Stars over a Grand Hotel


Prince of Wales Hotel & Stars (Aug 30, 2013)

The stars and fleeting clouds appear over the grand Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park.

This was the scene last night, Friday, August 30, on a less than ideal night for nightscape shooting. But I made the best of it with some still shots in and around the Waterton townsite.

This is a view from Driftwood Beach on Middle Lake, looking south toward the Prince of Wales Hotel, the Park’s famous landmark, and a well-illuminated one at that. It shines beneath the Milky Way and clouds lit yellow from the town’s streetlights. It would take some work converting this site into a Dark Sky Preserve!

Built in 1927, the Hotel is a large log structure that has miraculously survived fire, and the howling winds that can blow at gale force down the lake. It was built by the American Great Northern Railway to lure American tourists north from Montana’s Glacier National Park.

– Alan, August 31, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Milky Way at Waterton Lakes


Waterton Lakes Milky Way #3 (Aug 29, 2013)

The Milky Way glows bright in the twilight of a summer evening at Waterton Lakes National Park.

It’s been a marvellous weekend so far at Waterton Lakes, with another fine night ahead it appears, on a warm weekend to end the summer. Two nights ago I set up cameras on the shore of the main lake, shooting south to the Milky Way. The main photo above shows the Milky Way while the sky was still deep blue with evening twilight.

Light from the campground streetlights illuminates the old tree and foreground. It is light pollution to be sure, but sometimes added lighting can help, especially on a dark moonless night.

Waterton Lakes Milky Way #1 (Aug 29, 2013)

This shot comes from later in the evening with a wider angle lens and shows the Milky Way under dark sky conditions at the end of the long Upper Waterton Lake that extends south into Montana and Glacier National Park.

Waterton-Lakes-Star-Trails-(Aug-29,-2013)

By stacking about 35 images taken in quick succession, each 1-minute exposures, I created this star trail effect. I used the new version of StarStaX, a free program that does a great job stacking star trails. Its latest version offers this neat “comet trails” effect as an easy-to-apply stacking option.

– Alan, August 31, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer (all photos)

Waterton Lakes by Night


Waterton-Lakes-Panorama-(Aug-29,-2013)

The Milky Way shines over the peaks of Waterton Lakes National Park on a clear summer night.

This was the view last night, August 29, under very clear skies, on the Red Rock Canyon Road in Waterton Lakes National Park, a UN World Heritage Site and a beautiful place for day and nighttime photography.

This is a 7-frame panorama sweeping over about 180° from the southeast at left and into the northwest at right, taking in the autumn constellations rising at left, over to the Milky Way in the south and to the Big Dipper skimming across the northwest horizon at right. Each frame was a 30-second exposure at f/2.2 and ISO 1600.

The green glow at left is from airglow, while the yellow and magenta colours at right are from low-level aurora and from the lights of Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass communities. The bright light at left of centre is from the lights adorning the Prince of Wales Hotel, set amid the general glow of streetlights from the townsite of Waterton Lakes.

The foreground is lit only by starlight.

– Alan, August 30, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Milky Way Over Moraine Lake


Milky Way over Moraine Lake (Aug 25, 2013)

The summer Milky Way shines from behind clouds coming over the Continental Divide at Moraine Lake, Banff.

Earlier in the day, thousands of people stood here, admiring the famous view of Moraine Lake set in the Valley of Ten Peaks. This was the view by night, before the waning Moon rose to light the scene. I was the only one there.

A couple of hours after I took this image, the peaks were well lit by moonlight, but clouds had moved in to obscure the stars. This shot from the start of the night shows the sky at its clearest and darkest.

The last time I visited Moraine Lake at night was back in the 1990s shooting with 6×7 film. I’ve wanted to get back with digital cameras for some years. Last Sunday, August 25 was my chance.

Despite the encroaching clouds, I managed to shoot time-lapses with three cameras: a dolly shot with the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero, a pan in azimuth with the new Radian controller, and a tilt-pan with the Sky-Watcher AllView mount. All worked well, but had the night been perfectly clear the movie clips and stills would have been all the nicer. But you go with what the mountains deliver.

This is one of the best of the frames from the night’s shoot, taken with a 14mm Rokinon lens for 60 seconds at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 4000.

It shows one of the issues with shooting near lodges and resorts – yes, it’s convenient and safe (I’m reluctant to hike far in the dark alone, with Grizzly in Area and Travel in Groups signs about!) but even the most eco-friendly of resorts fail to realize the effects of their lights spilling out over the natural landscape. In this case, they do help light the dark scene, but they are pollution. When, oh when, will parks and resort operators begin to realize that the night is an environment to be protected as well, and not a jurisdiction to be ruled by lawyers and planners who dictate that the worst and usually cheapest types of lighting be installed.

P.S.: This was blog post #350 for me! 

– Alan, August 27, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Big Dipper Over Castle Mountain


Big Dipper over Castle Mountain, Banff (Aug 24, 2013)

The famous stars of the Big Dipper dip behind the moonlit crags of Castle Mountain.

I just got back from four days in Banff, always a great place to be, even if it is cloudy. And it was!

I lost one night to forest fire smoke and another to rain clouds. On Saturday and Sunday nights I managed to seek out some clearer skies for nighttime shooting. This is a shot from Saturday, from a favourite photo stop on the Bow Valley Parkway overlooking the cliffs of Castle Mountain.

Despite the dew from rains earlier in the day I managed to shoot a time-lapse here. These two shots are frames from the movie which pans slowly across the scene.

Iridium Flare over Castle Mountain

This frame catches an Iridium satellite flare above the Dipper.

Light from the waning gibbous Moon, which was in and out of clouds itself, illuminates the scene and nicely cross-lights the Castle cliffs.

– Alan, August 26, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Cassiopeia Rising in the Badlands


Cassiopeia Rising Behind Hoodoos (Aug 18, 2013)

The stars of Cassiopeia rise behind hoodoo formations in the Alberta Badlands.

I took this Sunday night, August 18, as part of my shoot at Dinosaur Provincial Park. This is a particularly striking pair of hoodoos at the start of the Badlands Trail where I’ve been meaning to take some moonlit nightscapes for a couple of years.

This night’s conditions were perfect, with the “W” of Cassiopeia nicely placed, and the Moon providing excellent cross-lighting, under a clear blue sky, for the contrasting colours of earth and sky.

– Alan, August 20, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Dinosaur Moon


Waxing Moon in Badlands Twilight (August 18, 2013)

The waxing Moon rises into a colourful twilight sky over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

What a great night it was last night! Warm summer temperatures (at last!) allowed for shirtsleeve shooting even well after dark. To shoot on the warm August night I went out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a magical place to be at sunset and in the summer twilight. The colours on the badlands are wonderful. It’s earth-tones galore, with the banded formations from the late Cretaceous blending with the sagebrush and prairie flowers.

This was the scene after sunset, as the waxing Moon rose into the eastern sky coloured by the blue band of Earth’s shadow, the pink Belt of Venus and dark blue streaks of cloud shadows converging to the point opposite the Sun. That’s where the Moon will be Tuesday night when it’s full. But last night it was a little west of the anti-solar point.

Moon and Sunset Glow at Dinosaur Park (August 18, 2013)

I managed to grab this image as soon as I got to my photo spot on the Badlands Trail, just in time to catch the last rays of the setting Sun illuminating the bentonite hills of the Badlands. Both shots are frames from a 450-frame time-lapse, taken with a device that also slowly panned the camera across the scene over the 90-minute shoot.

It, and three other time-lapses I shot after dark, filled up 40 gigabytes of memory cards. It’s been a terabyte summer for sure!

– Alan, August 19, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Lone Land … and Great Big Sky


The Gap Road Panorama (Cypress Hills Park)

A vast blue sky and summer storm clouds arch over a prairie landscape.

This is a place where you are out on the vast open plains, looking much as they would have appeared hundreds of years ago. This is big sky country, in southwest Saskatchewan. I shot this 360° panorama last Sunday, on a road I get to take every few years that is one of the great drives in western Canada.

Some years it is too wet and impassable. Other years it is too dry and closed because of the fire hazard.

This is the Gap Road, a mud track at times between the Saskatchewan and Alberta units of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The road crosses private rangeland but the cattle are the only giveaway that this is a modern scene and not one from the 19th century.

In 1872 the British explorer and adventurer William Francis Butler crossed the prairies and northern plains in the last days of the buffalo culture, before the cattle and ranchers arrived. He called it then The Great Lone Land. You feel that sense in a place like this, out on the open treeless plains. 150 years ago great herds of bison roamed here. And it was here that the North West Mounted Police set up their first outpost in the area, at Fort Walsh, to stop the incursions of the American “wolfers.”

The sky dominates the scene. I spent an hour here, shooting a time-lapse of the approaching thunderstorm, at right, coming toward me from miles away, until it filled the sky and threatened to turn the road back into mud.

It was a wonderful day spent crossing the prairies, and traveling back in time.

– Alan, August 16, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Wheatfield Moon


Wheatfield Moon (Aug 14, 2013)

The waxing Moon shines above a ripening field of wheat on a prairie August evening.

A track winds off through the wheat field toward the western twilight sky, while a waxing Moon shines in the south.

This was the scene tonight just down the county road where I live, on a warm August night on the Canadian Prairies.

For this shot, I assembled a high dynamic range set from eight exposures taken over a range of 8 f-stops, to compress the wide range of brightness into the one photo. Even so, the Moon remains overexposed. But I like shooting these scenes in deep twilight for more saturated colours and for some stars in the sky.

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

 

Sunset from the Cypress Hills


Horseshoe Canyon Sunset (August 11, 2013)

The Sun sets over the pines and prairie of Cypress Hills, Alberta.

Tonight it was too cloudy for meteors. But the sky did provide a very fine sunset.

I was at the Horseshoe Canyon viewpoint on the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, to catch a deep-red Sun going down into haze and cloud. This is looking northwest, from the pine-covered hills out over prairie plains of southern Alberta. The image is a high-dynamic range stack of 7 images.

The viewpoint also had an interpretive sign explaining the virtues of dark sky preservation – Cypress Hills Park is a large dark sky preserve – and I was pleased to see one of my photos used as an illustration on the sign. I had sent it to the Park several years ago.

But alas, no meteors in view tonight. And while there were a few visible the night before at the star party, out of 200+ shots I took, not one recorded a decent Perseid meteor! Of course!

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

 

Space Station Over a Star Party


ISS Pass Over Star Party (August 10, 2013)

The Space Station flies over a campground of astronomers awaiting the fall of darkness.

Last night was the main night for summer star parties, being a dark-of-the-Moon Saturday in August. As I usually am each year, I was in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, attending the annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party. About 330 attended this year, a near record year.

The night was partly cloudy but stayed clear enough for long enough to allow great views. As the sky was getting dark the International Space Station flew over from horizon to horizon, west to east, passing nearly overhead. I had a camera and ultra-wide lens ready and caught the pass in 10 exposures, each 30 seconds long, here stacked in Photoshop. The accumulated exposure time also makes the stars trail in circles around the North Star at upper right.

It was one of many fine sky sights hundreds of stargazers enjoyed this weekend at the SSSP, and no doubt at dozens of other star parties around the continent this weekend.

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

Saturday Night Under the Stars


RAO Milky Way Night (Aug 3) #1

On a summer Saturday night hundreds gathered to enjoy the stars and Milky Way.

What a fine night this was. Last night, Saturday, August 3, I helped out at one of the annual Milky Way Nights presented by the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory. About 300 people attended, under nearly perfect conditions. The few clouds that rolled through later in the night didn’t detract from the views of the Milky Way and deep-sky objects.

Part way through the night I conducted a laser tour of the night sky. It was pretty neat presenting a “planetarium show” under the real stars to about 150 people gathered on the hillside lying on blankets and in lawn chairs. Astronomy outreach doesn’t get much better!

RAO Milky Way Night - Fish-Eye View #1 (Aug 3, 2013)

Folks from the local astronomy club set up their telescopes on the patio for public viewing. This is a fish-eye lens image I took in the twilight for use in an upcoming digital planetarium show I’m working on that will tour people through the Milky Way.

RAO Milky Way Night (Aug 3) #4

A highlight was the opportunity for people to look through one of the largest telescopes in Canada, the 1.8-metre ARC Telescope that is normally used for spectroscopy but can actually be equipped with an eyepiece. Here, observatory director Dr. Phil Langill lines up the telescope on Neptune.

The event went from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. We started these Milky Way Nights in 2009 for the International Year of Astronomy and they have been big hits every summer since, one of the legacies of IYA.

– Alan, August 4, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer