Big goings on in the heavens tonight as the Moon moved in front of Mars and hid it for about an hour, and event known as an “occultation.”

(Was Mars hiding, or was the Moon blocking it? Who’s to blame? What was happening on Mars during that hour that the Martians didn’t want us to know about from Curiosity? Inquiring minds…)

I didn’t have the time to spare to pull out the big telescope and get it set up, but that didn’t stop me from taking time to watch and pull my camera and a video camera and a couple of tripods out. There are some truly spectacular pictures and videos out there from some of the big observatories (see Griffith Observatory, for example), but these are my “fast & dirty” results.

Before we get into the sequences, a note about basic physics and optics. The short version: the full Moon is 3.75 gazillion times brighter than Mars. So trying to take pictures that show the Moon, you need a very short exposure, in this case, 1/4000 second, the shortest exposure my 17-year-old Canon DSLR can do.

But then you can just barely see Mars. To show Mars clearly, you need a much longer exposure (1/160 second) which leaves the Moon as a white, featureless blob, looking more like the Sun.

Somewhere in the middle, if you’re lucky, there is a picture that gives you some bright, washed out detail on the Moon while also still showing the planet 50,000,000 miles away.

First, screen captures from the video camera. It has a great 20x optical zoom, but the resolution is quite a bit less than the DVR or any commercial quality video camera. Still, given five minutes of setup, these aren’t bad. These are small, low-resolution files, but they make a nice progression.

Prior to the occultation, with Mars to the lower left of the Moon, at about the “seven o’clock position”:

I was having some real problems with the tripod malfunctioning, so I’m amazed that I caught this at all! These captures are all about 30 seconds apart.

About an hour later, coming back out at about the “two o’clock position”:

These photos are about a minute apart.

Secondly, with the big camera, I didn’t get much worth sharing when Mars disappeared, but when it was reappearing I did much better (remember to click on the photos to see them full sized!):

Meanwhile, through binoculars, this was an amazing sight! I hope you got a chance to see it for yourself!


Filed under Astronomy, Photography

Sunset – December 06th

Another busy, busy, busy day. Another quick stroll outside to catch some air and another of those little moments that are just wonderful if you let yourself observe and not be too jaded or blase.

The atmosphere’s still a little unstable a couple of days after a cold front brought in three days of light rain. Granted, again, as always, a multi-year drought has us grateful for the rain. But now it’s a bit cool and damp with a small chance of scattered showers for the rest of the week.


It leads to some nice cloud buildups in the late afternoon after we get some convective activity. At sunset there were a lot of larger cloud cells off toward Ventura and the ocean, so most of the clouds here were dark and grey. But this one little finger of clouds stuck out into the last pink rays of the setting sun. Just to remind us that it was there.


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Christmas Lights 2022 – Moonrise

Busy, busy, busy day – went out for a quick stretch this evening and found the 13 day old, 97% illuminated moon rising through scattered clouds to the east behind the house.

To absolutely no one’s surprise – I took a picture!

I hope you enjoy it.

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Review – “2:22 A Ghost Story”

A lot of what we see at the Ahmanson and Pantages here in LA are musicals and wildly popular plays. “Hamilton.” “Wicked.” “1776.” “Oklahoma!” “Evan Hanson.”

If you get a chance, I would recommend that you go see “2:22 A Ghost Story.”

It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it a lot. It’s not a musical, it’s not a classic, it’s not perfect. It’s a ghost story. (It’s right there in the title.)

The run at the Ahmanson is the first US presentation after runs at several theaters in London, where it’s won awards and been very popular. The staging in interesting, as is the story.

And beyond that I’ll be quiet since, as the writer says in his notes in the program, all ghost stories are also mysteries.

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Music Center For The Holidays

It’s time to start the next season of plays at the Ahmamson Theatre in Los Angeles. The Music Center is all gussied up for the holidays.

That’s the side of the Mark Taper Forum on the left with the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion off in the distance on the other side of the Plaza where the Christmas tree is.

Tonight we’re seeing “2:22 A Ghost Story.” I don’t think there will be a lot of singing or dancing…

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Christmas Lights 2022 – Stupid(er) iPhone

On Wednesday I tried to do some weird timelapse motion-blurred Christmas lights with my iPhone 13 Pro Max and was disappointed with the results because the “smart” phone kept trying to “fix” or “correct” what was obviously an error on my part in how I was using the camera and thus giving something that was weird and motion-blurred.

Who in their right mind would want that?!

I mentioned then that I had some still functional older iPhones that might not be so “smart” and in turn might simply record what I was pointing at when I opened the shutter. My old iPhone 6 plus not only has a headphone jack (more on that some other time) but sure enough, it’s old enough and “stupid” enough to not mess with my photographic tomfoolery!

The lights on the roses next to the driveway on the iPhone 6, compared to Wednesday’s iPhone 13:

And another:

Inducing a bit of wiggle in that 1/4 second exposure is tougher than it looks.

On the other hand, you can just swing the camera side to side as fast as you can while shooting pictures.

You can get up close.

You can step back and get a big chunk of the yard.

One very odd effect on some ornaments shows off the “rolling shutter” on the iPhone. (I think – Destin at Smarter Every Day might prove me wrong.) There aren’t four candy canes at each of those spots, just one.

A mix of the big bright lights with the tiny fairy lights.

A bit of wiggle, but I like the way the trails at the top & bottom aren’t parallel, but converging in an arc.

Again, take a look at the LED “icicle” lights hanging down. I think they show up with nine or ten images where the candy canes have four has to do with the frequency that the LEDs are firing, but that’s just a W.A.G. (Wild Ass Guess)

The biggest takeaway of the night might be more related to the neighborhood. A rental house across the street from us has come vacant and there were folks over there today, presumably looking at it as potential new neighbors. Now they’re seeing this lunatic running around our yard in the rain with an eight year old iPhone, waving his arms around like I was having a seizure or had a spider down the back of my shirt.

If they decide not to move in, I’ll understand.

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Junco Jubilee

I had mentioned a month ago that the Juncos had returned, a flock of a dozen at least, maybe 16 to 18. It’s hard to tell, when seed gets thrown out they’re flitting and jumping and fluttering all over the place. And they’re tough to get a photo of, since at first sight of me, even from inside the dining room, they’re bugging out.

But today I saw a bunch of them out there, maybe 10 or 12, and I got up to the sliding glass door very slowly and quietly so as not to spook them.

They’re well camoflouged in the dead grass but I can spot at least seven of them here.

Welcome to December. May the cute, hoppy, jumping, flitting, fluttering birds be a source of happiness and joy to you today!

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Christmas Lights 2022 – Stupid Smart iPhone

The iPhone giveth and the iPhone taketh away!

With an older smart phone there wasn’t as much logic in the phone, not as much computational wizardry on call with every photo, so if, for example, you took a picture of Christmas lights at night and moved the phone during a longer exposure of several seconds, you could get some interesting light trails. If you wanted nice, pinpoint lights with perfect Normal Rockwell focus, you needed a tripod or a miracle.

Now, with the camera smarter than you are, if you wiggle during that five or ten second low light photograph, the camera will turn it into dozens of much shorter, sharper, in-focus pictures and then align the bits and integrate and stack it all, giving you pinpoint lights.

But if you should WANT to get blurs and trails and foggy focus and something that might be more fun, more different, more froo froo, more artsy fartsy? That’s a problem, since you’re not in control any more and you can’t override most of those settings. So it might take a dozen or two photos before you get anything like the effect you want.

It occurs to me that, while I love and use the crap out of my iPhone 13 Pro Max and am yet disappointed with this facet of its design, I do still have my iPhone 8 and my iPhone 6 which may not have SIM cards to turn them back into phones, but they’re still perfectly functional as cameras. Most importantly, stupider cameras. It might be necessary to pull them out and charge them up for some ‘sperimentin!

In addition, while the world may be moving toward little bots and devices with “FULL AUTO MODE!” everything, the DSLR world, while containing modes in which the smart camera does most of the work, still has “off” switches for almost every one of those modes. More ‘sperimentin!

For tonight, enjoy a couple of quick shots of the lights on the rose bushes next to the driveway.

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No Context For You – November 29th

A few small triumphs, some gains, a few deadlines met – it all helps.

Step by step. It’s all progress.

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Filed under Paul, Photography

A Wall Of Green

While putting up Christmas lights on Saturday I had the most odd visual experience. In order to run an extension cord from the garage roof across a sidewalk and over to the tall, thin, Italian cypress trees that line the yard, I was right up against the trees, reaching in for the extension cord that I was threading down through the branches.

I looked up…

…and my perspective switched 90º, gravity be damned. I would have sworn that I was floating or hovering two inches above a horizontal bed of kelp or some sort of sea grass, looking off above it into the ocean – not looking straight up, vertically, at the sky above the wall of tree branches.

Even just looking at this picture my brain snaps back to that other viewpoint, like one of those optical illusions where you can either see an old woman with a huge nose or a young girl with a scarf.

Maybe I’m just having a nervous breakdown. It would explain so much…


Filed under Christmas Lights, Paul, Photography