Monday, September 28, 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse September 27 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015: wide angle time-lapse and 640mm effective live action footage from the total lunar eclipse last night.  The partly cloudy forecast and webcam images didn't look all that promising in the Eastern Sierra yesterday afternoon, so I ditched my plans to pursue one of several compositions that I had worked out, and I stayed home to see if the moon would make any appearance at all.

I watched for about an hour after it was supposed to rise at 6:44, but there was no sign of it, so I left my camera shooting a sequence of images for a time-lapse video, and I went back inside.  A few minutes later, the fully eclipsed moon was visible through a break in the clouds, from 7:56 - 8:06.  I came back out a while later, but the moon was behind the clouds, so I didn't know that it had made a brief appearance until I reviewed the images later!

As the moon was more than halfway through the partial, umbral phase coming out of total eclipse, it emerged from the clouds and starting lighting up the clouds and landscape with increasingly bright light.

As the face of the moon returned to fully lit in the penumbral phase of the eclipse, there was a nice halo of color around the moon, so I set up a second camera to capture that.  I used my Canon EOS 70D with the EF 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens and a 2X teleconverter, for an effective focal length of 640mm.  The clouds were moving pretty quickly, so I also captures dome live video of the clouds moving across the face of the moon.  I had the camera on a sky-tracking mount, so the moon remains essentially still in the frame.

I didn't shoot where I expected or capture what I anticipated, but by being there to catch changes in the weather, I captured some interesting results.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

See the Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight!

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015
September 27, 2015, 6 pm -  See the "supermoon" total eclipse tonight!  For watchers in the Rocky Mountain states, partial eclipse begins at 7:11 pm local time, so look outside now!

For those of us on the West Coast of North America, moon rise occurs closer to sunset, in a little over 30 minutes.  Here in the Eastern Sierra, local moon rise is around 6:44 pm and sunset is around 6:47 pm, depending upon how far north or south you are. The moon will clear the horizon to the east right around sunset, well into its partial eclipse phase, and be fully eclipsed from 7:11 - 8:23 pm. Then as the moon exits total eclipse, it will be in a partial eclipse for over an hour more.

For more specific eclipse phase timing in your region, see the article at

Photography notes from the April 5, 2015 lunar eclipse:

Lunar eclipses are a fun challenge, in part because they push the limits of your equipment.  The image above was captured at 4:51 am during the April 4 lunar eclipse this year, about 6-7 minutes before totality, so there was a sliver of bright sunlight on the moon.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS lens was well focused, but shooting any lens at it's maximum aperture tends to result in slightly less sharp images.  Adding more glass elements such as the 2X teleconverter further challenges sharpness.  Adding a teleconverter also reduces the f-stop, in this case 2X to f/8.  I wanted to stay at or below below 1 second exposure time to reduce motion blur, and at ISO 1600 I could use 0.6 second.  The high ISO also creates a little bit of noise, which can also challenge fine detail.

I had changed my shooting location when the weather forecast made the original ones I had identified look less attractive with below freezing temperatures, high winds, and possible clouds to obscure the eclipse.  I decided to just catch what i could from home.  I was shooting a time-lapse sequence, and shooting at 400mm I had room to lengthen the exposure time as the moon darkened, but  and the moon set just before totality.

I had my Canon 70D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount to capture a time-lapse of the eclipse progress without the moon moving out of the field of view.  at 300mm the effective focal length was 480mm, but shooting wide open at f/5.6 that lens was a little softer than the EF 70-200mm and 2X teleconverter combo, even with the moon's relative motion taken out of the equation.

I was basically using the 5D Mark III to measure and track exposure as the eclipse progressed and the moon illumination constantly changed.

The 70D / 70-300mm combo is a lot lighter than the 5Dmkiii / 70-200mm / 2X combo.  Heavier camera bodies and longer, heavier lenses can sometimes cause various problems with sky tracking mounts, but it may be worthwhile to test the 5Dmkiii /70-200mm / 2X setup on the sky tracker and backing off of the maximum aperture and a stop or two on the ISO to get more sharpness and less noise, lengthening the exposure time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015


Comet Swift-Tuttle only passes the earth and circles the sun once every 133 years, but the earth passes through its trail of dust every year.  The debris field is large, so Perseid meteors may be seen on nights from July 17 through August 24.  The earth passes through the most dense portion of the comet's dust trail on the night of August 12-13, so that is when the peak, or maximum hourly rate of meteors, is seen.

On any given night, the sun sets as your position on the earth rotates away from the sun, then around midnight you rotate to a point directly opposite the sun. As the earth also moves in its orbit around the sun, your position on the earth is just starting to rotate to the side of the earth leading its movement through space, which collides with more debris. So meteor rates go up starting at midnight. At dawn you're approximately in the middle of the face of the earth as it flies through space, so meteor rates continue to climb slightly towards dawn. So the best bet in the evening is after midnight, in the last hours of darkness before the dawn's oncoming light brightens the sky.

This year I pursued the Perseids on the mornings of August 9, 11, 12 and 13. The best viewing was on the peak morning of the 13th, as expected. The composite photo above shows many of the meteors that my camera picked up over the course of nearly four hours.

I also assembled a time-lapse video that condenses several hours of meteor activity into seconds of video. You can see it on Vimeo here:

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015 from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Not everything that moves in the video are meteors; the meteors are the brief streaks of light, the slower ones are airplanes.  As you see the Milky Way and stars move, that is from the rotation of the earth. You can also see smoke from forest fires.

According to Wikipedia, Comet Swift–Tuttle has been described as "the single most dangerous object known to humanity". But don't worry, its next close encounter with the earth isn't expected until the year 4479. With a nucleus 26 kilometers across, if there were an impact, the force is estimated to be 27 times larger than the one which formed the Chicxulub crater beneath the Yucat√°n Peninsula in Mexico, which is believed to have caused the extinction the dinosaurs.

Doomsday preppers take note, you only have 2464 years to get ready!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower is Underway

Comet Swift-Tuttle only passes the earth and circles the sun once every 133 years, but the earth passes through its trail of dust every year.  The debris field is large, so Perseid meteors may be seen on nights from July 17 through August 24.  The earth passes through the most dense portion of the comet's dust trail on the night of August 12-13, so that is when the peak, or maximum hourly rate of meteors, will be seen.  The rates will also be high throughout the August 11 - 14 period, so you can look for Perseid meteors any or all nights this week.

Below is a video that I assembled in 2009 from several nights photographing the Perseid meteor shower.  It is a time-lapse video that condenses several hours of meteor activity into seconds of video:

Not everything that moves in the video are meteors; the meteors are the brief streaks of light, the slower ones are airplanes.  As you see the Milky Way and stars move, that is from the rotation of the earth.

You can also see haze that is smoke from forest fires that year.  I may have similar challenges this year due to the fires currently raging during California's drought.  Already the photo I captured above from last Saturday night is darker than usual, due to smoke from a wildfire.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Find the World's Coolest Toilets for Lonely Planet

If you are on the photo sharing site +500px , they have put out a call for licensing bathroom pictures on behalf of +Lonely Planet​.  Their example is an outhouse photo, so your favorite outhouse photos from Bodie should be fair game!  

For the photographers joining me in Bodie this Saturday, look for opportunities in golden hour light, without the daytime crowds as we access the park before it opens and after it closes.

The contest is much broader than just outhouses, so see what other ideas you can come up with as well.  You can find more details on the "Find the World's Coolest Toilets for Lonely Planet" opportunity here.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Planning Sunset and Sunrise Landscape Photography with TPE 3.3

Sunrise at Topaz Lake on the California / Nevada Border
Planning landscape photography has traditionally been a process of considering a combination of location and weather.  If you have a general understanding of the geography of a region, you could look at weather forecasts a few days ahead of time and anticipate where and when the best photographic opportunities might present themselves.  During the course of a day you could modify your plan even further, and decide where to be for sunset based on where you see the best cloud formations developing, and where enough breaks in the clouds might let light through.

In recent years the availability of maps and satellite imagery online in programs like +Google Maps made the location planning easier.  The availability of fairly detailed weather forecasts days in advance through the National Weather Service made the choice of where to go in a region a little easier.  Apps like   +The Photographer's Ephemeris added lines to show the direction of the sun and moon at any time of day or night, so you could anticipate the exact sun rise and set time, general sunlight illumination during the "golden hour" before sunset and after sunrise, as well as anticipate the location of the moon.

Forecast for August 2, 2015
The latest version 3.3 of The Photographer's Ephemeris uses the SkyFire service to check weather forecasts to predict sunrise and sunset color, and show a color-coded overlay on a map of the region your're in.  The more red the color, the higher the probability of sunset color,  The mroe blue to clear it is, the lower the probability. You can see the forecast two to four days in advance depending upon what level of service you'e enrolled to receive.

Another handy feature of SkyFire is to compare forecasts for a list of favorite locations that you've saved, so you can decide between locations to drive to, in order to have the best odds of a nice sunset.

I've tested these features a number of times now, and they do well at predicting when there will or won't be sunset color.  Weather forecasting is notoriously imprecise, so of course you can't predict the direction or extent of the color, but so far the correlation between the SkyFire forecast and the outcome is impressive.

Here's the sunset that actually occurred with the forecast shown to the right for August 2:

Multi-day SkyFire forecast on TPE
The multi-day SkyFire forecast format is shown to the right. The bright red box showed a potentially vivid sunrise opportunity at Lake Tahoe.

The SkyFire service is an optional in-app purchase for TPE, with prices as follows:

Top In-App Purchases

  1. Location Synch (1 year)$0.99
  2. Skyfire Plus (3-months)$14.99
  3. Skyfire (3-months)$9.99

There is also a new location synchronization feature, which finally enabled me to sync my iPhone TPE with my Windows TPE.  There was a procedure to do it before that I had not been able to complete.  With this new method it was quick and simple.

If you don't already have TPE, here's a link that you can use to find it in the Apple iStore:

The Photographer's Ephemeris - Crookneck Consulting LLC

Crookneck Consulting also offers a Photo Transit app which enables you to anticipate what focal length you'll need to capture a certain field of view to get the shot that you want:

The Photographer's Transit - Crookneck Consulting LLC

I'm also testing TPE 3.4, so I'll probably have some details on that for you shortly!

Another sunset accurately predicted by SunFire

Monday, July 27, 2015

New California Landscape Photography Guidebook Coming Soon

Photographing California - South, landscape photography travel guidebook
Photographing California - South, my new landscape photography guidebook
I'm one step closer to being able to ship you a copy of my new guidebook to the best landscape photography locations in California, from Yosemite National Park south.  I received the first sample copy, express-shipped ahead of the boxes and boxes of copies which will ship to retailers.

In the next few days I'll set up a purchasing link for pre-orders and author-signed copies, so I've set up a mailing list with a sign-up form below, where you can opt in to hear about its availability:

Notify me when the book is available

* indicates required

California landscape photography guidebook by Jeff Sullivan

The book covers a lot of what you'd expect, including Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park, Channel Island National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Devil's Postpile National Monument, and the California Coast from Santa Cruz to San Diego.  It includes many state parks and beaches, sites on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Natural Landmarks.  I weighted coverage by scenic and photographic value, so the Eastern Sierra gets separate chapters for the Mono Basin, Mammoth Lakes area, Bishop Area, and Lone Pine to Mojave.

Most of the locations covered can be reached easily by car or via a short walk, but also included are a few stunning destinations best reached using high clearance or 4WD vehicles, overnight backpacking, or horses.  In all, over 350 photos are provided to illustrate over 300 locations, and many site entries reference additional nearby areas worthy of additional exploration.

Mammoth Lakes chapter
The photographic potential of a site can vary by season and by time of day, so I advise readers on both seasonal timing and when the light is best.  Where there are special technical photographic considerations such as optimal focal lengths or filters to use, I describe those as well.  Seasonal considerations can include the angle of the sun, wildflowers, fall colors, peak waterfall flows and special events such as lunar rainbows. Somehow I packed this all into 320 pages!

The book is the latest volume in the publisher's series covering many Western states, and an ebook version will be available as well.  This project was a massive undertaking, taking twice as much time as I expected, about 5 years.  To complete the book I drove a distance roughly equivalent to halfway to the moon.  Death Valley alone warranted approximately 20 visits to explore new locations, even after having already visited the park that many times already over the prior 5 years as well.  I'm crazy about nature, landscapes and photography, so I'd do it over again in a heartbeat.  Completing this book was the experience of a lifetime!

California landscape photography guidebook by Jeff Sullivan
I'll recoup my travel expenses slowly and it may be years before I get anything extra to cover my time, but I keep the retail markup on the author-signed copies, so your direct purchases through me provide maximum support for this project.

If you prefer free shipping copies from an online book retailer, no problem, I'll have a link for ordering it through my "astore" there, and even the few dimes more in commission I'll receive from using that link will help greatly towards making this project viable (compared to ordering it directly there without my affiliate link).  You can also order it alongside other books in the series, once the listing for my book goes live.

I'm generally fairly shy and not really comfortable asking for things, but if you tell your photographer friends about this book, it you buy copies for birthday or Christmas gifts, or even just "Like", comment on, or share my social media posts to help spread the word on it, you'll be doing me a huge favor.  Thanks in advance for your support, in any form it might take!

California landscape photography guidebook by Jeff Sullivan
Based on the success of this book release, I'll decide whether to move right into another travel guide.  If I do, what would you like me to cover next, Nevada, the High Sierra, Wyoming or Montana?  Drill down in more detailed regional guides (Yosemite, Death Valley, Eastern Sierra)?  Something international, perhaps Patagonia or Iceland, or more developed travel destinations like Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey?  Tell me in the comments.  If I can pick my next project now, I can set it up on  Kickstarter and use this first book as one of the rewards for your support on my next one.

Last but not least, thanks to everyone who cheered me along over the years, on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Google+, 500px, YouTube, Vimeo, PInterestWordpress, Tumblr, and here on Blogger,  You kept me going on this long road (looong road).  Thanks also to my photography workshop customers, you kept food on the table, a camera in my bag, a computer on my desk, and my car in working order.  I have a few more Bodie night photography and interior access dates left in 2015, and as the book sales go into autopilot as retailers pick it up, I hope to resume the Yosemite, Death Valley and Eastern Sierra workshops that I've offered in the past, and add dates to my calendar shortly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Yosemite With Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot

I picked this gem up at the winery in September 2000
Happy Birthday Mom!
I really enjoyed my last bottle of 1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards merlot while waiting for our dinner reservation at the +The Ahwahnee Hotel on Thursday. I've been hoarding it for most of its nearly 17-year life! It held up remarkably well, particularly for a merlot, thanks to its ample concentration from growing on well-drained mountainsides, and its original balance of tannins and mouth-watering acid. The only unfortunate part was that I don't have any more, so I'll need to make a road trip to +Pride Mountain Vineyards, up on Spring Mountain between Napa and Sonoma Counties, sometime soon.

The 1998 merlot was so good, when I saw the 2012 Pride Mountain Vineyards merlot on the wine list with dinner at the Ahwahnee. There were 12 of us who came together in the park to celebrate my mother's birthday.  I don't think that she had eaten there before, so the meal was a special treat for her during the family reunion week.

Prior to moving to photography full time I was a wine broker, and before that an avid wine consumer as I worked for various Silicon Valley high tech companies. I attended major wine industry tasting events and held weekly blind tastings with friends. I eventually published thousands of tasting notes on the Internet, starting with a home page on my AOL account in 1995 or so.

Needless to say, I found some great wines and wineries.  I added the labels of some wines that I enjoyed in an album on Google+ and one on Facebook... the wines I enjoyed once scanners became inexpensive enough to attach to PCs.

I still stop at wineries whenever I have the chance as I travel.  It's nice to enjoy wines for their own merits rather than primarily in the context of business, but there's no reason why I can't share my latest finds, much like I did with friends back in the 1990s and early 2000s.

I originally typed my tasting notes into a spreadsheet, where I could 
sort the data, but I was also able to add columns for HTML code, and easily paste it all into Web pages.  It seems to work well for blog posts too.  Here, for example, are some of the other times that I enjoyed Pride's '98 merlot:

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 02/16/03 - The rumors of this wine's demise have been greatly exaggerated, it's still delivering the goods. Thick and syrupy supple black fruit with an ample but very well integrated tannin backbone, this is a merlot for cabernet drinkers. Its prodigious mass and subtle herbal notes on the finish may have some enthusiasts crying "oak", but this is the controversial vintage that the winery insisted spent only about 15% of its life on new oak. This is mountain fruit from a cooler climate than the Napa Valley floor, so neither characteristic rings any warning bells on my palate and I didn't pick up caramel/vanilla/smoky/graphite notes that dominate many well-oaked wines. Instead, I simply pair it with a cabernet meal (bacon-wrapped filet mignon in this case), hang on and enjoy the ride. With supporting acidity hiding behind the waves of fruit and mouth-tickling tannins, I predict that this wine has years of life left ahead of it. It may well slip into an awkward/backward period in mid-life, like some Sullivan merlots can (the 1990 comes to mind), but many hardy souls will enjoy this wine over much of the next 10+ years. 92

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 06/15/01 - Wow! Blackberry, exotic spices (asian five spice), cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, INTENSE, plush, supple earthy notes in the background. 93 *

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 05/13/01 - Smooth and supple, vanilla, spices, smoky, ample concentration without being clumsy. 93*

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 11/14/00 - Creamy, with coffe and spices. Closed. 92

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 09/02/00 - Dark fruit, tarry blackberry, dry and tight with good acid on the finish 92*

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 05/05/00 - Dark with a big, ripe, Bordeaux-like nose, firm blackberry mountain fruit, wonderful texture, tarry, smoky finish, rustic tannins, decent length. 92*

Given how easy it is to paste HTML code, I should look into getting my database back online! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in the Eastern Sierra, June 23, 2015

I read online yesterday that a particularly intense solar magnetic storm might enable the aurora borealis to be visible across much of the United States, as far south as San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. I could see from early results posted from the East Coast and Missouri that the event was progressing as expected.

The aurora borealis tends to be strongest in the location on the earth opposite the sun, and at 11 pm the aurora forecasting apps were showing the strongest magnetic field dipping down in the middle of the United States, so I had roughly one to two hours before that strongest part of the storm would reach us in the Western U.S..

The best visibility of the aurora would be to the north, but I live south of the light pollution from the Carson Valley and Minden/Gardnerville Nevada. There is also the Washignton Fire sending smoke in that direction, so I headed a few miles south then up into the Sierra Nevada to get further from lights and above the smoke.

Partway up the steep road I shot to the north, but the light pollution was too great, so I continued higher.  I tried shooting more to the east to cut out light pollution to the north, and there was a promising increase in green and red color in the sky, but common airglow can cause both of those colors, so I needed to try shooting a sequence of images and create a time-lapse video to see if the red-pink color on the horizon would dance like you see in aurora videos.

Sure enough, there was some aurora color on the horizon, and it gained in strength, shooting upwards into space and dancing across the sky:


I shot the time-lapse video from the high, dry, clear skies of the Sierra Nevada, near the Little Antelope Pack Station above the town of Walker, California:

For comparison, I also shot the sky more to the south- southeast, to get a reading of the ambient green and red airglow colors in the sky.

It was cool to see the aurora borealis all the way down here along the California - Nevada border.  The forecast for tonight isn't quite as strong, but it's a rare opportunity that is hard to resist, so I may have to go back out and try again!

The rays of red light could be 65 miles high above the earth, and 600 miles north!

Washington Fire South of Markleeville Grows

Smoke from the Washington Fire obscures the sun, as seen from Topaz Lake Sunday afternoon 
It's always interesting living in the Eastern Sierra, perhaps never more so than when you wake up one morning and discover that a wildfire is heading your general direction.  That was the situation yesterday as the Washington fire burned near Ebbetts Pass and Silver Peak in California's Sierra Nevada.  The fire started Friday, and by Sunday morning it had grown to 350 acres.  But the forecast for Sunday was dry and windy, so it had been identified as being a "red flag" day with the highest possible fire danger.

The Washington Fire near Silver Peak
Heading up on Highway 89 over Monitor Pass, the fire could be seen near Silver Peak, still fairly well localized, but with growing winds sending the smoke towards the Double Springs neighborhood and Simee Dimeh Summit.  Highway 4 was closed from Ebbetts Pass to its intersection with Highway 89 over Monitor Pass.

Depending upon the wind direction, the fire could head towards the town of Markleeville in Alpine County, California, over Monitor Pass towards Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border, or towards neighborhoods in Nevada along Highway 395 between the two.  The most immediate concern was the town of Markleeville if the fire spread north, but with trees dry from drought and two days of high winds in the forecast, the fire could easily jump the East Carson River and head into Nevada.

Highway 89 over Monitor Pass
Early in the morning the smoke was a gray color and not too dense, although it spread over the landscape for many miles.  The winds grew quickly though, fanning and spreading the flames, and the smoke spread higher and became more thick.

The edge of the smoke plume over Topaz Lake
By mid-afternoon the wind had shifted to center the smoke plume between Simee Dimeh and Topaz Lake, and the color had turned more orange-brown.  The light filtering through the smoke turned the landscape orange.  Winds were gusting over 45 MPH, and the fire was reported as spreading quickly through 6500 acres, jumping forward via wind-carried embers.  Highway 89 over Monitor Pass had closed, residents south of Markleeville had been evacuated, and residents in town were put on notice.

The smoke as seen from Leviathan Mine Road
By early evening it seemed like a good idea to get an update on the fire's location and direction, but online updates can be sparse and vague.  With the high vantage points around Monitor Pass closed, the next best option would be to see what could be seen from the north/northeast.

Leviathan Mine Road departs Highway 395 at Simee Dimeh Summit and heads to Highway 89 on the west side of Monitor Pass, but it crossed directly under the dense, now tobacco-brown smoke.  But the road entered into the smoke that showed the fire's path in the wind.  Without better information on the fire's location and speed, it would not be wise to enter the area.

I captured some photos and video clips from a safe distance north of the smoke, then returned to Highway 395.  Heading south from Simee Dimeh to Topaz Lake, the smoke had darkened to dark brown.  It was so dark, vehicles had their headlights on.

The wind died down in the evening, so the spread of the fire slowed and the smoke less dense.  As of Monday morning, the acreage of the fire hasn't been updated since yesterday afternoon, but the fire has been reported in Bagley Valley south of Highway 89 and Heenan Lake, so the fire has crossed the East Carson River.  It has also been reported north of Highway 89, so it has also crossed the only paved roads between the original fire location and the neighborhoods along Highway 395.  With another day of wind gusts up to 40 MPH in the forecast, we just have to hope for a wind direction which will not bring the fire too close to homes before the wind subsides and the firefighters can work on the advancing edges.

The +Pacific Crest Trail Association published this map earlier today showing the extent of the fire:
I'll upload more photos to DripThat, a new app and community which facilitates the telling of stories through pictures, video and text.  You can find the DripThat app in the Apple App Store (Android soon), and you can connect with me in the community to see more of my photos from my road trips:

This information is on behalf of dripthat.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Moon, Venus Jupiter Will Line Up Tonight

Tonight we'll have the Moon, Venus and Jupiter lining up in the evening twilight sky, with a 9% crescent moon about 9% high in the sky around 9 pm (in a mid-California latitude).

Yosemite Valley isn't normally where I would go to see expansive views of the night sky, but on February 24, 2012 I was fortunate to arrive at Sentinel Bridge over the Merced River right before the moon set behind the valley rim, with Venus and Jupiter lined up above. I was able to capture this frame with the moon and Venus reflected.

Tomorrow evening 
the moon will be brighter and set later, forming a triangle with Jupiter and Venus.  With the evening sky also darker, it will be reminiscent of the Venus, Jupiter Moon triangle I caught last August:

Photos of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter Conjunction August 23, 2014

Here's a photo of those three members of our solar system rising on the eastern horizon:

Then Saturday night the moon will be a brighter, wider crescent, and set later in a flatter triangle configuration, more reminiscent of this one earlier this year:

The easiest event of the next 3 nights to catch with earthly terrain will be the more linear configuration tonight, while twilight light still lights up your foreground landscape.

At the very end of the month, on the night of June 30, Venus and Jupiter will pass within 1/3 of a degree of each other, less than the diameter of the moon.  It will be similar to the conjunction (appulse) that I caught last year on August 18 on my Canon 70 with EF 70-200 mm lens and 2X teleconverter, but this time Venus will appear as a crescent.

Jupiter Venus Conjunction, with Four Moons

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Exploring a Ghost Town at Night: May 24

Main Street Bodie under moonlit clouds
After our last sunrise and interior access session at the old mining ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park on Memorial Day Weekend, we headed out for lunch and rest before we'd return at 6 pm for sunset and night access.  The park isn't open at night, but we had an arrangement with the Bodie Foundation to provide funds for the park's preservation of buildings in "arrested decay", so they provided monitors to accompany us around town after hours.  

Rain showers were moving through the area throughout the afternoon, and we had varying degrees of cloud cover for our first two hours in the park. At 7 pm big, puffy clouds looked like they'd let some sunset light through about an hour later.

At 8 pm however, it started to rain.  Hard.  This was right when we should be out shooting sunset, but we had to take cover in a meeting room.  We watched an informative video on Bodie, but that wasn't what we were there for, so watched to see if the rain would subside.

Fortunately Bodie is located in a high desert ecosystem, and much of the 0.7 inch average precipitation for May falls in a storm or two, like the one the night before.  Other rain events are just a passing shower, and the cloud which had dumped on us had moved on by 9, and we went back out for amazing blue hour light.  The clouds were still moving fast, and they blurred in the sky as we set our cameras for 30 second exposures at Bodie's Methodist church, built in 1883.  There wasn't much light on the landscape, but a little light painting on the church helped that show up nicely. 

The moon was nearly a quarter moon, so as the clouds began to break up, it was backlighting them as the stars started to peek through.  We went to Bodie's classic, rusty 1937 Chevy and did some light painting to give it a little extra character in the moonlight.  People say that it may be the most photographed car in the world.  It is certainly the one that I have photographed the most!  The clouds started to break up as we were shooting the Chevy, so we decided to go see how conditions were after the rain down on Main Street.

We walked down Green Street to Main Street, and found that the puddles we had seen earlier in the day had been refreshed by the passing storm.  You don't find standing water in the high desert very often, and it doesn't last long, so we were lucky to have just followed a passing storm, twice now in the same day!

We captured a variety of buildings in various puddles, and the sky gradually cleared and showed more stars as the moon neared the horizon.  We moved to capture the green truck downtown, which I understand is a 1940 Ford commercial vehicle, before starting to head back towards our gear and our vehicles.  With the moon now out of the sky, many of the participants had time for one last shot of the Milky Way by the mining headframe up by the parking lot before we hit the road.

Having started the drive to Bodie at 3:30 am to get there by 5, I had some coffee at 10 pm to keep energized, but now I was too tired to sleep, so I just drove home, arriving around 2:30, 23 hours after I had left.  

It was a long day, but we enjoyed two of the best and most interesting special access sessions that I've experienced, in the 20+ that we've arranged over the past 4 years.  They just keep getting better the more we do it.  I can't wait for the four more dates we have scheduled in Bodie from June through October this year!

I didn't have room to include all of the photos that I wanted to show you in this blog post, so I'll be publishing more via DripThat, a new app and community which facilitates the telling of stories through pictures, video and text.  You can find the DripThat app in the Apple App Store (, and you can connect with me in the community to see more of my photos from my road trips:

Shooting Bodie's Wheaton & Hollis Hotel and reflection

This information is on behalf of dripthat.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

RAW vs JPG for Mobile Phone Photography - LG G4

LG G4 RAW capture, manual exposure, unadjusted, cropped to 2047 x 2047, saved at 90% JPG quality, Adobe Lightroom 5.7.
I continue to experiment with manual exposure and the ability to capture images in RAW format on the LG G4 mobile phone, since it's one of the first (the first?) phone cameras to offer that capability.  Above is the RAW file.

Next let's look at a copy edited in +Adobe Photoshop Lightroom mobile on +Android:

Image adjusted in Adobe Lightroom mobile app, color, contrast, etc, vignette applied.
The original files are 5312 x 2988 resolution, 16 megapixels. This was cropped square, top to bottom in the original frame, so it was 2988 x 2988, but it's displayed at 2048 x 2048 here.  Looking at the Lightroom folder on the LG G4, that downsize in resolution seemed to happen automatically in the Lightroom software.

Now I'll upload the original RAW file here, saved to JPG (80% quality) so it will display:

The unadjusted RAW file was 20 MB, then saved to JPG 80% resolution it's now 6.56MB
But guess what I was actually taking a picture of... I was trying out an 8X digital zoom on the toad's eye from about 4" away, so I could see how a macro-like the result would turn out.  I was shooting in RAW + JPG mode, and this zoomed view saved at the same and with the same file name as the wider RAW file above:

8x zoom from 4" away! (JPG file created by the LG G4 alongside the RAW image with wider field of view)
The LG G4 has an 8-way optical image stabilizer, improved from the 4-way OIS on the LG G3.  Multiply hand shake with 8X zoom, arms outstretched to ground level, a few inches from the subject, and this is an impressive result.  Next I'll have to try it with the phone stationary to test the phone's close focusing and image quality without unsteady hands being a factor.

What's interesting about this 8X zoom shot is that the file still saves at 5312 x 2988.  If you click on the zoomed JPG, it isn't noticeably jagged with blocks of pixels duplicated many times to the higher resolution.

Zooming in on the JPG file saved by the LG G4
Some of that could be dither patterns to map RAW data to the smaller color palette of 8-bit JPG, but there could be some interpolation involved to predict and fill in data as well, so let's look at the JPG save of the RAW file to see what the actual pixel size is.

Zooming in on my 80% quality JPG save of original RAW file to see actual pixel size.
Sure enough, we were a bit over-zoomed on the LG G4's own JPG save of the 8X digitally zoomed image, but it's nice to see dither patterns (in that prior, tighter image) used to approximate more colors.  that's what printers do as well, when you send them a file format with more colors than they have dots of color to represent.

But we're still not looking at the original RAW data... how much did my decision to save at only 80% JPG quality affect the output?  Let's look at the file still in Lightroom, since it should be able to represent the original DNG RAW colors using the full color pallette of the display card.  Here's a screen shot of that:

Now the RAW file adjusted, this is as far as Lightroom would let me zoom on my 1920 x 1080 display.
But screen shots are saved in JPG, so by the time someone shows that to you, you still don't get the full data present in the RAW file.  Let's pixel peep on that anyway, fully understanding and acknowledging the limitations:

This screen shot of the adjusted RAW file, as it appears in Lightroom above, was effectively converted to JPG in Windows
The screen shot of the RAW file in Lightroom was effectively converted to JPG in Windows, but it already looks better than the RAW saved to JPG at 80% quality, so that quality setting was a factor in the prior crop.  Let's now crop the eye first, then save the RAW to JPG at 100% JPG quality.

RAW file cropped to 601 x 601 pixels, saved at 100% quality JPG, inserted into blog at 600 pixels
I've cropped that last image to be inserted into the blog at a 1:1 size, not over-zoomed, and it's 100% JPG quality, so reduced in quality from the original RAW but about the best we can do in JPG format.

Let's repost that unadjusted 8X zoom RAW file that the LG G4 saved again here, for a fairly direct comparison:

That 8X zoom file the LG G4 saved alongside the wider view RAW file.
The adjusted/edited RAW file looks better than the camera-saved JPG file, but that's the whole point of saving RAW in the first place, to have the option to work on the original sensor data and produce a better edit, if and when it makes sense to invest that additional time.

If you're on the run and need to post a quick preview, many reviews confirm that the camera on the LG G4 will produce JPG files comparable with other top phone cameras.  But such reviews of straight-out-of-camera results clearly fail to fully show the full strength of the LG G4 camera, and its ability to produce stunning results, edited either in a mobile app (second from the top above) or in traditional desktop editing software (below).

Adjusted in desktop version of Lightroom (5.7), brightness, contrast, etc, less vignette applied than in mobile version
Conclusion: RAW is clearly the way to go when quality matters, which should give the LG G4 a leg up on competitors for a while, until more of them join the RAW party.

I had been provided with the LG G4 to preview it prior to its public release, but now I have to make a personal decision on which phone to use going forward.  I find that it's what I reach for 90% of the time for general image quality anyway (including low light performance, excellent image stabilization and good quality quick JPG HDRs).

Upon further inspection, the ability to select manual exposure and produce RAW output isn't just an incremental feature, it opens up a while new category of mobile phone camera.  Consider what third party apps can do with that... using exposures up to 30 seconds, producing higher quality results from multiple exposures and HDR or other exposure blending performed in post-processing software.  The applications will span the full range of what app developers can dream up.  This starts to achieve the promise of putting mobile phones in direct competition with digital cameras and even DSLRs.  While lens selection and aperture choices will continue to give DSLRs the edge for many specialized and professional applications, the expanding options and improving image quality from smartphones will continue to expand their appeal as the camera most likely to be quickest into your hand as shooting opportunities arise.