Tag

Landscape Astrophotography

Mesa Arch Sunrise and Night under the Milky Way, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

Icon alert: this post is about Mesa Arch, a major icon which many now scorn and avoid as a subject of landscape photography, and which is known to have the crowd these days.

I’ve photographed a few icons over the past 30 years, although many of them are underwater and so the landscape buyers probably don’t even think of them as icons, or even think of them at all. Mesa Arch is one of the landscape icons. It’s hard to break new “visionary ground” at a place like Mesa Arch, of which hundreds or thousands of photographs are made each day, almost all of them within a short of period of +/- 20 minutes of sunrise. I first visited Mesa Arch in the 90s, and first made a meaningful photograph of Mesa Arch in 2007. Standing on the arch with arms spread, enjoying the cold winter sunrise in solitude while hovering over a yawning canyon, I made an image that ended up taking a first in a national competition and has since been licensed a number of times, paying for the trip several times over. It has a serious flaw in it that I somehow overlooked at the time I shot it — no, its not the model in the shot — but nobody has really mentioned it when they have looked at the high res. I’m glad I was using the Canon 1DsII for all my photography at the time, since the resolution of that mainly studio and fashion camera has held up well over the years, and the sharpness of the Canon fisheye with which I took the shot will cut fingers if one is not careful.

Mesa Arch, Utah.  An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that's me, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Utah. An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that’s me.
Image ID: 18036
Location: Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

When I decided to return to Arches and Canyonlands a few years ago, I wanted to make a different image of Mesa Arch, one that I had thought about for a while: the Milky Way arcing over Mesa Arch. So I did it. Getting the lighting the way I wanted it was a challenge, and stitching the resulting very-wide image without distortion affecting it took some time, but in the end I was very happy with the result. I used a mix of equipment brands in order to produce the highest quality image I could: a Canon 5D Mark III which was new at the time and exhibited great image quality at high ISO settings, combined with the Nikon 14-24 lens, then and still the best all-purpose wide landscape and astrophotography lens available. I believe this image was the first of its kind at Mesa Arch at the time it was made, and the composition has since been repeated a number of times, especially in the last year with its burgeoning interest in astrophotography and the popularity of the online image duplication factories 500px and Flickr.

Panorama of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Panorama of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch.
Image ID: 27824
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

The Milky Way arching over Mesa Arch at night, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The Milky Way arching over Mesa Arch at night.
Image ID: 27827
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

During those years I had never seen another person at Mesa Arch. Not at night, not at sunrise, not during the middle of the day. I had heard rumors about the crowd from other photographers, and as pros changed from providing images to providing travel services and workshops in the early 2000’s, I heard the comments more and more: the testy workshop groups and solo photogs with crossed-up tripod legs all hoping to get one for the bucket list, the rock climbing hipsters wanting to walk the span of the arch just when the light was good, and the busloads of foreigners making a 10 day whirlwind tour of the entire southwest while allotting just 30 minutes to see Mesa Arch at the moment of sunrise before running off to Arches for the rest of the morning. I knew someday I would encounter the crowd and kind of wondered about how it would be. My expectation was that the crowd would be a bummer but given these are our public lands — shared lands to which we are all equally entitled — and that we all are tourists (including photogs) at a place like this, I figured it was just something to be endured and hopefully would be fun.

Last month a buddy and I spend 5 days in the Moab area running around with our cameras, shooting some night images, making a few hikes, and seeing the icons. It was great! We did make a few new night images to be proud of, and photographed a couple icons along with everyone else … including Mesa Arch, the classic morning shot which I had never really made before. I do get requests for a sunrise image of Mesa Arch. I’m not sure why I get such requests, since there are many photographers who have this in their stock files and can provide a beautiful print. But I wanted to make sure I could fulfill such requests, so I photographed the arch with two cameras (Nikon 14-24 and Nikon fisheye) in order to provide a couple alternatives.

Mesa Arch Sunrise, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Mesa Arch Sunrise, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Image ID: 29304
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

Garry McCarthy and I arrived at the arch first that morning, but my record of having solitude at Mesa Arch was soon broken: about 30 other people eventually arrived to enjoy the spectacular view. So now I’ve experienced the crowd the Mesa Arch, and it was not a bad thing. Everyone wanted to see the same magic light illuminate the underside of the arch, glimpse Washer Woman Arch in the distance, and feel the dizzying vertiginous pull of the cliffs just a few feet in front of us. I heard a number of accents and languages all expressing excitement when the sunlight hit the rocks, and joy when they realized their camera had captured the scene nicely. It was a great morning.

Searching the Skies – Palomar Observatory at Night

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California

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

The Eyes of Utah – Natural Arches and the Milky Way

Arches, Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Utah

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 through Wilson Arch. Wilson Arch rises high above route 191 in eastern Utah, with a span of 91 feet and a height of 46 feet, Moab

Milky Way and Stars through Wilson Arch. Wilson Arch rises high above route 191 in eastern Utah, with a span of 91 feet and a height of 46 feet.
Image ID: 29275
Location: Wilson Arch, 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

Arches, Astrophotography and Night Scapes

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!

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

Arches, Astrophotography and Night Scapes, 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!

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

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Desert, Joshua Tree, Panoramas

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, planet Mars above the moon, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, planet Mars above the moon, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29201

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

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Desert, Joshua Tree

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, stars, astronomical twilight, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, stars, astronomical twilight, 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

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Joshua Tree

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!

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

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Sierra Nevada

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

Landscape Astrophotography

Astrophotography and Night Scapes

New: check out my website for Landscape Astrophotography!

What is Landscape Astrophotography? Here is my take on it!

Landscape Astrophotography is the discipline of photographing scenes that include both astronomical elements and terrestrial landscape elements. The motivation for landscape astrophotography is a desire to depict the night sky, including stars, planets, comets, meteors, the Milky Way galaxy, space dust and our Moon among other elements, along with some recognizable piece of planet Earth. This approach differs from the classic “deep space” images that, for instance, NASA produces, since those typically show nothing of the Earth and are thus disconnected from the type of scenes we experience when we view the night sky ourselves. In my landscape astrophotography, I choose to use lenses and compositional choices that produce an image similar to what the viewer would experience with his own eyes. A few details that characterize landscape astrophotography, both mine and the way I believe most photographers practice it today. Landscape astrophotographs:

  • are made at night, or at the edge of night (dawn and dusk).
  • use exposures “long enough” to record relatively dim objects in the night sky. Almost all landscape astrophotography involves the use of a tripod.
  • sometimes employ artificial light on foreground elements in a technique known as “light painting”.
  • sometimes will combine, or “stack”, multiple images to produce a final image. Naturally, in this case the resulting image is not what one would have been able to see in person, but the image can serve to illustrate the passage of time (e.g., star trails) or a relatively infrequent phenomenon (e.g., meteor shower).
  • often use relatively high ISO settings. This is made possible by the recent technological improvements in the sensitivity and noise characteristics of digital camera sensor.
  • often will use lenses “wide open”, or at or near their maximum aperture, in order to capture as much light as possible.
  • use focus that is typically near or at infinity so depth of field is not an issue.
  • benefit from maximum corner sharpness and minimal coma distortion, at or near “wide open” aperture — two highly desirable lens characteristics for landscape astrophotography.
  • require considerable post-processing techniques in software such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Starstax to adjust white balance, contrast, exposure and especially noise.
  • often will push a digital camera to the edge of what it is capable of recording. This means that as the technological capabilities of our cameras continue to improve, new possibilities in landscape astrophotography continue to emerge.

Below are few of my favorite landscape astrophotographs, made during the last two years with both Canon and Nikon equipment, all in California, Nevada and Utah. If you like these, please see my gallery of landscape astrophotography for others. All of my astrophotography landscape images are available as prints for display in your home or office, up to 30″ x 45″ in size, and have been some of my best sellers recently. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Yosemite Falls and star trails, at night, viewed from Cook's Meadow, illuminated by the light of the full moon, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls and star trails, at night, viewed from Cook’s Meadow, illuminated by the light of the full moon.
Image ID: 27733
Location: Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Panorama of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Panorama of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch.
Image ID: 27824
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

Milky Way arches over Delicate Arch, as stars cover the night sky, Arches National Park, Utah

Milky Way arches over Delicate Arch, as stars cover the night sky.
Image ID: 27850
Location: Arches National Park, Utah, USA

The Milky Way galaxy above Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, night star field exposure

The Milky Way galaxy above Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, night star field exposure.
Image ID: 26862
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

The moon sets over the Fire Wave, a beautiful sandstone formation exhibiting dramatic striations, striped layers in the geologic historical record, Valley of Fire State Park

The moon sets over the Fire Wave, a beautiful sandstone formation exhibiting dramatic striations, striped layers in the geologic historical record.
Image ID: 26511
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

Star Trails over the San Diego Downtown City Skyline.  In this 60 minute exposure, stars create trails through the night sky over downtown San Diego

Star Trails over the San Diego Downtown City Skyline. In this 60 minute exposure, stars create trails through the night sky over downtown San Diego.
Image ID: 28383
Location: San Diego, California, USA