A New Home for Nightscapes

“Climber Trails”, from my gallery of film startrail classics.

The internet has evolved tremendously since its early days when I first tried to use web pages to show the results of my nighttime photography.  Back then, our (dial-up) Internet Service Provider (ATT) offered a home page and a URL subspace to their customers.   I took advantage of it and crafted some pages to hold my pictures and stories.  Later, I acquired my own domain, nightscapes.net, found a host, loaded my stuff onto it and even got some professional help to re-organize when it became unwieldy. 

I learned that maintaining a website can be a lot of work; the technology evolves, links and scripts break, web page conventions, html standards and visitor expectations change.  I’m not a programmer (despite a lifetime of doing it), and my interests are in the art and science of images, not the latest network and browser technologies for supporting the latest desktop/laptop/tablet/phone displays.

So I was excited to discover a website service oriented toward photographers, a platform with a small army of support people who maintain it, with features that display photographs at their best, regardless of display or browser, keeping up with the latest updates to internet programming standards.  They offer additional services for professional photographers (“buy print”, etc), and at an earlier time I might have subscribed to them.

But I am happy now to keep the shopping cart icons suppressed and not distract from the images themselves.

I have transferred my collection of nightscapes accumulated over the last two decades, over to smugmug, where you can find it at thorolson.smugmug.com.  I know people don’t power-browse through large collections of pictures, so I consider this to be really more of an archive, to continue my project of making a digital coffee table book of my favorites.

But I will also use the site to display my more recent work, as I complete it.  It will be a relief to have a way to do so without the overhead of manually creating and integrating new web pages for them. 

I intend to make posts to this, my personal website, when I add new photographs.  I invite you to subscribe or “follow” me, which will send you an email when new posts are made.  I am not very prolific in my art, so you will not be inundated, and if you are intrigued by the types of pictures I like to take, well, I take enjoyment in sharing them and would love to have you as a follower.

Nightscape Odyssey Goes to Press!

By the miracles of modern technology (a technology I contributed to!), it is possible to self-publish a book without a minimum printing run of thousands or more.  I recently took advantage of one of these services to make a limited edition of my collection of stories and essays, Nightscape Odyssey, posted previously on this site. 

It was tricky to get the layout just right; it took two proofs, but I’m happy with the result and the experience was satisfying, especially taking delivery of the final copies.  Even more satisfying was giving them away as gifts. 

If you didn’t get one, it was because you probably aren’t one of my nephews or nieces, whom I felt should have some artifact of their odd uncle’s interests, and stories about what road trips were like way back when.   Don’t worry though, if you really want a copy of this book, the same company that published them for me can make one for you!  You’ll have to pay the going rate however, and you may find it more than you want to shell out for just another coffee table book. (https://www.blurb.com/b/10435240-nightscape-odyssey)

But if you don’t insist on an actual physical hard-cover book, Nightscape Odyssey can be had for free!  A pdf version is available for download (20MB).  I hope you enjoy it!

Orion at the Beach

Orion at the Beach
Kaanapali Beach, Maui HI, 06 April 2001
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/8
16 minute exposure on E200 pushed 1 stop

It looks like a daytime picture but there was only the full moon. With enough exposure, what looks like black sky to me becomes sky blue to the film. The dreamy quality is made by the passage of light clouds blowing through during the exposure, and by the cumulative misty effect of waves breaking on the shore. A rogue wave climbs far up the beach and glistens in the moonlight for a moment before sinking back into the sand. A close look will find masts waving as their moored sailboats maneuver against the wind.

The constellation Orion is hiding in the clouds. The three belt stars make a characteristic cat scratch during the time exposure. To the left, undimmed by faint clouds is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Windy Night

Windy Night
Maui HI, 3 April 2001
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/8
15 minute exposure on Provia-F pushed 2 stops

Not an ideal night for star pictures! The moon is full, clouds and haze fill the sky, and nearby lights conspire to wash out the darkness. Even so, the pattern of the Big Dipper constellation behind the palm trees is enchanting.

In most star trail pictures a fixed camera records a static landscape and the only motion is from the clocklike rotation of the stars. In this case the palm trees are turned into flowers waving in the wind, even as the star trails keep their sharp focus. The rising full moon and the lights of this Hawaiian island color the clouds, furthering the dreamlike quality in this picture.

Maui Moon

Maui Moon
Kaanapali Beach, Maui HI
, April 2001

The moon is bright enough to show during broad daylight. Here a nearly full moon is framed by branches of palm trees that line the beaches of Kanapaali. As the day progresses to evening the powerful effect of moonlight will add to the already potent romance of this Hawaiian island.

Haleakala Clouds

Haleakala Clouds
Haleakala Crater, Maui Hawaii, April 2001
Pentax 6×7, E200

It is an unnerving experience to be looking down at the clouds.  In this view the color of the sky seems exaggerated, but it is our proximity to space that gives it the dark tint: there is less air above us at this elevation.  The clouds we are looking down upon take on the reflected color of the sky which makes a stark contrast to the rust-red landscape of the volcano’s summit.  The island of Hawaii can be seen in the distance, apparently floating among the thunder cells building up around it.

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae
Portage Lake, MN, 25 Nov 2000
20-minutes at f/4, Kodak PJ400 color negative film, pushed 1 stop

This is a favorite target for astrophotographers. It’s a famous image, but quite challenging to capture, partly because it is only visible during the winter months when Orion the Hunter is up. The weather conditions will always be cold, at least in the northern latitudes, and so winter gear is required.

It is not easy to actually see this target. The nearby bright star, zeta Orionis, is a convenient marker, but its glare easily washes out the faint glow of the Horsehead and another nearby object just below zeta, the “Flame Nebula”.

Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nebula
Portage Lake, MN, 25 Nov 2000

This is a very large region of sky, but the beautiful red remnants of this supernova explosion are faint. One of the attractive features of the Rosette is the cluster of stars at its center. One of these may be the star that expoded eons ago leaving this signature shell of expanding and glowing gas.

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula
Cherry Grove Observing Site, MN, 04 March 2000
E200 Ektachrome, superposition of two 10-minute exposures

On most winter nights, the distinctive constellation of Orion the Hunter is plainly visible in the southern sky.  Orion sports a “belt” from which hangs a three-star “sword”.  The Orion Nebula is the smudge of the middle star in Orion’s sword.  A closer look at it reveals that it is not a star at all, but a group of stars shrouded in a cloud of dust and glowing gas.  This is a stellar nursery where new stars are being formed.  As the gas coalesces, it is energized and emits a characteristic red glow, not bright enough to be seen visually, but captured nicely on film.

North American Nebula

North American Nebula
Cherry Grove Observing Site, MN, 07 June 2000

In the constellation Cygnus, (the Swan) is a large complex of glowing gas nebulas, and this portion has a shape suggestive of a familiar continent.  The strong red color is easily recorded on film, but large telescopes and special filters are needed to make it visible to human night vision.  The bright star on the left, “62-Cygni (xi)”, dominates this picture, but if you were to look at the sky, it would not be particularly noticable among the dozen even brighter stars in this constellation!