The stars shine in a bright moonlit sky over the Alberta Badlands.
My feature image above is one of several still frames I took at the end of 4-hour photo shoot last Sunday at Dinosaur Provincial Park. The nearly Full Moon provides the illumination on an eroded landscape originally cut by water from retreating ice age glaciers.
But the volcanic ash layers hold treasures much older, from 70 million years ago. This area contains the world’s richest collection of late Cretaceous fossils of dinosaurs and other flora and fauna from near the end of the dinosaurs’ reign.
The movie below is a 300-frame time lapse of the stars turning behind the hoodoos. It’s a dolly shot, using the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero rail and controller.
The system works very well, but such shots demand a site with a suitable immediate foreground, as well as a good view to the distant sky. It is the parallax motion between foreground and background that makes a dolly move interesting.
I planned this shot to begin at twilight and continue as the sky was darkening, then into the rest of the night with the Moon rising and lighting up the landscape. The moving clouds were perfectly timed and placed!
– Alan, May 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
It was a marvellous night for a moonrise. A beautiful night in the badlands
Last Sunday I headed east to Dinosaur Provincial Park, to catch the planet conjunction early in the evening, and then shoot time-lapse sequences of eroded hoodoos lighting up as the nearly Full Moon rose in the east.
The night could not have been better for moonlight photography. The clouds fanned out perfectly from the cameras’ focal points to the north, and in the time-lapse movies (to come!) they add dramatic motion in front of the rotating northern stars.
The feature image above is one of 300 from a motion-controlled dolly shot. The frame below is one of 380 from a static camera time-lapse.
I shot both from a favourite spot at the eastern end of the Badlands Loop drive. As I arrived at sunset, the last of the day-use folks were leaving and I had the place to myself. There was no wind, no humidity, few bugs, mild temperatures and the solace of absolute quiet broken only by some passing geese and the occasional chorus of coyotes.
Even if the images had not turned out it would have been worth the trip.
– Alan, May 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
Three planets, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter form a triangle briefly in the evening twilight.
This was the triple-planet conjunction last night, Sunday, May 26, as seen from the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. I headed there, a 90-minute drive east from home, to conduct a night of time-lapse shooting, and to catch the planets low in the western twilight far away from thick clouds that tend to hug the horizon over the mountains.
Skies were nearly perfect and the night ideal for photography. Even with just unaided eyes the planets were obvious, Venus especially so at bottom right. Mercury (at top) and Jupiter (left) were also easy to spot in the twilight glow.
However, binoculars gave a view similar to this telephoto lens shot. I used a short 1/2 second exposure for the sky and a longer 3-second exposure for the ground, to bring out some detail in the badland landscape below the beautiful twilight sky.
– Alan, May 27, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
A low aurora appears in the city skyglow and bright moonlight at the local observatory.
After several days of rain, skies cleared beautifully for a Saturday night star party for the public at the local university observatory, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, southwest of Calgary.
The evening was capped off by the appearance, as expected, of an auroral arc to the north. Despite the light from the nearly Full Moon and urban sky glow to the north, the aurora managed to compete and put on a show for a few minutes before fading.
About 100 people attended the evening, and were treated to views of Saturn, shining in the south near Spica. Unfortunately, clouds to the west over the mountains never cleared away enough to allow us views, and me photos, of the triple-planet conjunction of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. Still, a good time was had by all.
– Alan, May 26, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
Time-lapse shooting has become immensely popular of late, but there’s nothing like a dolly shot to add interest to a scene .
Among the more advanced techniques for shooting time-lapse movies is to place the camera on a motorized track for a cinematic “dolly” shot.
These are easy to do in the daytime as the camera simply needs to slide down a rail at a constant rate. But at night, time-lapse dolly shots become more complex. Exposures are often 15 to 60 seconds even in bright moonlight, as here. During each exposure the camera shouldn’t move. The slide down the track should happen only in the brief time between exposures, typically 2 to 5 seconds.
Accomplishing this “shoot-move-shoot” routine requires a specialized bit of kit. In my case, I use the Stage Zero dolly and MX2 controller from Dynamic Perception.
It works great, and sends the camera down the 6-foot rail at a speed you determine. The controller also operates the camera shutter, ensuring sync between the exposures and dolly motion. You can see the setup in operation below, in a 2-part movie. The first scene shows the dolly and camera in operation over the 2-hour shoot, while the second clip shows the time-lapse sequence the dolly-mounted camera took.
This was one of the easiest time-lapse sequences I’ve shot, as I had to travel no more than 100 feet from my house to do it.
I was after a couple of sequences just to use for demo purposes, and didn’t want to tackle a long shoot far from home on a weeknight.
The bright moonlight on May 20 also meant exposures could be short, so that collecting the 300 frames I typically shoot for a time-lapse could be accomplished in well under 2 hours. Getting to bed before 1 am is a rare treat on a time-lapse night!
— Alan, May 22, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
The Northern Lights dance through the night, ending with a finale burst of blue.
Here’s the time-lapse movie, below, that I shot Friday, May 17, beginning at 11:30 pm and ending 4 hours later at 3:30 am. The sky was bright with moonlight when I started the sequence, with the aurora especially active over half the sky. The display settled down to form a slowly pulsing green band behind the old barn, which went into silhouette after the Moon set.
Then, just as the sky was brightening with the first glow of dawn, the aurora kicked up its heels again and danced across the north, shooting beams of blue across the sky.
I ended the sequence as dawn was fading in … and I was fading out! Still, it was a wonderful night to be out under the stars.
The movie compresses 4 hours of aurora shooting into 40 seconds of aurora playback!
I assembled the time-lapse movie from 1200 frames, each 11-second exposures at 1 second intervals, with the Canon 60Da at ISO 1600 and 10-22mm lens at f/4.
– Alan, May 20, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
As the Northern Lights dance they light up an old barn on a moonlit night.
The still frame above is from the movie down below, a 3-hour-long time-lapse taken on May 17, the night of the big aurora display. I shot this with a camera riding along on a motorized dolly track, to provide the panning motion to the scene.
You can see the rig in this image just below, which I took with another camera framing the entire scene.
Using the second camera, I was intending to take shots showing a motion-control time-lapse sequence being taken, for illustration in talks and publications.
The aurora quickly forced me to change plans with camera #2. But I let the main motion-control camera continue down its track for the rest of the night, resulting in the movie below. At one point in the movie I briefly appear at right, as I moved the second camera to the south side of the barn to look north to the main area of the display.
In the movie, the stars of Virgo and the planet Saturn rise into a sky lit blue by moonlight early in the evening. As the Moon sets, the shadows rise and engulf the barn.
While catching stars rising behind the rustic old building was the original intention of the shot, the Northern Lights added a bonus. Not only do they dance in the sky behind the barn, but the north face of the old grey barn, in shadow from the moonlight, lights up green from the glow of aurora shining in the north.
Very nice. It certainly made for a colourful scene under the skies of southern Alberta.
– Alan, May 19, 2013 / © 2103 Alan Dyer
The memorable night of Northern Lights ended with a final outburst sending blue curtains into the dawn twilight.
This is a frame from May 17-18, taken near the end of my time-lapse sequence, when the aurora kicked up again in intensity and shot towering blue curtains into the northern sky. The pink glow of dawn tinges the northeastern sky, bookending the sequence of 1200 frames and 27 gigabytes of images. Good thing I had a large capacity memory card!
Each shot was 11 seconds at ISO 1600 to try to freeze the moving curtains while still maintaining a good level of exposure.
Here, lights from a passing car at 3 a.m. illuminated the old barn.
As a postscript, I also note that this was my 300th blog post since beginning The Amazing Sky in February 2011. I hope you’ve enjoyed the views of the sky I’ve been able to publish over the last two years.
– Alan, May 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
You know you are in for a good night when the aurora appears even before the sky gets dark.
I shot this in the evening twilight, as the curtains of Northern Lights began their dance in the dusk. Light from the quarter Moon also illuminates the scene. It was a mad rush to get the camera set and aimed to begin shooting. I was also looking after another camera that was shooting a dolly-shot time-lapse of the barn.
For this image I used the Canon 60Da and Canon 10-22mm lens at the widest setting. Even that was not enough to take in the whole of the display that was covering the sky.
– Alan, May 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
What a night this was, with a display of Northern Lights dancing across the sky as soon as it got dark. They danced all night.
I set up May 17 at my neighbourhood rustic farmstead for a night of time-lapse shooting of the old barn in the moonlight, but knowing an aurora was likely. My iPad app beeped and alerted me to that possibility only an hour or so before sunset, letting me know a storm was underway. And sure enough, as soon as it got dark, there were the curtains of green dancing all over the blue twilight sky. This frame is from 1200 I shot in a dusk to dawn time-lapse movie. It is from early in evening, with a pink glow of twilight still fringing the northwest horizon.
What marked this display was the blue and purple curtains, with those colours only really apparent in the camera images. I think those tints come from sunlight hitting the auroral curtains high in the atmosphere where the Sun is still shining. At this time of year the high atmosphere never gets dark and is always lit by sunlight streaming over the pole.
More images to come!
– Alan, May 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
A galaxy 80 million light years away floats in the blackness of space near a star in the Big Dipper.
This is Messier 109, a bright spiral galaxy in Ursa Major, and within an eyepiece and camera field of the bright naked eye star Gamma Ursa Majoris. That’s the “bottom left” star in the bowl of the Big Dipper, so this is an easy galaxy to find with a telescope in the current spring sky.
Technically, this galaxy is classed as a barred spiral because of the way its spiral arms emerge from an elongated bar at the core of the galaxy. It is the brightest member of the Ursa Major Cluster of some 80 galaxies.
Springtime is galaxy time, no matter what hemisphere you live in. But for us in the northern half of the planet that means April and May. When we look up at this time of year into the evening sky we are looking out of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and seeing into the depths of intergalactic space, populated by thousands of other galaxies. Most of the bright ones, like M109, are 20 to 100 million light years away. At its distance of 80 million light years, M109 lies a million times farther away from us than Gamma Ursa Majoris, a nearby blue star “just” 80 light years away and in our Galaxy.
I shot this last weekend though my 5-inch refractor with the Canon 60Da camera. Even with the telescope’s 800mm focal length it isn’t enough to really do justice to the intricate detail in galaxies like this. But the view does set the galaxy into its context, floating in the blackness of space.
– Alan, May 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
Scorpius and the star clouds of the Milky Way skim along the southern horizon on the western Canadian prairie.
Scorpius crawls along the horizon at right, with dark lanes of dust converging onto yellowish Antares. Just left of centre a dark horse prances above the treetops. At lower left shines the pink Lagoon Nebula.
With its intricate mix of dark dust lanes and bright star clouds this is the richest region of the Milky Way. It marks the direction toward the centre of our Galaxy. Pity it lies so low in our sky from here in western Canada, at a latitude of 50° North. Compare this view to what I saw two months ago from New Mexico and you can see the advantage of a southerly latitude for any lovers of the Milky Way.
However, I was lucky to get this shot, taken last weekend during the only decent time of the year when I can see Scorpius in a dark sky from my prairie home. The night was very clear, allowing a clean shot to the southern horizon.
– Alan, May 9, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
The Milky Way appears from behind the colourful curtains of the Northern Lights.
This was the scene last Saturday night, into the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, May 5, as the summer Milky Way rose in the east while a display of aurora played across the northern sky. The Northern Lights weren’t particularly bright this night, but the long 2-minute exposure I used to bring out the Milly Way recorded the aurora with colours and an intensity only the camera could see this night.
The green is from oxygen glowing in the lower part of the atmosphere, though still some 80 km up, where only rockets and high-altitude balloons can fly. The tops of the auroral curtains are tinged with the pinks from another type of oxygen emission possible only at the very top of our atmosphere, where molecules are few and far between and what’s left of the air that surrounds us meets the vacuum of space some 150 km up.
From Earth it’s hard to visualize just what we are seeing when we look at display like this. But check out some of the Aurora videos at NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. You’ll see time-lapse videos taken from the Space Station as it flies by and through the same types of aurorae with green lower bands and pink upper fringes, beautifully captured floating high above the Earth in vertical curtains reaching up into the blackness of space.
– Alan, May 8, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer
Late on a clear spring night on the Canadian Prairies the Milky Way rises over a fallow field.
Despite taking this not 200 feet from my home, this isn’t a view I see or photograph very often. In spring on the Canadian Prairies, it seems we go from dark winter nights to the bright skies of mid-summer with little in between to mark spring. Miss a dark-of-the-Moon period in late April or early May and you miss the opportunity to see and shoot this sight – the summer Milky Way rising late on a dark spring night, with Scorpius due south. In another month this same sky will be washed out by the glow of perpetual twilight around solstice.
By July or August when dark skies return, the Milky Way will be already well up at nightfall, and Scorpius on the way down past his prime for the year.
But in this shot, taken at 3 am this morning, during a welcome run of clear moonless nights, I framed Scorpius at lower right skimming the southern horizon as high as he gets from western Canada. The yellow star at lower right is Antares, the heart of the Scorpion. To the left of Scorpius, the spectacular starclouds of the summer Milky Way span the sky from Sagittarius in the southeast to Cygnus high in the east at upper left.
Around me now, farmers are beginning their work of tilling and seeding the fields. But this one will likely lay fallow this year, the furrows seeming to extend off into the distant Milky Way.
This is a stack of five 2.5-minute tracked exposures, but with the ground included from just one of the exposures, to minimize the blurring introduced by the moving camera. The lens was the wonderful 14mm Samyang, a manual lens that doesn’t register in the camera’s metadata, thus the reading at left that this was taken with a 50mm lens, the default setting when the camera doesn’t know what optics it is connected to.
– Alan, May 6, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer