While in Kenya, we stayed at the Mara Plains camp in the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem. Being here was the highlight of our fantastic trip. The camp itself is amazing with incredibly well-engineered, attractive and comfortable tents. Our wildlife drives were naturally excellent. Dinners each evening under the stars were sublime, including one evening with a campfire roaring at the edge of the Maasai Mara. I had no proper astrophotography gear — neither my preferred lens, camera or tripod — to make this photograph, so I jury-rigged what I could to make a panorama. The stars are not well-blended but you get the idea — this was a wonderful place to sit by the fire and enjoy an African evening.
The first few times I photographed Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, most of my compositions were close to the arch. After editing the results of my last visit to the park I resolved to make more distant compositions, for variety’s sake and to put the arch into its surroundings. I got the chance last month. We spent an entire night at Delicate Arch, trying different compositions and light painting techniques, and this was one of my favorites from that effort. Cheers, and thanks for looking!
The Eyes of Utah? I think these two images look like “eyes”, at least to my eyes they do. The first one sort of looks like a evil serpent’s eye, while the second resembles a whale’s eye. (If you have never seen a whale up close, you’ll just have to trust me on that one.) Both of these arches are in Utah and are depicted here framing the Milky Way galaxy (“our” galaxy). My buddy Garry and I spent a long weekend photographing the night sky around Moab, Utah recently and these were two of my favorite images from the effort. We had to time our photography for when the Milky Way would be in the best position, since it rotates through the sky during the course of the night and can be anywhere from SE early in the evening to SW toward dawn. In each case I lit the surrounding arch with a bit of light to give some relief to the rocks. If you like these, check out my updated gallery of Arches National Park images, or my collection of Landscape Astrophotography. Cheers and thanks for looking!
The lunar eclipse of April 14 and 15, 2014 was a wonderful event to see. I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to photograph it for two reasons. First, the weather forecast in the high desert was for clear skies and, for the most part, the skies were indeed were cloudless and very dark throughout the night. Second, I was fairly sure I could find several locations around the park to setup my cameras and let them record the entire lunar eclipse, from the moment the moon entered the umbra and began to be shadowed by the Earth until it was full lit again, including the dramatic blood red coloration when the moon is fully eclipsed. The moon was going to be due south of my position at the peak of the eclipse — I knew this thanks to The Photographer’s Ephemeris — so I selected a few locations that offered a nice composition facing due south and made my photographs. This image depicts the eclipse occurring in stages to the south of the White Tank campground area, with Joshua Tree’s interesting Arch Rock on the east side of the composition. (It follows the first full eclipse sequence I presented a week ago.)
Note: this image is both a panorama and a composite. The panorama spans over 180 degrees left to right, and is centered roughly SSE. I lit the arch with a remote-triggered tripod mounted flash to the right, hidden behind a rock. The panorama, depicting stars after astronomical twilight but before the full eclipse peaked, is composed of 8 frames. Planet Mars is the brightest “star” above the arc of moon stages and the blue star Spica can be seen just below and to the right of the eight moon image from the left. This image is a composite and the moon is a little larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself.
This is the first of my photographic efforts shooting the lunar eclipse the evening of April 14/15 2014. I spent the entire night out under the stars in Joshua Tree National Park, where I often shoot when looking for clear skies and stars at night. I photographed several compositions and locations within the park that evening, leaving my cameras out photographing unattended, but this is the one that caught my eye first. The rocks in the background are lit early in the evening by the rising moon when there is still some daylight blue left in the sky above, while the Joshua Tree itself is lit by my flashlight. There are some faint, short star trails in the blue sky but they are difficult to discern on this web version. The individual phases of the eclipse were photographed from 10:45pm through 2:45am, and are positioned in the proper locations and orientations in the sky but have been enlarged to illustrate how the illumination on the moon changes during the course of an eclipse and as it passes through the sky. I was fortunate that the sky remained clear enough throughout the entire eclipse that I could shoot quality images of all phases until the eclipse was done.
This image is available immediately as a print or for licensing, along with two other lunar eclipse sequence photographs from the April 14-15 2014 full eclipse. Please contact me for more information. Cheers and thanks for looking!
A few photographic notes and how I planned to take this image:
- I realized beforehand that this lunar eclipse would be characterized by a symmetry that made illustrating its path through the sky a natural. The “peak” of the eclipse, when the moon is furthest within the umbra (shadow) of the Earth, occurred almost due south of my location which meant it would also occur at the highest point along the path the moon took through the sky.
- The beginning and ending of the eclipse took place 67 degrees apart horizontally. To include the entire sequence in one image but without being wasteful of space at the left and right of the composition, I choose to use a focal length close to 20mm giving me a lateral field of view of 82 degrees. The inclination of the moon at the point of peak eclipse was 45 degrees above the horizon, which also worked well for a 20mm lens since it offers a vertical field of view of 62 degrees, enough to include some foreground below the horizon and space above the path of the moon. (I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris to figure the angles out as well as the due-south direction of the peak eclipse point.)
- In order to have the composition pre-set correctly hours before the eclipse began, I used a compass to make sure it was aimed directly south (thanks REI for showing me how to correct for magnetic declination in southern California, otherwise I would have been off by about 10 degrees!). Once I choose my spot in what I call “Queen’s Valley” in JTNP, an area dense with healthy, tall, picturesque Joshua Trees and interesting rocks, I then did a kind of human protractor thing with my arms to convince myself the moon’s path would go above the tree but below the top of my field of view. I locked the camera down on the tripod, waited for dusk and had a beer. I second guessed myself until the moon finally reached the left edge of the frame in what looked like a perfect position. The geometry worked out about right! (I could have done this image entirely without worrying about the angles, assembling things pell-mell later in Photoshop, but I really wanted to get as much of it correct in the camera as possible.)
- I used an intervalometer to cause the camera to take photos every few minutes. I did a little light painting as the night went on, but the base frame I liked the most occurred about 70 minutes after sunset, with the moon out of frame to the left. The moon illuminated the background rocks nicely and complimented the light painting I did on the tree.
Venus was often referred to as the “Morning Star” by ancient civilizations (and as the “Evening Star” as well). On this day, it was indeed the morning star, rising just moments before astronomical twilight began. This allowed us a very brief window of time, a few moments really, to make a balanced exposure including the Milky Way galaxy and a sky full of stars, the planet Venus, the onset of dawn’s blue sky, and a softly lit Arch Rock. Just a few minutes later and the impending dawn became bright enough to make the Milky Way unseeable This image required no compositing or local adjustments, just global contrast, shadow recovery and white balance. I managed to make a huge 180-degree panorama of this same scene just two days later, but an alignment such as this allowing me to compose Venus under the arch, with the Milky Way just above, right at the transition of astronomical twilight (with its accompanying deep blue sky) will not reoccur for quite some time and I will probably never have another opportunity to see it. Cheers, and thanks for looking.
I have photographed many natural arches, but Landscape Arch in Arches National Park was the most difficult. Landscape Arch is broad, with a span of over 300′ (99m), and it is seen at some distance. I visited this arch on two separate nights and waited both times until the skies cleared and the Milky Way (our galaxy) had rotated into the best alignment, before I made this photograph. I was alone here, as I was during all of my evening photographic efforts, accompanied only by the small animals in the surrounding bushes and the sounds of a slight breeze over the rocks.
Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, is considered to be the longest natural arch in the world, having a span of 290 feet (89m) . Landscape Arch is gradually falling apart, with at least three sections of the arch known to have fallen since 1991. I set out to photograph this amazing arch under the star-filled Utah sky and it turned out to be one of the most technically challenging nightscapes (nighttime landscape photos) I have made. Because the trail that formerly went under the arch is now closed (National Park lawyers know what is good for us better than we do), viewing of the arch is from several hundred feet away. That is a long distance to light at night. Furthermore, in order to use side lighting as a way of illustrating detail in the rock, I had to use remotely controlled equipment since I was working alone. After two nights of experimentation, I managed to make four keeper images, of which this is my favorite. This image was shot with the technically excellent combination of Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon 14-24 lens so it is very sharp and clean while still freezing the glorious Milky Way galaxy (the galaxy in which we live) in the sky above the arch.
The Milky Way galaxy — our galaxy — arcs through the night sky over “Arch Rock” in Joshua Tree National Park. I have photographed this arch at night many times over the past several years in order to practice my light painting technique and experiment with various lenses and methods for producing high resolution stitched panoramas. These two images are a couple of my favorites. The first is the result of a single exposure, while the second is a Mercator projection of a panorama composed of 12 source images. Garry McCarthy, a shooting partner and friend of mine, originally conceived this composition — the Milky Way positioned in the night sky to echo with the shape of the arch itself — in 2010, and we have executed it many times since, always looking to improve on our results and try different lighting styles and approaches. Cheers and thanks for looking!
To my knowledge, this composition was original at the time we first shot it. In the intervening years I have fielded many emails from others wanting to know where it is and when to photograph it. We have always been alone while photographing the Milky Way over Arch Rock, but since it is now a draw not only for individual photographers but also for workshop groups, it is increasingly unlikely that one will experience solitude at this arch. It is not a large location and one or two photographers are about all that it can accommodate effectively.
Milky Way over Sky Rock, Volcanic Tablelands, Bishop, California. In spite of having made this image several years ago, I’ve never shared any images from that evening’s photographic efforts. I have made many visits to the Volcanic Tablelands, at all times of day, to explore the rocks, admire the vistas over the Owens River, and photograph one of the finest petroglyph panels in the world. In this composition, I waited for a specific date when the Milky Way could be effectively photographed above the petroglyphs with Mount Tom and the Sierra Nevada range aligned in the distance. It was a very cold evening, I wore all the clothes I had on hand, but after several hours of trying different compositions I managed several images I am very happy with. Sky Rock is a magical place at night, with ancient light emanating from stars many hundreds and thousands of light years away cascading down upon these special, old and impressive engravings. It is just the type of place I enjoy photographing at night, with no other people around, no photo workshop groups, no RVs, no automobile sounds — nothing. Solitude. I have also photographed these petroglyphs under a full moon as well as under pastel dawn skies, as well as a massive panorama of this location that I will be sharing soon. Cheers and thanks for looking!
In this single image (not a composite), made with a special combination of low-light camera and extremely fast lens to best capture the details and colors of the gas areas of the Milky Way, our galaxy rises in the night sky over Mount Rainier. A few specks of light can be seen on the mountain itself — these are the lights of climbers who are ascending the mountain. A few months earlier or later and this composition, with the Milky Way aligned directly above the extinct volcano, would not have been possible. I was fortunate with weather, having tried to make this image several nights only to be shut out by heavy cloud cover even at the high altitude setting of Sunrise. On my last evening of the trip, I was lucky to have clear skies and spent most of the night, alone in a meadow with the sounds of small animal flitting about, photographing the stars as they wheeled in the sky over the Mount Rainier.
Delicate Arch at Night, Milky Way and Shooting Star, Arches National Park, Utah
This is spectacular Delicate Arch, the most iconic and popular of the arches in Arches National Park in Utah. I worked hard to produce a strong series of Landscape Astrophotography photos in 2012 — and this image is one of my favorites. It combines Delicate Arch, the Milky Way galaxy, just a tad of blue in the sky from the sunset earlier, and a shooting star crossing the sky directly above Delicate Arch. That last element was sheer luck of course, but luck favors the prepared and I was certainly prepared on this evening, shooting three cameras aided by special lights and remote triggers for my camera. Cheers and thanks for looking!
In the time since I did most of my astrophotography shooting in Arches National Park, I have seen an explosion of similar images, particularly stemming from many “workshops” being held in the park. I was alone when I shot this, and all my other images, in Arches National Park. I have a feeling that won’t be the case next time I am there. This is what solitude in the evening next to the world’s most iconic looks like: Self Portrait photographing Delicate Arch and the Milky Way at Night.
I spent two evenings at Glacier Point during the peak of the 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower, hoping to capture my first photographs of meteors. I have a few landscape astrophotography images that have chance meteors recorded in them, but this was to be my first attempt at photographing meteors as the principal subject. Conditions were nearly ideal. There were virtually no clouds on either night, little wind, and the air was dry and clear, perfect for astrophotography. This image is the result of those efforts, showing the Milky Way galaxy, about 16 meteors, Half Dome and Tenaya Valley and some of the Yosemite High Country in the distance, and the amphitheater at Glacier Point with a few people (and lights) enjoying the evening’s show.
As you might imagine, this image is a composite. The Milky Way was aligned above Half Dome in just this way during the mid-evening. Note that the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen as a oval blurry object just above and to the left of Half Dome and to the right of the Milky Way, and the Pleides star cluster is seen at the lower right of the sky, just above the horizon. The individual meteorites, however, came from separate images taken over the course of 12 hours of continuous photography. I selected the best exposed and brightest of the meteorites that I photographed, rotated them about Polaris (the North Star) as necessary to account for the fact that the night sky “rotates” above us all night long, and composited them with the baseline image of Half Dome and the Milky Way. A little green “air glow” is seen near the horizon, and some distant smog or haze is also seen as a brown horizontal layer just above the horizon in the distance.
The Perseid Meteor shower, which is considered to have the brightest meteors of all annual meteor showers, is named for the constellation Perseus from which they appear to emanate. Note that most of the meteors in this image appear to radiate from the lower portion of the Milky Way in this photograph — that’s where the constellation Perseus lies.
- Cameras: Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, Nikon D800e
- Lenses: Nikon 14-24 at 14mm, Nikon 24-70, Canon 16-35 at 16mm
- Meteor exposure: ISO 6400, f/2.8, 30 seconds
- Shooting continuous from 9:30pm to 5am the evening of August 10/11, and 11pm to 3:30am the evening of August 11/12
- Obtained approx 2050 exposures. 93 meteorites were captured. 16 were deemed good enough to contribute to the final image.
August 11-12 was near peak viewing for the 2013 Perseid meteor shower, and many people including myself were viewing the show from Yosemite’s Glacier Point all evening long. However, because the moon was nearly new and it was late summer, I knew there was an opportunity to see the faint, remarkable Zodiacal Light the following morning. My plan was to let my cameras run all night capturing Perseid meteors until about 90 minutes before sunrise, when I would reset them to photograph the (hoped for) Zodiacal Light. I managed to get a couple nice images of Zodiacal Light, better than my one previous attempt!
Zodiacal Light arises from sunlight that reflects off a disk of space dust that orbits our inner solar system. Zodiacal Light is purely a solar system phenomenon (relatively local to our planet) and is not associated with stars that are observed alongside (behind) it. The aforementioned “space dust” is thought to arise primarily from asteroid and meteor collisions (Nesvorny and Jenniskens, 2010), and resides on the plane of the ecliptic. (The plane of the ecliptic is the plane in which planets orbit around our Sun.) While aligned with the plane of the ecliptic, this dust cloud is not thin. Because it extends outward from the sun to the vicinity of Jupiter (with its strong gravitational field), the dust cloud is disturbed in such a way to give it a thickness, explaining the width of the Zodiacal Light that we observe. The Poynting-Robertson effect causes this space dust to slowly spiral inward toward the sun (where it is consumed), so a constant supply of new dust from colliding comets and asteroids is required to maintain the dust cloud. Sunlight reflecting off this dust can be seen in our night sky when there is little or no competing moonlight and/or light pollution from nearby cities. Zodiacal Light appears as a faint pyramid or triangle glowing on the horizon, with the apex of the pyramid tilted in line with the path of the Sun and the plane of the ecliptic. In these photos, planet Jupiter (which lies in the same plane of the ecliptic as our Eath and follows the Sun’s path through the sky) is clearly seen as the brightest object within the triangle of Zodiacal Light. This view is roughly northeast, looking past Half Dome from Glacier Point with the Yosemite High Country in the distance and Little Yosemite Valley at bottom middle.
The faint northern arm of the Milky Way is also discerned in these photos, crossing from upper left to lower right.
I spent some time this summer photographing Zion National Park at night, enjoying the warm (but not hot) evening temperatures, the relative quiet (compared to the crowds of the daytime) and clear skies. The following composition has become notoriously commonplace and iconic, with photographers and workshops lining up at this location at sunset to capture a postcard-perfect view. We instead elected to photograph it at night, using a little bit of light to illuminate the foreground and allowing starlight and the glow of the town of Springdale to bring the Watchman into view. Cheers, and thanks for looking! (See also another photo of the Milky Way over the Watchman.)
After making the long drive to Natural Bridges National Monument, we arrived in time to enjoy a colorful sunset and eat some dinner while waiting for the sky to become dark enough for us to begin our photography. The weather was quite warm and still, and small bats were flitting about capturing insects. The goal of our visit was to depict enormous Owachomo Bridge beneath a sky full of stars, including the broad swath of the Milky Way galaxy. Unlike many of the natural arches I have photographed at night, Owachomo Bridge is a natural bridge, having been formed by different geologic forces than what creates natural arches. Owachomo Bridge is 106′ high with a span 180′ wide. This photograph is actually a self-portrait, as I can be seen at lower left illuminating the arch while my camera is positioned about 100′ away taking the photograph. Cheers, and thanks for looking!
This is the best image I made during a May trip through the White Mountains and Tioga Pass. I set out to find new, photogenic ancient bristlecone pine trees, something other than the two iconic brutes along the Discovery Trail near Schulman Grove and the oft-photographed leaner near the Patriarch Grove parking lot. I found some really nice ones, and spent the last light of the day photographing them, returning again after dinner to photograph them under the moonlight and stars. This is the panoramic image I wanted to create on this trip, depicting a stately old bristlecone, somewhat alone on the dolomite-white slopes of the White Mountains but with its brethren in the background of the composition, with a view along the crest of the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada in the distance. It is humbling to know that his tree owned such an expansive view for centuries, watching storms peel off the distant Sierra Nevada, pass over the Owens Valley far below and crash against its rooted home in the White Mountains, the bitter winds blowing the tree eastward and sculpting it into its now-gnarled form. This panorama is actually an enormous image which, at full resolution, will print up to 4′ high by 11′ long. Please contact me for licensing, printing and any use of this image. Cheers and thanks for looking!
The Watchman is one of the iconic landmarks in Zion National Park, such that throngs of photographers line the bridge each fall at sunset to photograph the Watchman with the Virgin River and autumn trees in front of it. We elected for a much different image, one with the Milky Way soaring over the Watchman at night. We imaged the peak from a variety of locations, moving as the Milky Way crossed through the sky in order to keep the composition balanced. In this case I elected for a time exposure too long to freeze the stars but shorter than a typical star trail, and was pleased with the result. The Milky Way is still recognizable while the streaking stars add some movement to the image. I used the same technique on another composition several hundred miles away, which I will post in the coming days. Cheers, and thanks for looking! (See also a photo of the Milky Way over the Virgin River and the Watchman.)
Ancient Bristlecone pine trees (Pinus longaeva) live in a relatively restricted area of eastern California, Nevada and Utah, typically at altitudes above 9500′. The ancient bristlecone pine tree is considered to be the world’s oldest species of tree (and indeed the world’s oldest sexually reproducing, nonclonal lifeform). A number of individual bristlecone pine trees are known to exceed 4000 years of age; the “Methuselah tree” in the Schulman grove was estimated to be 4838 years old in 2006. These extraordinarily hardy, gnarled and lonely trees are best seen in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest in California. The photograph below, along with some of my gallery of bristlecone pine tree photos, was taken on a clear night in the White Mountains with stars filling the sky above — a moving and serene experience indeed.
Ancient bristlecone pine trees live at extremely high altitudes. In some regions, the lower treeline for bristlecone pines exceeds the upper treeline for all other species. Bristlecone forests often occur in areas where there is a strong carbonate content (limestone, dolomite and/or marble). In these barren, remote mountain areas, exposure to constant wind, excessive sun and bitter cold has molded the trees into remarkably gnarled, twisted shapes that have captured the interest of photographers and artists for years.
The trees do not grow tall — 60′ is about the tallest — but tend to be girthy with a wide base and roots that splay outward in all directions. Ancient bristlecone pine trees grow very slowly, and pine needles are infrequently dropped with some living for 30 years. Pinus longaeva has evolved a few strategies that yield such a long lifespan. Their wood is extraordinarily dense, and full of resin, making it nearly impossible for invasive bacteria and insects (what few there are in that inhospitable climate) to bore into and damage the wood. Bristlecone pines also tolerate a gradual dieback of their bark, in such a way that old specimens may have only a small amount of living bark. While the tree may appear dead or nearly so, this is actually an advantage as it lessens the bulk of living material the root system and crown must support. In some old trees, a thin strip of bark a foot or less in size is enough to support a healthy specimen.
Ancient bristlecone wood is so resistant to decay, and occurs in such an arid and cold environment, that fallen pieces dating back 8000+ years have been found in some groves. These pieces have been used in the calibration of the radiocarbon time-dating method, a technique which is employed in a broad range of scientific disciplines.
Please see my gallery of ancient bristlecone pine tree photos. Thanks for looking!
Mono Lake sees a crush of photographers at dawn and dusk, but in the middle of the night I expected to be alone here and indeed I was. I was really just scouting the tufas along the lake to find some good ones to photograph later in the summer, but made a few exposures while I was there and was happy with what my camera was able to record. This image depicts the northern arm of the Milky Way, the dimmer section opposite from the much brighter galactic center. Some green air glow can be seen as well, along with some distant air pollution along the horizon. Cheers and thanks for looking!
The Milky Way and Stars at Night over the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The Fire Wave in Valley of Fire: an interesting striped expanse of sandstone, now commonly photographed. I wanted to make some uncommon images of the Fire Wave, so I set up my camera with an intervalometer to photograph it all night long. This image shows the Milky Way rising over the horizon with the Fire Wave in the foreground. Distant lights of Las Vegas and nearby urban communities can be seen but the sky above was surprising clear of light pollution. The Valley of Fire sure is a beautiful place! Cheers and thanks for looking!