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!

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.

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.

Crystal photos

Been cleaning some crystals and since I was playing with my macro lens I decided to do some crystal photography, both to play with technique but also to see up close where the cleaning still needs to occur.

Most of these crystals need a lot further cleaning; with all the facets and how stained they were to begin with; this will be a long process to get all of the staining out of the cracks.  

Love the parallel secondary growth and all the facets.

Back side of the above crystal. Looks as if the original growth was a smoky, then two different growth periods.

Still has plenty more iron oxide staining to clean up, but love the colors on this fluorite chunk.

There is a lot pointing at you!

A pyrite double ball. Love the shapes and facets on these great crystals!

This is uncleaned, the pyrite was starting to tarnish when I extracted it; the colors are amazing!

This is a great healed crystal!


Macro Experiments

Was a beautiful Mother’s day, took a few minutes this afternoon to play with my prime macro lens to become more familiar with the depth of field options, bokah and focus.  

Wanted the whole flower in good focus. f/18, 1/100s, iso-3200, 90mm.

Wanted a shallower depth of field, with focus on the center of the flower. Turned out pretty cool! f2.8, 1/160sec, iso-100, 90mm.

Was interested in what the bokah would be like. f5.6, 1/100s, iso-320, 90mm.

Wanted to get good focus for the large depth of field. f22, 1/100s, iso-12800, 90mm.

Was trying to get the pedal in good focus, was curious about the fuzz. f5.6, 1/100s, iso-500, 90mm.

Was curious how the focus would blur with a small depth of field on the tip of the budding flower. f2.8, 1/100s, iso-320, 90mm.

Hoping for good focus throughout. f/8, 1/100s, iso-1250, 90mm.

Was focusing on the flowers with a shallow depth of field. f/2.8, 1/100s, iso-160, 90mm

Going for deep focus to contrast with the above photo. f/20, 1/100s, iso-10000, 90mm

Wanted to get the curve.  f/20, 1/100s, iso-8000, 90mm.

Was trying to get the stem as it was in the shade. Got some grass blades in the foreground blown out. f/14, 1/100s, iso-1000, 90mm.

This was a difficult shot because it was breezy. f/5.6, 1/100s, iso-320, 90mm.

Love the budding oaks! f/16, 1/100s, iso-1250, 90mm.

More oaks. f/16, 1/100s, iso-3200, 90mm.

Was standing taking a picture straight down. f/16, 1/100s, iso-2500, 90mm.

What a cool time of year! f/16, 1/100s, iso-4000, 90mm.

Was curious on how these lichen on the oaks would turn out. f/22, 1/100s, iso-6400, 90mm.

f/20, 1/100s, iso-10000, 90mm.

Decay, with a leaf gall wasp cocoon. f/8, 1/100s, iso-400, 90mm.

f/22, 1/100s, iso-12800, 90mm

Crystal photography using a Macro lens

As I’m experimenting with my new Macro lens and crystal photography.  I am trying to figure out how to better shoot crystals using a macro lens, which I am really enjoying! 

I have been cleaning some crystals in an Iron Out bath recently and thought I’d take some progress shots.  These are crystals dug earlier this year and some last year.  Here are some of the experiments.

These two both came out of the same area of the little seam I was in. Both had interesting secondary growth patterns! f11,1/100, iso400, 90mm

This one had small crystals growing in the overgrowth gap. Interesting etching as well. Needing a good depth of field for these macro shots. Manual focus, f11, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.

This crystal has some interesting faces in the overgrowth. Trying to capture the point and the faces in focus, so needing a deep depth of field. f11, 1/00, iso1000, 90mm.

Amazonite. f11, 1/100, iso125, 90mm

This crystal has some neat little gemmy sidecars. f11, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.

I love this side shot showing the color zoning in the crystal. Love the sawtooths at the top left! f20, 1/100, is0640, 90mm.

Side view of 1/2 of this crystal.

Was going for a shallow depth of field for this end crystal which shows the iron staining and multicolors this fluorite has to offer! f5.6, 1/100, iso100, 90mm

This is part of a much bigger fluorite crystal that disintegrated once I tried extracting it. But the apple green contrasting with violet is amazing! Background was the 12 inches of spring snow and the crystal was backlit by the morning sun. f3.2, 1/2000, iso100, -0.7 step, 90mm.

This is two of the three pieces I was able to salvage. They are still pretty stained with iron oxide, will continue giving a iron out bath. f9, 1/100, iso100, -.7step (oops), 90mm.

Macro Experiments

Been trying out the new Macro lens to see if I can get used to when to use which aperture setting.  Since it was a beautiful spring day, I walked around the yard with the lens experimenting on different subjects.  

Checking out Erin’s garden, which includes a bunch of crystals. f5, 1/320, ISO100, 90mm

Douglas County Petrified Wood, Colorado Smoky Amethyst Quartz, and a Douglas County Smoky Quartz Amazonite plate. Again in the garden. f11, 1/100, ISO100, 90mm.

Some convection on a storm a bit north of here, getting used to the fixed nature of this prime lens (this is my first foray into prime lenses). f11, 1/400, ISO100, 90mm.

Black and white convection shot, at the top of the stack. f11, 1/640, iso100, 90mm.

Manual focus on the seed in this dandelion shot. f11, 1/100, iso160, 90mm.

Was going for a shallow depth of field here with the foreground in tight focus. Manual focus, f2.8, 1/1250, iso100, 90mm.

This guy was cool, letting me get so close. Needed a deeper depth of field to get the entire grasshopper in focus, didn’t quite achieve that though got most of his head in good focus. f/6.3, 1/320, iso100, 90mm manual focus.

Working on really tight focus on all of the head. Didn’t get the antennae though. Manual focus, f6.3, iso100, 1/200, 90mm.

Got him itching, even bugs have allergies? This one was a bit tighter in focus, not because of the change in aperture, but rather the antennae are more in line with the body I think. Manual focus, f6.3, 1/200, iso100, 90mm.

Caught this hawk soaring! f14, 1/400, iso100, 90mm

The goal for this shot was to get the little anthers in focus while also have the rest of the flower which requires a deeper depth of field. Manual focus, f14, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.

Here I was trying to get the further away anthers in sharp focus to highlight the curly anthers. Still trying to get it in mostly focus, but the foreground is a bit out of focus. Manual focus, f18, 1/100, iso2000, 90mm.

For this shot the goal was to get the flower and anthers in tight focus, didn’t know what kind of bokah to expect. Manual focus, f5, 1/100, iso250, 90mm.

Was trying to get the anthers in tight focus to highlight them with a really shallow depth of field to focus the eye on the anther and pollen. Manual focus, f2.8, 1/500, iso100, 90mm.

There was a tiny little ant crawling around the flower, wanted to try and get him and the flower in focus. Manual focus, f13, 1/00, iso400, 90mm.

I saw the ant walk into this hole in the tree, so I did a tight focus on that hole and waited for him to peek his head out. Manual focus, f13, 1/100, iso250, 90mm.

This dead flower stalk had good depth between the flowers, so I wanted to see what the extreme shallow depth of field would look like on this lens. I find it amazing the few inches blurs that quickly! Manual focus, f2.8, 1/640, iso100, 90mm.

The goal here was to get good overall focus, with the seeds being primary focal point. I liked this because you can see all the way to the core of the dandelion flower and I wanted to try and highlight that. Manual focus, f22, 1/100, iso800, 90mm.

Had some Mt Antero beryl showing in the garden, so tried to get crisp focus on some of the Colorado blue. Manual focus, f18, 1/100, iso4000, 90mm.

This quartz crystal needs a cleaning someday. The goal was to get all the facets in focus, so a deep depth of field from the macro lens. Manual focus, f18, 1/100, iso1600, 90mm

Morning Photography

February 3rd 2017 was a cold, brisk morning in Larkspur.  We had a good fog all night and the temperature went down to 15 degrees in the morning.  I started my daily journey toward the megalopolis while dawn was just unfolding and I felt the urge to turn around to grab my camera.  It was beautiful out!  

So, I turned around and went back home and grabbed the camera.  Along the first 5 miles of my route I stopped many times and took some photos.  I then was treated to an elk herd that was in plain view so I stopped and watched them for a while.  

A fun start to my drive to work!  As always these photos are previews, click on the photo for a larger version.

bear dance sageport sterling point larkspur

My road home

fog larkspurfrost fog tree larkspur fog

crull cabin larkspur colorado

More on Crull Cabin…

bokah frost fence wire

I was happy with the bokah effect on this shot!

crull cabin larkspur larkspur elk larkspur elk larkspur elk larkspur elk larkspur elk larkspur elk larkspur elk

elk larkspur

I especially like this picture with the frost on the scrub oak.