Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Racetrack "Sailing Stones" Witnessed... Mystery Solved!

"Sailing stone" on the Racetrack, Death Valley
In one of the enduring mysteries of the world, people have long wondered how rocks move across a horizontal dry lake bed surface in Death Valley National Park.

People have offered a variety of theories on how the rocks moved, with the first scientific study in 1948 suggesting dust devils.

More recently, high winds were suggested:

Using Differential GPS to Map the "Sliding" Rocks of Racetrack Playa
"So the evidence suggests that strong gusts of wind and swirling dust devils, in combination with a slick playa surface may set even the heaviest the rocks in motion. Off they go, scooting along downwind until friction slows them down and they come to rest. There the stones wait for the next time when slippery mud and wind spur them into action again." http://www.profsurv.com/magazine/article.aspx?i=769#sthash.WI0c906F.dpuf

In 2008 Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University proposed that the rocks moved when embedded in bouyant "ice cakes", as had been witnessed in tidal areas in the arctic.
"The stones partially embedded in the floating ice rise slightly above the bottom with the increasing level of water. Both the friction between the ice and water and between the stones and the bed are very small, so that blowing wind with some intensity pushes the ice (and the rocks embedded). If the stones and mud at the bottom have a light touch, the dragged stones leave a trail that remains once the ice has melted and the water has evaporated." http://blogs.egu.eu/gsoil/2013/08/26/ladies-and-gentlemen-the-rolling-stones/

Would magically energetic rocks look like this when moving?
Having seen many of the prior theories, I offered the following explanation on April 1, 2010:
"Their secret... an internal power source!  They glow as they move.  Who knew?"

My April Fools Day theory didn't gain much traction. It was fun to illustrate though!

Fortunately there were some much more serious people working on the case, so on December 21, 2013, Richard and James Norris were present to see standing water frozen on the lake bed, and to see and hear the ice cracking as the ice started to melt, then wind blew the ice sheet with the rocks embedded.  You can read the full account in today's story in the +Los Angeles Times:

Mystery of how rocks move across Death Valley lake bed solved
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-rocks-move-death-valley-lake-bed-20140827-story.html

I had actually predicted that mode of movement after reading an article on the stones in +National Geographic seven years ago, as I mentioned in this comment on +Flickr:
"I don't believe that 700 pound rocks can move by wind alone; I think they need to be trapped in floating ice, melting along the shore, that far outweighs them and which also catches the wind. Even the heaviest rocks are inconsequential when a solid lake surface that weighs many tons starts shifting in the wind."

I didn't exactly run up there to photograph it... Ice, high winds, while access to the area may be limited, what's not to like about that?   There are some good reasons why no one has been there to see it!


Z truth is out there...
Now that the mystery is solved, will this end the pilgrimage of people wanting to see these rocks, now that the mystery is gone?  The National Park Service worries that the news may actually increase traffic.

Will the end to the mystery stop people from stealing the rocks, with the hope that they have magical powers?

Of course not.  The proposal that the rocks don't have magical powers could simply be a government cover-up, right?  The sale of tinfoil hats to Death Valley visitors will be greater than ever.

Update 7 pm:
Here's a video which includes a sequence showing a rock moving.  Jump forward to 2:58 if you want to go straight there:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Plan Your Moon, Mars, Saturn Conjunction Photo August 30 & 31

Shooting the moon, Mars and Saturn over Bodie's 1937 Chevy at 9 pm, Saturday August 30, 2014
Last weekend offered the opportunity to shoot the crescent moon near Jupiter and Venus.  Now that the new moon has passed, as the crescent moon moves into the evening sky, we have the opportunity to catch the moon with Mars and Saturn on consecutive nights.  The first night will be August 30, when the moon will be roughly 11 degrees high at 9 pm (here at 38 degrees latitude) as the sky gets dark, near bright star Spica and west of the two planets.  The screen shot from +The Photographer's Ephemeris ("TPE", free on a PC) shows a possible composition shooting over the 1937 Chevy in Bodie State Historic Park.  The park closes after 6 pm, but we're bringing a group in for a night photography workshop, so the crescent moon and planet conjunction event is a nice bonus opportunity for us.

The even tighter and more interesting configuration will be on the following night August 31 when the moon joins Saturn and Mars to form a close triangle.  At 9 o'clock for mid-northern latitudes the moon will be southwest and roughly 17 degrees high, moving westward and setting over the next hour.

To plan some shots for this celestial event, you can use apps such as The Photographer's Ephemeris, +PhotoPills , StarWalk and Sky Safari+:
StarWalk Screen showing conjunction August 31
Here's a screen shot from the StarWalk app showing the relative positions of Mars, Saturn and the moon. (The appearance of them on the screen is not to scale.)  Using this app to see the relative position of the three objects, then using TPE or PhotoPills to pick natural landmarks on the horizon or man-made objects in your foreground to place them over, you can plan for some interesting compositions well in advance.  A wide shot to capture a foreground subject might work well at 14-24mm, while a telephoto composition might range from 50 mm to 200mm.  You can capture individual planets or the moon at longer focal lengths.  I may use my crop sensor Canon 70D to get an extra effective 1.6X magnification, so my 70-200 mm lens with 2X teleconverter shooting at 400 mm will produce an effective 640 mm.

Saturn over Mars (upper right)
You can scout potential locations for your shot all week, just look for the red light of Mars to the southwest as darkness falls, in the evening about an hour after sunset, and Saturn is the bright planet just to the right of Mars.  This is a location I scouted and ruled out earlier this week due in part to excessive light pollution just out of frame to the right.  Mars is the red planet in the upper right (and even easier to see in the reflection), while Saturn is just to the right.  The crescent moon between and above them will make a tight grouping, so I should bring my Canon 50 mm f/1.4 and 85 mm f/1.8 lenses to be able to use wider apertures and lower ISO settings for less noisy results.

A handy planning site for the Moon, Mars, Saturn conjunction event on August 31 tries to recognize your location to be able to give accurate times for visibility of Saturn in the evening, as well as set times for Saturn, the moon and Mars: http://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20140831_15_100

Photos of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter Conjunction August 23

Jupiter, moon and M44 Beehive Cluster rising yesterday, August 23.  A short while later Venus joined them, below Jupiter.
The Internet, mobile phones and social media can provide some interesting opportunities at times.  I learned about a close Venus - Jupiter conjunction coming up on August 18 from the SkyWeek+ app from +Sky & Telescope.  I looked up more information, and found an excellent planning guide by +Universe Today.  I shot the August 18 conjunction, only to have Universe today include it moments later in their write-up on the event!  I looked up more articles, discovering a mention in an +EarthSky article of the moon joining them in the sky on the morning  August 23.  But there would be a nice practice day August 22, which I shot.  As it turned out, EarthSky included my Aug 18 Venus - Jupiter image in an excellent planning guide to the August 23 event.

Venus, Jupiter, moon and Beehive Cluster in conjunction 
I checked my app The Photographer's Ephemeris to confirm a good composition for the moon rise angle at Mono Lake.  I then checked the StarWalk app and determined that the last of the three celestial bodies rising on the 23rd,Venus, would be rising at 4:53 at Mono Lake.  So I arrived onsite yesterday at around 4:30, I was moving my cameras into position around 4:45, and I was just getting my exposures settings set as the moon rose next to Jupiter and its moons (above).  Venus was the next to arrive (right), and its light was colored bright red in the atmosphere choked with smoke from fires in the American West.

Apparently no other photographers had planned to shoot here, although one car did pull in and leave its headlights on briefly, providing some unplanned light painting on the tufa-strewn shoreline.  The sky gradually brightened as twilight "blue hour" progressed, and the view of the moon became more clear and it tone more white as it rose above the densest slice of atmosphere.  Venus increased in apparent brightness as it rose, and hints of the approaching sunrise could be seen on the horizon.


Venus, Jupiter and moon during blue hour
As the planets and moon rose together, I had to zoom out to a wider 70 mm focal length to fit them in comfortably.  Incresed color in the sky was offset by the relative fading of the planets as the sky brightened.

Later this week we'll have this sort of opportunity all over again as the crescent moon yields to the new moon, then becomes a crescent again as it switches to the night sky, and moves close to Mars and Saturn.  I'll talk more on that in a following post here on my blog, and I'll post updates on Twitter (@jeffsullphoto) as well.

The moon, Jupiter and Venus as dawn approaches on August 23
Here's one of my last shots of the moon with Jupiter and Venus last Saturday as the sky continued to brighten:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Venus Jupiter Conjunction August 18 to Add Moon August 23

Venus plus Jupiter with four of its moons before dawn August 18
Venus - Jupiter Aug 18
The Venus -  Jupiter Conjunction was a rare event to catch Monday morning before dawn, as they slowly rose above the horizon as dawn approached.  It's always great to be out in the early morning, as many animals are active and others start to stir.  Two great horned owls gently called back and forth.  Black bears have been in our neighborhood at night lately gorging on peaches, and plums, blackberries and apples are starting to add to their buffet as well.  A group of coyotes were howling in the small orchard down the street, no doubt harassing a bear getting in the way of their hunt for rabbits and quail.  It was nice to have some moonlight for illumination, so I'd be able to see a bear approaching if I heard one leaving the orchard in my direction.  I kept a flashlight nearby to alert any bears to my presence, to avoid an awkward encounter.  Being so well fed our bears are large.  They're not overtly aggressive and they'll generally run away from people, but it's still a good idea not to startle one at close range.
As the week progresses Venus and Saturn remain close all this week, with the crescent moon arriving in their vicinity on the mornings of August 22, 23 and 24. Their closest encounter will be on Saturday the 23rd, with the two planets and the moon forming a triangle before dawn, 7 degrees on each side.

Update Friday morning, August 22:  The moon lined up with Venus and Jupiter this morning.  The moon will drop next to Venus and Jupiter tomorrow morning before dawn, to form a triangle.  Venus rose today at 4:53, so for best results, start looking by 5 am.  Where I plan to shoot tomorrow, all three celestial bodies should be above the horizon by 5:10 or so.  The times will be similar for other mid northern latitudes, with small adjustments for your position on the earth and in your time zone.

Plan for an interesting composition for the conjunction tomorrow using any of these four astronomy apps:

Tutorial on Moon Photography Planning

http://activesole.blogspot.com/2013/10/tutorial-on-moon-photography-planning.html  


The rest of the story:

As I shot Venus and Jupiter this morning there were large, fresh bear prints on the ground, and half of an apple that the bear carried 1/2 mile but couldn't finish.  The bears start arriving late at night this time of year, but as they compete for fruit in neighborhood fruit trees, they start to come earlier and earlier.

This large bear climbed up a neighbor's tree last year when we arrived to take his picture.  He growled at me at first, but stopped when that tactic didn't result in our departure.  On this night, our neighbor had called us at 8 pm to tell us that there was a huge bear which "looks like a bison", his back scraping the branches of the apple trees.  He definitely was well fed, and is probably back for more feasting this year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014 Video Released Today

Moon Over Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
Thanks to the +Royal Observatory Greenwich in London for including my image in your video about the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2104 competition!  Read my 2012 blog post about this image: Moon Rise over Half Dome in Yosemite


Astrophotography is a great way to encourage an interest in science and engineering among young people.  In 2011 the Royal Observatory Greenwich sent a film crew to interview my daughter +Nicole Sullivan in 2011 when she won Runner Up (2nd Place) in the Young Astronomers category of the competition.


Nicole: the blue hour from Royal Observatory Greenwich on Vimeo.


Nicole will be attending the University of California, Davis this fall, and she is considering a number of careers related to science and engineering.

"Origins of Life on Earth" image by Thomas Sullivan
Nicole's brother +Thomas Sullivan is not far from applying for college as well.  He was honored with an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, and his photo appears on the cover of the Japanese edition of the coffee table book containing awarded entries in the competition, available for purchase through Amazon.com.

#astrophoto2014 #astrophotography #landscapephotography #APOTY #2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Perseid Meteor Shower 2014 Continues as Moon Rises Later

Perseid meteor over mining ruins, Eastern Sierra
I set up my camera Friday night to take a sequence of shots so I could make a composite all of the meteors I caught in the hour before the moon rise, but I only caught this one Perseid meteor. I still made a composite photo however, since the best Milky Way was when I first set up and the meteor came later as the moon was rising, washing out the view of the Milky Way. So everything in this photo is exactly where it happened, but the 11:29 pm meteor is effectively time-shifted into this image from 10:32 pm.

Thanks to +Angela Fritz of the +Capital Weather Gang at the +Washington Post for blogging two of my earlier 2014 Perseid meteor shower photos over the weekend:
In past years I've captured time-lapse video of the Perseid meteor shower, as in the first 1:49 of this 7 minute video:

Venus - Jupiter Conjunction at Dawn Today


Venus and Jupiter put on a show in the sky this morning as sunrise approached.  As seen from earth these two bright planets appeared to pass within 0.3 degrees of each other in the sky.

For the next shot I used a crop sensor camera to get a little more effective zoom out of my lenses:
Canon 70D, 70-200mm f/4 IS L lens, 2X teleconverter
400mm focal length x 1.6 crop factor = 640mm equivalent


I uploaded one of my shots to Flickr, and +Universe Today had already blogged it moments later.  Thanks +Nancy Atkinson!
Here's a link to the blog post by Universe Today:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Perseid Meteor 2014

Perseid meteor 4:19 am August 11, 2014
Yes, it is possible to get Perseid meteors in spite of the full moon.  This one was at 4:19 am, right next to the North Star, Polaris.  For a little over 1.5 hour I had my camera shooting 15 second exposures at f/5.6, ISO 2000.  At roughly four shots per minute, I ended up with nearly 400 images.  This was by far the brightest Perseid fireball I caught.  I don't know if our clouds will break enough for me to shoot again tonight, but if they do, I may focus on a ground-based subject and see whether I can happen to pick up some meteors as well. 

To see some of my Perseid meteor shower time-lapse videos from past years, visit my YouTube account to see them in my Night Time-lapse playlist:

   #2014

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Image: Transit of Venus 2012

"After centuries of trying, only photographic technology could measure the ‘Transit of Venus’ and tell us our position in the solar system." - Royal Observatory, Greenwich. This Venus transit photo I captured in 2012 is one of my entries in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014 competition.  Winning photos will be announced September 18: http://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year
#astrophoto2014 #astronomy #science #astrophotography

Monday, August 04, 2014

Guaranteed Delivery Photo Sharing Networks: Flickr, Instagram, Twitter

A crate originally containing blasting caps, explosive charges used to set off dynamite, sits in an abandoned house in the historic mining town of Bodie, California. 

The "handle carefully" label on the box is good advice for photographers in the fragmented world of online photography sharing world.  While other sites shelter copyright violators, invade your privacy and threaten to sell your photos without any benefit to you, Flickr remains a key place for serious photographers, arguably THE place.  But if you want to connect with friends and family on social media sites, or grow your audience with photographers who haven't found or returned to Flickr yet, you may have to spread a few of your photos around a bit.  Sites don't all connect to one another, and they have different functionality, so details can get lost from site to site, and where you share to or from can affect how well your photos are received where they end up.

Let's consider Instagram, Twitter and Flickr.  Instagram can be a receptive place for mobile phone photos, but I don't spend much time on Instagram.  I have more followers on Twitter, and Twitter is known as a place for real time updates.  But Instagram photos shared directly to Twitter don't show up with a preview image, greatly reducing the odds that anyone will see, let alone respond to, your tweet.  So if I want to make a mobile phone share to Instagram and also reach my friends who might be on Twitter, it's best to post to Instagram and Flickr at once, then from Flickr share to Twitter.  A Flickr share to Twitter does result in a photo being posted with the tweet, with a thumbnail included in the left colum, so your odds of interaction with your post are much higher.  But most importantly there's also a link back to the original photo on Flickr, a full-featured "home base" for photography.

Many sites have popped up over the years enabling sharing photos, but many of them have implemented filters preventing all of the people who have subscribed to see you photos from actually seeing them.  Flickr does not prevent other photographers from seeing your work, it does not tolerate or even facilitate copyright violators like some other sites, it hasn't had privacy issue after privacy issue, there haven't been scandals where they would allow selling of your work without your knowledge or permission, and most importantly, it remains the photography place with the strongest tagging, grouping, album, location, date and interestingness-ranking functionality, that intelligent searches can be performed on.  So when your'e going to a national park and want to get ideas on where to go and what to see at that time of year, you can perform a search and find some great images and places.  Others can similarly find your images that way.  And everyone is easily accessible, you just post a question below their photograph or send them a flickrmail, there's no weird layer of site intervention over who can "friend" whom, or which people can communicate with each other.

For this photo I took an iPhone photo and used the free Snapseed app to post-process it and post it simultaneously to Flickr and Instagram.  So technically it started here as well as there.  Then I used the Flickr to Twitter sharing function to  tweet the photo with a preview image and link back here on Flickr.  It's simple, fast, gets the photo were I need it, and lets me keep my portfolio grounded on Flickr where I can best manage it.

Where i want a more subtle and controlled edit I may wait to import my iPhone images into Lightroom and upload the edited images from my PC to Flickr.  In that case I then go to the Flickr app and I can download my Lightroom-edited photo on Flickr to my phone's camera roll storage.  Like magic, any of my photos on Flickr, even ones taken on a DSLR, can be shared to otherwise mobile-centric apps like Instagram that way.

With the strong tagging/metadata and search functionality it seems like Flickr is still one of the places editors look first to find images.  It'll be interesting to see whether the new licensing functionality announced last week can reinforce and amplify that trend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014 Perseid Meteor Shower Begins



The annual Perseid meteor shower is ramping up, but the moon will increasingly interfere with viewing as the shower's peak approaches. This one was caught to the northeast while out looking for Delta Aquarids and Piscis Austranids earlier this week.

I pursue photos and time-lapse videos of every meteor shower when conditions are favorable. Here's my Perseid meteor shower footage from 2013:


   How to Create a Time-lapse Video on Your Digital Camera.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Delta II Rocket Image Sequence from OCO-2 Launch

Four minutes during NASA's OCO-2 satellite launch from Vandenberg AFB, California
NASA sent the OCO2 satellite up on a Delta II rocket last Wednesday morning, and I captured it on several different cameras at once.

+Philip Plait (The Bad Astronomer) goes into some detail on the satellite in his blog posNASA Launches a New Eye on Carbon Dioxide, so I'll stick to the photographic detail in the following sequence of photos matched to their corresponding events in the launch timeline.





2:55:53 a.m.
T-minus 30 seconds. SRB ignitors will be armed at T-minus 11 seconds.

The launch ignition sequence will begin at T-minus 2 seconds when a launch team member triggers the engine start switch. The process begins with ignition of the two vernier thrusters and first stage main engine start. The three ground-lit solid rocket motors then light at T-0 for liftoff.
2:56:23 a.m. 
LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Delta 2 rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 to watch the Earth breathe from space!
T+plus 15 seconds. The launch vehicle is departing Vandenberg Air Force Base, heading south for the trek downrange over the Pacific carrying the OCO 2 spacecraft.


T+plus 36 seconds. Delta has broken the sound barrier, rapidly accelerating on the power of its first stage main engine and the three ground-lit strap-on solid-fuel boosters.
2:57 a.m. 
T+plus 50 seconds. The rocket has flown through the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure in the lower atmosphere.

2:57 a.m. 
T+plus 1 minute, 6 seconds. All three ground-start solid rocket boosters have burned out. The Delta 2's first stage RS-27A main engine is providing the sole thrust for the next couple of minutes.









2:58 a.m.
T+plus 1 minute, 50 seconds. The ATK-made solid rocket boosters have jettisoned from the first stage. They remained attached until the rocket cleared off-shore oil rigs.

T+plus 2 minutes. Delta now weighs half of what it did at liftoff two minutes ago.

2:59 a.m.
T+plus 2 minutes, 41 seconds. Delta now traveling at Mach 5.
T+plus 3 minutes. The first stage main engine still firing well. The Aerojet Rocketdyne powerplant consumes kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen to produce about 237,000 pounds of thrust.
3:00 a.m. 
T+plus 3 minutes, 34 seconds. The Delta 2 is now passing a speed of Mach 10.
3:01 a.m.
T+plus 4 minutes, 39 seconds. MECO. The first stage main engine cutoff is confirmed and the spent stage has been jettisoned.
T+plus 4 minutes, 44 seconds. The Delta's second stage has ignited! The engine is up and running.
T+plus 4 minutes, 51 seconds. The rocket's nose cone enclosing the satellite payload has been jettisoned.

3:02 a.m.
The rocket is at an altitude of 82.7 nautical miles, a downrange distance of 360 nautical miles and a velocity of 11,127 mph.



Here's NASA's diagram of the sequence (click on it  for a much larger view):



















Here's the whole sequence put together in a time-lapse video covering 3 hours prior to 1 hour after launch:


If night photography looks like something you'd like to master, I'm scheduling a night photography session at California's Bodie State Historic Park on July 25: http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/bodie-night-photography-workshops/

Digital photography differs from film photography in many important respects, and nowhere is that more true than for night photography.  I've invested the sleepless nights learning the techniques and trade-offs to save you time and money required to discover it all for yourself.

Friday, July 04, 2014

NASA Launch This Week: Orbiting Carbon Observatory


NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory Launch from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

What happens when a time-lapse astrophotographer goes to a NASA launch?  Enjoy my latest edit of this new footage, just uploaded to +Vimeo :https://vimeo.com/99906771.  
NASA's OCO-2 Orbiting Carbon Observatory will take 1 million measurements daily at a resolution of one square mile, enabling the analysis of local, regional, national and global CO2 emissions and trends.
My new blog: www.JeffSullivanPhotography.com
#NASA #science #news #space #climatescience #NASAJPL #NASASocial #OCO2

Thursday, July 03, 2014

How to Photograph Fireworks



People often ask me what my settings were for certain night shots, but the light on the landscape and your subject varies from night to night as the moon phase changes, it varies from hour to hour as the moon moves in the sky, and even from moment to moment as your point your camera in different directions and have more or less light pollution in your shot.  So when I pursue night shots, I focus on determining the best exposure, and I remain vigilant to adjust it as conditions change. Normally you have to monitor f-stop, exposure time and ISO, but for fireworks the situation is simplified a bit.  The burning embers have a certain brightness which you can turn up or down adjusting f-stop or ISO, and the exposure time simply controls how long you want the trails of the moving embers to be.  You can determine the time between each shot fired, you can get many complete explosions of color.

Often an exposure time of around 4 seconds works well, but in this case the shots were being fired every 6 seconds, so I left one camera on an intervalometer capturing 5 second exposures at f/16, ISO 640, then triggering the next shot one second later, so they were 6 seconds apart in total. Upon returning, I assembled the resulting shots into a time-lapse video, as described on my blog:

Create a Timelapse Video on Your Digital Camera
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2011/08/photographer-light-dance-pfeiffer-beach.html

For the video sequence it appears that I re-framed the shot a couple of times during the fireworks display.  I've also had been experiencing a bug in Lightroom where a crop from one shot pasted into others does not always take effect correctly, so that may be coming into play as well.
Independence Day fireworks at Crowley Lake in the Eastern Sierra 2013
Google+: Reshared 34 times Google+: View post on Google+

Here are some other fireworks displays I've photographed in the past 5 years:

Bridgeport, California 2012
https://www.flickr.com/search?user_id=23183960%40N00&sort=relevance&text=fireworks%20Bridgeport%202012

South Lake Tahoe, Nevada, 2011 
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2011/08/south-lake-tahoe-fireworks-ranked-6-in.html

Tahoe City, California, 2010 
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2010/07/july-4th-weekend.html

Seaside, Oregon, 2009 
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2009/07/by-rockets-red-glare-bombs-bursting-in.html

Sunday, June 01, 2014

New Milky Way over Bodie Photo on Theneeds

Milky Way over Bodie IOOF Hall, May 25, 2014

One of my new photographs from our last Bodie night photography workshop was picked up on TheNeeds, where you can see the latest news, images, videos, and so on.  Most news readers are too heavily filtered and limited, so I've been looking for news readers where you can nominate or publish content to the app and site, and have a much more customized flow of more interesting content.  I've added the app to my iPhone, and it'll be interesting to see whether it picks up more of my work and tailors what it sends to me based on my interests, or whether it just selects fairly generic and less relevant and interesting content to rebroadcast from time to time.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Amazon Wins Patent for Photography Against a White Background!

If we didn't already have enough evidence that the U.S. Patent system is very broken, we do now...



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Planning Milky Way Photography


Milky Way over Mono Lake Tufa Rock Formations
By now most of us have seen stunning Milky Way shots, but when we go out at night in the Northern Hemisphere we find that the Milky Way is not prominent in the sky all of the time and the moon often interferes with its visibility as well.  The best nights and times are fairly easy to anticipate, so let's review them.

The Milky Way is like a big, flat disk, with a fatter portion in the center, much like flying saucers are depicted.  At least arms spiral out from the center, and our solar system is partway out on one of these arms.  So while the disk of the Milky Way which we're in looks like a stripe of stars across the sky, when we're looking towards the larger center of the disk containing more stars, it's brighter.  Due to the tilt of the earth's rotational axis, that bright center of the Milky Way is highest in the sky in the weeks around the Summer solstice.

As for best viewing conditions, the dark sky days around the New Moon are best, when the light of the stars in the Milky Way seem brightest and offer the greatest contrast against the dark sky background.  There is an added complication as the position of the Milky Way and constellations change nightly, moving east to west further each night, until the constellations end up in the same place in the sky at the same time the following year.  The constellations moving all the way around us in 12 months to return to the same place in the sky is similar to the movement they make in 24 hours, so to complete the trip around in a 12 month year, each month the constellations rise 24 divided by 12 = 2 hours earlier, 30 minutes per week.  So Whatever time the Milky Way rose above your horizon last week, it'll be 30 minutes earlier this week and 2 hours earlier on the following month.


Fortunately you don't have to make a bunch of observations and calculate future times, there are apps to do the work for you.  There are a number of stargazing programs out there for both interpreting the current sky and anticipating how it'll look at some date and time in the future.  I use StarWalk, which provided the following display last week as the April 15 lunar eclipse was ending:


When you see that trident-shaped pattern of Scorpius coming up along the east to southeastern horizon, you know that the bright galactic center of the Milky Way is not far behind.  It would have been 2 hours later, 2:45 am, to reach this position in the sky four weeks earlier.

Now let's look at other months.  Note the time changes in the upper right corner as we go from early May to late May, as the moon rises roughly 90 minutes earlier after three weeks pass:



As we jump forward to dates close to the new moon dates in late June, July and August, rise time is no longer an issue as the Milky Way is already in the sky once the sky gets dark enough to see it.  So June, July and August are the most convenient months to shoot it, since you won't have to wait long after sunset to start shooting.  There's a term astronomical twilight to describe when the sky is fully dark, and a program such as The Photographer's Ephemeris can tell you when that is, both at night after the sun sets to the west and in the morning as the sun approaches to the east.



You'll notice that the Milky Way starts the night a little more vertical or "tilted up" in the sky each month.  It's also a little further along the southeast to southwest path that the galactic center takes in the sky, so you can use that knowledge to plan specific compositions.  The Galactic center also starts a little lower in the sky as you get further form the Summer solstice.

So using the new moon dates each year and a program like StarWalk, you adjust the date and time to pre-visualize what the sky looks like and determine approximately how many compositions featuring your favorite natural or man-made landmarks will look.

For more information on how to shoot the Milky Way once it's in the sky in front of you, read my prior blog post: How to Take Milky Way Photos.

To take the concept even further, you can capture sequential photos of the Milky Way and convert them into a time-lapse video like this!

Friday, April 11, 2014

More Endangered Than Most



Desert tortoise populations have declined up to 90% in recent decades due to human activities such as housing developments, energy development and grazing. They spend up to 95% of their time in burrows, where they may get trapped or succumb to heat if the burrow collapses due to a vehicle or large animal. They like sandy soil, and when visiting sand dunes people can cause these collapses. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages endangered species, and many desert tortoises are on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. A center was established by the BLM to care for desert tortoises, mainly surrendered pets.

In the last 2 days some many news reports have falsely implied that the BLM was euthanizing the protected wild tortoises. The misrepresentation of fact must be intentional, since the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center clarified the situation in a press release months ago:

 Aug 26, 2013
Statement Regarding Media Reports on Status of Desert Tortoise at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Nevada

Recent media reports regarding the status of desert tortoises at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC) have implied that the FWS is currently euthanizing desert tortoises at the facility. We want the public to know that the FWS is not euthanizing healthy tortoises. 

The DTCC was established in 1990 to receive wild tortoises in harm’s way from development and has taken in unwanted pets since 1996. Over 1,000 tortoises arrived at the DTCC each year, and approximately 98 percent of those are surrendered or stray pets. Science-based protocols developed for desert tortoises brought to the DTCC have been instrumental in helping the FWS maintain a healthy population of desert tortoise in the wild. Managing to recover desert tortoise, a threatened species, is a complex task in which all options need to be considered, and all risks and benefits to the species must be assessed. 

Many pet tortoises, unfortunately, are diseased or otherwise in poor health, and run the risk of spreading disease to wild tortoises. These tortoises cannot be relocated to the wild, or otherwise contribute to recovery of the desert tortoise population. Sometimes euthanasia of unhealthy pet tortoises is necessary, but only as last resort, and only after we evaluate other options. All healthy tortoises at the DTCC will be relocated to sites that will support the recovery of the species. 

Progress is being made on translocating the healthy DTCC tortoise population to the wild. A Programmatic Environmental Assessment is complete, and tortoises are already being translocated by the FWS to an approved site in Trout Canyon, Nevada. Public scoping for a second translocation plan was completed Aug 22, 2013, for a proposed translocation area south of Coyote Springs, Nevada. 

The Animal Foundation (TAF), Lied Animal Shelter continues to take in unwanted pet tortoises from the public. However, the fact remains that the DTCC does not currently have the capacity or the funding to accept and care for additional tortoises. 

Recovery of the desert tortoise in the wild continues to be our top priority. However we are deeply concerned about the growing number of unwanted pets, and will continue to work with our partner agencies toward finding a suitable solution for tortoises that cannot be returned to the wild. Posted on August 26, 2013 https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-planned-killing-of-desert-tortoises/responses/8917

The factual misrepresentations are coming up in a story about a Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy who reportedly owes $1.1M in grazing fees to the BLM, and who following decades of debate over the issue in federal court has been issued court orders to remove his cattle and to not interfere with removal operations if he fails to remove them himself. The matter has gained national attention in recent days as people have flocked to the ranch to side with Bundy's resistance to the court orders. Various political scapegoats are trotted out by media outlets with an agenda to promote, and many of the protesters onsite now resisting federal authorities are reveling in repeating the misinformation. The incident could turn into quite a sideshow in the coming days. 
#bundyranch #deserttortoise #mojavedesert

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ten Photos for Flickr's 10th Bday!

Flickr is celebrating their 10th birthday this week, and they've invited members to nominate ten of their favorite images shared there over the past 10 years. You can place your image in the #Flickr10 group on Flickr, and if you're lucky, perhaps Flickr will share your photos on their blog.
One of my "most interesting" photos according to Flickr's ranking algorithms, which provide some of the most strategic advantages Flickr has over other sites for photography:






Of course I had to include a travel photo:



and it was a tossup between Bodie and Burning Man for coolest place to shoot, but Bodie won out:



Weather seemed like a good theme to represent as well:


Here are all 10 photos in a set over on Flickr:

Solar Rainbow in Yosemite ValleyLight Painting in Badwater BasinHagia SophiaLightning in a Sunset ThunderstormStarry Night over Bodie ChurchRim Fire, Yosemite - time-lapse video
Natural Firefall (255,478 views on Flickr so far!)Horsetail Falls at SunsetThe WaveRGB UFOs (wow, over 1400 Flickr favorites, thanks!!)

Flickr's 10th Bday, a set on Flickr.