The Blog Roll


Modern blog formats allow me to make posts of diverse topics as I work on them, yet organize them according to subjects/categories.  The “blog roll” is the reverse chronological sequence of my postings, which may seem semi-random or disorganized to some– select a category to find the coherent themes. If you find them of interest, I invite you to “subscribe” and get an email note when I make a post. Don’t worry, I am not very prolific in this art, so there is no danger of flooding your inbox.

Owachomo South

The view to the south at Owachomo Natural Bridge does not include the south celestial pole, but it clearly shows the stars revolving around it. At higher elevations, the stars transition across the celestial equator, and then arc the other way, following the rules for the northern hemisphere.

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Natural Bridge Owachomo (South)
15 Nov 2007
EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22mm at 10mm
18x5min, f/6.7, ISO 800

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Owachomo North

Natural Bridges National Monument is in Utah and is the first International Dark Sky Park. It is so remote, and the air so dry, that one can see stars all the way to the horizon! And nowhere on that horizon is any hint of city light dome. The park itself is powered by a solar array; the residents are misers in conserving their battery power.

The bridges are not to be confused with “arches” (found in a national park elsewhere in the state), as they are formed by different geologic processes. There are three popular bridges here, accessible by short hikes. This one suited my purposes best, lying on an east-west axis and in a valley allowing a view at the celestial pole. Across a dry riverbed, I found the position to capture this low angle composition.

I set up my cameras (I was also shooting film) and started the exposure sequence. The moon was in the process of setting and it illuminated the texture of the rocks, and also helped me find my way back to the trail head where I had a telescope and mount. I enjoyed some deep sky observing, but then needed to get back to tend my cameras. The 15-minute hike was now in complete darkness. A flashlight was needed to avoid wandering off into the desert at a missed trail marker, and the last of it was the climb under the bridge and down into the riverbed. The route I took is apparent.

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Natural Bridge Owachomo (North)
15 Nov 2007
EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22mm at 10mm
18x5min, f/6.7, ISO 800

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West Mitten

This is a picture I have attempted to capture over many years. At each of my travels to an annual conference, I would take one end of the week to drive to remote corners of Arizona. I shipped my camera and telescope equipment ahead to meet me and would then have a chance to do imaging under the clear, dark and arid desert skies.

The landscape at Monument Valley is unique, but access to the area is restricted. It straddles the Arizona-Utah border and is within the land of the Navaho Nation, that unproductive unwanted area partitioned off to contain the remnants of a people conquered by the westward expansion of a growing country. The land may not be organically fertile, but the landscape is spiritually rich, and many visitors come to see and experience it. The Navaho park around the monuments permit limited tours during the day, and is closed completely at night.

Even so, my first visits allowed me to stay at a campground with a view of the signature shapes of two monuments known as the “mittens”; their offset columns make them look like the thumbs in a pair of mittens. The view was obscured however and a clear night sky portrait would require a viewpoint from somewhere deeper in the park.

The road into the park is a rough cut into the desert floor that is a challenge to just about any vehicle. During the day, the ruts and holes and sandtraps are visible if not always avoidable. At night, access is blocked. To reach the vantage point that would make the picture in my minds eye, I would need to find a way.

On this night, a last chance before I needed to depart for home, I arrived after dark and worked my way to a position I thought would give me that picture. It was an uneasy moment however, and I felt that I was trespassing on sacred ground. I expected at any moment that park security would show up and escort me out. I almost abandoned my plan, but after some time in the dark and quiet, decided that I had traveled far and hard to bring myself to this place, and that I should go ahead and attempt to capture the spirit of the land and sky on that evening.

I set up my cameras and started their exposures. Once started, I waited quietly, watching the Big Dipper work its way behind the monument, like clock hands indicating the time and season. Two cars lumbered and lurched past me on their way to homes further in the valley. It occurred to me that even if they noticed, they would perhaps be more fearful of an unknown vehicle parked darkly off the side of the road than offended by someone taking pictures of their beautiful land.

After five visits and as many unsuccessful attempts, with the help of the ancient Navajo spirits, I was finally able to make this picture of the West Mitten as the landscape rotates under the North Star.

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West Mitten
14 Nov 2007
EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22mm at 20mm
21×300 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800

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Superior Forest Skies

Fall colors at Ninemile Lake Campground

The climate is changing, and this year held examples of it, including heat and drought conditions that triggered forest fires.  The major fires were in western states and Canada, but Minnesota had a share of them too—closing our boundary waters and forests for several weeks.

The fires are now under control, and northern Minnesota campgrounds are open again.  We decided to take advantage of the calm weather, see the fall colors, and maybe even see some northern lights.  Of course because camping next to a beautiful lake is just an invitation to take nighttime pictures of the sky above it,  I continued my time lapse lessons.

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Moonrise over St Croix Crossing

A riverboat returning from its dinner cruise under the light of the harvest moon.

Some years ago I was driving home from an afternoon excursion into the beautiful rural areas of Minnesota during the fall harvest.  The sun eventually sank below the corn fields and the evening sky took over as the moon rose.

There was a delay in our travel home while I stopped and took pictures of this unusual composition:  the moon in a twilight sky behind the steeple of a local church and its cemetery.  I don’t believe there was a guiding hand directing me to that place and time, but I recognize a unique moment when I am in it.

In the years since, I have attempted to capture the moon in this magic moment, but it turns out to be a difficult project.  I recently learned why at a seminar led by Mike Shaw, one of the pioneers in making modern nightscape photos.  His advice and recommendations led me to try this composition on the St Croix River, the optimal timing being one day before the full moon.

The new bridge over the river was a long time in the planning, and long overdue for replacing the old lift bridge that chronically clogged the traffic in Stillwater.  The old bridge is now dedicated to pedestrians and bicycles; the new bridge hosts walkways and overlooks, making for a pleasant “loop trail” from Minnesota to Wisconsin and back.

I practiced the photo shoot for several days prior to the key event and witnessed lots of fishing and boating activities on the river.  I also watched big river boats taking their passengers out for dinner cruises, returning after sunset.  The beautiful fall weather held, and I was able to once again photograph the rising harvest moon dressed in the beautiful colors of twilight.

I assembled a time lapse of the experience.  It’s a one-minute sequence.  I hope you enjoy it.

Discovered: Harvard Biology Labs

A photograph taken by my grandfather in the 1930s. Where is this unusual entryway?

In recent weeks I have been reviewing old family photos in preparation for a covid-delayed memorial. Among the too many pictures of unidentified people and places are some intriguing treasures. The relatives who could tell me more about them are now gone. I can’t ask them, which is one of the more frequent and sad experiences I have these days.

But sometimes it is possible to follow clues in the photos to find the answers. In this case it is a photo that my grandfather took, possibly back in the 1930s. It shows a beautiful composition of light and shadow of a building entrance/lobby. I liked the lighting, but I really enjoyed discovering the detail on the door panels that were casting the shadows: insects and plants. What building would host such artwork?

Google search is an amazing technology. A response to “door panels insects plants” did not yield anything useful, but by adding “Harvard” to the terms (knowing my grandfather had studied biology there) and looking for image results, I found a unique building: the Harvard Biology Laboratory.

The building was built in 1931 and obviously impressed my grandfather, where he likely spent considerable time in it pursuing his doctorate. It continues to impress, as recent posts attest. As I look at the pictures of the outside of the building, who wouldn’t find it intriguing?

It turns out that there are three doors to the entry; my grandfather’s shot depicted two. But there is a hint of another– a bicycle is parked there, and sure enough the current pictures show a third door, adorned by sea creatures. All of them, and the sculptures outside, created by Katherine Lane Weems.

All of this makes me want to visit. I now have a memento from the past that would be fun to re-create!

Regulus Occultation

When the moon, in its monthly travel around Earth, moves across a bright star, it is called an occultation.  On this date, the moon is moving toward the bright star Regulus.  Here is a superposed series of pictures taken over 1 hour as Regulus apparently “approaches” and then is eclipsed by the moon.

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3 November 2007
Takahashi CN212, Newtonian configuration, f/4
Canon EOS 20Da, ISO 800
1/500 sec, superposition of successive exposures, one minute apart.

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Comet Holmes

In 2007 a comet passed through our neighborhood and allowed me a chance to try the high dynamic range (HDR) imaging techniques that were being developed at that time.  The idea is to combine a range of exposures to get a large range of detail.  In this case 10 exposures covering the range from 1 second to 8 minutes are combined, selecting the best tonal information from each.  This allows the otherwise obscured ion cloud surrounding the dusty nucleus to become visible as a faint blue-green glow.  I was able to use this image as an HDR example in a conference presentation I made on this topic the following week.

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2 November 2007
Takahashi CN212 in Newtonian configuration (f/4)
Canon EOS 20Da, ISO 800

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Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak dominates the city of Colorado Springs and can be seen for hundreds of miles around. I did not attempt to climb or drive it, but found a view from across the valley above Woodland Park. There is considerable light cast on the sky from these growing urban centers and the fresh snow dusting Pikes Peak reflects it. The clear mountain air shows the southern stars of the Milky Way traversing the space above.

This is a combined exposure (from film) of 3-1/2 hours. Even though this is a remote forest road, in that time there is certain to be traffic, and headlights can be seen traveling the road in the meadow below the great mountain.

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Pikes Peak, Colorado
1 Nov 2007
Pentax 6×7, 55mm at f/5.6
120 min + 90 min on Provia 400

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Monument Valley

Gouldings Resort is a historical island of lodging within the island of the Navajo nation within the state of Arizona. It borders the sacred area of Monument Valley whose iconic mitten shapes are seen silhouetted on the horizon. The resort itself is in the lower foreground, casting its bright lights onto the eroded red walls of the ancient mesa.

This is a composite of 14 exposures representing an elapsed time of almost two hours. Evening travelers through the reservation are seen on the distant road. Some are workers preparing for an upcoming weekend airshow event that will feature the monuments as a backdrop. Hollywood westerns were once the source of this activity, but the only signs of of those movies now are nostalgic photos and posters found in museums, and hotel lobbies.

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Monument Valley, Navaho Nation
8 May 2007
EOS 20Da, EFS 17-55mm at 35mm
8 min, f/8, ISO 400

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