A Night with the Sunflowers

Sunflowers in the light of the full moon.

I have long been fascinated by sunflowers.  On my travels across the prairies of the Dakotas I loved to encounter sunflower fields with their collective bright yellow heads all aimed in the same direction.  

It is generally known that sunflowers track the sun across the sky, from east to west.  I wondered what happens after sunset, when the flowers would all be facing west.  With no phototropism to guide it, how would they get ready for the eastern sunrise?  Would they be caught off-guard in the morning and suddenly swing their heads back at the risk of floral whiplash?  Or is there a gradual re-setting of the neck-stalk fibers back to an easterly gaze?

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3.5 Dark Sky Enforcement at Many Glacier

A daytime shot of the Many Glacier Hotel.

Glacier Park presents its most fascinating face at the end of a road that penetrates as far as it can into the body of the park before being stopped by dramatic features with names like “The Garden Wall”, “Iceberg Notch”, and “The Salamander”. At the end of the road is a hotel that is bathed in views of these mountain features and other spectacular carved peaks, many of which still bear glaciers. Hence the name of this unique place, Many Glacier.

In front of the hotel is Swiftcurrent Lake, candidate for my desired composition containing reflected star trails.  On the night I was here however, so was the moon.  I waited for it to set, a long wait until it finally fell below the horizon.  Until then it was eclipsed by Grinnell Point, looming in front of me.  Although the moon was now no longer directly visible, it still lit the sky. Film is cheap (I keep telling myself) and I never know if the sky will stay clear, so I made several exposures during the moon’s gradual hidden descent. The wind was calm, and the lake became smooth. I hoped the conditions would hold.

I dared only leave the shutter open for 30 minutes though; the sky would wash out if exposed longer. During this time the moon drifted down behind Grinnell Point, leaving a trailing glow. I looked around at the scene, wondering what else would be captured on film.

The lake had become so calm and the water was so clear that I could see the bottom! I was intrigued by the array of fallen trees and rocks and other natural lake bottom material. Then I took a larger view and found it a bit distracting. I wondered if the camera would see reflections of the stars at all. How is it that I could see this underwater debris anyway? The moon wasn’t bright enough to light the scene in this way.

The view at Many Glacier, lights on.

Behind me, the hotel guests had gradually turned out their room lights and gone to bed. But like all contemporary buildings, modern or primitive it seems, there were outdoor security lights aimed all around, including at me by the shore of the lake!

The Many Glacier Hotel is an old renovated lodge-like building. A combination of rustic log construction and swiss chalet trim makes it a novel structure at the edge of the lake. Its five stories make it seem unnaturally tall, even in an environment of tall lodgepole pines. Each floor has a lakeside balcony, each balcony connects with an outdoor stairway, each staircase with an access door illuminated by floodlights. Here was the source of my unwanted lighting.

I proceeded up the stairway, stopping at each door, and with gloves normally intended for cold-protection, unscrewed each overhanging floodlamp bulb until the entire end of the hotel became dark. It was a clandestine act, but in the name of fighting local light pollution I committed the deed.

The moon was still setting, now behind the distant peak of Swiftcurrent Mountain. Wisps of clouds were coming in, the air frequently breaking the glass surface of the lake, but I made a one-hour exposure, this time without the distraction of the foreground lake bottom.

Swiftcurrent Lake, lights off.

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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.