 8 2014 lunar eclipse, but did not have the freedom to go photograph out in the desert where the air was likely to be clear. On the evening of the eclipse conditions were iffy, and down on the beach the air was heavy and wet so the pier was out — it was on the verge of turning to fog. Up on the mesas above and inland from the beach the air was much clearer and drier but still the shooting looked iffy, I was not sure the eclipse would even be visible. As it turned out I was able to get the images for which I was hoping, although things were not as clear as I probably would have found in the desert.

My planning for the eclipse was something like this: the penumbral phase of eclipse was to begin at 2:15am at 227 degrees on the compass and inclination of 53 degrees. Full eclipse would begin at 3:25 (245 degrees, 41 degree inclination) and end at 4:24am (256 degrees, 30 degree inclination). The penumbral phase would end at 5:34 (266 degrees, 16 degree inclination). This meant the “rectangle” that the path of the eclipse would take through the sky was roughly 40 degrees horizontally (left to right on the compass) and spanned a vertical inclination of about 37 degrees. I figured a lens with about 24mm of focal length, or a little more, held in portrait orientation — which covers approximately 73 degrees vertically and 53 degrees horizontally would work well, since it would allow for some foreground and would cover the entire left-right travel of the moon with room to spare on all sides. Mind you this may sound like some sort of complicated math but in truth a few minutes with The Photographer’s Ephemeris and a few notes on the back of a VISA envelope were all that was required to set up the plan for that night. The “center” of the eclipse would be at a compass angle of about 250 degrees, so I setup my camera in that direction, configured it to shoot periodic bracketed images all night long using an intervalometer, and crossed my fingers the sky would remain clear for the two and a quarter hours that the eclipse would happening.

I also shot individual images of the eclipsing moon with 560mm of focal length — the Canon 200-400 f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x teleconverter turned out to be perfect for this, and I periodically used live focus to ensure the moon was as sharp as possible. That lens, coupled with good focus and a good sensor, can really resolve a lot. I composited these sharp and detailed moon images onto the best single image of the “background” in the location and orientation in which the moon travelled across the sky. They appear about twice as large as the moon actually appeared in the original wide-angle photographs. I was a little surprised to find the path was slightly convex (relative to the ground) as in my previous south-facing sequences the path was strongly concave, but then realized after looking at the star trails of the images from that night that indeed this was the proper path of the stars and moon. I was facing only about 20 degree south of west and Polaris was about 110 degrees to the right. All heavenly objects have an apparent rotation about that one star, leading to the path of the moon you see here. The following image is a huge (12000 x 12000) mosaic of the sequence, with some impressive detail in the moon including some visible lunar mountains when the sun was just skimming the edge of the moon in some of the frames. The frames I found the most interesting, and challenging to expose, are those were there is still direct sunlight case upon the moon while at the same time some of the “blood red moon” coloration is beginning to appear in the shadowed area of the moon. The moon is yellower at the end of the sequence than it is at the beginning — at the beginning it is high in the sky and the optical path passed through relatively little atmosphere, but toward the end of the sequence the moon was nearly setting and the optical path passed through much more atmosphere, affecting the “color temperature” of the moon and rendering it with a yellowish hue. (Hue: does anyone actually use that word in conversation?)

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014
Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29411  
Pano dimensions: 8000 x 8000
 

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Juniper and Standing Rock, Joshua Tree, 2014

For the eclipse of April 14/15, 2014, I wanted to depict the course of the eclipse across the sky with some recognizable landscape features in the foreground to anchor the composition. As the day of the eclipse went by, I watched the weather reports and decided Joshua Tree National Park would be a good place to shoot, since it was forecast to have clear skies. I have been shooting various spots in JTNP at night in an effort to produce a collection of nice landscape astrophotography images. I knew two locations in particular had orientations that would work well for the eclipse, which was going to occur almost due south. In 2011, Garry McCarthy and I shot original compositions at Arch Rock and the Juniper and Standing Rock incorporating the milky way, at the time something relatively new. Similar images have since become common, and the arch will now often have a crowd of photographers at night around the new moon. But because the next time a full lunar eclipse will occur centered due south is decades away, I knew this eclipse offered an opportunity to produce an astrophotography image at each of these well-known spots that was not likely to be appear in any other photographer’s portfolio anytime soon.

This is the third of the three images I made that night (#1 and #2), with the lunar eclipse depicted from the point in time when the moon entered the shadow of the Earth to when it emerged again, above the small juniper tree and curious standing rock not far from one of the campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014
Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29204  
 

If you are curious, the other two images I photographed during the eclipse are Lunar Eclipse Sequence over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 2014 and Lunar Eclipse Blood Red Moon Sequence over Joshua Tree National Park. The second link explains the planning involved and how I executed the eclipse sequence — I used largely the same camera technique at all three locations but the artificial lighting was different in each, exploiting both hand held light and remote triggered flash depending on what was needed. (The arch rock composition differs from the other two in that not only is it a composite but it is a very wide panorama as well.)

This image is centered due south, which was the point during the eclipse when the moon would be both fully eclipsed and highest in the sky. I lit the juniper and rock with a small handheld light from the right. This image is a composite and the moon is a larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself. The stars themselves were photographed earlier in the evening, when the full moon was just rising, so that it could illuminate the surrounding landscape not reached by my flashlight. My camera remained fixed on a tripod throughout to ensure the images were aligned perfectly and the moon tracked through the sky in the proper way.

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Searching the Skies - Palomar Observatory at Night

My father took my brother and I camping at Mount Palomar a few times when I was a kid. We would fish at Doane Pond (back then it seemed like a lake but now I realize its little more than a puddle), and always visit the Palomar Observatory just up the road. I was fascinated by the amazing astronomy photographs in the gift shop, and the sheer size of the dome and telescope (200″ diameter, 14-ton glass mirror!) seemed awesome. Fast forward 40 years. I was recently permitted to photograph this telescope at night. The Palomar Observatory, which first collected light in 1948 and is part of the California Institute of Technology, remains one of the most important telescopes in the world. The evening I photographed the observatory, I was fortunate to be accompanied by the observatory’s public relations officer who kindly answered my many questions. One remark of his in particular really stunned me regarding the work that was being done the very evening I was there. I still sort of shake my head thinking about it. I spent years in college and grad school studying some heavy mathematics and science and still have trouble wrapping my mind around this idea: within the last decade and particularly in the last year, scientists at the Palomar Observatory have made direct observations of exoplanets — planets orbiting another star. I don’t mean inferences of other planets by observing the slight periodic dimming of a star, suggesting a planet is crossing in front of the star. I mean direct observations of the exoplanets themselves, through spectroscopy, which allows the composition of the planet to be understood. The distances involved in this science are so great, and the implications so profound, that I find it a little disorienting to ponder for more than a few minutes at a time, my puny intellect is overwhelmed! I’ll have more images of Palomar Observatory to share in the coming weeks. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Palomar Observatory at sunset, Palomar Mountain, California
Palomar Observatory at sunset.
Image ID: 29336  
Location: Palomar Observatory, Palomar Mountain, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 6346 x 8379
 

Panorama of the Full Moon over San Diego City Skyline

I shoot a lot of images of the San Diego City Skyline, to keep them fresh and because I am always looking for a reason to be down along the San Diego Bay at dawn or dusk — it is such a beautiful city. A few months ago I made some nice photos of the full moon rising over downtown San Diego (and this one too!). This is the one I like the best: an enormous panoramic photograph printing up to 3 feet high by over 28 feet long! Here the full moon is seen just after it has risen above the mountains east of San Diego, above the San Diego County Administration building. Photographed with a very sharp telephoto lens and high resolution camera and consisting of over 20 source images, the detail in the final panorama is quite something, with individual people visible in restaurants along the waterfront. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Full Moon rising over San Diego City Skyline, viewed from Harbor Island
Full Moon rising over San Diego City Skyline, viewed from Harbor Island.
Image ID: 29120  
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 3562 x 33655
 

The Eyes of Utah - Natural Arches and the Milky Way

The Eyes of Utah? I think these two images look like “eyes”, at least to my eyes they do. The first one sort of looks like an evil serpent’s eye, while the second resembles a whale’s eye. (If you have never seen a whale up close, you’ll just have to trust me on that one.) Both of these arches are in Utah and are depicted here framing the Milky Way galaxy (”our” galaxy). My buddy Garry and I spent a long weekend photographing the night sky around Moab, Utah recently and these were two of my favorite images from the effort. We had to time our photography for when the Milky Way would be in the best position, since it rotates through the sky during the course of the night and can be anywhere from SE early in the evening to SW toward dawn. In each case I lit the surrounding arch with a bit of light to give some relief to the rocks. If you like these, check out my updated gallery of Arches National Park images, or my collection of Landscape Astrophotography. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Milky Way and Stars
Milky Way and Stars through Arch.
Image ID: 29275  
Location: Moab, Utah, USA
 
Milky Way through North Window, Arches National Park
Milky Way through North Window, Arches National Park.
Image ID: 29277  
Location: North Window, Arches National Park, Utah, USA
 

Light Painting Delicate Arch, Utah

The first few times I photographed Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, most of my compositions were close to the arch. After editing the results of my last visit to the park I resolved to make more distant compositions, for variety’s sake and to put the arch into its surroundings. I got the chance earlier this month. We spent an entire night at Delicate Arch, trying different compositions and light painting techniques, and this was one of my favorites from that effort. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Light Painting Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Light Painting Delicate Arch with the Milky Way rising above, Arches National Park, Utah

If you like this, please take a look at more Astrophotography Landscape images. Thanks to my friend Garry McCarthy for collaborating on some inventive and impactful light painting.

Delicate Arch, Milky Way and Iridium Flare at Night, Arches National Park, Utah

I have shot Arches National Park a number of times, including a very fruitful trip some years ago to shoot astrophotography landscapes. I returned earlier this month for more, and found that I have reached a point where I need to find alternatives to the usual compositions. This one was forced upon my buddy Garry and me. The clouds obscured some of the sky and blocked the obvious composition of the Milky Way over Delicate Arch, so I wandered about a little looking for different ways to portray the arch before dawn crept in and stole the stars away. The sky to the northeast was clear enough to show the northern, lesser arm of the Milky Way and with a little light painting I was able to juxtapose the arch and the galaxy. I got lucky when the Iridium flare, seen to the left of the arch, arrived in the right spot in the composition during the short, 15 second exposure. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Delicate Arch, Milky Way and Iridium Flare at Night, Arches National Park, Utah

Lunar Eclipse Sequence over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 2014

The lunar eclipse of April 14 and 15, 2014 was a wonderful event to see. I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to photograph it for two reasons. First, the weather forecast in the high desert was for clear skies and, for the most part, the skies were indeed cloudless and very dark throughout the night. Second, I was fairly sure I could find several locations around the park to setup my cameras (leaving them unattended) and let them record the entire lunar eclipse, from the moment the moon entered the penumbra and began to be shadowed by the Earth until it was full lit again, including the dramatic blood red coloration when the moon is fully eclipsed. The moon was going to be due south of my position at the peak of the eclipse — I knew this thanks to The Photographer’s Ephemeris — so I selected a few locations that offered a nice composition facing due south and shot away. This image depicts the eclipse occuring in stages to the south of the White Tank campground area, with Joshua Tree’s interesting Arch Rock on the east side of the composition. (It follows the first full eclipse sequence I presented a week ago.)

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014
Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29201  
Pano dimensions: 5835 x 14655
 

Note: this image is both a panorama and a composite. The panorama spans over 180 degrees left to right, and is centered roughly SSE. I lit the arch with a remote-triggered tripod mounted flash to the right, hidden behind a rock. The panorama, depicting stars after astronomical twilight but before the full eclipse peaked, is composed of 8 frames. Planet Mars is the brightest “star” above the arc of moon stages and the blue star Spica can be seen just below and to the right of the eight moon image from the left. This image is a composite and the moon is a little larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself.

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Lunar Eclipse Blood Red Moon Sequence over Joshua Tree National Park

This is the first of my photographic efforts shooting the lunar eclipse the evening of April 14/15 2014. I spent the entire night out under the stars in Joshua Tree National Park, where I often shoot when looking for clear skies and stars at night. I photographed several compositions and locations within the park that evening, leaving my cameras out photographing unattended, but this is the one that caught my eye first. The rocks in the background are lit early in the evening by the rising moon when there is still some daylight blue left in the sky above, while the Joshua Tree itself is lit by my flashlight. There are some faint, short star trails in the blue sky but they are difficult to discern on this web version. The individual phases of the eclipse were photographed from 10:45pm through 2:45am, and are positioned in the proper locations and orientations in the sky but have been enlarged to illustrate how the illumination on the moon changes during the course of an eclipse and as it passes through the sky. I was fortunate that the sky remained clear enough throughout the entire eclipse that I could shoot quality images of all phases until the eclipse was done.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014
Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29202  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
 

This image is available immediately as a print or for licensing, along with two other lunar eclipse sequence photographs from the April 14-15, 2014 full eclipse. Please contact me for more information. Cheers and thanks for looking!

A few photographic notes and how I planned to take this image:

I realized beforehand that this lunar eclipse would be characterized by a symmetry that made illustrating its path through the sky a natural. The “peak” of the eclipse, when the moon is furthest within the umbra (shadow) of the Earth, occurred almost due south of my location which meant it would also occur at the highest point along the path the moon took through the sky.

The beginning and ending of the eclipse took place 67 degrees apart horizontally. To include the entire sequence in one image but without being wasteful of space at the left and right of the composition, I choose to use a focal length close to 20mm giving me a lateral field of view of 82 degrees. The inclination of the moon at the point of peak eclipse was 45 degrees above the horizon, which also worked well for a 20mm lens since it offers a vertical field of view of 62 degrees, enough to include some foreground below the horizon and space above the path of the moon. (I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris to figure the angles out as well as the due-south direction of the peak eclipse point.)

In order to have the composition pre-set correctly hours before the eclipse began, I used a compass to make sure it was aimed directly south (thanks REI for showing me how to correct for magnetic declination in southern California, otherwise I would have been off by about 10 degrees!). Once I choose my spot in what I call “Queen’s Valley” in JTNP, an area dense with healthy, tall, picturesque Joshua Trees and interesting rocks, I then did a kind of human protractor thing with my arms to make convince myself the moon’s path would go above the tree but below the top of my field of view. I locked the camera down on the tripod, waited for dusk and had a beer. I second guessed myself until the moon finally reached the left edge of the frame in what looked like a perfect position. The geometry worked out about right! (I could have done this image entirely without worrying about the angles, assembling things pell-mell later in Photoshop, but I really wanted to get as much of it correct in the camera as possible.)

I used an intervalometer to cause the camera to take photos every few minutes. I did a little light painting as the night went on, but the base frame I liked the most occurred about 70 minutes after sunset, with the moon out of frame to the left. The moon illuminated the background rocks nicely and complimented the light painting I did on the tree.

Venus, Milky Way and Arch Rock at Astronomical Twilight, Joshua Tree National Park

Things are always better at astronomical twilight.

Venus was often referred to as the “Morning Star” by ancient civilizations (and as the “Evening Star” as well). On this day, it was indeed the morning star, rising just moments before astronomical twilight began. This allowed for a very brief window of time, a few moments really, to make a balanced exposure including the Milky Way galaxy and a sky full of stars, the planet Venus, the onset of dawn’s blue sky, and a softly lit Arch Rock. Just a few minutes later and the impending dawn became bright enough to make the Milky Way unseeable This image required no compositing or local adjustments, just global contrast, shadow recovery and white balance. I managed to make a huge 180-degree panorama of this same scene just two days later, but an alignment such as this allowing one to compose Venus under the arch, with the Milky Way just above, right at the transition of astronomical twilight (with its accompanying deep blue sky) will not reoccur for quite some time and I will probably never have another opportunity to see it. Shot alongside friend and photographer Garry McCarthy in Joshua Tree National Park. If you like this, check out some of my other Astrophotography Landscape Photos. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Venus, Milky Way, Arch Rock at Astronomical Twilight, Joshua Tree National Park

Milky Way over Sky Rock Petroglyph, Volcanic Tablelands, Bishop, California

Milky Way over Sky Rock Petroglyph, Volcanic Tablelands, Bishop, California.

I made this image several years ago but neglected to share any images from that evening’s photographic efforts on my blog. I have made many visits to the Volcanic Tablelands, at all times of day, to explore the rocks, admire the vistas over the Owens River, and photograph one of the finest petroglyph panels in the world. In this composition, I waited for a specific date when the Milky Way could be effectively photographed above the petroglyphs with Mount Tom and the Sierra Nevada range aligned in the distance. It was a very cold evening, I wore all the clothes I had on hand, but after several hours of trying different compositions I managed several images I am very happy with. Sky Rock is a magical place at night, with ancient light emanating from stars many hundreds and thousands of light years away cascading down upon these special, old and impressive engravings. It is just the type of place I enjoy photographing at night, with no other people around, no photo workshop groups, no RVs, no automobile sounds — nothing. Solitude. I have also photographed these petroglyphs under a full moon as well as under pastel dawn skies, as well as a massive panorama of this location that I will be sharing soon. Cheers and thanks for looking!

The Milky Way at Night over Sky Rock.  Sky Rock petroglyphs near Bishop, California. Hidden atop an enormous boulder in the Volcanic Tablelands lies Sky Rock, a set of petroglyphs that face the sky. These superb examples of native American petroglyph artwork are thought to be Paiute in origin, but little is known about them
The Milky Way at Night over Sky Rock. Sky Rock petroglyphs near Bishop, California. Hidden atop an enormous boulder in the Volcanic Tablelands lies Sky Rock, a set of petroglyphs that face the sky. These superb examples of native American petroglyph artwork are thought to be Paiute in origin, but little is known about them.
Image ID: 28798  
Location: Bishop, California, USA
 

Moonlight Waves

Filed under: Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Seascapes on 12/18/2013

I once shot photographs of waves by the light of phytoplankton during a major red tide event. That worked out pretty well, although it was pushing the cameras to the limits of what they could record. However, this time I’m not sure what I was thinking: I got up at o-dark-thirty to photograph waves by moonlight. The exposures were so long that just about every wave becomes smeared across the image in a blur of whitewash. I managed to make a couple images I am happy with, and I learned a lot about how to do it better next time. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Breaking waves crash upon a rocky reef under the light of a full moon, La Jolla, California
Breaking waves crash upon a rocky reef under the light of a full moon.
Image ID: 28870  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 
Breaking waves crash upon a rocky reef under the light of a full moon, La Jolla, California
Breaking waves crash upon a rocky reef under the light of a full moon.
Image ID: 28869  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 

Starlight and Moonlight on Little Corona, Newport Beach

When I was a kid growing up in Newport Beach, we would often visit Little Corona beach and see tons of black abalone. They would be clinging to the rocks, and empty ab shells would be hidden in the all the tidepools and pockets of water. The abalone are long gone (as is my youth!), but some of the nostalgia remains. I spent a few hours shooting Little Corona under a full moon and came away with one image with which I am happy. Little Corona is a fine spot, relatively secluded, quieter and much less crowded than Big Corona Beach. In this photograph, ankle-slapper waves are blurred during a long exposure made by the light of the moon. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Little Corona Beach, at night under a full moon, waves lit by moonlight, Newport Beach, California
Little Corona Beach, at night under a full moon, waves lit by moonlight.
Image ID: 28866  
Location: Newport Beach, California, USA
 

Prints of this image are available here, or you can check out more Wave Photographs.

Moonlight on Seal Rock, Laguna Beach, California

Seal Rock, a short distance offshore of Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach, is typically covered with many cormorants and at least a few California sea lions. I’ve made a number of dives at Seal Rock but had never made any effort to photograph it topside. Garry McCarthy and I did some full-moon photography in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach recently, and I was able to make this image of Seal Rock, cormorants and sea lions, under a full moon. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Cormorants and sea lions on Seal Rock, at night, waves lit by full moon, Laguna Beach, California
Cormorants and sea lions on Seal Rock, at night, waves lit by full moon.
Image ID: 28864  
Location: Laguna Beach, California, USA
 

Prints of this image are available here. If you like this, check out more Night and Time Exposure Photographs.

Big Corona Beach at Night, Corona Del Mar State Beach, Newport Beach

When I grew up in Newport Beach, I spent a lot of time at “Big Corona”, aka, Corona Del Mar State Beach. Because this is a great place to take the kids, bodyboard and kick back in the sun, this beach gets crowded. Yachts sail by in and out of the channel all day, and when a swell arrives there can be a good break along the jetty. This is a view of Big Corona at night, viewed from just around the corner from Little Corona.

Big Corona Beach, aka Corona del Mar State Beach, at night lit by full moon, Newport Beach
Big Corona Beach, aka Corona del Mar State Beach, at night lit by full moon, Newport Beach.
Image ID: 28865  
Location: Newport Beach, California, USA
 

La Jolla Cove at Dawn, La Jolla, California

One of my favorite times to photograph in La Jolla is when night is just transitioning to dawn. Sunrise is till 45 minutes or an hour away. In December it can be chilly at this hour, but it is also quiet and, usually, still. The only people I see are early morning runners, dog walkers and occasional delivery trucks stopping at the restaurants. Sea lions bark, wave brush over the sand, gulls call and pelicans fly by close overhead. Sunlight was not really even visible to my eye when I took this image, just a hint of blue on the horizon, but my camera was able to record vivid pre-dawn colors with a 30 second exposure. Cheers and thanks for looking!

La Jolla Cove and pre-dawn light
La Jolla Cove and pre-dawn light.
Image ID: 28847  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 

Prints of this image are available here. Be sure to see more Photos of La Jolla, California.

VLBA Radio Telescope at Night under the Milky Way Galaxy, Owens Valley, California

Filed under: Astrophotography and Night Scapes on 12/9/2013

The Owens Valley is home to a variety of radio telescopes. This particular radio telescope, photographed with the Milky Way galaxy rising above it in the night sky, is part of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a system of ten widely spaced radio telescopes that make certain forms of high resolution interferometry possible. The VLBA radio telescopes, which are each about 10 stories high when pointed straight up, range from Hawaii in the west to New Hampshire in the east. The VLBA radio telescopes are controlled from a central location in New Mexico. Large amounts of observational data are recorded at each VLBA telescope site, then sent to a single data processing lab where they are pooled and analyzed on very powerful computers.

Radio telescope antenna, part of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is a system of ten radio telescopes which are operated remotely from their Array Operations Center located in Socorro, New Mexico, as a part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). These ten radio antennas work together as an array that forms the longest system in the world that uses very long baseline interferometry, Big Pine, California
Radio telescope antenna, part of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is a system of ten radio telescopes which are operated remotely from their Array Operations Center located in Socorro, New Mexico, as a part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). These ten radio antennas work together as an array that forms the longest system in the world that uses very long baseline interferometry.
Image ID: 28787  
Location: Big Pine, California, USA
 

Prints of this image are available here. If you like this image, you might check out my landscape astrophotography website or my gallery of landscape astrophotography photos on this website.


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Updated: July 29, 2015