The Creative Edge…With A Dose of Good Luck!

I know I have been delinquent since October of last year.  I apologize.  My teaching schedule has had me on the ropes for much of that time and even though working with students on some pretty incredible science and engineering projects leading up to the county science fair is creative, its just not the same as losing oneself behind the camera and producing a piece of art that just touches the soul.

To remedy my absence and get my creative photographic juices flowing again I decided on heading out to the happiest place on Earth.  No, not Disneyland….but Yosemite!  I could not think of any better place to immerse myself in inspirational beauty.

I usually come into the Park from the northern entrance, but this time I wanted to challenge myself to see the park differently, so I drove in via the southern entrance and Hwy 41 out of Fresno.  I think I might have only come through this way once, maybe twice in my life.  So seeing the park from this ascent really got my eye primed for looking at the park in a different way.  I left the Bay Area mid morning and hoped to get into the Valley for the late afternoon light and catch sunset.  It would be a quick jaunt, just one day, maybe stay later into the night for some star trail photography, but then, maybe not.  I would just let my luck fall where it may.

Normally coming in from the north, the road leads me to Valley View, which is down on the Merced River.  I almost always stop there to whet my lens an burn a sheet on El Capitan there, as sort of an homage to the Captain.  This time however the road brought me to Tunnel View which is about 500 feet higher in elevation giving a very different perspective on the Valley.  Thus I decided to stop there to warm up.

As I arrived there must have been what looked like 50 to 60 photographers all lined up on the overlook pad with tripods all interlocked!  As I walked up after parking and gathering my gear it sounded like crickets or cicada buzzing with all the shutters going off.  I almost gave up and walked off when I suddenly spied a fellow Bay Area photographer, Richard Wong.  He  was there right in the middle of the fray and I called to him.  He turned and was just as surprised as I was to meet each other there.  What were the chances!?  Looks like luck might have smiled on me.  We spoke for a bit and then he said “here, I’m done, take my spot, you wont get in otherwise”.  So as he slipped out, I wiggled my way in and started to set up.  Hopefully we would meet later in the park, but for now I had to work quickly as the light was just getting good and I did not want to throw away an opportunity to capture such a unique moment.

Working with the 4×5 is slow, but over the years it has become almost second nature to me and I could get a photo made in just under 5 minutes from dropping my backpack to tripping the shutter.  The resulting photo from this most fortuitous meeting is below.  One of my best Yosemite photos to date!

Best Yosemite Shot Ever!

As I was finishing up and starting to get packed up I started to reflect on the good fortune I had to get this spot among the hoard of photographers and I suddenly felt very generous and wanted to pass this opportunity forward.  I looked behind me to see if anyone was waiting photograph there as well when I suddenly saw another good friend of mine from the Bay Area, Gary Crabbe of Enlightened Images Photography!  What are the chances of seeing two good friends there on the same day!!?  I offered my spot to Gary and stepped aside.  As he got situated we spoke for a bit.  I asked that he let me know what he comes away with.  I did not see Richard again on the trip, not sure where he wandered off to, but Gary did share with me his view, another stunning view from Yosemite, if I do say so myself.

Sometimes getting the creative edge in photography is being at the right place at the right time, and meeting up with the right people too.

Till next time, Peace.

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Conjunction Junction…..

….What’s Your Function?

That is the opening line of a little musical cartoon I remember growing up with that taught grammar through songs, as well as other elementary school topics like math and history.  The series was called School House Rock and could be found today on DVD as well as being online.

This past Thursday an event took place in our skies that goes by that very name, a conjunction.  In this case it was the coming together of the Sun and Moon.  As a matter of fact, the Sun and Moon enter into conjunction every 29.5 days.  When referring to the Sun and Moon, conjunction occurs when the centers of the Sun, Moon and Earth are all in line with regards to the plane of the Ecliptic, that plane that defines the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.  Even though conjunction occurs every ‘month’, the Moon might not be on the Ecliptic and so the conjunction goes unnoticed.  A day or so after conjunction, we see evidence of its occurrence with the appearance of the new crescent Moon, which you will find many fine examples on this site.

Then there are those times when all three bodies are on or sufficiently close to being on the Ecliptic and in such a case a solar eclipse results.  On this past Thursday just such an event took place.  The moon was only approximately 0.5° above the Ecliptic and because of that, as conjunction approached, the Moon began to obscure the sun from our view, essentially casting a shadow on the surface of the Earth, and dimming the sunlight.  Thursday’s eclipse was a partial solar eclipse with about 50% of the sun obscured.  This photo below was made near the peak of the eclipse.

Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23rd, 2014

Conjunction Junction

One of the more striking features of this eclipse is the huge sun spot nearly in the middle of the sun.  This sun spot, AR 2192 is nearly the size of Jupiter and emits huge solar flares and other intensely high energy particles.  Other smaller sun spots can also be seen in this photo.

It is remarkable to see such events in our sky.  Being the scientist that I am and having studied the motions of the heavenly bodies in no way diminishes the wonder, exhilaration and awe that is felt when witnessing such an event.  Being the man of faith that I am and having studied the theology of my faith as well, only further reaffirms how great our Creator is in creating and sustaining such a perfect universe and has given us the faculties of thought, reasoning and measure, that we can predict with exact precision when these truly Divine moments will occur.  With that foreknowledge we can bear witness to the greatness of God not just because such an event occurs, nor that we can predict when it will occur, but because it is an act of God.  Such an event happens because the Creator is just that, the event is created into existence, it is perpetuated through time by its creation, annihilation and recreation at every instance. At one moment it is as shown above and then it is destroyed and then recreated spatially and temporally in a new configuration, but done so at an unfathomable speed that it is not only unnoticeable to us, but also immeasurable.  What we perceive as an analog universe, is in reality universe that is in existence one moment and then nonexistent and then existent once again repeating ad infinitum until the Creator decides that something no longer needs to exist and then it just ceases to be recreated and likewise can bring something into existence through creation that an instant ago did not exist and perpetuated forward.  Phew, enough mind bending for one day.

What is the function of this Conjunction?

Well I know my answer, what is your answer?  Leave it below as a comment.

Until next time, Peace to all.

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From Darkness…

..And into the Light.

That is how the moon appears.

Dhul Hijjah Crescent 1435

It emerges from apparently nowhere and appears before our eyes basking in the light of the sun and guiding us on our journey through time.  We stand under it on this evening in submission and hearing the call to return to the Ancient House, where so many have returned over the millenia.  For those able, the journey of a lifetime begins and will culminate cleansed and given the chance to start anew, freed from the darkness of the self and allowed to enter into the Light of the Divine.

Safe travels and Godspeed, Oh Guests of the Compassionate.  Do not forget us in your prayers.  May your sacrifice be accepted.

For those of us who stay behind, get busy; for the best ten nights of the year start now.

Peace to All.

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In Awe Of Light

It has been about two weeks since I stood there on top of the highest mountain in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mount Hamilton.  In the last couple of months I have been up there three times.  Twice in the evenings after sunset as a visitor to the Lick Observatory.  In the summer the observatory has a great program with lectures and they open up two of the many telescopes and give normal folks like us the chance to look deep into the  universe to see the past.  My third trip was for the rising of this full moon.  It was dubbed a “Super Moon” because it was a full moon at perigee.  Perigee is the point in the moon’s orbit where it is closest to the Earth.  This causes the moon to appear larger than normal, for this moon it was 14% larger than normal.

Super Duper!

The light that evening was subtle.  It is that kind of light that I think is very awe inspiring because it forces us to look at the essence of objects rather than the flash and glitz that comes with bright and saturated colorful light.  Most people do not give this subtle light a second glance let alone really looking.

Further, with such an event as the “Super Moon” where many people world round go out with the intent of photographing it, the moon goes unnoticed.  The hype that surrounds the “Super Moon” is just that, Hype.  When you see a full moon rising it is usually quite dim as it pops out above the horizon shrouded in haze and pollution.  It is lack luster and even that evening it came up fairly unnoticed.  As I stood there on the mountain there might have been about 4 or 5 other people there as well trying to photograph it, and had I not said out loud “There it is!” most might have missed its rising.

For me however the sad part of the story is that no more than 10 minutes after it rose, it ducked behind a cloud bank and we list it for about 20 minutes.  Once it did reappear, it was to bright and the sky was too dark to make any decent photos with it and the Earth.

In a few short days I will be going out again for the new moon, something even fewer people notice.  What is so enticing about all this?  The light.  It simply amazes me how light can travel so far so quickly bringing information from these distant objects about what they are.  Light is all around us.  We are engulfed in it all the time and yet we rarely realize it because it is invisible until some of it goes into our eyes.  Why those particular photos went in and not some others is a question that has no real answer.  But I do know that none were for no reason. Every photon zipping through the universe that end up in your eyes were destined for your eyes and your eyes alone.  No other eye in the universe will “see” the photons you see and as soon as you see them they vanish forever.  Now that is awesome.

Till next time, Peace.

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Happy Returns

Crescent Moon of Shawwal, The Start of Eid

Shawwal 1435 – Eid Mubarak!

Like clockwork, the moon ticks its way back to new.  It will show itself in the sky.  It always does.  Bringing with it, for those who wait to look, a joy that signals a day of joyous celebration.

To my Muslim Readers, Eid Mubarak!

Peace to All!

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The Joy of Fasting

Years ago I heard a fabulous Hadith, a tradition from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing s of God upon him.

Abu Hurairah (May God be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of God upon him) said: “Every deed of the son of Adam will be multiplied, a Hasanah (a good deed) will be multiplied to ten its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, said: ‘Except fasting. It is for Me and I shall reward for it. He gives up his desires and his food for my sake.’ The fasting person will have two moments of joy: Joy when he breaks his fast, and joy when he meets his Lord. And indeed the smell of his mouth is better to Allah than the fragrance of musk.” [The Book of Fasting: Sahih Muslim]

Today I experienced this first moment of joy when I broke my fast.  I was not particularly hungry or thirsty, but a little run down and tired.  However when I bit into that date my mouth danced!  And when I drank that cool water, my throat was beyond what words could explain.  A smile came across my face and I was so happy.  Not that I broke my fast, but that I was experiencing what God said would be one of the two moments of joy.  I can’t even imagine what the other must be like for the fasters.

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Here is Ramadan!

Last night we ventured out in search of the new crescent moon, not just my team and I, but countless number of Muslims all over the world.  There was not a single verifiable positive naked eye sighting.  Yesterday was the 29th day of Shabaan. Today it was the 30th and final day of Shabaan with no other option than to start Ramadan tomorrow.

While many people devised an abstract construct to signify the start of the months in the Islamic Lunar calendar, nothing can be as simple and beautiful as going out to search for the new crescent moon.  The sight of the new moon has significant spiritual value for the heart.  By its vision it ingrains in the heart a firm certainty that serves as the foundation for actions that make up the worship of the One who created us.  Through that certainty our hearts find ease, calm and peace and dispells difficulty, angst and chaos.

The need to go out once again to search for the moon on the 30th day is redundant, but to help those who still might question whether they should have fasted today or not and did not go out to settle their own hearts, I hope this photo will settle it.

Ramadan Crescent Moon

Ramadan 1435

Ramadan is a wonderful time where we are given the opportunity to look at our selves in its mirror and see our shortcomings and work towards making ourselves better.  Its an exercise in self-discipline and fortitude, a time for reflection and contemplation, and a means for forgiveness and salvation.  Welcome this month with open arms, grasp onto it and garner as much benefit from it as you can before it moves on.

Ramadan Mubarak and Peace to All!

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Where Is Ramadan?

We had a nice group come out this evening to search for the new moon of Ramadan. To our disappointment, we did not see the moon here on the west coast of North America. We are the last word In the world on Moonsighting reports and we can only say Ramadan will begin on Sunday June 29th based on the prophetic tradition of sighting the moon. Taraweh prayers will start Saturday evening after sunset, insha Allah (God willing).

(Update:  The conditions this evening on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains was not ideal for seeing the moon, but it was certainly beautiful.)

Sunset on the 29th day of Shabaan, 1435.

Encroaching Fog

This was a moving scene.  A family stands watching the sun set as fog continues to enshroud everyone along the ridge.  The quest to find the moon is growing.  Hearts are not satisfied with abstraction but rather they long for certitude, the certitude that can only come from seeing the moon with ones own eyes.  I am hopeful that the swell will continue and tradition will prevail.

The search for the new moon of Ramadan

Family Quest

I will be going out tomorrow evening as well to photograph it so stay tuned for that.

To all my Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak! And to all, Peace.

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Color and Light

Each month my team and I go out to look for the new crescent moon.  We never know what we will find.  Some days the sky is very bland, the moon appears, we make a photo and go home.  Other times we go out to be met with clouds.  The clouds might be thick and dense carpeting the sky with no hope expecting them to let the sky come through.  Sometimes the clouds are broken up teasing the eyes with glimpses of sky and raising the hope of seeing the new crescent.  The reward of seeing the moon with skies like that becomes greater.  Then there are days when the sky is hazy.  When it is filled with what you can tell are a light veil of clouds high up in the atmosphere.  You know the sky will put up a great show, but with that show comes the possibility that the atmospherics will obliterate seeing the moon.  It has happened many times to me.  The sky of May 29th, was just such a sky.

Cirrus Clouds After Sunset

Wispy Sky

Shortly after sunset, the western sky came to life with an abundance of cirrus clouds that just danced in the expanding color.  Faint crescent moons are difficult to see on their own without the help of little wisps of condensed water shimmering in the evening light adding confusion and deception to the mix.  After the sun set, my team starts to ask for the particulars about where generally the moon should be in the sky, its orientation and how long before it sets.  They impressed me by asking all the right questions.  Given that the moon was not to set until nearly an hour after sunset they continued to goof around until the searching became serious.

As the evening unfolded, the colors in the sky began to change and intensify. The thin veil of clouds began to stratify the color as they tend to do and a soft gradient of pastel colors lit the sky on fire.  Watching it unfold, its hard not to be impressed by the colors, and it mystifies good judgement as to why one would and would not make a photo of it.  In the end I made the photo anyway and I am glad I did.

Color Gradient at Sunset.

The Color Of Light

The color soon started to fade away with the sinking sun as it continued moving away from the horizon.  As the sky darkened we all became more intent on looking for the moon.  We searched across the sky and then suddenly my phone chimes. A text message flashed across it with a note that the moon was seen in southern California or Arizona.  I quickly reply asking for details and then continued to search.  Suddenly a cry goes out, “I think I see it!”  We all thought we did.  Hiding there amidst the clouds we all thought the lower limb of the moon was poking through.  Yet it did not seem to move as it should have been.  We dismiss it and continued to look.  I started to get worried that we were just to far north this month to see it on this evening.  How was it seen in the south?  I needed more details.  My phone rang.  I did not answer it and chose to continue looking when all of a sudden, my younger son calls out – I see it! Allahu Akbar!

We all came to him and within moments we all had seen the delicate thread of curved light in the sky!  Even my youngest team member, the 8 year old, who always needed help seeing it, saw it as quickly as the rest of us, very impressive given the faintness of this month’s moon.

New Crescent Moon of Shabaan 1435

First Sighting – Shabaan 1435

As the evening waned on the variations in the colors were subtle but certainly there for those willing to stay and enjoy the show.  The clouds start to change in both appearance and color as well.  The entire sky takes on a completely different feel.  Placing the moon in these photos is sometimes a chore.  How many different places can the moon be placed in a frame and not have the photos become completely repetitive?  Rarely do I place the moon in the lower portion of the frame, but for this one I did.  It gave the impression of the moon feeling from a darkness chasing after it.

New crescent Moon and Dark Clouds

Fleeing From Darkness

With the complaints now mounting as my intrepid team members lost patience now that the deal was sealed, I continued to track the moon and photograph it as it approached the horizon and mingled with trees that now were merely silhouettes against the now dark crimson sky.  I finally called it quits when the moon settled in between this V-shaped notch between some pine trees.

Crescent Moon Between Trees

In The Notch

The monthly appearance of the crescent moon has occurred far before we have ever been here on Earth and will continue until the end of time.  It has been my endeavor for the last 23 years.  It ceases to bring me great joy each month, and each time it is like I am seeing it for the first time.  Its vision expands my chest and lifts the weight of my world off my shoulders.  Knowing that we have a divinely ordained celestial clock as our guide in time is a great succor in my life and my hope is that it can be for you as well.

Ramadan is just on the horizon.  May we all reach it in good health and host it in our lives once more.  Peace to all.

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Countdown Begins – Shabaan 1435

This evening the new crescent moon for the 8th month of the Islamic calendar, Shabaan, was sighted in San Jose, CA.  This puts everything in motion and the countdown begins for the approach of the Ramadan, the month of fasting.  It was first seen this evening at 8:42 pm PDT.  At an azimuth of close to 274° with an altitude of about 8° above the horizon.  It was very faint.  Beautiful as always however and always a bringer of great hope.

New Crescent Moon

Shabaan 1435 Crescent

A more detailed account of the unfolding evening light and colors is coming, stay tuned.

Peace to All.

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