Moon in the Mountains


I’ve been chasing the Moon this week. I caught up with it last Thursday night, August 4, in Banff, with the waxing crescent Moon low in the southwest at dusk.

The location is the upper Vermilion Lake just outside the Banff townsite. The golden reflection of the low Moon on the water, the slope of the mountainside and its reflection, the dock and steps, and the tail lights from a vehicle on Highway 1 just up the hill (I decided to leave them in!) make for what I think is an interesting composition of converging lines.

I got set up and in position just in time to catch the scene at the magic hour of twilight, when the sky is dark enough the show deep colours and the Moon’s entire disk shows up, but before the sky gets too dark and the Moon too bright to make an interesting scene.

Even so, the contrast in such a scene is still very high. So to capture it more as your eye would have seen it I used a stack of five exposures, taken in rapid succession, each 2/3rds of an f-stop apart. I then merged the frames with Photoshop’s High Dynamic Range routine to create a scene that brings out detail in the foreground without overexposing the Moon and sky.

A technical method to capture a simple scene of serenity in the mountains.

— Alan, August 7, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Moonscape


As all the other sunset photographers were packing up for the night, I was just getting started. This is the scene last night, with the waxing Moon hanging over the moonscape of Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta.

I took this in deep twilight, when the sky is tinted with subtle colours complementing the earth tones of the landscape below.

Dinosaur Park is the world’s best repository of late Cretaceous fossils, being unearthed as the terrain made of ancient volcanic ash erodes away with every rainstorm. Though the formations date from the Cretaceous some 70 million years ago when this area of Alberta was a bayou-like swamp, the badlands landscape we see today was created at the end of the last ice age when glacial floods poured over the landscape, carving the channels occupied by rivers today, like the Red Deer River that flows through Dinosaur Park.

It’s a favourite spot of mine, just an hour east of where I live, to shoot sunsets and moonrises, and twilight landscapes like this one.

— Alan, August 7, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Auroral All-Sky Dance


Here is nearly two hours of auroral dancing compressed into 25 seconds.

This was the “all-sky” aurora of August 5/6, 2011, widely seen over North America but perhaps (from early reports) best from the western half, especially Canada, favoured for Northern Lights due to our latitude.

I shot this with the 8mm fish-eye lens and the Canon 5D MkII. The movie consists of 255 frames, each 24 to 30 seconds in exposure duration, taken one second apart. ISO speed was 1600 and aperture f/3.5. The playback frame rate is 10 fps.

This display was quite chaotic, without the graceful rippling curtains present in many displays, but rather huge patches of sky turning off and on. This is typical of an aurora in the declining part of the storm — it had already been raging for several hours by the time it got dark here in Alberta.

Nor was the display very bright, so the longer exposures needed to record it well further blur any fine motion. Nevertheless, you get a good idea of the intense activity this aurora displayed. The magnetosphere was jumping last night!

— Alan, August 6, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer

Auroras At Last!


It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a display of Northern Lights as good as this one. But with the Sun picking up in activity from a record lull in the last few years, great all-sky displays like this might become more frequent.

The last time I saw aurora cover most of the sky like it did last night (August 5) was back in the days of shooting film. So this was the first chance I had to shoot an all-sky aurora with digital cameras. This is with the Canon 7D and the ultra-wide 10-22mm zoom. I also shot with the fish-eye 8mm, and an “all-sky” movie of those frames will be in the next posting.

This display was widely seen and predicted, as solar monitoring satellites had observed major flares on the Sun earlier in the week and tracked the resulting “coronal mass ejections” across the solar system. We knew they were aimed at Earth and would hit August 5. In this case, the resulting geomagnetic storm raged for long enough that people across a wide swath of longitudes from Europe to North America were able to see the display during their local night, August 5/6. Even people in the northern U.S. had a good look.

While the display was certainly active and extensive it never did get really bright. So this one still falls short of the “10 out 10” scale for spectacle. Nevertheless, as digital cameras can do so well, the images picked up the greens from glowing oxygen with remarkable intensity. More interesting are the purples, seen toward the beginning of the night but then they faded away. The purple tints come from the tops of the towering curtains of aurora which often glow red from nitrogen molecules at very high altitudes being charged up and excited. But the tops of the curtains can also be lit by sunlight. The blue from the sunlight and the red from the aurora itself mix to produce a purple tint. Only the camera picked this up.

— Alan, August 6, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Lone Land


This is one of the great places for evoking the wide open spaces of the high plains. Here we are looking south over the Milk River and the rock formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta to the peaks of the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana. The buildings at right are the modern reconstructions of the late 1800’s North West Mounted Police outpost that guarded Canada from the illegals from the U.S. (!) coming up Police Coulee smuggling whiskey from Montana into Canada.

The time is just after sunset, as the last light of the Sun still illuminates the clouds. This is the magic hour for photography, and for taking in the solitude of the “Great Lone Land” as author William Francis Butler described it in his book of that title in 1872.

As Butler wrote, “No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie…”

— Alan, July 27, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer