Archive for May, 2012

Taking The Stage

Annular Eclipse of May 20, 2012

Annular Eclipse

On May 20th 2012, the Moon and Sun came together in a show that did not disappoint.  However, it was the Sun that took center stage as it was the object of occlusion that was to produce sights that few have seen.  It was an exhilarating event that did produce the excitement promised.

However, the eclipse of the sun could not have happened with out the moon.  This month’s eclipse eclipsed the fact that what took place was the conjunction of the moon and the sun, an event that takes place in every lunar cycle.  Conjunction marks the moment when the moon passe directly between the Earth and the Sun. Most months the Moon’s plane of orbit places it either above or below the Earth’s plane of orbit around the Sun and thus an eclipse of the Sun does not occur.  Yet each and every lunar cycle brings a conjunction and the birth of a new moon.

Fortunate is the one who had the opportunity to witness the physical conjunction take place on this current lunar cycle, for most months it is an invisible event.  The moment the Moon passes that conjunction the moon is born and the angle between the Moon-Earth-Sun, known as Elongation, begins to grow until it is large enough that light from the Sun will start reflecting off of the Moon and the surface of the Moon becomes visible to our eyes.

Last night it was the Moon’s turn to take center stage and reveal itself as the fine crescent that it is when it is a new moon.  On a first day, the Moon is not visible before sunset and in most cases it will not be visible until close to 4/9ths the time between sunset and moonset.  Many factors are involved in the visibility of the new crescent Moon after conjunction. Elongation, Moonset lag time after sunset, Percent of the Moon’s Illumination (also known as the Arc of Illumination), its Altitude at the time of sunset and the Age of the Moon past conjunction.

Last night at sunset the Moon was about 25 hours and 45 minute old.  A very young Moon.  It had an Elongation of only 12°, a value that is below the accepted 15° that is needed for easily seeing it and it was only 1% illuminated, the actual minimum that is needed to be seen.  At best it was going to be a difficult moon to see even with perfect sky conditions.

When I arrived last night at my normal viewing location atop Russian Ridge  just west of the SF Bay Area at 2300 feet above sea level, the sky was not looking good.

Sunset on May 21, 2012 from Russian Ridge

Sunset on Rajab 1, 1433

The horizon was nearly completely covered in high clouds obscuring the sky and almost any hope of seeing such a young crescent moon.  To make matters worse, this new Moon was to mark the beginning of the 8th month in the Islamic Calendar, Rajab, a hallmark month, and one that is critical in establishing the beginning of Ramadan just two months away.  For a new Moon sighting to be accepted according to Islamic Jurisprudence, two adults must witness the new crescent Moon as a naked eye sighting without any optical aids.  I was just one man, who could only coax his 12 year old and 6 year old daughters to accompany him.

It was not looking good.  Nonetheless, I waited, scanning the sky back and forth, referring to an ephemeris for guidance as to where in the sky the moon should be.  I looked, I measured, I waited.  The light was fading so I decided to do the Sunset prayer up there on the ridge.  Once finished I continued to look.  Text messages were filling my phone quickly with questions asking if the moon had been seen.  My only reply, “stay tuned”.  I only knew of one other person out looking in our area and even though he did say he would meet me up on the ridge it looked like he was not going to make it.

As the optimal viewing time approached I looked even harder, but to my disappointment the area I needed to be clear, where the Moon should be was obscured by clouds.  I decided to just start taking photos of the sky in the vicinity of where the moon should be and then later after I returned home I could examine them closely for any tell-tale signs of a crescent.  It would not count as a sighting but I could still check.

Just then my eyes caught a glimpse of a thin white curved line just poking out of the clouds.  I looked harder and to my utter amazement it was the crescent Moon! It was exactly where I thought it would be hidden behind a thin gray curtain of moisture in the sky.  My daughters rushed over and asked where it was.  I pointed it out and my eldest saw it immediately.  It was 8:53 pm when we made that first sighting, and I pointed the camera at it and started to photograph.  In between the shutter releases I would reply to the text messages in the confirmation of the sighting.  It was still not a valid sighting as I was the only adult, a situation that I have fallen into many times in the past, especially for the month of Rajab.

All of a sudden, in the twilight, I heard some voices.  I looked back to see it was my friend and his family.  They arrived just in time.  I called out to them to hurry before it sets.  They came up to me and I pointed it out and all but one of his younger sons could see it clearly as it continued to sink closer to the horizon.  We had a confirmed sighting and my demeanor changed instantly from contented sadness to jubilation.  I can’t remember a sighting event where I was so happy to have another adult with me to establish a positive sighting.

The Crescent Moon of Rajab, 1433 (May 21, 2012)

Rajab 1433

This Moon was only 26.3 hours old past conjunction.  One of the youngest moons I have ever had the pleasure to see and photograph.  As thin as this moon was it most definitely took the stage last night.

So to all my Muslim readers, a Rajab Mubarak!

Peace to You All!

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Disappointment Deals Delight

The Sun

The Light Source

This past Sunday was dedicated to photographing the annular eclipse of May 20th, 2012.  I had prepared for it on many levels from what exposure to use to where I would drop my tripod to how I was going to make what I captured unique, and had done so for weeks ahead of time.  The one thing that I failed to plan for was equipping my four photo/travel assistants with what they needed to view and keep themselves entertained for its duration.  Despite my earlier attempts to find solar viewing glasses I could not find any vendor who was not sold out.  In addition, the day before the eclipse I found myself in a discussion with another photographer who was making plans to photograph and produce HDR (high dynamic range) photos of the event showing both the eclipsed sun and landscape as they would normally appear to our eyes.  I contested his claim but he was insistent that it could be done.  This caused me to waiver in my plans, and coupled with the possibility of a mutiny on my hands with my assistants forced my hand to change my plans nearly entirely.   I found myslef the night before, rather than getting a good night’s rest, up late scouring various sites on what was capable while still maintaining a real look to HDR photography.  Then I happened to land on a news page about the museum and visitor center at Turtle Bay Exploration Park / Wild Bird Sancturay in Redding, Ca.  The article stated that they would be selling solar viewing glasses for $1 and the article was only written that day, the information had to be accurate, right?

Crescent Sun Ecplisped by the Moon

Crescent Sun

In the 11th hour, I changed all my plans.  My destination was now Turtle Bay Wild Bird Sanctuary in spite of the fact that there would be hundreds if not thousands of people there.  Redding was not that far off the annularity line that it would change what I actually had in mind, and park environment would placate my assistants should the need arise.

We awoke Sunday morning and prepared our supplies for the day’s drive and viewing.  We were out the door with plenty of time and the  four and a half hour drive started out pleasant, however the further we drove the more tense things became in the car.  The tide of pleasant anticipation in my assistants was starting to turn.

We arrived with two and a half hours of buffer before the start of the eclipse.  The plan, buy the viewing glasses, eat lunch, find a suitable viewing location and then wait.  Disappointment met us from the beginning.  First the museum under estimated the response for viewing glasses and was sold out the day before.  Not to worry the employee told me, they will have 500 more glasses arriving at 4 pm, and will be available at the annex store by the famous Sundial Bridge.  By the time we arrived we found a line of about 100 people standing in the hot sun in 90° weather waiting to get in to the store at 4pm.  The roving employee there let us know we were in a part of the line where we might not get any glasses as each person could buy up to 5 glasses, putting us in a risky part of the line.  So with great hope we waited.  Slowly patience began to wear thin among my crew. One wanted to light a fire just because it was so hot, his incredulous claim was he could do it with just a focused pinhole of light.  Another wished he did not leave his water in the car.  Then the other wanted to play, and sleep and be carried on my head at the same time.  My patience was starting to wane.  By 4:45 we were inside and we made our purchase – lady luck smiled on us.

Solar Eclipse Obscured by High Cirrus Clouds

Obscured

We had less than 15 minutes before the start of the eclipse.  I announced that everyone should evacuate bladders and such for once I start the photo sequence there was no stopping.  No one heeded my words.  I was suspicious.  By the time we finished eating and squelching some sibling rivalry fires, the eclipse had started and I missed the initial contact of the moon with the sun and disappointment found its way into my head.

For the next two and a half hours, it was one dispute after another, one distraction after another, one question after another.  My mind was not focused at all on what I was doing.  My photos were not being timed carefully and I would miss the twenty second mark I had planned for each photo more times than I could keep count of.  I was also plagued by clouds, thin nefarious clouds that were just thick enough to keep the light levels jumping all over the place.  I could not make a sequence of more than 4 or 5 photos that had the same exposure level that I needed to make a time lapse sequence possible.  I also saw in my view finder this very odd haloing and glow around the sun nearly the whole time.  Something I did not notice in my practice photos.  It brought me great concern that I might find flares in all these photos making them useless in the end.  My mind started slipping into thoughts of inadequate equipment syndrome, something that did not torment me in more than a decade.

The Annular Eclipse of May 20th 2012 in total annularity

With This Ring

As the moon continued its encroachment of the sun, the anticipation of my assistants increased.  The arguing vanished into amazement, the prevailing thirst quenched with wonderment, and I as well was awe struck by the magnitude of what was occurring before my eyes.  Here was the moon, an entity in our sky that could not be seen if not for the light of the sun, moving in front of the source of what makes it existent to our eyes and blocking it out.  However, rather than overshadowing the sun it instead forms a ring of heavenly light as the the two wed in the sky for nearly 4 minutes in a display that had no beginning and no end.  It was as if time stood still and the world became dim and humbled in the grandeur of their union.  Being so close to a multitude of people, even though out of eyesight, we were not cheated out of hearing the cheers that belted out throughout the park as the ring became complete.  It was a spine tingling moment not to be soon forgotten.

The moon breaks the ring of light as it exits totality

Broken Light

Nonetheless, being created things that had a beginning so long ago, their nature is to end and they exhibited their primal nature with the moon breaking the ring of light as it continued on its way past the sun and ending totality.  Again a second cheer rings out among the crowd.  The event everyone came to see had happened.  In my exhilaration any thoughts I had about not capturing the eclipse the way I had intended had vanished if not for just a brief time.  I continued until the dreaded clouds that obscured the sky and mustered havoc with my exposures obliterated the light of the sun, just 10 minutes before the eclipse concluded.  A disappointing end, and one that brought question if I would have any usable photos at all.

After a long drive to Turtle Bay, and sitting square in the sun and heat for nearly five hours, I had to look forward to another long drive home unsatisfied in my work and with no hopes of a return on the investment made.  We arrived home just past midnight and my first act was to see and download the photos.  At first glance all were useless.  Not more than 4 or 5 photos in sequence were exposed at the same settings, making the probability of a time lapse sequence happening slim to none.  So I turned off the computer and retired to bed  hoping to come up with something in the morning.

The next day I started to process the photos to find almost all of them have a glowing halo around the sun that I could not remove without great difficulty.  In my desperation I start to process the photo Broken Light in a manner that I would never normally do to discover that the halo I was seeing was nothing more than the clouds that were obscuring the sun glowing in the light.  The use of the solar filter on my lens allowing me to view and photograph the sun had made the clouds so dark that they did not appear as clouds when normally processed against the brightness of the sun.  So with my modified processing suddenly the lost photos became as surreal as the momentous eclipse itself.  I searched the net for other photos of the eclipse to find that no one had anything like what I had been given.

My disappointment was suddenly transformed into delight.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to produce a time lapsed sequence of the moon eclipsing the sun.  However in hindsight, what I had envisioned would not have been very interesting and what I was given instead has pleased me much more.  Funny how things turn out.

Now I am looking 5 years ahead to the next eclipse that will cross over this neighborhood of the Earth, maybe then I will see my original vision come to fruition.

Peace to you All!

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Standing Firm

Spring seemed to come early this year, especially after an almost non-existent winter.  This seems to be the pattern in the past few years, the seasons seems confused, not unlike many of us with all that has been going on in the world.  We have all endured some very trying times in the last few years.  From loss of income and jobs to health issues and housing problems and mounting debt and wars, these tribulations have tired and tested all of us.  I could go on about the hardships that have befallen me and Organic Light Photography, but what good can come out of self-pity?  The important thing is that we are all still here, standing firm in the face of the onslaught, unwavering and resolute.  Doing what we are supposed to do, fulfilling our destiny and meeting our fate with patience and contentment.  I applaud all of you who have stood firm and weathered the storm.

Small Tree Standing Firm Against Onslaught of Water

Standing Firm

This was the sentiment I felt when I saw and photographed this photo titled ‘Standing Firm’.  The torrent of water rushing at this small delicate tree from all sides and its almost deafening roar would be enough to rattle any resolve. However, it has taken root in firm, unyielding, solid granite and with that as its foundation, finds the wherewithal to continue in its growth not bothered in the least by the madness rushing past it.

I do not find images to make photographs of; they find me.  They do so at exactly the right time when I need to see them and capture them that I may benefit from the message they are conveying and in turn pass it forward to all of you.  It is strange in that I have passed by this location more times than I can count and never once stopped to photograph.  However as it turned out this time, I was not passing by.  I decided on traveling up the Merced River canyon on a tip that wildflowers were blooming along the river.  Therefore, I made a day trip of it and discovered nothing of the sort in the way of flowers.  So, I continued up the canyon not intending going into Yosemite National Park at all, only to find myself at the park entrance.  It was still early in the season so I did not expect to see much in the Valley and again had no intention on going down into it.  Nevertheless, I drove in, pulled over at Cataract Falls, and walked around a bit.

The water flow was pretty heavy and I started to wonder where this water was coming from.  It then occurred to me that this water was probably the run off from Cascade and Tamarack Creeks that intersect Big Oak Flat Rd. that leads into the park from the North.  So, I decided to go up and take a look.  It was that wondering that brought me to make the Cascade Creek bridge over crossing a destination rather than just a place that I passed going into and out of the park.  It was not particularly crowded although many people were there stopping, looking and taking snapshots with everything from SLR cameras to iPads and phones.  No one bothered once to look down over the bridge while I was there making ‘Standing Firm’.

I was very excited about this photo and made it with both the large format camera on film as well as with the digital camera.  The version posted here, as well as other places on the web, is the digital version.  Once the film version arrives, I will post that one as well in the hopes of having more detail and texture throughout. The photo has potential as it has already been selected as the Editor’s Weekly Pick on NaturePhotographers.net, the premier nature photography site on the internet.

So with that, enjoy what remains of spring, get out there, and find some inspiration for your self.

Peace

 

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The Best Laid Plans…

For almost one year I had waited for last night. The last time I tried for this I was snubbed by fog at the coast.   The vision: photograph a rising full moon over arch rock at Natural Bridge State Beach in Santa Cruz.  I had everything planned out except for one thing.  To actually see the arch way in the rock and get the the full moon over it on a true full moon night is impossible.  A slight oversight on my part.  To capture what I had truly envisioned, I would have had to photograph it the day before, albeit not a full moon but close enough, at least I would hope so.

Full Moon over Arch Rock

Beyond Blue

Nonetheless, with a full moon at its perigee, closet point in its orbit around the Earth, and the atmospherics present in the coastal environment, the colors were somewhat surreal.  I concentrated on that and came away with what I could.  At the time, I had two tripods set up, one carrying the large format 4×5 camera, which I used to expose 4 sheets of film, and the second tripod carrying the digital camera which captured the two photos presented here.  Had I only used one tripod, I could have been somewhat more mobile to find other compositions with the moon set in different locations among the rocks.

Full Moon Rising over Arch Rock

Full Moon Over Arch Rock

The search continues for the next date when the full moon will rise over Arch Rock.  I will be a little more careful in my planning and time things for the moon to be in a position that the arch will be clearly visible.  For now, I hope you enjoy these.  I’ll keep you all informed of the next attempt.

It was a lesson in planning and preparation.  I considered the day before but for some reason I was too caught up in the moment the moon broke the horizon, rather than when the moon would actually line up with the arch.  When the moon actually did break the horizon, the marine layer all but obscured it making it incredibly faint.  Its vividness, as shown, did not appear for nearly 15 to 20 minutes later.  A mistake that I will not make in the future with this subject.

I hope you all at least had the good fortune of seeing this full moon from where ever you happened to be.  Was was a stunning moon.

Peace.

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