Moonshadows and Sunbeams


Moonrise Behind Prairie Grain Bins (July 27, 2013)

The play of light and shadow in the open air create wonderful effects by night and day.

The Moon and Sun have each created some wonderful sky scenes of late, aided by clouds casting shadows and sunbeams across the sky.

Above, the rising waning Moon on Saturday night shone its warm light across the prairies. Clouds cast dark shadows diverging away from the Moon.

Daytime Crepuscular Rays #4 (July 24, 2013)

By day, clouds created the opposite effect. Holes in the clouds let through beams of sunlight, creating rays descending from the sky dancing across the land.

Both effects are technically known as crepuscular rays. You can read much more about the phenomenon at the wonderful Atmospheric Optics website. Clouds aren’t always the evil presence in the sky astronomers take them for. They can produce stunning effects. Just look up!

– Alan, July 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Canola Field Stars


Circumpolar Star Trails over Canola Field (July 26, 2013)

Stars in a blue sky wheel above a ripening field of yellow canola.

It’s been a couple of fine nights of nightscape shooting under the light of the waning Moon and clear skies.

I’ve been shooting from no more exotic location than my local rural neighbourhood, travelling for 5 minutes to spots near one of the many canola fields growing nearby. I wanted to grab some nightscapes over the  fields before they lose their yellow flowers and turn green.

The feature image above looking north is from a time-lapse sequence and stacks several images with the “comet trail” effect, to show the northern stars turning about the North Star.

Big Dipper over Canola Field #2 (July 26, 2013)

This image, also a frame from another time lapse with a longer lens, shows the Big Dipper above that same field but in an exposure short enough to prevent the stars from trailing. You can now make out the familiar Dipper pattern.

This is a very Canadian scene, with the Big Dipper high in a northern latitude sky, and with the foreground crop a Canadian one – Canola was developed in the 1970s at the University of Manitoba. The “can” in canola stands for Canada. Pity there was no aurora.

– Alan, July 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Star Rain


Star Rain - Big Dipper Star Trails

The sky seems to swirl in a rainstorm of stars.

I’ve combined several exposures of the stars in the northern sky to create a “comet trail” effect, showing them turning about the celestial pole. The top photo looks northwest to the stars around the Big Dipper and picks up the purple light of a faint aurora.

For the photo below, taken on a different night, I used a fish-eye lens to capture the entire sky, but looking north. You can see how the sky turns counterclockwise about the Pole Star. The Milky Way also appears as a blurred band of light.

Circumpolar Comet Star Trails (July 16, 2013)

I shot these last week from the cabin at Reesor Ranch in Saskatchewan during a wonderful week of nightscape photography in the Cypress Hills.

To create these images I used the Advanced Stacking Actions from Star Circle Academy.

– Alan, July 25, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Wild Rose Stars


Wild Roses and Stars on the Reesor Ranch

The floral emblem of Alberta, the wild rose, appears in front of a twilit starry sky.

Last night was another good one on the Ranch! I had three cameras shooting from my log cabin front yard – I had no ambition to travel farther afield this night, after 6 nights in a row of shooting around the Cypress Hills. This is a scene from one of the time-lapses taken from “home,” of prairie flowers in front of a prairie sky.

Milky Way over Log Cabin at Reesor Ranch (July 16, 2013)

I also took the opportunity to reshoot the popular “Milky Way over Log Cabin” scene, getting better results I think than the shot I posted from the first night I was here a week ago. This was with the specially-modified camera that picks up the red nebulosity in the Milky Way better. The colours are much nicer.

Reesor Ranch Night Sky Panorama (July 16, 2013)

Finally, this is a 360° panorama of the scene from last night, taken before the Moon set but when it was behind the trees out of sight. Its light still illuminates the sky blue, yet the Milky Way still stands out. The red lights are from two other cameras shooting time-lapses. This is big sky country for sure!

It’s been a wonderful week of shooting on the century-old Reesor Ranch in the Cypress Hills. I highly recommend the location for anyone who wants an authentic western experience in a stunning setting. I’m sure I’ll be back.

– Alan, July 17, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

High Plains Panorama of the Night Sky


Cypress Hills Night Panorama (July 15, 2013)

The silvery Milky Way and green bands of airglow stretch across the high plains and big sky of the Cypress Hills.

The Moon had long set and the night looked as dark as it could be. No lights interrupted the flat clear horizon. These are the high plains of the Cypress Hills, the highest place in Canada between Labrador and the Rockies.

And yet, in the panoramic photos I took last night the sky revealed its true colours.

In the 360° panorama above, the Milky Way arches overhead from northeast to southwest. It was obvious to the naked eye. But stretching across the sky from east to west are also bands of green and red airglow that were completely invisible to the eye, except perhaps for making the sky look more grey than it might have otherwise.

These aren’t aurora but are emissions of light caused by oxygen atoms fluorescing as they give off some of the energy they absorbed by day. Time-lapse sequences show these bands moving slowly across the sky.

Shooting the Survivor Tree (July 15, 2013)

I drove up the Graburn Road last night, to the plateau of Cypress Hills, to shoot a time-lapse of the Milky Way moving above this lone tree on the plains. It’s called the Survivor Tree, subject to drought, blizzards fire, cattle, and even being cut down at one time. But still it survives. With a cold wind blowing last night I had a taste of what this tough Lodgepole Pine has had to endure.

Survivor Tree and Milky Way (July 15, 2013)

This is one frame from the final movie clip, with the tree and sky still lit by the light of the setting waxing Moon. An enduring tree beneath the timeless stars.

Noctilucent Clouds from Cypress Hills (July 15, 2013)

Early in the evening the northern sky was also marked by another sky phenomenon, noctilucent clouds – very high altitude clouds still lit by sunlight long after the Sun has set locally. These clouds made for a nice photo for a few minutes but soon faded from view as the Sun set even as seen from where these clouds live at the edge of space.

The night was left dark, with no aurora tonight – just the Milky Way and the faint wisps of airglow over the high plains of southern Alberta.

– Alan, July 16 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Road to the Northern Lights


Northern Lights Down the Road (July 14, 2013)

A country road winds off into the dancing Northern Lights.

The sky put on another fine show last night, the fourth in a row with some level of aurora activity. This was the scene Sunday night as a display blossomed for a while, dancing at the end of the back road through the Cypress Hills on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

I had one camera shooting north and devoted to the Northern Lights, while, as you can see below, I had two other cameras on rigs to shoot time-lapse movies looking south.

Self Portrait at Battle Creek, Cypress Hills (July 14, 2013)

This was the scene at the overlook to the Battle Creek valley, with the Moon setting and me getting the time-lapse gear going, to shoot the Milky Way moving over the hills. One camera was on a mount to pan across the landscape following the stars. The other camera was on a motion control dolly to travel down a track over the 3 hours of the shoot. I spent a lot of time in the car listening to BBC Desert Island Discs and The Life Scientific podcasts last night — the thrill of time-lapse shooting!

Milky Way over Battle Creek (July 14 2013)

This is one frame from one of the movies. Streaks of green and red airglow tint the sky around the Milky Way. Amazingly, the scene is lit only by starlight and by the aurora. You could never have done this with film. It’s the sensitivity of digital cameras that makes such scenes possible, though it takes some clever processing (such as Shadow Detail recovery in Raw, Shadows and Highlights, & masked Adjustment Layers) to balance Earth and sky in the final image.

– Alan, July 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Milky Way Over a Misty Lake


Milky Way over Misty Lake (July 13, 2013)

The misty starclouds of the Milky Way shine above the misty waters of Reesor Lake.

This was certainly a magical scene – the stars above the still waters of a misty lake. Above the tree-lined hills lies the constellation of Sagittarius and the heart of the Milky Way. The dark structure comes from interstellar dust, the stuff we’re made of. Everything in the foreground on Earth comes from the stuff you can see in the sky.

I shot this Saturday night, on a beautiful, if damp, night for nightscape photography in the Cypress Hills, Alberta. I helped the scene along by “painting” the mist with a white flashlight.

Milky Way over Misty Lake (July 13, 2013)

For those who like their Milky Way images in portrait mode, here’s one of the same scene, showing more of the sweep of the summer Milky Way up from the southern horizon, from Sagittarius to Aquila.

Self Portrait at Reesor Lake (July 13, 2013)

And while I don’t often take shots of people in scenes, I couldn’t resist getting into the photo myself here, standing on the boardwalk gazing at the centre of the Galaxy.

– Alan, July 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Moonset on a Misty Lake


Moonset on a Misty Lake (35mm)

What a marvelous night for a moonset! 

Saturday night was one of the finest nights for nightscape shooting I’ve had in a long time. I started with shots of the waxing Moon setting over Reesor Lake, one of the lakes in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, on the Alberta side. Water from this lake drains into the Milk River and then into the Missouri, and Gulf of Mexico. It one of the few bodies of water in Alberta that feed the Mississippi watershed, with the Cypress Hills acting as a continental divide.

I set up two cameras, each shooting a twilight-to-night time-lapse sequence showing the Moon setting behind the hills and the stars coming out. I filled up one card with 600 images. Luckily, the other camera still had space left for what was still to come later that night. One sight was the beautiful auroral arc I featured in my previous blog post. I’ll have more tomorrow, of the Milky Way over the lake.

Moonset on a Misty Lake

It had rained earlier in the day so the air was humid. Mist covered the lake as night fell. In the scene above, a small fleet of American pelicans also glide by.

Watching the peaceful scene while monitoring the cameras clicking away provided one of those magical moments that makes doing this photography worthwhile, regardless of the results. The mist was swirling, the stars were coming out, I put on some music on the iPhone and on came a Chopin nocturne. Perfect.

– Alan, July 14, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Grand Sweep of the Auroral Oval


Aurora Panorama #4 from Reesor Ranch (July 13, 2013)

The Northern Lights sweep across the northern horizon in a classic arc of green and magenta curtains.

The aurora on the night of July 13/14 never got very bright but the sweep of the auroral oval still made for an interesting panoramic image.

I shot this at about 2 a.m. local time, from the high plains of southwest Saskatchewan, right on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, on the rolling hills of the historic Reesor Ranch. The only man-made light visible is a glow on the horizon just left of the auroral arc, from the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta.

The panorama takes in about 180° of sky, framing the sweep of the auroral oval across the northern horizon from northeast to northwest. In fact, you can see the gravel road I was on at far left and far right. The main band of green from glowing oxygen is topped by curtains of magenta, from oxygen and nitrogen atoms.

If you could see this display from space you would see it as an oval of light across the top half of North America. From my perspective on Earth, I could see just a portion of the complete oval, as an arc across the northern sky.

To create this image I shot 6 segments at 30° spacings, each a 30-second exposure with a 24mm lens at f/2.8 on a Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. I used Photoshop to stitch the segments. It blended them seamlessly.

– Alan, July 14, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Star and Satellite Trails


Big Dipper Star Trails and Iridium Flares (July 12, 2013)

A long exposure captures streaks from the turning stars and passing satellites.

This was a busy sky. The feature photo stacks a dozen images taken over 6 minutes.

During that time the northern stars around the Big Dipper turned about the celestial pole just off frame at upper right.

Meanwhile, two satellites passed through the field, both flaring in brightness briefly, tracing tapered streaks from left to right above the treetops. These may have been Iridium satellites, infamous for producing sunglint flares as they momentarily reflect the Sun from their mirror-like antenna panels.

A magenta aurora tints the northern sky as well.

Big Dipper & Purple Aurora (July 12, 2013)

This image is from the same sequence of 300 or so I took last night for a time-lapse movie, but this is a single 30-second exposure so the stars look more natural and pinpoint. Now you can make out the familiar pattern of the Big Dipper.

I shot several sequences last night, until the clouds rolled in and curtailed photography. However, skies are clearing again and the forecast is for several clear nights to come over the Cypress Hills. I’ve got a few locations picked out for time-lapse shooting if the skies cooperate.

– Alan, July 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Log Cabin in the Milky Way


Milky Way over Log Cabin (July 11, 2013)

The summer Milky Way shines over a log cabin in the woods of the Cypress Hills.

This was the view this morning, at 2 a.m., as the Milky Way of northern summer shone over my vacation log cabin on the Reesor Ranch in Saskatchewan. After the clouds cleared the sky was beautifully dark for a while before the early dawn twilight came on.

The view here takes in the Milky Way from the Scutum star cloud above the trees to the dark dust clouds of northern Cygnus overhead. The trio of Summer Triangle stars, Deneb, Vega and Altair, flank the Milky Way.

This is a composite of five tracked and stacked images for the sky and one image for the foreground shot with the iOptron Skytracker running at half speed to minimize the blurring from the tracking motion. The lens was the 14mm Samyang at f/2.8.

– Alan, July 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset Panorama at Reesor Ranch


Sunset at Reesor Ranch Panorama #1 (July 11, 2013)

The setting Sun lights up a classic Canadian prairie skyscape. 

This was sunset last night, July 11, from the historic Reesor Ranch in southwest Saskatchewan, on the north edge of the Cypress Hills. The clouds opened up across the sky in a Chinook arch, with clearing to the west where the waxing Moon and Venus were also setting into the twilight.

It was a stunning scene looking out over the plains from the highlands of the hills.

I’m in the area for a week of shooting, weather permitting.

This shot is a 7-section panorama, stitched with Photoshop’s Photomerge command.

– Alan, July 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

The Purple Curtains of Northern Lights


Auroral Curtains (July 9, 2013)

Curtains of purple and pink top the usual green bands of aurora.

The last couple of nights have been very clear and filled with aurora. Two nights ago, July 9, the sky really let loose for a good display showing a great range of colours. Only the green was readily visible to the naked eye, but the cameras picked up the fainter bands of purple and magenta.

Most of the colours here come from oxygen atoms glowing. But high up, in the near vacuum of space, oxygen can glow red. The curtains can also be lit by sunlight coming over the pole, lending a blue tint to the aurora. The two colours blend to give purple.

Lower down in the atmosphere, green lines from oxygen predominate. When an aurora is very energetic, the incoming electrons can trigger nitrogen lower in the atmosphere to glow red and pink, giving the curtains a red fringe on the lower edge. That didn’t happen this night.

All-Sky Auroral Curtains (July 9, 2013)

This fish-eye shot of the entire sky shows the high purple curtains arching up the sky. Over several minutes they separated and ascended away from the main green band, shooting up the sky. It seemed as if they were their own curtains and not just a different coloration fringing the main display.

The Northern Lights have been active lately so keep an eye on Spaceweather.com and AuroraWatch for alerts and warnings.

– Alan, July 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Sunrise on the Plains


Sunrise on a Canola Field (July 9, 2013)

The Sun rises into a pastel palette of sky and earth tones.

I woke up early, just at sunrise, looked outside and wow!

I grabbed the camera and telephoto and got another nice shot right from my back deck. The canola field next to my yard is proving to be a photogenic foreground now that it’s in full bloom, just in the last couple of weeks.

There was enough haze and humidity in the air to dull the Sun to a fiery orange. The range of shades in earth and sky was wonderful. It was a classic prairie scene worth getting up for.

Being able to see the horizon is why I live on the plains and not in the foothills or mountains. And certainly not in the city!

– Alan, July 9, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Milky Way over a Canola Field


Milky Way over Canola Panorama (July 6, 2013)

The Milky Way arches over a field of yellow canola on a dark summer night.

The night was beautifully clear and moonless with a glow to the north of perpetual twilight still lingering. The Milky Way was obvious so I hiked to the middle of the canola field next to my house, visible here lit by the red lights at left.

To shoot this panorama I used the same technique as in the The Colour of Dark panorama image from last month which has proved quite popular: I shot eight exposures at 45° spacings using the 8mm fish eye lens. Each was a 60 second exposure at ISO 4000 and f/3.5. I assembled the panorama using PTGui software, from images processed in Adobe Camera Raw.

The sky was well exposed but the ground was still dark, lit only by starlight. It took some processing in Camera Raw (Shadow Detail) and Photoshop (Shadows and Highlights) to bring out the yellow field of canola in the foreground.

While the sky looked neutral grey to the eye, I’ve punched up the colours a lot to reveal the blue twilight, green and magenta aurora to the north, bands of greenish airglow across the sky, and yellow glows of light pollution.

The odd streaks of light on the canola are reflections of the horizon lights in the soaking wet dew on the canola. It was a very damp night after a day of rain.

– Alan, July 7, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Low Bow over Canola


Low Rainbow over Canola Field

A horizon-hugging rainbow shines over a blooming field of canola.

You don’t often see a rainbow like this. Just the top of the bow pokes above the horizon and a field of yellow canola.

The reason is the Sun’s altitude. When I shot this in late afternoon yesterday, July 4, the Sun was 40 degrees up in the northwest. That means the point opposite the Sun was 40 degrees below the horizon in the southeast. Rainbows are centred on this anti-solar point and are always 42 degrees in radius. So doing the math shows that only the top 2 degrees of the rainbow arc could be visible above the horizon, creating a rainbow chord. 

Double Rainbow over Canola Field

Later in the evening as another storm receded, a more classic bow appeared, this time as a double rainbow. With the Sun now much lower the anti-solar point was higher and more of the semi-circular bow appeared in the sky. I wish I could have shot a time-lapse of “rainbow rise” but downpours of rain prevented me from leaving the camera out.

These are neat examples of the play of light and colour in the open air. For lots more information, check out the wonderful Atmospheric Optics website.

– Alan, July 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Aurora over a Prairie Lake


Aurora over Crawling Lake (June 30, 2013)

A brief display of Northern Lights shines over a prairie lake.

Last night I went out to a nearby lake (there aren’t many in southern Alberta!) to shoot the twilight over water, and hoping to catch some aurora or noctilucent clouds as well.

There was lots of twilight but very little sign of aurora or NLCs. But at about 1 am the aurora kicked up briefly, enough to make a good photo but certainly nothing to get excited about for its visual appearance. It was just visible.

Shooting at Crawling Lake, June 30, 2013

However, it was a fine evening of shooting at a quiet prairie lake. Crawling Lake is one of several reservoirs in the area that are part of the extensive irrigation system in southern Alberta. Despite the recent floods, this area is usually dry and drought-sticken.

Capella in Twilight (June 30, 2013)

This shot, which I took early in the evening, shows the lone star of Capella, shining in the twilight of a solstice summer sky. From my latitude of 51° N, Capella, normally considered a winter star, is circumpolar. It never sets and so can be seen skimming along the northern horizon on short summer nights.

Star in Twilight over Crawling Lake (June 30, 2013)

An ultra-wide view shows the perpetual twilight of summer to the north, with the circumpolar  stars of summer above. A campfire from some late-arriving campers is on the shore at right.

Happy Canada Day!

– Alan, July 1, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer