Milky Way Photography Adventures

Milky Way Photography Adventures

Despite the fact that Arkansas’ River Valley has had a dry year, it seemed that every time I planned a star photography outing – there were clouds.

 

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On this night, the clouds parted over Shores Lake just for a few minutes, and just enough to see the Milky Way.

 

And, this trend included our Night Photography Workshop in August.  We tried 3 times, before we finally had a marvelously clear night to see and photograph the Milky Way.

 

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Same location – Shores Lake – but no significant clouds!  🙂  To add a little foreground interest, I set up my film camera to photograph the stars streaking across the sky, aka “star trails.”

 

If you live in an area with little light pollution, you may wonder what’s the big deal.  However, for those of us who live in an urban area, it is a rare treat!  Some of the photographers in our workshop had not seen the Milky Way since childhood.  Seeing it and making photographs was very exciting!

Would you like to photograph the Milky Way?  Here are 5 things I think you need:

  • A DSLR camera, because shooting in manual exposure mode and manual focus mode, and at a high ISO is necessary.  Very few compact cameras have all those functions.
  • A wide angle lens.  How wide?  My preference is a 24mm for a “full-frame” sensor, but up to a 35mm will work.  If you have an APS-C sensor, sometimes called a “crop-sensor,” 18mm to 24mm is the equivalent.  That does not mean that we cannot use even wider!  Many photographers use a 14mm, 16mm or an 18mm, and sometimes a fish-eye.
  • A Good tripod.  Shutter speeds will be measured in seconds, and no one I know can hold a camera steady for that long.  Your tripod will need to be solid, and easy to adjust in the dark.  I recommend a carbon fiber or aluminum tripod, with a ball head.
  • A remote control for firing your camera.  Pressing the shutter button will cause your camera to move, so use a remote cable or wireless remote.
  • A headlamp or flashlight with a red lens.  Without the red lens, your night vision will be compromised each time you turn on the light.

Also helpful:  an app on your phone.  “Photo Pills” and “The Photographers’ Ephemeris” will provide photographers where and when information – I like and use both.  I also like “Star Guide” which does just what it says – displays on screen where and when the stars are.

Once you have the equipment, the techniques we use are different from most other types of photography:

  • Locate an area with a probable good view of the Milky Way.  Helpful web sites:  www.cleardarksky.com, www.darksitefinder.com, and Google Maps www.google.com/maps.
  • Check the moon phases – a full moon is so bright you cannot see the Milky Way.  A crescent moon is also bright enough to interfere, although if it sets early, the light – coming from the opposite direction of the Milky Way – can be helpful by lighting up the foreground.

    moon-composite

    Nearly a full moon means no visible Milky Way.  When the moon went behind the clouds, there was still enough light to photograph Shores Lake with a 10-second exposure.

  • Camera settings:  Start at ISO 3200, a shutter speed of 15 seconds, and your aperture at its widest.  Make a test shot, check your image exposure, and adjust as necessary.  It is not uncommon to set ISO at 4000 or higher.  (Note:  to calculate the longest usable shutter speed, divide 500 by your lens focal length.  Example:  with a 24mm lens, 500 divided by 24 = 20.83, so you would keep your shutter open no longer than 20 seconds.)  A too-long shutter speed results in trailing stars, not points of light.
  • Focusing can be difficult.  We tried to use autofocus before dark, then switched to manual focus.  We also applied gaffer tape to the focus ring to avoid accidentally bumping and moving it.  If you need to focus after dark, try using “live view” and magnify the display.  (Practice this before dark!)  The good thing about digital photography, of course, is we can see what we shot, then adjust and reshoot if necessary.

The end result can be very rewarding photos.  And, watching the Milky Way – and other stars and constellations – begin to appear after the sun goes down is exciting and breathtaking!  Especially the first time…

 

Milky Way at the Fire Tower

This photo is from a shoot with just Gayle and myself, when preparing for the workshop.  Rich Mountain Fire Tower, Talimena Scenic Drive, near Arkansas’ Queen Wilhelmena State Park.  Sony A7R, 24mm lens, f/2.8-15 seconds-ISO 5000

 

The “season” is about done for this year; during the winter months, the Milky Way is not visible.  When it is most visible is late spring to late summer.  (I can hardly wait!)  The apps I referenced earlier are great for helping us plan.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions – or search the internet for more information.

Wishing you good light!

2015 Favorite Photos

2015 Favorite Photos

Selecting favorite photos from the past 12 months is a fun exercise, and also an opportunity to see where my interests have taken me.  And, sometimes a way to measure one’s growth.  Mostly, however, these are the photographs that bring a smile to my face when I remember pressing the shutter release…

So, here we go, roughly in chronological order:

Trout Lily

This is one of my favorite flowers, as it is one of the first signs of spring in Arkansas.  This one reminds me of a sea creature…Trout Lily 1767


 

Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas

After a short hike on the Devil’s Den Trail, you will find yourself at Twin Falls – unless it is the dry season.  This is the west falls, with photographer for scale…

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Wild Rose, Cherokee Prairie

Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas, continues to be one of those locations I return to regularly.  This wild rose was past its prime, but I liked the patterns, color, symmetry, and its friend.  I hope you notice the antenna that mimics the flower petal lines…

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Colorado National Monument

In June, I traveled to the Eastern Sierras of California to attend Derrick Story’s photography workshop.  (You can read about it here.)  The road trip included a one-night stop at the Colorado National Monument, near Grand Junction, Colorado.  I would definitely camp there again.

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Great Basin National Park

From Colorado, my next stop was Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada, home to 13,063-foot Mount Wheeler.  This mountain stream was near my campsite…

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Yosemite National Park

From Bridgeport, CA, where Derrick’s workshop was based, I drove into Yosemite National Park via the Tioga Pass, highway 120.  Road construction stopped me from driving to the Valley; while stopped for the roadwork, I made this photo…

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Mono Lake, California

This has got to be one of the most unique places in the U.S., and I made hundreds of photos there…

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Antique Airplane Fly-In, Oologah, Oklahoma

Closer to home, some friends and I visited Will Rogers’ Birthplace Ranch for the annual Antique Airplane Fly-In.  Dozens of planes and antique autos were on display, and their landings and departures were a sight to see.  The whole day was fun!

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Autumn, Arkansas

Our “fall colors” were not the best this year, but we always try to make the best of it.  😉

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Natural Dam, Arkansas

This rock shelf creates a natural “Dam” with an 8-foot tall waterfall.  I am not the only photographer to visit, and – like many others – I have made hundreds of images over the years.  Just a few days ago, this was the scene just before sunrise on a cold, frosty morning…

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“Frost Flowers”

Although I had heard of this for many years, it was only a few days ago I made my first photos of Frost Flowers.  Sometimes called “Frost Ribbons”, apparently they happen on cold, frosty mornings, when vegetation still has moisture in its stem.  The moisture freezes, and forces its way out forming these ribbon flowers…

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Best wishes for a Great 2016:  Sweet light, peace, and joy…

California Photo Festival

California Photo Festival

In October, I traveled to San Luis Obispo, California, to attend the California Photo Festival, aka “Click 4”, the fourth annual event.  The week-long event is organized by Hal and Victoria Schmitt, who own and operate Light Photographic Workshops in Los Osos, California.  There was a wide selection of subject matter in the classes, and photo shoots in vineyards, on the California beach in several locations, and on the city streets.  We took photos of horses and riders, small critters, sunsets and sunrises, birds and other animals, and portraits of various models in a multitude of locales.

Instructors included Marc Muench, Rob Sheppard, Ben Willmore, Lee Varis, and Rick Sammon, as well as a dozen more.  In addition, a number of vendors and equipment companies were on hand to show their equipment; not a huge trade show, but plenty of goodies to see and touch.  🙂

The cost for the Festival  is reasonable, given the huge amount of information presented.  Interested?  Next year’s event is scheduled, but not yet accepting registration.  Click the link above, or here, for more information.

Here are a few photos from my library.  Hope you enjoy them!

“Horses on the Beach”

The intention was to photograph members of Cal Poly Tech’s Polo Team riding their horses in the surf at Morro Bay with a marvelous sunset in the background.  The riders were there with their horses, but alas! we had no sun, just clouds, fog, and mist.  We still made photographs!  🙂

Horses on the Beach

Polo player in the surf at Morro Bay

Horses on the Beach

Polo players riding in the surf at Morro Bay

One of the Cal Poly Polo team takes a break from the action.  I really liked the reflection the wet sand gave us...

One of the Cal Poly Polo team takes a break from the action. I really liked the reflection the wet sand gave us…

“Macro Critters!”

Another photo shoot set up for us was captive small animals – lizards, chameleon, snakes, spiders and insects – in “stations” that we could move to and from, making photographs of the small animals.  Great fun, although somewhat cramped space.  I carried my tripod, but left the legs together, using it like a monopod.

The Chameleon was perhaps the most photographed

The Chameleon was perhaps the most photographed

Colorful, exotic lubber grasshopper

Colorful, exotic lubber grasshopper

Gila Monster.  I grew up hearing terrible stories about this animal...

Gila Monster. I grew up hearing terrible stories about this animal…

“The Elfin Forest”

The morning after photographing the horses on the beach, I was in a group that went out for sunrise.  Again, fog, drizzle, and clouds hid the sun.  So, we turned out attention to details.  We were in an area called the “Elfin Forest” which was populated with a dwarf oak tree, and more…

Small shrub with dried flowers and seed pods.

Small shrub with dried flowers and seed pods.

Bracken Fern closeup

Bracken Fern closeup

“Photo Walk With Rick Sammon”

Another sunset opportunity, and finally, we saw the sun.  Not to complain, but that is all there was to see – not a cloud in the sky, leaving the sun without a complement.  We walked along the street at the Morro Bay Harbor, and still made photographs.

I photographed one of the other participants, with the sun backlighting him, creating the sun-star.

I photographed one of the other participants, backlit by the sun.

Morro Bay Harbor with Morro Rock on the horizon, just after the sun has gone down.

Morro Bay Harbor with Morro Rock on the horizon, just after the sun has gone down.

Morro Bay Harbor at dusk.

Morro Bay Harbor at dusk.

There were other classes and photo shoots; these are just some of my favorite images…

The California Photo Fest makes for a good destination, and will present the participant with a lot of information.  Almost too much info!  🙂  But, if you pick and choose your classes and shoots, and don’t overdo yourself, you can learn much.

All photos were taken with the Sony Alpha 77; lenses were the Sony 16-50, Tamron 180 macro, Tamron 70-300.

California Coastal Highway

California Coastal Highway

In October, I attended the California Photo Festival in San Luis Obispo, California.  (I plan to discuss that event in a forthcoming blog post.)  Arriving a couple of days in advance of the event, I spent most of one day driving up the Pacific coast on California Highway 1, also known as Cabrillo Highway, toward Big Sur.  No destination, just exploring.  Although my family lived for a few years in California a long time ago, I had never visited this part of the state, and on this trip only a portion of the route.  Another time…  Anyway, here are a few photographs from that day…

In a sharp bend of the road – and there were many of those – is this small beach, gated and marked with a “private property” sign.  One of several enjoyable sights to be seen on the drive.

Small, private beach along Highway 1

Small, private beach along Highway 1

 

This is another photo, shot vertically, of the same beach from a slightly different viewpoint.

Private Beach along Highway 1

Private Beach along Highway 1

 

High on a bluff, with sea lions below – so far away they almost cannot be seen in the photo – is a private residence.

Home with an ocean view

Home with an ocean view

 

 

This photo is a crop of the previous one.

 

Home on the bluff

Home on the bluff

 

The Big Creek Bridge, not quite as photogenic as the Bixby Creek Bridge from what I have read, but I enjoyed photographing it.

Big Creek Bridge

Big Creek Bridge

 

Just a short visit to this beautiful part of our country, leaving me with a strong desire to return.  I only scratched the surface, and did not visit at the best (photographically speaking) time of day.  If you have been there, you know what I mean.

 

Sony Alpha 77, Sony SAL 16-50 and Tamron 70-300 lenses.

Looking into the Past

Looking into the Past

We’ve written before of visiting a small portion of historic Route 66 in Oklahoma.  Extremely interesting to look back and remember the past – the 1930’s and 1940’s, when thousands of farmers migrated to the west, or the 1950’s and 60’s, when a TV show, “Route 66”, epitomized our romantic idea of traveling on The Mother Road, as John Steinbeck called it.  Sometimes melancholy, we look at what was, and think of how time and “progress” moved away from the road, and its people.

A year ago, I visited Bristow for its “Route 66 Car, Truck, Bike, and Tractor Show” on Labor Day Weekend.  Here is my post relating to that:  “Route 66 Revisited”.  The point of this rambling is that I returned again this year, Saturday, August 31.  Here are some photographs from the visit.  Hope you enjoy them.

69 Dodge Charger RT, restored to near-new

69 Dodge Charger RT, restored to near-new

 

 

Hood of the 69 Dodge Charger, with Bristow's Main Street in the background.

Hood of the 69 Dodge Charger, with Bristow’s Main Street in the background.

 

 

1964 Corvette Stringray

Another highly desirable car from the 60’s, the 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, and still highly desirable today!

 

 

Ford Model A.  I thought it appropriate to have "Firehouse" in the background...

Ford Model A. I thought it appropriate to have “Firehouse” in the background…

 

 

Cars and trucks from the 50's and 60's lined Bristow's Main Street...

Cars and trucks from the 50’s and 60’s lined Bristow’s Main Street…

 

 

 

Side panel of a red 1966 Ford Mustang.  Yes, I had one like it...

Side panel of a red 1966 Ford Mustang. Yes, I had one like it…

 

 

Well known along Route 66, the Rock Café in Stroud serves a great lunch.

Well known along Route 66, the Rock Café in Stroud serves a great lunch.

 

 

Road Sign, welcoming travelers to the small town of Davenport, Oklahoma

Road Sign, welcoming travelers to the small town of Davenport, Oklahoma

 

If travel photography interests you, or if just sight-seeing travel is your thing, try to see what’s left before it’s gone – or replaced by new tourist attractions, in an imitation of what used to be…

 

Sony Alpha 77, Sony 16-50 lens, Tamron 70-300 lens

Black Bass Lake

Every two years, the Photographic Society of Northwest Arkansas (www.psnwa.org) hosts the Mid-America Photographic Symposium (MAPSYM). This year, for the first time, I was able to attend the weekend event, held in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Kudos to the PSNWA for putting on a first-class event, aimed at photography enthusiasts and professionals alike.

One outing I joined was an early morning “Nature Hike” at Black Bass Lake.  Even if you’ve ever been to Eureka Springs, a small community built on a steep hillside, I doubt you’ve heard about this lake. At least, I hadn’t, and I overheard another participant, from the area, say the same thing.  So, we drove down a steep hill on a gravel road, to the lake, and it was like going to another world; right in the middle of the community, we were suddenly in a wilderness.  It was so cool! (Are we supposed to say “cool” any more? I can’t keep up, so I just say what I feel.)
The morning was typical spring for this area; cool and damp. The lake had some misty fog hanging over the surface, and fortuitously, there were two fishermen in a small boat…

Two fishermen on Black Bass Lake, in the misty fog.

Two fishermen on Black Bass Lake, in the misty fog.

 

Walking one of the trails around the lake, I photographed this C-curved blade of grass, with a dew drop hanging on.  Those that know me, and especially those that have sat through a class with me, have heard me stress simplicity…

C-dew drop

Dew drop clings to a curved blade of grass, alongside Black Bass Lake, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

There were also a number of these purple flowers; according to Don Kurz’s Arkansas Wildflowers book, it’s called the Leather Flower.  Cool flower…

Leather Flower (Clematis versicolor)

Leather Flower along Black Bass Lake, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

So, it was an interesting weekend.  I learned a bit about how Hanson Fong takes portraits, saw & listened to Nikon’s Mark Kettenhofen deliver an awesome keynote presentation, and more.  Glad I went.  🙂

 

Camera used was the Sony Alpha 77, Sony 16-50 f/2.8 (I love this lens!) and Minolta 100 macro, Manfrotto tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head.

 

Route 66 Revisited

Route 66 Revisited

Two years after our Route 66 day trip, I journeyed to the little town of Bristow, site of the “Route 66 Classic Car Show.”  I had searched for a destination and found the car show, and decided to check it out.  Gayle was unable to go with me, so I didn’t plan an extended outing, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to revisit the Mother Road.

Bristow, Oklahoma, is a small town, but on this day, it was full of cars, people, motorcycles, and tractors.  The car show was bigger than I expected, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bristow Classic Car Show

Main Street in Bristow was full of classic cars, both restored and custom.

 

1956 Ford Thunderbird

A 1956 Ford Thunderbird sits on Bristow’s Main Street during the Route 66 Classic Car Show

 

1966 Ford Mustang Coupe

A 1966 Ford Mustang Coupe on display at the Bristow, Oklahoma, Route 66 Classic Car Show. As an 18-year old, I drove one just like it!

 

I left Bristow, and headed back toward Tulsa.  But, there are always photographs.  These mailboxes were just off the highway, and I had to stop.  They speak of rural Oklahoma, and simpler times gone by.

Mailboxes along Route 66 in Oklahoma

A rural Mail Center, along Route 66. It could be any location; where I grew up, the families still get their mail similarly – 2 miles or more from home.

 

I also stopped by the Rock Creek Bridge, and the Tee Pee Drive In, near Sapulpa.  The drive-in theater has not seen a movie in a decade or more, but still stands as a reminder of other times.

Tee Pee Drive In near Sapulpa OK

Near Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the Tee Pee Drive In Theater still stands, only a few faded letters remain on the sign

 

Rock Creek Bridge

The Rock Creek Bridge, near Sapulpa, is about a quarter mile from the Tee Pee Drive In. It is unique being one of few brick paved bridges remaining in the country.

 

These photos were taken September 1, 2012.  I used a Sony Alpha 77 camera, and Tamron lenses – mostly my favorite, the 17-50 f/2.8 zoom.