Friday, February 16, 2018

Analysis of a Lunar Eclipse Shoot

I'll be presenting in Woodland, California next Tuesday, February 20 at 7 pm in case you might like to attend. The Woodland Camera Forum meets in Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood Street, Woodland, California:

The formatting of this post got all messed up when i tried to transfer it form my original Wordpress blog post on my Web site here:
I'll fix it as time permits, which might not be a while, so best if you read it over there for now!

Lunar Eclipse Teed Up Do You Have Plans to Shoot The Blue Moon This Month?

For the January 31, 2018 lunar eclipse, my planning started weeks in advance, looking at the timing of the eclipse, the direction of the moon, and at prior shots like the moon set above from 2010 that seemed like a good concept to re-shoot with a moon in some phase of eclipse.  I decided to try to place the moon on top of the South Tower of the bridge, worked out the geometry to estimate the moon's elevation, looked in an app to determine its compass direction at that time, and where I should stand.

 So after you decide to shoot an early morning lunar eclipse, what's the next logical thing to do? Pick a spot for the prior sunset of course. Marin County's Rodeo Beach fit the bill nicely for a relaxing sunset.

Pacific Sunset  A trip to Japan Center for sushi later, and it's too early for sleep, so a little night photography along the San Francisco waterfront helps put a few more travel images on the card and burn off a few dinner calories.
Bay Bridge at Night 

Wake up at 3am, and go get a nice moon shot from the Crissy Field area: Total Lunar Eclipse January 31, 2018

This image was exposed for 15 seconds at f/8, ISO 200 on a Canon EOS 70D with a lens at 381mm using a Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens plus EF 2X III teleconverter. After the APS-C crop factor, the equivalent focal length was 610mm! The camera setup was on an iOptron SkyTracker, so the longest exposures in the sequences I was shooting could easily be 15 to 20 seconds at ISO 200. What next? You've chosen the spot anticipating the moon approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, so when it's close enough you can include the bridge in compositions:

  Lunar Eclipse Over the Golden Gate Bridge

 But the real alignment you've calculated from the height of the bridge, the distance to the bridge, and the compass direction is the moon passing the top of the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. But you forgot to subtract out the elevation of your shooting position from the height of the bridge, so the moon is about 1/2 moon width, about 0.25 degrees, too high. So you move about a dozen feet to your left, compose over the shoulders of a couple of photographers, and get the composition that you envisioned weeks earlier:

The recent weather and the forecast called for partly cloudy conditions, and at times there was definitely a thin haze that the moon was shining through, but there was also a challenge that I don't usually have to deal with back home in the high desert: condensation!  For a while I had to wipe my lens every few shots to remove it.  Astrophotographers sometimes use heaters on their telescopes, photographers shooting on a dewy morning can improvise using gaffer's tape and hand warmers. That's not the end of the fun, as sunset light paints the sky while the moon dropped into the bridge.  Fortunately the atmospheric haze also cleared up significantly.

California astrophotography

Sunrise approaches as the partially-eclipsed moon sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge.[/caption] As it descends further, while shooting the lunar eclipse through San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, for a matter of seconds I decided to try to silhouette a vehicle against the setting, partially-eclipsed moon. A large delivery truck fit the bill nicely. I was shooting at 400mm, so I had to anticipate the movement of the vehicle enough ahead of time to leave mirror lock-up on!
Early Morning Delivery 
Note the rough edge to the moon. At this high degree of telephoto, on the moon in the lower couple of degrees of elevation when our view of it is through a lot of turbulent air, the view of the moon is visibly distorted. No doubt there will be many faked shots from this eclipse as usual, and a recent article on FStoppers discusses some of the ways you can spot them. So to summarize, anticipating an interesting place to capture the mono alongside earth-bound features using apps like PhotoPills and The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) enables the capture of many compositions beyond "Just another lunar eclipse shot"... not that there's anything wrong with that! So once the eclipse is "in the can" (like a reel of exposed movie film), what next? Think of something to shoot while you're in the are, or on your way home! A quick detour to the California Coast, the Mendocino area in this case, fit the bill nicely. After the Eclipse Astronomical events aren't just opportunities for astrophotography, they are a great excuse to get out. travel, and shoot!  The weather can be surprisingly warm along the California Coast in the winter given the heat sink effect of the water and the lower winds compared to summer.  Temperatures in the high 50s by noon and walking down Main Street Mendocino, I had to take off and carry my jacket as I became too hot to wear it. Post-Eclipse Sunset

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Outdoor Photographer Magazine Iconic Locations Winner

Yosemite Morning Sun Rays

Thank you Outdoor Photographer Magazine for selecting my photo as the winning image for your Iconic Locations challenge!  See the write-up on their site for more information on how the image was created:

OP was kind enough to share the image on their Facebook page and Twitter timeline as well.
Here are some more images from that amazing sunrise during my photography workshop in early May:

Yosemite Light Rays on Valley Fog

Light Rays On Morning Fog

Yosemite Valley Morning Light

Rainbow in the Mist Moonbow Reflections 2017
Climber Lights on El Capitan

Morning Fog in Yosemite Valley

See my Web site for many more images from my 2017 photography workshops:

Half Dome Morning Reflection

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Watch the Moon Rise at Sunset Tonight, October 4, 2017

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve: Super Moon Rise

The moon will rise shortly before sunset tonight, providing a perfect opportunity to photograph the moon near the horizon at sunset.  Here are 38 degrees north it'll rise about 15 minutes before sunset, and be about 1.6 degrees high, or three moon widths, above a zero-degree horizon at sunset.

Mono Lake Moonrise (Re-edit) 

About ten minutes later as you may start to see the earth's shadow rise above the horizon, its blue color contrasting against the adjacent pink-orange last light of the sun in the "belt of Venus" effect, the moon will be about 3.5 degrees high, seven moon widths.

Super Moon Reflection

In apps such as The Photographer's Ephemeris and PhotoPills you can fine tune the times and moon direction and elevation for any shooting spot you might want to plan for.  Plan well enough, and you can anticipate compositions that place the moon reflecting in lakes, or beside or just over natural or man-made landmarks.

Moon Rise Behind Half Dome

Similar opportunities present themselves on the opposite horizon with the moon set at sunrise, so look at your favorite astrophotography app and start planning! You can combine opportunities, such as catching a moon coming out of eclipse, as it sets behind a nearby ridge.

Partially Eclipsed Moon Setting, October 8, 2014

Or place the moon on a man-made structure like the tip of the Transamerica building in San Francisco.  I started shooting this sequence of images about 15 minutes ahead of time to show how the placement of the moon can be accurately planned in advance, and rendering the images as a time-lapse video lets you see the entire sequence:

Plan to Shoot the April 14/15 2014 Lunar Eclipse: Example Landing on the Transamerica Pyramid
As calculated, the moon ends up centered on the tip of the pyramid!
For a discussion of advanced considerations, read the article, "I've planned my supermoon eclipse shot: what could possibly go wrong?"

For a bonus on the tomorrow morning, I see in my SkyWeek+ app that the planets Venus and Mars will be within 1/4 degree of each other before dawn on October 5.  The StarWalk+ app shows me that they will be rising by about 5:10 am roughly due east.  Photograph them on and close to the horizon, then conditions should continue to improve improve by around 6 am as they're rising out of the thicker air and haze close to the horizon.  At that point they are still low enough to be captured in landscape shots as the oncoming twilight increasingly illuminates the landscape.  The sun rises close to 7 am, so they may fade as the sky brightens, and Mars in particular may be long gone by 6:30 am.

Venus Jupiter Moon Conjunction

You never know what you might come up with.  A while back I shot the moon with Jupiter and Venus rising nearby, and my photo was used in an article by astronomer Don Olson of the University of Texas, in an article in the August issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine!

I haven't looked up the phase that Venus is in, but if you have a strong enough lens, youc an see that it's illuminated in a crescent phase.

Multi-Colored UFO?

The first step is to anticipate and plan for some great opportunities with the moon and/or planets. Then get out there and shoot! Tonight at sunset and tomorrow before dawn offer you a couple of good ones to start with. You never know what you might discover!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Slinkard Fire Time-lapse at Topaz Lake, August 31

Time-lapse video of the Slinkard Fire as it burned downhill towards US-395 and the Best Western Motel at Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border last night, August 31.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park to Open Thursday, June 29, 2017

Milky Way as seen from Tioga Pass Road at 10:32 pm, June 21, 2017.

Yosemite News Release
June 27, 2017 4:00 pm
For Immediate Release

Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park Open to All Vehicular Traffic Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tioga Road will open for Bicycle and Pedestrian Use on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park (Highway 120 through the park) will open for the season to all vehicular traffic beginning at 8:00 am on Thursday, June 29, 2017. There will be limited visitor services available from the Tioga Pass Entrance Station to Crane Flat. Tioga Road will open for bicycle and pedestrian users at 8:00 am Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

All visitors on the road are encouraged to use caution as there may be dirt, debris, and water flowing over sections of the road. Visitors are encouraged to keep an eye out for maintenance vehicles working on the roadway.

There will be minimal services available along the Tioga Road for several weeks. There will be no drinking water. Visitors should use the vault and portable toilets located along the roadway to help protect water quality in the Tuolumne River watershed. Food service and lodging are not available along the Tioga Road. There is no mobile phone service at this time and 911 emergency calls will not be operational. There are no gasoline services available along Tioga Road. Visitors can purchase gasoline in Lee Vining and at Crane Flat.
For maps and visitor information, visit the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, the Big Oak Flat Information Station, the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center in Lee Vining.
Tamarack Flat Campground is the only campground that is currently open along Tioga Road. This campground is first-come, first served and fills early in the day.   

Anyone planning to hike or backpack near Tuolumne Meadows and in all high elevation areas of Yosemite should be prepared for winter hiking and camping conditions. Trails are still impacted by snow and ice. River crossings are high and swift moving. There are several high water areas currently impacting the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the John Muir Trail (JMT) in Yosemite National Park. Trail conditions may vary at any time.

When driving in the park, motorists are urged to drive slowly as bears and other animals are active and may be present on the roadway.
For updated 24-hour road and weather conditions for Yosemite National Park, please call 209-372-0200 and press 1.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mono County Tourism Scores Magazine Cover at 2015 Cannes Film Festival!

When the Mono County Economic Development, Tourism, and Film Commission wanted to put its best foot forward with a publisher designing a magazine for global film location scouts, they turned to Eastern Sierra photographer Jeff Sullivan.  A landscape photographer and guidebook author living at Topaz Lake, Jeff has led dozens of photography workshops for night photography at the local ghost town of Bodie, as well as landscape photography workshops in the broader Eastern Sierra region of California, especially in the Mono Lake to Tioga Pass to Mammoth Lakes area of Mono County.  

The publisher, Boutique Editions, liked forwarded samples of Jeff's work so much, they selected the Bodie image above for the cover of Location International 2015!  The magazine is launched each year at the Festival de Cannes in May.  The publicity enjoyed by Mono County continued from there:
"The magazine is distributed to 15,000 movie professionals worldwide, and is also available at Locations Trade Show in LA; Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity; Berlinale; MIPTV and MIPCOM; Sundance Film Festival, Utah and at AFM in Los Angeles." 

It's Here!
Producing stunning photos of locations is nothing new to Jeff.  He wrote a 320-page guidebook to the best photography locations in California from Mono County and Yosemite to San Diego: "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".  Locations, and great photos of them, are exactly what he focuses on.  Using the proceeds from the sale of this book to fund the creation of in-depth regional guides, he's on a mission to help you discover "the best of the West"!

The popularity of photo sharing and social media sites in recent years had given him excellent opportunities to showcase his work.  Participating on Flickr since 2006, he is one of the most-followed photographers on this site popular with serious photographers, with over 45,000 contacts and an average of about 10,000 views per day.

Posting his images on the new Google+ social media site in 2011 as he worked on his guidebook earned him a Top 100 ranking on the site in the site's first two years, amassing nearly 2 million contacts.  At least one of the common beliefs about social media post success id true: competent photos really do give social media posts a huge boost!  This helped Jeff succeed with his photography workshop business, since a post's reception on Google+ has been determined by Internet marketing consultants to be the #1 factor in helping a site achieving favorable placement in Google searches.*
* It's puzzling that many organizations invest in maintaining social media activity, but don't pay more attention to the quality of the photography in their posts!  That's like entering an auto race at Laguna Seca Racetrack in a Honda Accord.  Unless you drive a track-ready Porsche, your family car has no business running with race cars.  Similarly, investing in online marketing activity but using consumer-quality photography will cause your investment in marketing on the Internet to under-perform against the competition as well.  If you're going to compete with the best in the world at anything, including getting your social media posts noticed with the lowest possible investment of time, put your best foot forward and don't skimp on high quality, eye-catching images! 
Mono County and Boutique Editions weren't the only organizations noticing Jeff's work in 2015.  A travel company in the U.K. noticed his work and named him a "Top 100 Travel Photographer in the World 2015".   Upon his book release in late 2015 he took a celebration lap of the Western U.S. and Canada, and one of his photos from Yellowstone National Park won an Outdoor Photographer Magazine "iPhone and Instagram" contest.

To see Jeff's work from 2015, both new images and reworked images from past years, see his blog: "Top 10 Favorite Travel and Landscape Images From 2015".

Snowy Fall Aspen
Late Fall Colors on Conway Summit

Shaft of Water and Light
Sunset Rainbow at Topaz Lake
Rainbow over Standard Mill
Rainbow Over Bodie's Standard Mill

Award-winning landscape photographer and astrophotographer Jeff Sullivan has been exploring the American West for four decades.  Honing his DSLR photography since he took a 35mm darkroom photography class in eighth grade, Jeff started his freelance photography business in 2006.  He has led dozens of photography workshops in Yosemite, Death Valley, the Eastern Sierra and the historic Wild West ghost town of Bodie, California.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar National Historic Site, California

Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar
On February 19, 1942, seventy-five years ago today, the President of the United States authorized our government to incarcerate Americans. More than 110,000 American citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry were forced to give up their homes, businesses, and ways of life. 

This chapter of American history is included in history and civics education in California, but it doesn't seem to be common knowledge nationwide.

Ansel Adams photographed in and around Manzanar while it was in use.  My 2006 photo to the right was taken near where he captured his photo "Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar".

I included Manzanar on page 90 of in my 320-page photographers' guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

Manzanar Internment Camp

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Bodie Researched for Alton Towers Theme Park

This was a fun video to shoot. U.K. theme park Alton Towers decided to research an authentic mining town for an attraction they're opening this week. We spent one day up in Bodie capturing video, time-lapse footage, stills, interviews and sounds, and this was the result.

 I'd like to thank the California Film Commission for the quick turnaround on our film permit, Bodie State Historic Park / +California State Parks for supporting the research and production, and +Lori Hibbett for producing sunrise and night time-lapse footage of Bodie's iconic car on the shoot.

The day before the Alton Towers shoot in Bodie it was snowing on us 
For more information on accessing the historic buildings and town of Bodie, California, for photography or filming, contact Jeff Sullivan Photography, www,

Jeff also teaches night photography workshops in Bodie, and night and landscape photography workshops in Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Eastern Sierra.  His 2017 schedule will be released shortly.

This photo of Bodie by Jeff was featured on the cover of Locations International 2015, a directory of locations for film location scouts that was distributed at the Cannes Film Festival.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Where to Shoot Yosemite's Horsetail Fall

A happy Valentine's Day: February 14, 2017, Yosemite National Park
Horsetail Fall on Monday Night
Two flows in 2016!
Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley is backlit by the setting sun for roughly two weeks each year. As the sun falls behind the vertical face of El Capitan, it selectively lights this waterfall with its orange sunset glow.

This is an amazing spectacle to witness. Lasting only about 15 minutes before the sun goes down, the lighting gradually grows in intensity and color for the last 5 minutes or so. It is often like seeing a narrow strip of lava flowing down the face of El Capitan.

The weather and the water flows often don't cooperate.  You need enough snow above El Capitan, high enough temperatures up there for some of that snow to melt, and you need clear skies where the sun sets on the western horizon.  I was shut out by back to back blizzards in 2007, so I was fortunate to see this on two consecutive evenings from two different angles in 2008, and several times since then.

Different Take on Horsetail Fall
Nearly no water in 2012, it still looked great!
Sometimes there is little water flowing down the rock, but from a position to the south, the selective light on the wet spot makes it look like the waterfall is there anyway!

Other times, if there's clearly too much cloud cover or valley mist to allow light through, heading somewhere else for a more traditional landscape shot may be the ticket for that evening.  You have to first anticipate where the best light will be, before you can be in the right place to react to the light as it develops.

Horsetail Fall February 15, 2017In 2017 I experienced a new variation: there was little direct light on the waterfall at sunrise, but there was intense sunset color on the horizon a few minutes later, and while the main flow of water didn't pick that up with any particular intensity, the surrounding wet spots on the rock reflected it beautifully.

Unfortunately most photographers seemed to have been waiting only for the direct light of the sun, so there was a pulse of traffic as they drove away, probably not seeing the sunset light that developed after the official sunset time.  Folks, that's how sunsets usually work!  The best color is minutes AFTER the theoretical (zero degree horizon) sunset time. So stick around for at least 10 minutes "after sunset", or even 15 or 20, just to be sure that you don't miss that night's color, whatever it may be.

Natural Firefall (266,301 views on Flickr so far!)
February 28, 2008
1) Along the bank of the Merced River near the turnout just East of the Cathedral Beach picnic area (which is closed for Winter). This location is described on page 24 of my 320-page guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

This angle provides the composition that compresses the complete length of Horsetail Fall against the rock of El Capitan.  You can zoom in for a composition with no sky, or use a wider focal length to include the profile of El Capitan.  This seems to be the most crowded location in recent years, as photographers pack together to shoot through an opening in the trees.

This is arguably a more complete view of Horsetail Fall, showing a longer stretch of its descent, making it look longer and skinnier.  The view of more of the vertical drop makes the water flow look skinnier, and seeing it all from a longer distance makes it look more abstract and lava-like.

Horsetail Falls at Sunset2) In the vicinity of the Cathedral picnic area on Northside Road in the valley, 1/2 mile East of the El Capitan bridge. That North road is closed for maintenance, so it's a 1 mile walk each way from where the El Captan bridge road hits Southside Road. This location is also described in "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

This is more of a side view than the position on the south side of the Merced River, with the upper reaches of the waterfall against the sky.  By showing less of the vertical drop, the flow of the water looks wider, and you see more of the rock face relief in detail.

The more northern location is probably the more common and iconic shot you see, although I don't mean to imply that's better.  It's just another nice variation on a rare and amazing solar alignment event.

Winter Wonderland
No Horsetail, 2007.  So what?
The conditions required to make Horsetail Fall are unpredictable, so it's important not to rule out all trips that look iffy.  You're probably more likely to miss it than catch it, but it's important to remember that Yosemite is beautiful this time of year, and generally more so if there are passing storms!  So missing Horsetail Fall may be the best possible outcome for your trip.  You may catch far better photos, of far more unique conditions.

Plan on some dates, prepare yourself for the trip (carry chains), enjoy a winter trip to Yosemite, and consider Horsetail Fall to be possible icing on the cake!  And expect to enjoy return trips to Yosemite in the winter if you don't get the Horsetail Fall photo that you want on the first one.  Seriously, even when I lived in Sacramento, only 3 hours away, it was nearly impossible to predict when conditions would be great.

Life isn't a destination, it's the journey that occurs as you pursue your goals.  Enjoy and make the most out of every moment.

If you want a little help maximizing your odds of success and anticipating the light to be in the right place while you are in the park, I update my annual list of Yosemite photography workshops here.

Yosemite Falls Moonlit Night Reflection
Upper Yosemite Falls reflection on a moonlit night, February 15, 2017

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors Presentation October 8

I'll be presenting on Eastern Sierra Fall Colors this Saturday, October 8, 1 pm in the Mono Basin Visitor Center auditorium in Lee Vining. If you're in the area, drop by after lunch for some inspiration before you head back out!

I'll have copies of my guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South" on hand for signing, or if you already have one, bring it by and I'll sign it!

If you'd like to let me know that you might be coming, you can RSVP at the event page on Facebook:

If you can't make it to the event, the +Mono Lake Committee bookstore in Lee Vining has had the book in stock recently, and Whoa Nellie Deli as well.