January 2018’s Blue Supermoon

January 2018 brought us a special celestial treat, the Blue Supermoon, or Super Blood Red Moon eclipse.  The blue part just states that it is the second full moon in a single month.  The Supermoon part is when the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit, this time about 14% bigger and 30% brighter!  Blood Red is the total eclipse part.  This was a rare event and worth getting up for.

I set the alarm for about 4am but realized that the article I read was in Pacific Time Zone, so I was an hour early.  This was good, however, as it was a warm night and it gave me some time to experiment with my camera’s settings without the rush of being in the eclipse.  The morning was hazy but the moon was shining through.  There were clouds that passed over that covered the moon; so not perfect but not a total bummer either!

Once the moon went into totality, it got very dim.  At the same time it was low enough on the horizon that it went behind the lenticular clouds that often form in the winter over the mountains.  At this point it was game over; but still an awesome show!

Aspen prints

The second try, with 20×16 horizontals.  I went ahead and duplicated some of the image since it will be 3+ feet away from each other on the wall.

Here was the first try, with 16×20 verticals.

I’m thinking we can do each @ 16×20 vertical.  Costco prices it around $110 plus any other fees for metal.

Stag Party

I’ve been seeing a large group of bucks roaming through the neighborhood, but they’ve never been close to the road (don’t want to trespass) or I haven’t had my camera.  I was heading home from the post office and saw two of these guys close enough to take pictures of from the road, so I ran home, grabbed my camera, and hoped when I got back they hadn’t wandered off.  Luckily I live about 3 minutes from where they were.

On the way back, I noted the big guy had arrived for the party.  There were a total of 4 bucks in the area today, I was able to shoot 3 of them.  These animals live on private land so they have no fear of cars; but they don’t like walkers and especially dogs.  So they are fun to watch.

Wyoming Solar Eclipse

Wyoming Solar Eclipse.  August 21, 2017.  We knew the crowds would be large, we knew the traffic would be bad, but we had to go anyway…it was just too close to miss.  August 21st brought the total solar eclipse through the middle of Wyoming.  My sister, dad and I decided to witness it first hand.

Wyoming Eclipse

My family stayed with my folks that weekend, they live on the Colorado side of the Wyoming border up near Red Feather Lakes.  The plan was for my sister to come up and meet my dad and I near the Wyoming border on 287.  We’d carpool from there.  The target was south of Casper on BLM land, staying clear of the I-25 corridor.  There we’d be in the center of the shadow for the longest totality without the crowds.

We drove on Wyoming 487 and there was a good amount of traffic so we jumped off onto Wyoming 77 and was just looking for a nice spot with a good view.  Just so happened we hit the Shirley Ridge which had an amazing 360 view, and only two other cars were there.  We got there a couple of hours early.

Eclipse Roadtrip Map

Here was our target area. We jetted over to 77 once we realized the popularity of 487.

Since we were early, we set up our cameras and then I started wandering around looking at rocks.  There were agates and jaspers laying everywhere!  Cool.  So a rock hound and celestial road trip together!  Can’t beat that!

Shirley Basin Agates and Jaspers

Agates and Jaspers were everywhere.

For the photography buffs out these, here was my setup.  I had a Sony Alpha with 2x teleconverter and 70-200mm lens zoomed.  That gives me 400mm, and then I used APS-C mode on the camera to give me another boost to 600mm.  My dad had purchased a solar viewing film and I had that taped on the lens hood with painters tape to not leave residue.  All of this was on a tripod which was a lot of weight, but luckily the mirrorless cameras are light in comparison and it didn’t get too windy so I felt we were safe.

Photography Setup

The setup, my Sony Alpha (covered with a cloth to prevent overheating in the direct sun) with a solar filter taped to the hood.  On the screen it shows a picture of the eclipse at about 75%.

My plan was to take pictures every 3 minutes both coming into and leaving the eclipse and then during totality I would remove the lens hood, refocus, and take shots at different settings to capture all the different features of the totality.  All of this worked except one thing, I realized about half way into the waning of the eclipse that I was out of focus.  I didn’t realize that my focal point was the film several inches off of the end of the lens (affixed to the lens hood).  So I didn’t focus correctly getting many of the waning shots.  Oh well, rookie mistake.

taken from mreclipse.com

Taken from the Mr. Eclipse article on photographing eclipses, this is an amazing article that everyone interested should read!

Leading up to the totality the birds and crickets started to sing and make noise as if it was dusk.  There were no trees so we didn’t see the kaleidoscopic effect that others saw which would have been amazing.  It also got considerably cooler, fast, and the winds started to blow adding to the chill factor.

Start of Eclipse Chill Out

My dad Alex and sister Kristy chilling out as the Eclipse was starting.  You can see all the people that got at this site after we did; but we were all very comfortably spaced out.

During totality it was a scramble, I was taking many shots with different settings per Mr. Eclipse‘s chart above and then I sat the camera down and just observed.  What was cool was the 360 degree view we had, and the 360 degree color spanning the horizon!

Solar Eclipse moon shadow

During totality, looking NE towards Casper-ish. You can see the shadow of the moon in the clouds! That was really one of the coolest things about the eclipse is watching the shadow progress across the horizon.

Sun before the eclipse started

Here is the sun at the start of the eclipse. You can see some spots.

Final picture before totality

Here is one of the last shots I took before removing the lens hood with the filter affixed. From the next several minutes I explored different settings and took a bunch of pictures. Focus was a bit of a challenge as infinity was blurry.

Solar Eclipse corona

Here is a picture of the corona. Taken at f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO-100 at 600mm.

Final picture total totality

This was the last picture I took without the filter. f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO-100 @600mm.

Diamond Ring Solar Eclipse Totality

Here is the “diamond ring” feature of the totality. I’m pretty satisfied how this one turned out!

Chalk Cliffs, Shirley Basin, Wyoming

Here were the chalk cliffs which was the only feature on the horizon that is on google maps.

The trip home wasn’t too bad, although there was about an hour backup on 487 because of the stop sign in Medicine Bow at US 287.  But the state troopers had that engineered well and traffic slowly flowed through and no-one had to completely stop.

You can see the line of cars, looks like ants, on the horizon. This was no where near as bad as I-25 was. Good choice to my sister and dad on this route!

horny toad

We found this little horny toad lizard wondering around.

Playing with the Bees

Been playing with a new lens and decided to photo the bumble bees in our blooming sage garden.  Was able to get some interesting close ups, but in a couple the wings did some interesting things.  Haven’t quite figured that out yet as I was at 1/8000 second.  Are their little wings really that fast?

Baby Deer on 6/15

We have had a doe hanging out in the yard for the last week or so, she was definitely very pregnant.  Last week Erin saw a tiny fawn in our yard so I have been keeping my eyes on the search for the baby deer the oaks.  This morning on my to work, I noticed a some activity in the oaks and I turned around to get my camera.  I was able to see the doe give birth to a fawn which was an amazing treat!  

Little did I know, however, she had already given birth to another fawn, so the Sageport twins were born.  I watched her and the fawns for about 25 minutes and was able to grab some video and still image footage.  Now I’ll be keeping an eye out to watch these little creatures grow!

Colorado Tornadoes

Originally forecast to be in the Wyoming/Nebraska Panhandle into South Dakota areas, the severe weather threat dropped into Northern Colorado on the morning of June 12th.  The Storm Prediction Center issued a Particularly Dangerous Situation moderate risk with a tornado watch extending down into north central Colorado.  Here is some wording from the watch:

   The NWS Storm Prediction Center has issued a

   * Tornado Watch for portions of 
     Northeast Colorado
     Western Nebraska Panhandle
     Southeast Wyoming

   * Effective this Monday afternoon and evening from 110 PM until
     800 PM MDT.

   ...THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION...

   * Primary threats include...
     Several tornadoes and a few intense tornadoes likely
     Widespread large hail expected with scattered very large hail
       events to 4 inches in diameter likely
     Isolated significant damaging wind gusts to 75 mph possible

   SUMMARY...Isolated intense supercell thunderstorms are expected to
   develop across the watch area this afternoon.  Giant hail and strong
   tornadoes will be possible in the most intense storms.

Hazard Tornadoes EF2+ Tornadoes
Likelihood High High
Severe Wind 65 kt+ Wind
Moderate Moderate
Severe Hail 2″+ Hail
High High

I have not seen wording like this for Colorado in a long time, if ever…”Giant hail and strong tornadoes…”, and “scattered very large hail events up to 4 inches likely“.  Wow!

I drove Highway 85 north from Aurora.  By the time I was in Brighton they were saying baseball hail had fallen in Pierce from the southern storm.  The most southern cell wasn’t big but did look like it had fantastic storm structure.  Unfortunately I was too far north to see the structure clearly.  I was tempted to drive SW towards Loveland and check it out, but seeing the supercell in front of me kept me on it!  

Photo viewing is recommended in higher resolution, just click on the photos.

Barber Pole Supercell

The barber pole structure on this supercell was very tempting to spot from a better location, but I wanted to stay on the stronger storm!

The first tornado warning (radar indicated) appeared while I was east of Ault on the supercell I was on.  There definitely was a defined wall cloud and everything looked “right” with the storm, it was just a matter of time.

Lowering wall cloud on the southern side of the supercell. It was tornado warned at this time just north of Briggsdale.

You can see the rotating wall cloud and funnel .

This is taken outside of Grover looking northwest, the tornado was down near Hereford.

The tornado was on the ground for 16 minutes and did some structural damage (one road was closed due to debris/powerlines in the road).  It was rated EF-2 with 111-135 mph winds.  

Tornado showing mesocyclone.

The ropeout phase was pretty amazing, look how long and needle thin the tornado vortex was!

I stopped just east of Hereford as the hail looked pretty amazing laying everywhere. Hail didn’t pile up on the ground like some storms, but it was everywhere and the smallest size was around quarter sized!  Then there were stones up to softball size laying around!  I am fascinated by large hail and spent some time just checking out these amazing ice crystals! 

I found a good article that explains white versus clear ice.  

Example of how the hail was lying around everywhere! Not covering the ground, but big stones!

On radar the storm still had an intense velocity couplet after the tornado!

Driving towards Bushnell out of Pine Bluffs I saw another tornado touchdown but only for a minute.  As I headed east of Bushnell, I saw a tornado NE of town; but there were no easy spots to pull off so I just watched it as I drove.  When I finally found a pull-out from the road, a train went by blocking my view for about 5 minutes.  After the train, I caught the rope out.  Looking back to the NW, I saw another tornado but was never able to get a good picture of it!  

Rope out NE of Bushnell, NE.

I ended up calling it a day near Chimney Rock as I watched the amazing mothership sail off into the distance!  

 

 

Capturing Lightning on a Cell Phone

Lightning is one of the things I look forward to most during Spring and Summer months!  I love photography and have been able to get some nice lightning strikes normally with my digital SLR camera.  Lightning on a cell phone isn’t that difficult, however, assuming you have some know-how and a more advanced camera app on your phone.  There is certainly luck involved, but a little technical knowledge and a cell phone with advanced options can allow you to catch Mother Nature’s natural fireworks!

Firstly, safety is most important.  Being on a porch or anywhere outdoors is unsafe. Being under a tree is unsafe.  Being next to a fence is unsafe.  Being close to metal underground piping is unsafe.  I think you get the point!  The safest place to photograph lightning is inside of a house (through the window) or in a vehicle with the windows up.  You don’t get wet that way either!  

Lightning photography is dangerous and lightning isn’t very forgiving (i.e. is deadly), so please be safe!  

The key to capturing lightning, given you can’t predict when it will occur, is to open the exposure on the camera so you can capture several seconds at a time.  Only certain phones allow for this, but newer Android phones seem to be leading the way–it is called “Pro Mode”.  Different phones have different options in Pro Mode:

  • Being able to open the exposure for several seconds is helpful
  • Lowering the ISO and/or aperture (f-stop) to let less light in is usually helpful, especially if it is still dusk
  • Because the camera is taking in light for a longer period of time, there is no way a human can hold the camera still, so you will need to place it on a window ledge, the ground, or something else to keep it absolutely still
  • Focus for lightning needs to be exact.  Usually your subject is (better be) far enough away that you can choose manual focus and set to infinity.

My Samsung Note 5 camera allows for control of the focus, ISO and Exposure, so I lowered the ISO to the lowest setting (not Auto), changed to manual focus and set to infinity, and chose 4 second exposures.  I then positioned the camera on the ground and/or window pane so it would be absolutely still and repeatably pushed the trigger.  If you have a rapid fire mode, this could work instead of the longer exposure as well.

Arrows (from left to right) show Pro Mode ISO, Exposure and Focus setting options.

Pro mode ISO settings

ISO at its lowest setting; tells the “film” to absorb the least amount of light (and noise) which is needed because the lightning is so bright.  If you’re finding that the lightning isn’t showing up, increase this setting to allow more light to be captured.

Pro Mode focus settings

Focus is set to infinity. Mountains is infinity and flower is macro–or up close.  Most lightning is (better be) far enough away to be considered “infinity” distance.  

Pro mode exposure settings

Exposure can go up to 10 seconds on this camera, or as quick as 1/24000th of a second.  Since lightning is so quick, all this setting is for is to make it easier to capture the lightning by having the exposure open for longer periods of time in between when you have to fire the shutter.  Great since you have no idea when it will happen. 

TIP!  Lightning tends to occur (rule of thumb, definitely not scientific) at regular intervals, so i often count the amount of seconds between each bolt.  Once I get within 1-2 seconds of when it “should” occur, I open the shutter.  I also just continuously trigger the shutter so it is open most of the time.

So now that the setup is out of the way, here are some examples of lightning I caught and some tips and tricks.

Here I had the camera placed on a light post. Notice the focus of the foreground is not tight, this is because there is too much movement in the camera over the 4 seconds the shutter is open.

Again, too blurry of a picture due to the unsteady placement of the phone.

So I switched to the sidewalk which was much more sturdy.  I also used my shoe to give something to lean against to make it more sturdy. Now the foreground is in better focus.  Lightning is still far enough away to be outside, and to not be too bright to photograph.  

Lightning still far enough away (about 10 seconds between bolt and thunder) to not completely blow out the amount of light the bolts produce. Cloud to Ground bolts will most always be brighter, as in the case with the left both that found its ground.

This anvil crawler didn’t strike ground and wasn’t too bright to be captured.

Okay, these are getting too close, not only is it dangerous but you don’t get good pictures. With the ISO setting at its lowest it is allowing the least amount of light to be captured, but still it is too much. If you had an f-stop aperture setting you’d want to close the shutter letting less light in (closing the aperture is increasing the f-stop number, by the way)…but this is a limit of my cell phone’s camera.

This one is a good capture, although it is getting a little too close for comfort, time to head inside!

 

Luckily the window was tinted a bit, or this would have been way too much light. This was just a few blocks away. The window pane and window allowed for very sturdy aids to keep the camera steady. Although in cases like this, the only light captured by the phone is coming from the lightning, so at that instant in time is the only time there was light, so sturdiness isn’t as important because I don’t have any other light sources in the field of view.

Since I was focused on infinity, the rain on the window didn’t really obscure the subject of the photo. You an see the raindrops as hexagon white blobs in the upper/center part of the photo.

Palmer Divide Lightning

Got a call from my friend Jim that we were getting some great Palmer Divide Lightning coming into our neighborhood.  He invited me over to get some shots; but I couldn’t find the camera which was put out of reach to avoid accidents while my son and friends had a video game fest!

I ended up finding the camera and quickly set up on the back porch as I didn’t have time to head over to my buddy’s place across the neighborhood.  Since this was dusk I set the exposure for one second and closed down the aperture (f11) to limit the light so I could get a longer exposure.  I then put it on rapid fire and started taking photos.  

The storm’s bolts got within about I estimate 500 feet which was a bit close but I was able to capture some shots before the rain overtook me…luckily I have a safe setup when shooting from the back porch.  The storm was hardly yellow on the radar so it was a special treat to be putting out any lightning.  

This was the closest. You can start to see the intense parts of the bolt (towards the top, the “balls” along the path) and that fizzled away by dissolving; which is really cool to see. Might be hard to imagine but if you’ve seen up close lightning you probably will know what I’m referring to.