Archive for the ‘night photography’ Category

Single-image Sunday: Night Again   6 comments

The Milky Way rises over Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park, Nevada.

The Milky Way rises over Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park, Nevada.

If you’ve been following this blog for quite awhile you know I used to post some night-time starscapes.  Not as many as some photogs., but some.  Over the past couple years I can count on one hand the night shots I’ve done.  Shooting  the Milky Way in particular has not interested me in the slightest.

I still love watching the stars, and very much miss my telescope (which I had to sell).  But to stay up into the wee hours shooting requires real motivation and interest, and it just has not been there for me in recent times.  I mostly blame it on the fact that too many other people shoot the stars.  The Milky Way especially has been done to death, appearing over every conceivable foreground subject.  It’s called astrophotography now, which is in my opinion a misnomer.

Real astrophotography; that is, deep field images of cosmological objects like nebulae, clusters and the like, is a completely different sort of photography than the wide-angle shots you see so much of these days, the ones that include the landscape below.  I dabbled in real astrophotography some years back.  But after quickly realizing that getting quality images requires very expensive equipment, I decided to stick with simple observation through my telescope.

I’m not criticizing wide-field night photography at all.  I usually call the resulting images starscapes (or nightscapes).  They’re perfectly valid and often very beautiful when done right.  It’s just not astrophotography.  While the subjects for the two overlap, astrophotography is a separate genre that uses radically different focal lengths along with different equipment and techniques.

This image represents the first time in a long while that I’ve put forth the effort to capture a starscape.   For the methods I used, see the addendum below.  The skies of Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada are very dark and clear.  It was my first time to this park, and the warm temperatures combined with clear weather made it an opportunity too good to pass up.

I hiked up into the high alpine area of the park, to an amazing grove of ancient bristlecone pines which sit at the base of 13,159-foot Wheeler Peak.  These are the oldest living trees on Earth.   They can grow to more than 5000 years of age!  My idea was to capture one or several bristlecone pines as foreground, but I ended up liking the simpler compositions of mountain and stars better.  I rolled out a sleeping bag and slept out there in the bristlecones for a couple nights in a row.  I hadn’t slept under the stars for a long time, so that part was at least as much fun as the photography.

ADDENDUM

To make the image above I used my tracking mount to follow the stars.  This is a compact unit that mounts onto the tripod and allows your camera to follow the apparent motion of the stars, lengthening exposure time while keeping things sharp.  First off I exposed for the sky: three shots in a vertical panorama, shutter time a bit over a minute each (set on bulb).

I needed to do the panorama because I was using my 50 mm. Zeiss lens.  It’s sharp and allows an aperture as wide as f/1.4, but it really isn’t wide enough for the Milky Way.  I then turned tracking off and took a separate exposure of the partly moonlit landscape for about the same time.

In Photoshop I combined the two in a composite image that represents pretty much what I observed.  Some starscape composites represent combined dusk (or even daytime) foreground subjects plus a night sky captured hours later.  I’ve done those too but I prefer my images to represent a single moment in time.  In order to give the image a little more “punch”, after the sky and land were combined I raised raise contrast and clarity.  It’s because the moon, though a crescent, was washing out the sky to a degree.

My goal in photography is almost always to capture the reality of being there.  But pictures are two-dimensional and usually rather small.  That’s why I often edit for more punch or impact (not always, many times I go for a softer feel).  It’s to give some idea of what it is like to sit out there in the silence among the gnarled bristlecones, perched on a big boulder of quartzite peering up at the dome of an enormous night sky, with the sheer glacier-carved wall of Wheeler Peak above me and the Milky Way standing on end behind it.

Have a great week ahead and happy shooting!

Weekly Photo Talk: Reflections   25 comments

Mount Rainier, Washington is reflected in the blue waters of Bench Lake.

Mount Rainier, Washington is reflected in the blue waters of Bench Lake.

This post dovetails with the weekly photo challenge – Reflections.  I’ll be brief and to the point.  Here are some things to keep in mind when photographing reflections.  By the way, all of the images here are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you are interested in one, just click on it to go to the gallery part of my website.  If you have any questions or special requests, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

One of my favorite night images, the moon and Jupiter times two in Mt. Rainier's Reflection Lake.  Please click on image if interested in it.

One of my favorite night images, the moon and Jupiter times two in Mt. Rainier’s Reflection Lake. Please click on image if interested in it.

      • Seek out reflections, especially when the light is nice.  Don’t worry about being cliche or boring.  Reflections multiply a beautiful sky or other nicely lighted subject.  They add zing to any photo.  They also help to control contrasts, evening out the light and making exposure easier.
This scene had subtle, rather dim but beautiful light, and Lake Crescent (Olympic Peninsula, Washington) reflecting that light made the shot.

Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.  Light was subtle, rather dim but beautiful, and the reflection multiplied that light and made the shot.

      • Reflections can close shapes or complete patterns.  Just look at the image below and imagine how the shadow and mountain would look without the reflection.  They would make half a shape.
Appropriately named Blue Lake near Mt. Rainier, Washington.

Appropriately named Blue Lake near Mt. Rainier, Washington.

      • As always, variety is the spice.  In order to avoid the same old look of upside down subjects, move in close, angle your camera down to take in only the reflection, work the light and subject both.  Do abstracts and close-ups.  Try reflections off buildings and use bright rocks too.  For times when the reflection is disturbed by wind, view them as opportunities to get a different kind of shot.  Watch carefully what the light does as the wind blows.
These trees along the Columbia River are flooded in spring's high flows, creating the opportunity for an abstract-like composition.

These trees along the Columbia River are flooded in spring’s high flows, creating the opportunity for an abstract-like composition.

      • When you have a fairly standard situation, like for example a reflection of a mountain off a lake, try exposing for the reflection.  Put your camera on manual and point the center of frame at the brightest part of the reflection (or if that is very bright just to the side of it).  Set the aperture you want and then adjust shutter speed to center your light meter reading.  Then move the camera to recompose and get the shot you want.  Shoot and then review the image on the LCD, paying attention to the histogram.  You want to make sure the histogram isn’t climbing up the right edge (overexposure) or way too far over to the left (underexposure).
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in a high alpine tarn.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in a high alpine tarn.

      • In general, reflections are a little dimmer than the light source.  Remember that when you’re using a graduated neutral density filter, whether in the field or on the computer later.  Using the example from the point above, keep the reflection from becoming brighter than the brightest areas of the sky.
Don't forget night-time reflections:  Milky Way over Mt. Adams, Washington.

Don’t forget night-time reflections: Milky Way over Mt. Adams, Washington.

      •  When the sun glints directly off the water, those often beautiful highlights are normally the same or very close to the brightness of the sun.  So if they are blown out, so that they make the histogram hit the right edge, don’t worry about it.  Just like you don’t worry about blowing out the sun, who cares if those details lack highlights?
A winter sunset from Timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon reflects from the snow.

A winter sunset from Timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon reflects from the snow.

      • When you are shooting reflections in windows or mirrors out on the street, pay special attention to everything in the frame.  Of course this is always a great idea, but it’s even more important with street shooting.  Now I know it’s very cool to be surprised later on the computer when you see something you hadn’t noticed at the time.  But in general you want to control what is appearing in your composition.  It pays to be very observant with reflections.

I hope you are blessed with great reflections on your upcoming photography forays.  In my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold.  I also hope your weekend is as beautiful as ours is in the Pacific Northwest.  The first weekend of spring, yippee!

This house and the Mendocino Coast (California) headland it sits on are reflected beautifully off wet sand.

This house and the Mendocino Coast (California) headland it sits on are reflected beautifully off wet sand.

Fall along the Animas River of New Mexico.

Fall along the Animas River of New Mexico.

A glorious sunset sky is reflected from the Columbia River in Oregon as a seal cruises by.

A glorious sunset sky is reflected from the Columbia River in Oregon as a seal cruises by.

Single-image Sunday: Book Cliffs in Deep Dusk   4 comments

This is an image I captured a few days ago during the very last light of the day, a day that had started with good light and ended with great light.  It is a longish exposure and so has a deep blue cast.  The view is typical for the desert southwest, a lonely dirt road heading off to who knows where.  The background is part of southern Utah’s Book Cliffs.

A lonely road heads off into the dusk in the southern Utah desert.

A lonely road heads off into the dusk in the southern Utah desert.

Life in the Universe VI: Space, the Desert & Exoplanets   8 comments

The Milky Way may be home to million or billions of other living planets, but there are enormous empty spaces between us.

The Milky Way may be home to million or billions of other living planets, but there are enormous empty spaces between us.

Space is on my mind here in the deserts of southern Utah.  It isn’t so much that when the sun goes down in the desert the stars shine brightly.  It is the very nature of the desert itself.  The way small clusters of people and houses seem to occur randomly with huge empty spaces between them reminds me of the scarcity of life in an immense void.

And during this time of year at least, the way the temperature drops so quickly at night and rises almost as quick in the morning reminds me of being on an airless planet where the nearby star’s light brings intense heat during the day and biting cold at night.

The landscapes of the American southwest can often be mistaken for alien ones.  On this morning I watched a couple rock climbers scale this pinnacle.

The landscapes of the American southwest can often be mistaken for alien ones. On this morning I watched a couple rock climbers scale this pinnacle.

This is an ongoing series on my blog, believe it or not.  Like space, there are long journeys involved in going from one post to the next in the series.  The last installment, Part V, began to explore the question of life outside the solar system by highlighting the indomitable Carl Sagan.  Part IV discussed the search for life within our own solar system.  This part will continue to explore the idea of life out in the universe as a whole – a challenging subject I admit I’ve been avoiding.

The question that I posed to begin, the one which underpins the meaning of this series, is explained in Part I.

The large expanses of desert are accentuated by the lack of trees, the bare rock, and the big sky.

The large expanses of desert are accentuated by the lack of trees, the bare rock, and the broad skies.

The Milky Way rises over rock formations in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

The Milky Way rises over rock formations in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

The Quest for Exoplanets

Humans have found over 1000 planets outside our own solar system to date, with well over 3000 potential candidates.  In typical parochial fashion, we call these extra-solar worlds exoplanets.  The Kepler space telescope is one of the finest tools we have in the quest to find exoplanets.  It explores a constellation-sized area of the Milky Way Galaxy near Cygnus, the Swan (aka the Northern Cross).

Kepler continuously monitors the brightness of more than 145,000 stars.  It looks for a slight dimming in brightness indicative of a planet crossing between earth and the star. Think of trying to detect the dimming of a bright streetlight a mile away when a moth flies in front of it and you have the idea.

To find exoplanets, astronomers have traditionally used the slight wobble of a star that occurs when an orbiting planet tugs on it.  This gives us good information on the sizes of the planets, along with how close they orbit to their host stars.  More recently the Spitzer space telescope has detected, for the first time, actual light coming from an exoplanet.  This is key.  In order to find out anything about the surfaces of these worlds we need to examine the light bouncing off them or skimming through their atmospheres.  Spitzer and some ground-based telescopes can do the former while Kepler is uniquely suited for the latter.

Turret Arch greets a rising Orion the Hunter.

Turret Arch greets a rising Orion the Hunter.

Candidates for Life

Most of what we’ve found thus far have been very massive exoplanets the size of Jupiter and larger.  Many of these “hot Jupiters” orbit very close to their stars, closer even than our own Mercury.  As our techniques get more refined and as more time goes by (allowing the wobble method to work on exoplanet candidates orbiting further from their stars), we are finding more and more planets that are close to the size of Earth.

Crucially, we are now finding planets that orbit their stars at a distance which allows liquid water to exist.  This orbital distance, which in our solar system essentially extends from Venus to Mars, is the “habitable zone”, also known as the Goldilocks Zone. Combining these two factors that are relevant to the search for earth-like life (the planet’s size and distance to its parent star), we have found to date 12 earth-like exoplanets.

The size and brightness of the host star makes a big difference in how close a planet can orbit and still be cool enough for liquid water and possible life.  We have found only one earth-sized, rocky planet thus far (Gliese 581-g), and happily this planet orbits about the same distance from its star as earth does from the sun.  But there are two problems.  First, Gliese 581 is a much smaller and cooler star than the sun.  So its habitable zone, where water may exist, is presumably much closer in.  Gliese 581-g still would orbit within it, but depending on the shape of its orbit it may get too hot for liquid water.

There’s a much bigger potential problem, however.  The very existence of Gliese 581-g is disputed by some astronomers.  Its discovery is somewhat clouded and controversial.  Confirmation of Gliese 581-g may take some time.

A survivor in Arches National Park overlooks a desolate valley at dusk.

A survivor in Arches National Park overlooks a desolate valley at dusk.

An exoplanet called Kepler 22-b is also interesting.  The Kepler space telescope caught it passing in front of its star on just the third day of the spacecraft’s operation.  Though 22-b is some 2.5 times bigger than Earth, its parent star is very similar to the Sun (G type).  Also, 22-b orbits at an average distance very similar to Earth’s, and so its year is similar to ours.  The only problem with Kepler 22-b is that we know so little about it.  For instance, we don’t know how elliptical its orbit is.  If it is highly elongated (as most explanets’ orbits are) it might spend part of its year very very close to the star and part very far away.  Earth’s orbit is nearly circular.

The closest potentially habitable exoplanet to us is Tau Ceti-e, only 12 light years away.  That is still much too far for us to visit in anything close to a human lifetime, so we need to temper our enthusiasm.  Also, Tau Ceti-e is yet another unconfirmed exoplanet.

The Milky Way Galaxy rises vertically over Canyonlands National Park.

The Milky Way Galaxy rises vertically over Canyonlands National Park as Venus sets.

Are We on the Right Track?

You might be questioning the importance of looking for exoplanets that are earth-like, orbiting sun-like stars at earth-like distances.  You might wonder why we don’t also look for life forms that aren’t anything like ours, life that perhaps does not rely on water or based on carbon.  Also you might notice that we always speak of planets.  We know from the search for life within our own solar system that the moons around planets are in some cases better candidates for life than are the planets themselves.  Finally, life in the cosmos may in some cases be decoupled from planets or moons, living instead in space, perhaps close to large energy sources (such as quasars).

You’re right to question.  Definite biases exist in the search for extraterrestrial life.  To some extent they are unavoidable.  But consider two facts: First, it is easiest to look for earth-like planets and life.  And this is not an easy enterprise to begin with.  Second, our sort of life is all that we know for certain can exist.  Again, it is hard enough to look for our type of life trillions of miles away let alone other types.  These sound like excuses for our bias, but there it is.

And so the hunt continues for exoplanets that are candidates for earth-like life.  Based on the Kepler space telescope’s findings, astronomers estimate that perhaps as many as 20% of the sun-like stars in the our galaxy have habitable planets orbiting them.  This is a stunning estimate because it suggests that there are nearly 9 billion habitable planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.  If even a tiny percentage of these planets have developed intelligent life, then we have plenty of company in our galaxy. 

Arches National Park under the winter stars.

Arches National Park under the winter stars.

 

 

 

 

 

The Alvord Desert, Oregon   7 comments

The Trout Creek Mountains in southeastern Oregon bask in last rays and the desert prepares for night.

The Trout Creek Mountains in southeastern Oregon bask in last rays as the desert prepares for night.

When I need some wide-open space, I come to this corner of Oregon that we call the state’s “outback”.  I drove through on my way to the Rockies recently and revisited a few old haunts.  But this was the first time I had actually camped on the playa of the Alvord Desert.  While this region is indeed technically a desert (averaging 7 inches/yr. precipitation), I’m not sure why they chose to call this particular place the Alvord Desert.

The Alvord part is predictable, named after a general from the East, from the Civil War no less.  But the desert part is curious.  The whole region is classified as a cold semi-arid desert.  It’s dry and it’s high (4000 feet/1220 meters).  But the area named the Alvord Desert is actually a large playa, a dry lake bed.  So why not call it the Alvord Playa?

Venus sets & the stars come out as night comes to the Alvord Desert in SE Oregon.

Venus sets & the stars come out as night comes to the Alvord Desert in SE Oregon.

Early morning reveals the Pueblo Mountains to have been dusted by snow overnight.

Early morning reveals the Pueblo Mountains to have been dusted by snow overnight.

Climate & Geology

The region’s aridity is caused by the rain shadow of the Cascades and other mountain ranges.  The Alvord itself is in the very dramatic rain shadow of Steen’s Mountain, which rises directly west.  (The Steen’s is also a very spectacular destination in it’s own right.)  The Alvord is a spectacular example of a playa, so dry and flat in summer and fall that you can easily drive and land a plane on it.  In fact, it’s been used to set land speed records, like the Bonneville Salt Flats down in Utah.

The salty playas of this region of North America form because erosion from surrounding mountains dumps fine sediment into the bottom of the basin and the shallow water that collects there cannot run out.  (This isn’t called the Great Basin for nothing.) The water evaporates, leaving behind salt flats and quickly drying muds.

The playa of the Alvord Desert in Oregon attracts a group of "wind-riders".

The playa of the Alvord Desert in Oregon attracts a group of “wind-riders”.

Even a light wind can propel these guys at quick speeds across the Alvord.  I can't imagine the speeds in heavy wind.

Even a light wind can propel these guys at quick speeds across the Alvord. I can’t imagine the speeds in heavy wind!

The Alvord lies near the northern extent of the the Basin and Range province, a term geologists prefer over Great Basin.  Extending down through Nevada and eastern California, and over into western Utah, it is a series of linear mountain ranges and adjacent basins formed by block faulting.  Huge sections of the earth’s crust rise up while on the other side of the fault the adjacent basins drop down.  It happens this way because the crust just below is being stretched and rifted apart, much like the Great Rift Valley in Africa. Since this shallower part of the crust is brittle, faults form.  Earthquakes along these faults still happen, so it is an ongoing process.

Fall-flowering shrubs dot the "pediment", the transition from basin to range, in this case from the Alvord playa to Steen's Mountain.

Fall-flowering shrubs dot the “pediment”, the transition from basin to range, in this case from the Alvord playa to Steen’s Mountain.

Reasons to Visit

I hope you get to visit this region one day.  Other than the glorious skies and wide-open spaces, it has a lot to offer.  It is a fantastic place for bird-watching in springtime (March/April).  Just northwest of the Alvord are huge & temporary, shallow lakes, which attract large flocks of migrating birds.  The area around Steen’s Mountain is home to Kiger mustangs, wild horses that are known far and wide for their spirit and strength. You’ll probably hear coyotes every night you camp.  And you might see a few buckaroos working cattle from horseback, as has been done here ever since white settlement in the 19th century.  The area is dotted with the remnants of old homesteads and ranches.

Hope you have a great week.  Thanks for reading!

View out onto the Alvord Desert at dusk, where recent rains have left small pools and channels of water.

View out onto the Alvord Desert at dusk, where small pools and channels of water from an early fall storm try to make their way out onto the playa.

The Trout Creek Mountains lie just south of the Alvord Desert near Oregon's border with Nevada.

The Trout Creek Mountains lie just south of the Alvord Desert near Oregon’s border with Nevada.

Single-image Sunday: Camping on the Playa   7 comments

No trees for miles around, but it was still a very fine place to camp for the night on the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon.  After a drive of about five or six miles across the impossibly flat & smooth playa (dry lake bed), I had my pick of spots.  The only other campers within miles were the wind riders, who were back on the other side of the playa.

Of course, how do you pick a spot when everything looks the same?  Actually, I did choose a spot near some water from recent rain pooling among the desert shrubs at the edge of the playa.  In the morning, I saw birds, who were drawn to the water.  I half-expected a visit from coyotes as well.  I heard them that night, but they never showed up.  The stars were intense that night.  In keeping with the theme of last Friday’s Foto Talk, this is a wide angle shot (19 mm.) that I hope shows the insignificance of my presence there.

Hope you all are enjoying your weekends.  Happy shooting!

 

Camped under the stars on the large playa that makes up most of Oregon's Alvord Desert.

Camped under the stars on the large playa that makes up most of Oregon’s Alvord Desert.

Peter French’s Round Barn   17 comments

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This is a somewhat famous barn in southeastern Oregon, in an area we like to call the state’s “outback”.  It dates from the late 1800s, when Peter French, a cattleman from California, drove a herd from California into the open spaces of the Oregon Territory.  His ranch eventually covered some 800 square miles!  He became one of Oregon’s so-called cattle kings.

He built a round barn so that his buckaroos (what cowboys are called in this country) could train horses while sheltered from the harsh high desert winters.  The barn has been partly restored, but most of it is original.  The beams are quite stout and the barn extremely well built, which is probably why it has stood up to the fierce winds and snow that hits this region every winter.

It was long ago that I first visited this barn, and it was in much poorer shape then (though the structure was very sound).  In recent years, money for its restoration has been made available, and a small visitor center/book store was built nearby.  I photographed it at night and then again the next morning, with the light pouring in.

On that quiet morning, with only the sound of the wind, I thought about the life here in the 19th century.  The life of Peter French, his leadership, his drive to make it in this lonely outpost.  The lives of the buckaroos, working hard every day, making just enough to get by, and occasionally being able to spend some of it in saloons.  Were there ghosts roaming the hills still?

I hope you enjoy the pictures, and also that your week is going well.  Happy shooting!

Part of the interior of cattle king Peter French's round barn.

Part of the interior of cattle king Peter French’s round barn.  You can see all the boards that have been replaced with recent restoration efforts.

The clouds move in but don't block out the stars over the French Round Barn.

The clouds move in but don’t block out the stars over the French Round Barn.

The Cascades III: Mount Rainier, Part 2   18 comments

Good morning Mount Rainier!  Reflection Lakes.

Good morning Mount Rainier! Reflection Lakes.

What’s in a Name?

Geographic place names are a frequent bone of contention.  In North America, we have a push-pull between those who want to retain the names for mountains, rivers and the like that were given by the first white explorers, and those who want to use the native American names.  It is really a slap in the face to native tribes that we don’t use the names of places they often regard as sacred.  But there is a strong inertia at work as well.  The U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) is quite the staid, traditional organization.  The issue can get people’s blood boiling in a hurry.  And that’s not even counting all the racially-offensive place names, the Squaw Buttes of the world.

The Nisqually River Valley at Mount Rainier is filled with low clouds at dusk.

The Nisqually River Valley at Mount Rainier is filled with low clouds at dusk.

Mount Rainier in the past definitely illustrated this tension.  As mentioned in Part 1 the mountain was named for a rear admiral, a friend of Captain Vancouver (who led the first forays of white explorers up the Columbia River).  The name is typical of Cascade mountains. Many were named after the friends and backers of some of the first expeditions to explore the Pacific Northwest, others for presidents.  The Puyallup, a local native tribe, called the mountain Talol, or Tahoma (Tacoma).  This probably means “source of waters”, but also could be a general term for all snow-capped peaks.  Herein lies the problem with native American names, one reason for the BGNs reluctance to change names.  Often it is not at all clear what the meaning of a Native American name is.  Also, different tribes often use different names for the same place.

A young buck at Mount Rainier National Park.

A young buck at Mount Rainier National Park.

During the late 1800s, the city of Tacoma lobbied hard to get the nearby mountain’s name changed to Tacoma.  Seattle, then a rival, wanted to leave the name as it was.  The debate reached fever pitch in the latter years of the 19th century when the mountain was being considered for National Park status.  Tacoma’s civic leaders figured (correctly) that a name change would bring tourism, money and prestige to their small city.  Even President William McKinley, who signed the park into existence, weighed in.  Perhaps predictably, he favored keeping the name Rainier.  A president’s opinion matters, so the park was named Mount Rainier and the mountain’s name stayed the same.

A small waterfall plunges down a narrow verdant ravine at Mount Rainier.

A small waterfall plunges down a narrow verdant ravine at Mount Rainier.

Flying Saucers of Mount Rainier

In the summer of 1947, a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold was flying near Mount Rainier.  He had detoured during a business trip to look for the site of a recent crash of a military transport plane (there was a $5000 reward).  Suddenly he sighted flashing lights, then discovered they were coming from several strange flying objects near the mountain.  He saw some disk- or crescent-shaped objects that were flying en echelon, darting around mountains and into valleys at high speed.

He watched them for quite some time, flying in parallel but losing ground to them fast. He calculated their speed by timing their passage between Mounts Rainier and Adams and came up with 1700 mph (2700 km/h).  This was more than three times faster than any known aircraft.  Arnold told his story to the folks at the hangar in Yakima where he landed to refuel. The word spread quickly.  When he was interviewed by journalists, and later by the Army, he came across as a very careful observer who was not exaggerating.

I too happened to have a sighting!

I too happened to have a sighting!

Arnold did not compare the flying objects’ shapes to saucers.  He actually said they looked more like half-discs, or a pie plate cut in half, convex in the rear and longer than they were wide.  He told people they flew like a saucer or disk skipping over water.  But the term flying saucer was used in newspapers and the name stuck.  This was the first documented sighting of a UFO in the modern era.  There were many sightings over the next few weeks in the same region, many from very reliable observers.

Did Arnold see craft visiting from an advanced space-faring civilization?  He didn’t think so, at least at first.  He thought they were a new top secret aircraft being developed by the military. But he soon came to doubt that.  For one thing, the speed of the turns as they dipped and weaved would not have allowed a human to survive inside.  Although he noted the possibility of their being remote-controlled, he also had estimated their size as larger than a DC4 (a very large craft to be remote-controlled).  Later investigation by the Army turned up several other witnesses (a fire lookout, a prospector) that saw similar objects in the same area at the same time.

Night Sky at Rainier:  Did a delegation come from a planet orbiting one of these stars?

Night Sky at Rainier: Did a delegation come from a planet orbiting one of these stars?

This event affected Arnold’s life significantly.  He loathed the publicity it brought.  He was both labeled a loony and contacted by many people who believed in visitors from space. He could not understand, with the amount of concern and interest among the public, why the military would not have come clean if the objects were theirs.  Ultimately he seriously entertained the possibility of them being extraterrestrial in origin.

This sighting was followed by hundreds of reports from around the world, 850 or so from that same year.  Not long after the Arnold sighting, 9 UFOs in Idaho were spotted by a crew on a United Airlines jet, and this received much more media coverage than did Arnold’s.  It was during that same summer of 1947 that the public learned of the Roswell incident, the most famous UFO incident in history.

The Milky Way is easily visible from high up on the slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington.

The Milky Way is easily visible from high up on the slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington.

Was Ken Arnold first to see the vanguard of an exploratory mission of some advanced extraterrestrial intelligence?  Did he glimpse advanced military technology? Or did his sighting simply open the floodgates of the public’s imagination, a public primed for this?  It was early in the Cold War and the technology revolution (especially in aerospace) was just then going into hyperdrive.  The sound barrier had not been broken yet, and the speed of these objects were a big part of what captured the public’s attention.  It’s interesting to think about.  But one thing is clear: if those saucers were actually extraterrestrial, then Spielberg had it wrong in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.  It was not Devil’s Tower that the aliens picked to visit first but Mount Rainier!

Mount Rainier in alpenglow.

Mount Rainier in alpenglow.

Friday Foto Talk: A Few Lessons from the Field   14 comments

Dawn over the Olympic Mountains in Washington

Dawn over the Olympic Mountains in Washington

I’ve been running around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington over the past week chasing the light.  I’ve tried to hit places where I have never been during previous visits.  It is a very large and diverse place, covered in large part by Olympic National Park.  I will do a travel post on it very soon.  Before that I spent a few days at Mt Rainier.  I want to highlight a few lessons I’ve (re) learned that might be valuable for photographers doing trips to areas with natural wonders like this.

Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park is shrouded in morning mists.

Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park is shrouded in morning mists.

LESSONS LEARNED

      • While a planned route is good as a starting point, allowing you to maximize time and save fuel, you will likely be forced to abandon the plan if you expect to make the most of good weather conditions (i.e., good light).  Do not try to be strict about your plan.  You either chase the light, adjusting meal times, losing sleep, etc. or you miss the light.  It’s that simple.
      • Dealing with traveling companions can be tricky.  If you’re traveling with family (or really anybody who does not live and breathe photography), you will need to find a balance.  Everyone needs to have a good time and you need to get your shots.  Realize that in order to get every shot you want, you will need to travel alone.  I was solo on  this trip.  Well not truly solo, but  my dog doesn’t have a say in things and so doesn’t count.  But I was free to explore, double back, stay up late, sleep in shifts, etc.  I’m very sure that had I been traveling with someone who is more of a casual photographer, this would have been our very last trip together.
Before dawn at Mt Rainier National Park, the moon rises over Reflection Lake.

Before dawn at Mt Rainier National Park, the moon rises over Reflection Lake.

      • But even if you’re traveling solo (or with another die-hard photog.), you need to tend to that “other” person inside you.  I keep having to re-learn this for some reason.  I tend to become obsessive about the photos at times, but then remember I need to see and appreciate things too.  The pace is often different for these two approaches.  But sometimes I have the most fun when I really slow down.  This, coincidentally, is usually good for photography.

 Sometimes switching out of photographer to traveler mode reaps rewards.  On the northern Olympic Peninsula the clouds had moved in.  The light was beautiful when they came, but it promised to be gray for at least a day or two.  I thought of heading down to the rainforest for moody pictures but it was a long drive from where I was.  Instead I headed up to the NW corner of the Peninsula, Cape Flattery.  This is the northwestern-most point of the U.S. (excluding Alaska of course) and I had never been there.  My reasoning was simple and not photo-related.  Fog and mist at sunset rarely do good things for a seascape at sunset.  But I wanted to see the place.

A small waterfall in Quinalt Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

A small waterfall in Quinalt Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

As it happened I got great shots of the cape’s forest in thick fog.  On the way along the rugged northern coast, bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the fog created beautiful patterns.  The pictures I got are not of a place that most photographers think of when they visit Olympic, but they are beautiful and evocative of the lonely atmosphere of this relatively remote area.  Another bonus was getting to meet friendly locals in one of the few small towns and visiting the Makah American Indian Reservation.

For example I doubled back and revisited a high alpine trail-head where I slept and then woke pre-dawn, hiking to a peak for sunrise.  It was bothering me that on both occasions I did not attain the perfect viewpoint for a panorama of Puget Sound and the Cascades.  So I thought of returning yet a third time, which would have involved driving back two hours late at night.  But I stopped myself, thinking it was a bit too obsessive.  A good night’s sleep along a river-bank was my reward.

Cones protect the seeds of a subalpine fir from harsh conditions on a high ridge-line at Olympic National Park.

Cones protect the seeds of a subalpine fir from harsh conditions on a high ridge-line at Olympic National Park.

      • In getting up for sunrise, plan on rising at least a half-hour earlier than you think necessary.  I have trouble getting up early.  Once I’m up it’s fine of course, but this has always been a struggle for me.  I’m a night person, so staying up late is much easier.  For dawn photography, it’s best to arrive in the area where you’ll be shooting well before the sun rises.  Use a flashlight/headlamp if you’re hiking somewhere, but try to turn it off as soon as there is enough light to see.  This will allow your eyes to get used to the low light and you will see good pre-dawn compositions much more easily.

When there are a variety of clouds in the sky and light is good, those clouds will begin lighting up at least a half hour before the sun rises.  This is often the best time to photograph in any direction.  A brightly glowing cloud bank will cast beautiful light on the landscape.  You’ll need your tripod of course.

A nice place to sleep before tackling the climb of Mount Rainier in Washington's Cascades.

A nice place to sleep before tackling the climb of Mount Rainier in Washington’s Cascades.

Two examples during my trip highlight the different experience to be had depending on exactly how you set that alarm.  The first was at the high point mentioned above.  I underestimated the time it took to hike to the top of Elk Mountain (on Hurricane Ridge), so woke about 20 minutes too late.  I knew it right as I started the 2-mile hike; color was already in the sky.  Conditions were perfect, making me feel more rushed.  The leading edge of a front was moving in from the west, not covering the mountains yet but promising truly wonderful light.  The only good part?  Hard-pumping uphill hiking will wake you up just fine when you have no time for coffee.

I had to abort and climb the ridge just short of the summit in order to catch the beautiful pre-sunrise light.  It was a good viewpoint, but not the best for the east and southeast view (which affected the panorama shot).  But perhaps the biggest negative was the fact I was I rushed setting up, knowing that I had missed the earliest good light.

The mouth of the Quillayute River in Washington is marked by large sea stacks.

The mouth of the Quillayute River in Washington is marked by large sea stacks.

The other example, at Mount Rainier National Park, illustrates the correct way to do a morning shoot.  I slept a fitful few hours near Reflection Lakes, waking before my alarm.  The stars were great so I decided to do some night shots before sunrise.  The fog moved in before sunrise.  Since I was already shooting, this didn’t disappoint me.  Instead I found some nice foggy shots of the lake.  I heard other photographers arrive up on the road but most didn’t stay long, I suppose because of the fog.

When it finally lifted there were some beautiful moments as the mountain came out.  I heard them returning, car doors slamming.  Meanwhile I was already in position by the lake, shooting away.  This is the way to do it, letting the conditions develop before your eyes rather than trying to catch them.  It allows you to experience nice moments while you’re shooting.  At Reflection Lakes, it allowed me to get into a flow, rather than the abrupt, clunky transition from driving to shooting experienced by the other photographers that morning.

Narada Falls plunges into the misty canyon of the Paradise River at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Narada Falls plunges into the misty canyon of the Paradise River at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

      • I know this post is getting long but there is one last lesson I learned, and it was a hard one.  At Rainier, I hiked up to a subalpine meadow area on a trail that is washed out in part.  You need to hike for a couple miles along a swift glacial river across huge boulders, skirting many obstacles.  But otherwise it is a reasonable, 7-mile round-trip hike.  Since I was going for sunset light, I brought a headlamp, whose batteries I thought were fresh.  They weren’t.  Stupidly I neglected to pack spare batteries.

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After shooting in the pretty meadows, it wasn’t long hiking down in the gathering dark that my headlamp began to fail.  It went completely out just as I reached the rough part.  I fought my way to the rocky riverbank and began to stumble through the boulders.  There was no moon.  I learned that while it is impossible to walk under the trees in total darkness, it is possible to use the Milky Way as a very dim source of light.  Without it I would have been spending the night with not enough clothing to keep warm.

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After a brief period of panic, where I fell several times and bashed my knees and elbows, I calmed myself and slowed down.  Slowly I worked my way back.  But there was a section of trail to reach the dirt road (leading back to my vehicle).  I knew it would be impossible to traverse that trail, let alone find it in the dark.  So I kept going, looking for an opening.  Luckily (and I do mean lucky!) I spotted a subtle flat area through the trees.  I clambered over logs to the spot and found the only place where the dirt road approaches the river.  I finally got back to the van (and a very hungry dog) at 2 a.m.

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The sun sets in a clear sky over Lake Quinalt in Olympic National Park, Washington.

So here is the lesson if you are hiking into the wilds: pack the ten essentials in your camera pack.  This includes a small tarp plus a way to make fire (lighter & tissue or wadded newspaper).  It also includes extra batteries for your light!

And here’s one bonus lesson: don’t strap any clothing to the outside of your pack that you would be unhappy to lose.  My hands-down favorite piece of clothing is (or was) a zip-front fleece that is amazingly warm and light, with pockets that are perfect for filters.  During all the ducking under big logs, falling and stumbling it had come loose from my pack.  I went back the next day but could not find it.

I’m sure there are other lessons I learned, but it all really boils down to not sweating the small stuff, keeping things flexible and fun, and striking a balance. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Fog fills the valleys beneath Mount Rainier as evening arrives.

Fog fills the valleys beneath Mount Rainier as evening arrives.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula is a jewel.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula is a jewel.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Masterpiece   27 comments

Instead of Single-Image Sunday this week I’ve decided to be a joiner for once.  I’m not generally a joiner, but I like the theme Masterpiece.  Also, I felt the need to view other people’s photography.  It’s like eating meat.  I don’t do it a lot, but occasionally I feel the need.  So I’m participating this week on the Postaday’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  Hope you enjoy the image.  Just click on it if you’re interested in purchase options.  It’s copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  If you have any questions, just contact me.  Thanks for looking!

A full moon lights this view from the North Rim westward down the length of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

A full moon lights this view from the North Rim westward down the length of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

This image, which I think I posted as part of a Grand Canyon theme some months ago, is one of my favorites.  It speaks to me of the unity between the earth and the cosmos.  I think of everything we can see in day and night, the earth and space, the whole shebang, as one enormous masterpiece.  This is the winter night sky, so it’s not like so many shots you see (including mine), where the Milky Way arcs across the sky.  Instead we’re looking outward toward inter-galactic space.  For me it makes the image even better.  You can also notice some left-over smoke from fires, drifting in low layers over the Canyon.

I almost didn’t capture it.  My foot was injured and I didn’t want to make the 1/2 mile hike in the darkness down to this viewpoint.  But the moon rose, nearly full, so I went ahead and limped down there.  When I arrived I didn’t see this composition.  I hopped the fence and carefully worked my way to the edge. Looking down into the black void was freaking me out, so I concentrated on the stars and the distant canyon.  I used a very wide angle, 15 mm.

The image is a combination of two images taken one after the other.  The first one was for the land, with a static camera, and the second was for the stars, tracking their apparent movement across the sky so they wouldn’t blur.  I have a tracking mount for my tripod.  I combined the two images in Photoshop to come up with an image very similar to what I saw that night.  This isn’t easy, matching your memory of the view with your final image.  It’s especially difficult with long-exposure night shots.  Hope you enjoy it.

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