Category Archives: Photography

The Night Returns – 2021

I’ve pointed out before that the first night after the Christmas lights come down is always a melancholy and bittersweet one. This year the task of taking down the lights was made more “exciting” with a bit of wind. I decided to take it with a bit of good humor.

Not to worry – nothing bent, nothing broken, on either me or the BBQ.

It’s amazing that it takes about three days for me to put up the lights and about three hours to take them down. I’m sure there’s some mathematical theory that explains that, probably dealing with chaos theory, increasing entropy, organized vs disorganized eigenstate vectors, or some such jargon. It just always seems weird to me.

And so, at the end of the day (literally) we’re left with just the porch and garage lights and Orion rising, partially hidden by that giant tree in the back yard.

 

 

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It Was A Marvelous Night…

…for…

And yes, I did.

The Moon was a day or so past full last Wednesday and there was a high layer of clouds covering the sky. Through that cloud layer the bright moon cast a moonbow, a bit of which I was able to catch in this image. To the eye it was almost a full circle around the moon, but not the 22° halo that you get through a high layer of ice clouds. This was much smaller and had much more color to it. Different phenomenon.

Better for dancing.

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No Context For You – January 02nd

It was a GREAT song!

 

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Starting 2021 With A “Visitor”

Trigger Warning – If you’re creeped out by bugs & insects, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this. I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve and a wonderful start to 2021. We’ll see y’all tomorrow!

If you’re not creeped out by bugs & insects, scroll down below the filler.

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Happy New Year!

We were watching the live feed from Las Vegas (ugh!), hit the end of the year on the Left Coast, kissed, champagne, fireworks going off outside. We were going to go out into the front yard and watch the fireworks, but the sprinklers had turned on at midnight, so we went out into the back yard instead. As soon as the sliding glass door was opened, I saw something moving slowly away from the door across the concrete.

Too cold and late for any lizards (or snakes, which worry me far more) and way, WAY too slow for a mouse or vole, I thought it might be a beetle of some sort. We used to get them at previous houses , large beetles that lived on the oranges and citrus and would occasionally end up near the house. So, in the midst of the fireworks (and probably some gunfire) and a howling wind, glass of champagne in hand, I did what I would always do in any such circumstance.

I whipped out my phone to take a picture.

That’s not anything I had ever seen before. For scale, it’s probably at least two inches long.

I generally don’t mind bugs and spiders and tiny crawly critters as long as they’re not actually dangerous and as long as they don’t spook me. (Something crawls onto my arm when I’m not expecting it and I’ll scream like a little girl and squish the shit out of it.) Crickets and grasshoppers are fine, beetles, most spiders, and so on – no problem! (Black widow spiders and brown recluse spiders, both of which can mess you up? Kill them with fire!!!)

This not-so-little dude freaked me out.

After a brief “WTF??!!” moment, my rational brain got back in control, so rather than turn it into a greasy spot on the porch (and on the bottom of my shoe) I nudged it off into the bushes and went about watching the local explosions.

Today I did some research – it’s a “Jerusalem Cricket!” (I’ll name this one “Jiminy.”) They’re native to the American Southwest and Mexico, somewhat related to crickets and grasshoppers, but don’t fly and don’t jump. They’re actually nocturnal and slow (confirmed) and generally live underground and eat animal droppings. They don’t sting, they’re nonvenomous, and while they will give you a bite if you’re stupid and pick it up and bother it, the most likely outcome of picking one up is that it will “play dead” and wait for you to get bored.

So, good choice to re-locate it to the bushes and not squish it! Starting the year with good karma.

As I hope you are as well. We’ve got a couple of days to get into the 2021 groove before the full work week starts along with all of the political bullshit in the US, as well as watching our British friends come to grips with the reality of their Brexit “adventure.” Keep breathing, wear your masks, stay home as much as you possibly can because no matter how well-intentioned or well planned you think your gathering might be, it’s not, and the consequences can be truly terrible.

So a l

 

 

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Adios, 2020

Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split ‘ya!

But with the Great Conjunction gone and the new year on the doorstep, it’s time to try to capture a moment, before the lights come down next week and while Orion and the full Moon are where I need them to be.

Be safe tonight – we’ll see you in 2021 for a better year.

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The Great Conjunction – December 30th

I had none of this planned. It’s simply worked out that way. I don’t know if it’s a sign. It might be. Probably not. I’m not sure I believe in signs. I’m not sure I don’t.

Getting pretty low, moving faster now. Any earlier and it’s too light. Any later and they’re down in those trees.

One last look before we move on and see what 2021 has to offer. Io and Europa are in the upper left but so close to Jupiter that you can’t really spot them. A bit of haze in our atmosphere tonight and the resolution disappears. Callisto and Ganymede in the lower right, with Saturn a billion miles further away.

(Image from Sky & Telescope JupiterMoons app)

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The Great Conjunction – December 29th

Lower, brighter, separating…

…but, damn! I am loving how these look now that I’m smarter about using my equipment!

Click it, zoom in on those moons!

(Image from Sky & Telescope JupiterMoons app)

Got all four of them! Nice and sharp for this gear.

Remember, if you’ve got clear skies you can see Jupiter and Saturn in the evening twilight for another week, maybe ten days. Go, look!

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Moon & Rain

No Great Conjunction tonight – the expected rain finally arrived.

By last night, when the almost full moon was overhead as the clouds were coming in, I caught it poking through.

If you blow it up to full sized, over in that dark area on the left you can just see Orion through the hazy, thin, high clouds.

The rest of the day was cold and soggy. It was our first rain since April and there was over 1.5″ in our area, about three times what they were expecting. It was a good day to stay off the roads. It’s nuts driving in LA on the best of days, and when it rains it’s worse. When it’s the first rain of the season and all of that oil and grease is coming up out of the pavement and floating on top…

Tow truck drivers make big bucks, but with the hospitals 100% full from COVID and most of them putting up tents in the parking lots for the overflow, it’s not a good day to need a trip to the ER due to a car accident.

Stay safe out there, y’all. Three days left in this year, 22 days 13 hours 19 minutes and 27 seconds until the US Presidential Inauguration. (But who’s counting?)

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The Great Conjunction – December 27th

The powers that be at the National Weather Service and on all of the local television stations said that it would be completely cloudy today, and starting to rain by 21:00 tonight.

As Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

It was clear and a million just after sunset. They’re still saying the rain’s coming, but it wasn’t anywhere in sight tonight, so it was time to get the camera back out.

As you can see, they’re each getting lower toward the horizon every night as they both move to pass behind the Sun from our viewpoint. Saturn (dimmer) is now below Jupiter (brighter) and you’ll need to hustle out after sunset to see them before they set.

(Reminder – click on the image to see it full sized.) Up close you can see all four Galilean moons on Jupiter, even though it might look like just three. Ganymede is on the upper left, Callisto further out on the bottom right, and Io and Europa almost next to each other between Jupiter and Callisto.

These are some of the best pictures I’ve taken with this lens and camera, nice and sharp, so you can actually see that Ganymede and Callisto are pinpoints, while the Io-Europa pair is extended along the orbital plane. There’s not quite enough resolution to separate them, but you can see where they’re different than the two separated moons.

I’m very pleased with the quality of these images. Tonight’s imaging sees the first benefits of two major improvements that I discovered while actually reading the camera manuals yesterday. (Yeah, I’ve had the one camera since Christmas 2005… The fact that I can be an idiot is not breaking news.)

First of all, I always thought that when I was in full Manual mode for astrophotography that the lens would be wide open, that is, at its widest aperture. WRONG! It seems that it’s set at whatever it was last set at, which may or may not be wide open. But there’s a way (not a particularly easy or intuitive one) to manually set the aperture after you’ve manually set the exposure time. I found that most of the conjunction pictures that I’ve been taking for the last month have been at f5.6, where the lens can be opened up to f4.0.

For the non-photographers, that means that I can get the same light and brightness and exposure with a 1/2 second shot as I had been getting with a 1 second shot. That in turn means that I can have less trailing as the planet moves and jiggling as the tripod might move. This is all good.

Secondly, I found that there’s a way (again, not a particularly easy or intuitive one) to lock the mirror up before taking a picture. Normally in a DSLR camera there’s a diagonal mirror between the lens and the sensor. The diagonal mirror is how you see through the eyepiece as you’re setting up and focusing your picture. When you push the button to take the picture, in one motion that mirror snaps up out of the way, the shutter releases for a fraction of a second to take the picture, and the mirror snaps back down into place.

In “normal” photography, the shaking of the camera by this mirror movement is infinitesimal and insignificant. When doing astrophotography, it can make a huge difference, vibrating the camera and smearing out the detail in the very delicate and faint image. Not good. But now, instead of simply pushing the button, I’ve discovered how to activate the mode where pushing the button locks the mirror up out of the way and then a second push of the button releases the shutter and takes the picture, after which the mirror locks back down.

It was a bit disconcerting at first – the manual really doesn’t say how this works and I didn’t see any mention of needing to push the button twice, so at first I was convinced that I had done something to break the camera, which would have really pissed me off, but which would have been totally on-brand for 2020. But fiddling with a bit I realized what was going on and got into the rhythm of clicking the button, waiting a second for the vibrations to die down, and then clicking a second time to take the picture.

Maybe it was just dumb luck – but maybe not. Something is responsible for a very noticeable difference in tonight’s pictures versus the rest of them that I’ve been taking this month. We’ll see if the results are consistently better as I take more pictures over the next few weeks.

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Sunset – December 26th

Happy Boxing Day, y’all!

About an hour before sunset today I was leaving the Red Cross Donation Center and found these clouds had moved in, the leading edge of the storm that’s supposed to bring us our first significant rain of the season tomorrow through Monday. It’s gorgeous! I love this picture! And it’s got different trees silhouetted than the ones you’ve seen a gazillion times from our front yard!

(I have vision of doing something historic and world changing such as discovering the FTL Warp Drive and then having a line of folks forever coming up the hill to stand in the front yard and looking at these power lines and palm trees like some kind of shrine. The power lines would have to be declared historical monuments so they couldn’t be torn down when everyone had their individual home fusion reactors in the garage right next to their flying cars…)

With the storm coming and all of those clouds, I knew we weren’t seeing Jupiter and Saturn tonight (and I was 100% correct!) but I was hoping for a spectacular sunset.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The only downside to the evening was due to my own stupidity. But, a lesson learned.

With all of that detail in those clouds I had also grabbed the camera with the telephoto lens and shot dozens and dozens of spectacular pictures. I saw them popping up on the display as I took them, checking the deep oranges against a patch of almost painful blue off on the horizon.

Did anyone else know that one of the older Canon Digital Rebel XT cameras will act like it’s taking pictures with no error messages or warnings, even if there’s no memory card in the camera, sending them off into the ether as they’re taken, not recording them anywhere at all?

Neither did I.

Turns out there’s a menu setting which will turn that off. It’s default is “on” because… Who knows? I’ve just looked through the entire user manuals for both the Rebel Xt and the Xti and all I see is how to turn this “feature” off, not why it exists to begin with. I don’t see any mention of any way to attach an external or other drive to store images on instead of a CF card. It is somewhat humorous (emphasis on “somewhat”) that instructions for turning this “feature” off are found in the “Handy Features” section of the manual. (Ya think??!!) Maybe there’s a professional photographer out there who can enlighten me.

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