Friday, December 31, 2010

Owens Valley Rainbows (Timelapse Video)

Rainbows I found in the Owens Valley on October 5, 2010 while scouting conditions for the Fall Colors workshop. The rainbows move across the landscape as the sun moves across the sky.

Best viewed in high definition over on Flickr!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last 36 Hours to Send Me PhotoBlogging Around The World!

Only 36 hours left in the voting for the Blog Your Way Around The World contest. I'd love to bring you more sights like this from around the world!

I'll place images from the trip on a site where you can order prints. Proceeeds from the sale of those prints will go towards charities and conservation organizations relevant to each of the areas visited.

I found the contest late, so every vote counts... tell your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc! It'll take a miracle, but who knows... maybe a church or two would mobilize their members to support the charitable nature of this quest?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Meteor and Milky Way over the Sierra Nevada

A single image from a several hour, 438 frame timelapse I'm working on, taken while backpacking last Summer.

Flickr isn't accepting the HD video files I've been trying to upload this week. only lets me upload one high definition file per week (I don't have a revenue stream for video to justify upgrading to unlimited), so I'm not sure when I'll a high resolution copy available. In the meantime however, you can see Vimeo's severely downgraded preview:

Sierra Nevada Milky Way Timelapse from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

If this embedded player doesn't seem to play it well, try viewing it directly over on Vimeo: For low resolution previews that Vimeo downconverts from HD, I don't recommend full screen viewing.

It looks a lot better on my laptop of course, where it actually runs slower and you can see more details such as the meteor, a satellite, and so on, so I may slow down the frame rate on the next version of this that I create.

If you like my coverage of places and events, send me around the world to capture more images and timelapse videos for you to enjoy! Blog Your Way Around The World - The voting deadline is December 31.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse over Saguaro National Park

A massive storm was hammering the entire West Coast this lunar eclipse approached, so I decided to drive as far as I had to to get out from under the clouds. One 2000 mile round trip later, here's a timelapse video spanning several hours. During the total eclipse the moon turns very dim and red, coloring the clouds and the landscape below.

Update: The copy I uploaded here to Blogger was converted poorly to a low resolution copy, so I deleted it. For best results at the moment, watch a preview of my lunar eclipse timelapse video over on YouTube:

Here's one of my still images from the lunar eclipse, captured on an old Canon 40D:

Friday, December 24, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is... A New Life!

Outdoor/adventure photography is a challenging field. You're only as good as the depth of your portfolio and the compelling nature of your latest images. Those of you I've interacted with know that I don't ask for much... I prefer to contribute rather than ask, but this is important enough that I'm going to ask a huge personal favor. If you've enjoyed my images (or like what you see in my Flickr photostream and Favorites set if you've never seen my work before), please consider taking a moment to giving me the holiday gift of a vote... to send me on 8 adventure travel trips so I can build my portfolio as a travel/adventure photographer:

For many years I've admired adventure photographers such as Galen Rowell, and this is an excellent opportunity to follow in his footsteps. Winning this contest will be expensive (the winner must cover thousands of dollars in travel expenses), but such an opportunity could make my photography career, so it will be a worthwhile investment.

The site requires registration, but they won't spam you. Winning this contest could literally be a life-changing event for me. Thanks in advance for your consideration and support!

Happy Holidays!

Jeff Sullivan

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse Dec 20-21 2010

Here's one of my early shots from the lunar eclipse last night. I'm still in Tucson and have to drive 9-10 hours today, so I won't get around to working on the timelapse today.

On my primary camera, a Canon 5D Mark II, I shot a timelapse sequence of the eclipsing moon moving through the sky, as thin clouds moved overhead and the light turned red from the moon's darkened face.

I can't wait to see how the time-lapse turns out, but I have a LOT of driving to do first.

Update: Here's a first pass at the time-lapse video:

Total Lunar Eclipse Timelapse, December 2010 from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Phases of the December 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse

It's coming in only 2.5 hours! I finally arrived in Tucson, Arizona roughly 46 hours after I got on the road yesterday (I spent most of the first 16 hours crawling in 4WD on snowy Sierra Nevada roads to get my kids home, then all the way down to Bishop before the snow and chain controls ended).

Looks like it'll be partly cloudy here with thin, hazy clouds, but compared to California it'll be nice to be able to shoot at all.

A few quick notes on timing, lenses (field of view required to get a timelapse), and so on:

Dec 20/21...................Time...........Moon.........Moon
Eclipse Phase.................PST.........Azimuth.....Altitude
Partial Eclipse Begins:....10:33pm...SE....122.5........70.2
Total Eclipse Begins:......11:41pm.........174.3........77.9
Greatest Eclipse:..........12:16am.........209.4........76.4
Total Eclipse Ends:........12:53am...SW....233.7........71.4
Partial Eclipse Ends:.......2:01am....W....255.7........59.1
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:.....5:04am.........282.5........23.3

Best Sunrise Light Starts...6:28am.........292.8........7.6


Partial Eclipse, Field of View:.10:30-2am..133.2.......20 degrees
Use 16mm lens to follow, +8, -12 degree shallow arc moon path.

Total Eclipse Field of View:.11:41-12:53am..59.4.......-6.5
Use at least 20mm lens to follow flat-ish downward arc to moon's path.

Moonset in best pre-sunrise light:........6:28 - 6:58am........3.9........-5.2 200mm, downward diagonal
Sunrise to moonset (daylight):........6:58 - 7:13am........1.9........-2.4 600mm, small downward diagonal

The cameras I'll be shooting with simultaneously:

Canon 5D mark II:
24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 - Night landscapes with full moon in penumbral dim state
21mm (16-35 lens) - Entire total eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)

70-200mm - Moonset in best pre-sunrise light
70-200mm - Sunrise to moonset, "golden hour" daylight

Canon 40D:
70-200mm + 2X - Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
16mm = 105 deg. - Entire visible eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)

The lens equivalents noted are the minimum needed, and since I'll want to have the option to crop to a 16:9 HD video aspect ratio for a timelapse video, I'll actually shoot the wide shots wider to allow for a generous margin of error.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse Mon, Dec 20 (Last Chance 'Til 2014)!

I've been poring over maps, examining moon rise and set angles on Google Earth maps, calculating what lenses might cover various phases of the total lunar eclipse Monday night, and anxiously checking weather forecasts.

This will be the only total lunar eclipse until 2014, so to me it's worth an investment of time and effort to witness and to shoot. It might even be worth renting a lens for. Unfortunately, the entire West Coast looks out of the question due to weather, so I'm heading to Southern Arizona. I still have to cross the Sierra Nevada twice in the blizzard today, then I'll have a 15 hour drive to Arizona (maybe 20 hours total, if I'm lucky). On the plus side, capturing the lunar eclipse over a tall saguaro cactus could offer some stunning possibilities, not to mention sunrise and sunset.

If you're as crazy as I am and dying to get shots of the eclipse, I'd like to invite photographers to join me. I can save you days of research and I can help you line you some nice sunrise and sunset shots in addition to improving your chances of capturing nice eclipse photos and/or timelapse sequences. During an eclipse the exposure of the light coming off the moon changes dramatically, and it's helpful to have others nearby to compare exposure information with.

All I ask is that you have some night photography experience, a tripod and remote trigger (wireless or corded, even better if you have an intervalometer timer-trigger), and that you can work around your camera at night without letting any light leak forward into the shot. That last point is very, very important. It gets extremely dark during a total lunar eclipse, and a timelapse sequence of the entire event can be ruined by one stray flashlight or headlamp.

We'll set a time and place, meet around sunset, and shoot through dawn. Anyone heading back towards California after that is welcome to join me in searching for favorable light and weather over the following day or two (no guarantees that the weather will cooperate, which is why I'm not offering it as an official workshop add-on, but unsettled weather is the most dramatic visually, so I'm very excited about the forecast). Possibilities include Imperial Sand Dunse, Anza-Borrego State Park, the Salton Sea, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley (a huge range, but the National Weather Service will help narrow down the choices). The Grand Canyon isn't out of the question geography-wise, but it's currently directly in the path of the storm, so a low probability (and it's snowy and very cold).

If you need to check airline flight availability and cost, the closest airport will be Tucson. If you'd like to extend your trip, I can offer some suggestions if you'd like to shoot within a few hours of there for an additional day or two. The weather there is forecast to be a low of 46 degrees, 70s during the day.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you on your weather and your eclipse shots!

Early Results from the Geminid Meteor Trip

It may be days or weeks before I get enough time and an appropriately capable Internet connection to do my Geminid Meteor Shower trip justice, but I can direct you to a collection of the favorite images that I've run across so far:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Light Painting Photo Featured on Flickr's Blog

This light painting was featured on Flickr's blog along with several others to celebrate the best photos of 2010.  Welcome Flickr blog readers, and thank you Flickr!

This image was created on the Badwater salt flats in Death Valley National Park. I had a flashlight with three colors of LED light. During this single 30 second exposure I lit each color for close to 10 seconds while waving my arm around up and down (which traces a sphere, like a pumpkin).

The Badwater salt flats are particularly good for light painting, since there's minimal light pollution and the white surface reflects light well.

Death Valley offers a number of interesting landscapes for light painting... go explore!

Total Lunar Eclipse Coming Monday, Dec 20!

The full moon enters the earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse. The next one will occur December 20, 2010:

This eclipse will be well suited for viewing from North America, particularly the West Coast, with the darkest portion of the eclipse happening at 12:16am Pacific Standard Time.

I'm working out detailed shooting strategies for the following scenarios, so I can decide which ones to shoot and which lenses I'll need to capture each at maximum resolution:

- Moonrise in "golden hour" daylight before Sunset:
- Continued moonrise in best post-sunset light
- Night landscapes with full moon in penumbral dim state
- Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
- Entire visible eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)
- Entire total eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)
- Moonset in best pre-sunrise light
- Sunrise to moonset, "golden hour" daylight

I've spent a few hours figuring our rise/set and eclipse angles so I can select a general site, specific shooting positions where I can incorporate landscape elements into the shots. The moon will cover a tremendous amount of sky on that night, rising in the northeast and setting in the northwest. To shoot from moonrise to moonset he site will need to have shooting opportunities covering roughly 240 degrees, almost 3/4 of a full 360 degree circle.

I'll make the final decision on site later this week once I can see a 10 day weather forecast, but I'm leaning towards a Southern California desert location to reduce the odds of having interference from weather.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Put Sunset Full Moon Rise Dates on your Calendar

Moon rise during sunset at Mono Lake.  The blue color near the horizon is the shadow of the earth.
Mono Lake Sunset Dream, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan (
Most of the time the full moon is too bright for you to take a landscape photo and preserve detail on the moon. However, there's one situation where the moon can be bright, crisp and full, yet you can include it in a landscape photo: when it rises around sunset and when it sets around sunrise.

Each month the full moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, and generally speaking, its rise and set times change an hour or so for each day you get away from the full moon day. So to catch the full moon in the sky while it's still daylight, look at the sun and moon times for the day before the full moon. Consider landscape shots where you can shoot eastward towards the rising moon. You can even look up the exact moonrise angle on a satellite photo of the site you're considering on Google Earth using a program (free for your laptop/desktop PC, small fee for iPhone) called The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE), and plan exactly where to place your tripod so you'll get the moon lined up exactly how you want it vs. natural or man-made objects between you and the horizon.

Moon rise 6:59 pm (light blue line shows direction), shortly before 7:14 pm sun set (orange line shows direction).

To catch the full moon in a generally westward direction, the same process applies, but look one day after the full moon and check for the moon setting just before sunrise.

The sun moves quite a bit from summer to winter, so to go even further and select destinations when the lineups work best, you'll be able to note on +The Photographer's Ephemeris what the bearing (compass direction) is from your favorite viewpoints to landmarks in the distance, and you can plan on being there when the moon will be in exactly the right place.

All of the times and angles vary somewhat as you move across your region, so simply to give myself a ballpark idea of how the sunset moon rises work out for 2011, I picked Modesto more or less in the middle of California:

Times for Modesto, CA:
................ Sunset... Moonrise... Bearing
Dec 20... 5:13....... 4:23.......... 59.2
Jan 19... 5:12....... 5:26.......... 68.2
Feb 18... 6:48....... 6:41.......... 86.2
Mar 18... 7:12....... 6:26.......... 89.9
Apr 17... 7:40....... 7:43.......... 108.7
May16... 8:06....... 7:45.......... 116.6
Jun 15... 8:25....... 8:37.......... 119.6
Jul 14... 8:24....... 8:03.......... 115
Aug 13... 7:58....... 7:44.......... 101.5
Sep 12... 7:15....... 7:09.......... 85.5
Oct 11... 6:31....... 6:07.......... 76.1
Oct 12... 6:30....... 6:37.......... 71.2
Nov 10... 4:56....... 4:48.......... 64.7
Dec 9... 4:44....... 4:12.......... 61.4

Now I can plan where I'll be for each sunset moon rise, and look up the more accurate numbers for sunset and moon rise in those exact locations... and now you can too!

The same process can be used to place and shoot crescent moons, which are attractive because they also rise and set near sunset/sunrise, and the thinner crescent moon phases don't put reflect so much sunlight that they'll interfere with your night shots.

Examples of landscape shots including the sun and moon, some planned in advance using TPE, may be found in the Moon and Sun set on my Flickr photostream.

Maybe you won't be inclined to go to as much trouble as I do to plan your shots, but nevertheless, if you plan on getting out on these dates to shoot around sunset, you could have the added bonus of a full (and not overexposed) moon to include in the shot!

Geminid Meteor Shower Coming Dec 12-16, 2010!

I've dug up this old meteor shower timelapse to remind people of the Geminid Meteor Shower is coming December 13, 2010. The most dense showers tend to be visible after midnight as we rotate around to the front of the earth as it travels through space, so for a nice preview, try Sunday night Dec 12 after midnight (which technically will be Monday). The moon will set around 12:39am on the West Coast, further enhancing viewing conditions.

NASA tells us that the Geminid Meteor Shower will be the best of 2010, with the best viewing occurring on the night of December 13-14. I hope to be out shooting on the three nights beginning on December 12, 13, and 14.

This timelapse video above is from the Orionid Meteor Shower in October 2009. (Check a few posts back on my blog for details on how to produce a timelapse from a sequence of photos.) For best viewing you must go to Flickr to view this, select HD to view it in high resolution, and click the icon towards the lower right to view it full screen. Enjoy!

All in all that Orionid shower had a pretty disappointing showing of meteors. I woke up to go out the second night, but it was below freezing with 20 knot winds, so given the results on the first night I decided not to go sit out in the potentially sub-zero wind chill for an hour or two!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Photographing Big Waves? Check the Surf Forecast!

Off the Charts!, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

We've all seen nice images of waves crashing on the coast, and it's a pretty safe bet that you can find large waves after storms pass through coastal areas. But what you may not know is that models have been constructed to predict wave height in advance! Surfers and divers often consult these predictions, and photographers can use them as well.

Waves include wind-generated "windswell" which can come from winds or storms in multiple directions. Current prediction models such as NOAA's Wavewatch III wavemodel can forecast waves coming from up to six different directions simultaneously, all interacting to create the waves you see onsite.

Here's an example of a surf forecast for the Big Sur Coast:

Here's a map you can use to select other California coastal locations:

Based on the forecast, I'm going to make a point of pursuing large waves along the Big Sur this Thursday. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cut Light for Long Daylight Exposures

Garrapata Dawn light, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

We've all seen those nice one or two second exposures which make waterfalls look silky. Select your smallesta aperture, set your ISO sensitivity low, and perhaps add a circular polarizer to your lens to reduce light, and those exposures should be within range. But have you considered longer daylight exposures and similarly abstracting other moving subjects such as waves?

On a recent trip to California's Big Sur coast I was shooting long pre-dawn exposures and I decided to continue with long exposures for as long as I could. I started with my wide and midrange lenses closed to their smallest aperture f/22, I gradually reduced ISO sensitivity to Low (ISO 50) as the light increased, and I added a polarizing filter to cut light. As the sky lightened I added a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter to reduce light coming from the sky.

As the day continued to brighten I continued shooting but added a 3 stop neutral density filter and eventually I changed to a 70-200mm lens to further reduce aperture another stop to f/32. I had started with a Hoya Pro1 circular polarizer which only reduces light 1 1/4 stop, so I also used a darker polarizer which cut 2 stops of light. With the polarizer plus the ND and GND filters stacked I was cutting 8 stops of light in the sky and 5 elsewhere, on a camera shooting at f/32, ISO 50.

To continue in bright, direct sunlight you'll need to settle for shorter exposure times or go further to cut the light such as with a 10 stop ND filter. But a 10 stop filter is a pretty specialized tool that might not be on the top of your wish list, so in the meantime try shooting near dusk and dawn with your smallest aperture (most likely on your longest zoom lens), stacking the light-cutting filters you already have on hand.

A few things I should mention though... if you try long shots like this, it's critical to use a sturdy tripod, a remote shutter release or your camera's self timer, and don't forget to turn your camera's image stabilization off.

As always, click on any image to see a larger copy.