Yosemite Valley by Moonlight

The light of a setting crescent moon illuminates the famous valley.  El Capitan looms on the left, a point of light is seen on its face, the flashlight of a climber, strapped to the wall for an overnight pause in progress.  Half Dome is in the distance, and Bridalveil Falls pours reflected moonlight into the valley, the headlights of cars seeming to carry it downstream alongside the Merced River.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
April 2004
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4
60 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Half Dome

During the day, Yosemite must have the highest number of tripods per capita in the world.  Mine is setup at night during this difficult hour. Traffic, in the form of late arriving tourists, security rangers on patrol, and mangy coyotes, all serve to distract me while exposing this shot from Sentinel Bridge.

Half Dome, the signature shape of Yosemite, is illuminated by starlight, revealing the patterns of rock varnish on its face.  The faint light from the sky also reflects gently on the Merced River as it flows beneath my vantage point.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
April 2004
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4 60 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Yosemite Meteor

Yosemite Falls is at a thunderous volume in this season, seeming to pour starlight over the edge of the cliff into the valley.  The water continues its downward path via Lower Yosemite Falls, the dim watery glint reflecting a moonless night. 

A meteor bright enough to light up the forest flashed through the sky just before the end of this 90-minute exposure. A fireball that left a glowing plasma trail, it is a member of the Lyrid meteor shower, an annual April event. It cuts a chord across the arcs of stars making their daily tour around Polaris.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
22 April 2004
Pentax 6×7 w 55mm lens at f/4
90 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Bridalveil Falls

The stars follow their gradual southern arcs parallel to the terrain during this 90 minute exposure.  The water is unusually high this season, catching and reflecting starlight during its freefall down to the valley floor, the long exposure creating a flowing river of mist not possible to capture during the bright daylight hours.

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Yosemite National Park, CA
April 2004
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4
90 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Split Rock Lighthouse

Spring comes late to this region.  Snow was an obstacle to bringing equipment to this site, but once there, I could enjoy a solitude that amplified the sounds of the great lake.  The beating of waves against the shore diminished through the evening as the temperature dropped and the water in this back bay was held captive and quiet beneath a thin ice glaze.  Occasional cracks and “tinks”  were heard as daytime puddles froze in their rock bowls.

This time exposure captures the stars traversing their east-west passage over the recently thawed waters of Lake Superior.  Park security lamps are now the  only light on the famous cliff, illuminating the distinctive shape of this former, but now dark, guardian beacon.

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Two Harbors, MN
21 March 2004
Nikomat with 150mm lens at f/5.6
60 minute exposure on Provia 100 +2 stops


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Orion and Friends

The constellation Orion is a distinctive pattern in the winter sky.  Look for the three-star belt, with another three-star sword hanging from it. Here he is with some of his less visible friends.  The large red arc is Barnard’s Loop, which encircles the Orion Nebula (lower of the two red areas) and the Horsehead and Flame Nebulas

Betelgeuse is the red giant star at Orions shoulder, not to be confused with the circular red Rosette Nebula to the left.  The bright blue star at the lower left is Sirius (the Dog Star), the brightest star in the sky, and sailing above it in the blue river of the winter Milky Way is the red wisp of the Seagull Nebula.

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Lake Superior shoreline near Two Harbors, MN
March 2004
Pentax 6×7, 55mm, f/5.6
E200 +2 stops, 20 minutes, guided

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Altamont Windfarm

Altamont Pass, Livermore CA, 1 Feb 2003

I had tried once before to get a nighttime picture of these modern-day generators, to complement my shot of a more traditional windmill. The proximity to the large population near San Francisco Bay fills the sky with light, and my previous pictures had been washed out. This time I was armed with a light pollution rejection filter and enough time to find this interesting composition.  I rediscovered a characteristic of these filters- they are very angle-of-view sensitive.

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Altamont Pass, Livermore CA
1 Feb 2003
Nikomat with 50mm lens at f/8
60 minute exposure on Provia 400


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El Capitan’s Midnight Crown

El Capitan’s immense figure blocks my view of the north star Polaris.  I can only guess where it should be based on the time and positions of other stars.  A position in an open field in Yosemite Valley allows me to make this composition.

The moonless night meant that the only illumination was by starlight.  The park is sufficiently remote to escape the light pollution from large cities, but not enough to avoid airplane traffic.  The distinct dotted lines mark the strobe lights of distant flights, unknowingly adding their trails to those of the stars.

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Yosemite National Park
13 April 2002
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4
90 minute exposure on Provia 400


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Yosemite Falls by Starlight

Yosemite National Park, 13 April 2002
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/4, 2 hour exposure on Provia 400

I was given a hint that I should consider Yosemite Falls as a startrail target because the trail to it ran along a north-south path.  I wasn’t brave enough to hike in the dark, but I did find a vantage point from across the valley that placed Polaris directly above the falls.

The moonless night meant that the only illumination was by starlight.  The park is sufficiently remote to escape the light pollution from large cities, but not enough to avoid airplane traffic.  To minimize them crossing the view, this exposure was done in the very early morning hours when all the airplanes have found their destinations and the only sound in the air was the distant rushing of water.


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Astrophotos (and Nightscapes) Resume

Colorimetric Veil
Six frames from SBIG ST-10 CCD camera using red, green, blue, H-alpha, O-III, and H-beta filters on an Astrophysics 130mm f/6 refractor. Colorimetric and spatial processing was used to combine the frames into this final image.  Collaboration with astrophotographer Mike Cook.
 

After the hiatus while I compiled my Nightscape Odyssey notes and photos, I now return to my longer term project: “Coffee Table Nightscapes”, a collection of photos acquired over the years, often on business trips or summertime travels. I don’t pretend to be a competitor to APOD, where you will find spectacular astronomical imagery each and every day; rather, this is a low key way to share a few pictures that I enjoyed taking, with people that may appreciate them.

I resume the series with this image that someone else took. The Veil Nebula is a striking object in the sky and a popular target for astrophotographers. The view in the eyepiece of the telescope shows a faint fuzzy gray wisp of cloud, but cameras record something else. I was curious about what its actual visual appearance would be, if we could actually see it in full color.

The Veil Nebula is a supernova remnant– a star exploded, casting off a shell of gas that expands outward. The gas is hot and ionized and emits light at characteristic wavelengths. Hydrogen glows red at a characteristic 656nm, and also a blue-green at 486nm. Ionized oxygen emits green-blue light at 501nm. Most pictures of the Veil show a bright red cloud because the red H-alpha light is easy to record on film and CCD sensors. It is a challenge to display the blue-green colors because it falls in the gap between the blue and green-sensitive layers of film, and other imaging systems.

Figuring out how to make an image that was “colorimetrically correct” took me down a particular path of color science that resulted in a paper presented at the annual Color Imaging Conference. This image was my primary example among others, that were featured in the poster presentation (scroll to the end to see them). If you are still not convinced, try getting through the full technical details published in the Journal of Imaging Science.

The pictures I will be subsequently sharing are not this technically demanding. Whether simple or complex, simply enjoy them for their visual and inspirational value.


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