Moon Rise Above San Francisco Peaks

Over the past couple of years I have tried to get good photographs of the Moon rising over the San Francisco Peaks. A good time of year for this is January when the nearly full Moon rises in the northeast. Then find a place along old Route 66 in Brannigan Park and get your shot. It works best if there is fresh snow on the peaks but sometimes you just have to take what you get.

Moon rise above the San Fransicso Peaks.
Moon rise above the San Fransicso Peaks.

And here are some images from 2015 which was the first time I tried shooting from this location.

Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).
Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).
Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).
Moonrise above the San Fransicso Peaks (2015).

Sometimes the first photograph you take of a place is the best. I’ll keep trying.

Photographing the North America Nebula

The North America Nebula has been on my To-Photograph list for a while. I had made one quick attempt previously to see whether I could actually resolve it with my Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens. That was successful so I was ready to try again when the situation permitted.

I finally found the time, the right weather, and the right conditions. I shot a sequence of seven, 120-second exposures.

There are many star-stacking software packages available and I’ve often used DeepSkyStacker (DSS). More recently I’ve been testing StarrySkyStacker (a macOS-only app). The results have been pretty good.

The stacking complete, it was time to work on the histogram. Again, there are many histogram stretching packages. I’ve been evaluating rnc-color-stretch, available from Clarkvision.com. rnc-color-stretch is a set of scripts that calls the davinci application (not to be confused with the DaVinci Resolve video editing software).

North America Nebula (NGC 7000)
North America Nebula (NGC 7000)

The result is shown above. My next attempt at shooting this Deep-Sky Object (DSO) will be with my recently acquired Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 AIS manual focus lens.

Wave Clouds over the San Francisco Peaks

New Year’s Day brought some interesting wave clouds to the San Francisco Peaks. I headed west to Brannigan Park to get both good views of the clouds and sunset colors on the peaks. In addition, I shot time-lapse video that shows the amazing motion of the wave cloud above the peaks and the cap cloud that obscures the summit.

Clouds over the San Francisco Peaks.
Clouds over the San Francisco Peaks.
Wave clouds above the San Francisco Peaks.
Wave clouds above the San Francisco Peaks.

Time-lapse video of wave clouds and cap clouds.

And then there were these thin, wispy clouds catching the light of the setting sun.
And then there were these thin, wispy clouds catching the light of the setting sun.

 

A New-to-Me lens for Astrophotography

I recently acquired a used lens that I plan to use for astrophotography. The Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-S is well-known as an excellent lens for this purpose—assuming, of course, you get a good copy of the lens.

Pleiades (M45).
Pleiades (M45).

Jerry Lodriguss, over at AstroPix, has this to say about the lens:

The Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED lens is a legendary lens, and with good reason. It’s performance for normal daytime photography is simply outstanding. And it is pretty darn good for astrophotography also…

I have been looking at used copies of this lens on-and-off for several years but have never actually been excited enough to purchase one. That is, until I saw one listed in MINT condition for an extraordinary price. The lens was offered by Tempe Camera and the store was close enough that I could drive down there in a few hours. Off I went…

And the lens really was in Mint condition. After a bit of checking and a few test shots I bought it. Now it was time for testing. On my first night my results weren’t that great but I attribute that to the fact that it was COLD and my fingers weren’t very good at getting sharp focus and it was windy causing the camera to shake resulting in blurry images.

So, I headed back out again the next night. I sought a location without wind and at a lower elevation hoping for warmer temperatures. Well, it wasn’t warmer but there was no wind.  And the results were pretty good. Comparing the results at various f/stops (f/2.8, f/4.0, and f/5.6) I could see how the image improved with smaller apertures. And a comparison with my very old Nikkor 80-200mm AI-S f/4 showed that the 180mm was better than the zoom lens at equivalent apertures.

I’m pretty happy with the quality of the lens and the price I paid. Now all I need is some clear skies to get out and do some more shooting.

 

Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo

Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monunent.
Moonrise over Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monunent.

Wukoko Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument is an amazing place. Here is what the National Park Service has to say about the pueblo:

An architect today might win an award for designing Wukoki Pueblo. The corners, angles, and lines of masonry are meticulous. From its base, the eye is drawn skyward to a height that inspires awe of this ancient craftsmanship.

The architecture blends so well with the environment that the building seems to grow out of the rock, disguising where nature’s work ends and handcrafted walls begin. Today these walls stand as a silent tribute to prehistoric people.

I have visited this site many times capturing the Milky Way above it, lightning around it, and sunsets. But I’ve never had a chance to capture the rising [nearly] full Moon until yesterday. The terrain is such that the best time of the year is December when the full Moon is farthest north in the sky. At other times of the year, nearby hills obstruct a view of the Moon until it has risen high in the sky. Even in December, the distant Tloi Eechii Cliffs rise above the horizon. But in this case, they add to the drama of the rising Moon. This was taken the day before the full Moon so that the late afternoon sun could still light up the landscape and the pueblo.