It’s all in the EYES

On a recent “First Friday Art Walk” in downtown Flagstaff, I had the opportunity to photograph two different dance troupes. The first performance (The Gypsy Chicks) was outdoors in the evening twilight on Heritage Square; the second performance (Troupe Shuvani) was indoors at the Flagstaff Photography Center.

Outdoor performance of The Gypsy Chicks in Heritage Square during Flagstaff First Friday Art Walk.
Outdoor performance of The Gypsy Chicks in Heritage Square during Flagstaff First Friday Art Walk.
Performance of Troupe Shuvani at the Flagstaff Photography Center as part of Flagstaff First Friday Art Walk.
Performance of Troupe Shuvani at the Flagstaff Photography Center as part of Flagstaff First Friday Art Walk.

 

I shot many images of both troupes but these two photographs stand out. And I think it is because the dancer is making “eye contact” with the camera.

Stars over Sedona

The dry weather and amazingly clear skies of early summer continue in northern Arizona. It won’t be too long before the rainy season begins and it will be cloudy more often than clear. Best to take advantage of the great conditions and grab a few more images of the night  sky. An important aspect of a night sky image is getting a good foreground in the composition so we took an evening trip down to Sedona hoping to include some of the famous red rocks in the images.

There is no moon and it won’t rise until well after midnight. But there is enough stray light from the small city of Sedona, Arizona, to bring out a glow on the red rocks in this image.

Milky Way Galaxy over the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.
Milky Way Galaxy over the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

Exposure bracketing and high dynamic range (HDR)

In the past my only attempts at exposure bracketing were with a film camera and were limited to one or two additional images shot with minor variations in f-stop or shutter speed. Then, when developed, I would select the best image and put aside the others.

All that has changed with digital.

HDR image from Upper Waterholes Canyon in northern Arizona.
HDR image from Upper Waterholes Canyon in northern Arizona.

Recently I had a chance to explore a slot canyon in northern Arizona. Typical of many slot canyons is the significant variation in light from very deep shadows to brilliant sunlit canyon walls. My best images in these slot canyon have always been compositions that minimize this large variation. But with automatic exposure bracketing and the many available software packages to process the images it was time to give HDR a try.

With just a few images and using Photomatix HDR software I was able to bring out the subtle colors in the deep shadows of the lower canyon wall while capturing the more brilliant colors in the sunlit upper wall.

HDR image of Lake Powell at twilight.
HDR image of Lake Powell at twilight.

A second HDR image is able to capture both the well-lit areas and the shadows as twilight approaches over Lake Powell north of Page, Arizona.

Satellite transits and wildfires

The satellite flyby tables (mentioned in a previous post) indicated that there would be a favorable pass of the International Space Station this evening. The ISS would pass by Saturn, Mars, and Venus in the course of a minute or two in mid evening.

I wandered out to the Kachina Wetlands hoping to get good star and planet reflections in the water. It had been windy all day but by evening the wind had diminished and the water was smooth and glassy. Perfect for reflections.

It’s a tradeoff when it comes to shutter speed when imaging a transit of the ISS. A longer exposure will produce a longer track of the ISS while a shorter exposure will result in sharp points for the stars instead of blurred tracks. After a few test shots I decided that 20s was about right. Below are two images of the ISS. The first includes a very bright Venus near the horizon as well as its reflection with the ISS moving below the planet Mars (above and left of the track).

ISS passing by Venus, Mars, and Saturn in the evening twilight sky.
ISS passing by Venus, Mars, and Saturn in the evening twilight sky.

The second image was taken as the ISS was descending into the northern sky with the San Francisco Peaks in the background.

ISS descending in the northern sky with the Kachina Peaks in the distance.
ISS descending in the northern sky with the Kachina Peaks in the distance.

While setting up for the ISS transit I was saddened by the view of the Schultz Wildfire burning in the San Francisco Peaks. This fire has already burned over 14000 acres and is only partially contained. Many trails and forest service access roads have been destroyed by this fire. And, yet, the glow in the evening twilight and its reflection was fascinating.

Schultz Wildfire burning in the Kachina Peaks.
Schultz Wildfire burning in the San Francisco Peaks.

This is our home!

I have been having a lot of fun taking sky images lately. The newer DSLR cameras (and especially the full-frame cameras) can really push the ISO settings making it easier to take astronomy images with short exposures. The short exposure limits the trails that the stars will make and gives an overall sharper appearance.

This image was shot at ISO 6400, 15s, f/4.0, 28mm focal length. At full zoom, there is only a hint of star trails.

Milky Way Galaxy as seen from northern Arizona.
Milky Way Galaxy as seen from northern Arizona.

The lights along the horizon add interesting texture to the image but even though they were fairly dim the 15s exposure resulted in far too much brightening. After experimenting a bit, I decided to place a credit card in front of the lens blocking the street lights for about 12-13s, then pull it away for the last few seconds. Overall, it did a pretty good job attenuating the street lights but there is also a dark area in the sky just above the lights.

What I should do is get a better neutral density gradient filter that I can slide up and down rather than the screw-on filter that I have now. Then I wouldn’t have to resort to credit card tricks!

Here is another example of what modern DSLR cameras can do. This was taken with the same settings as the image above. Even with a 28-mm wide angle lens, the camera is able to resolve the Andromeda Galaxy which is over 2.5 million light years distant.

Andromeda Galaxy -- our neighbor.
Andromeda Galaxy -- our neighbor.