Clear nights and a waxing Moon made for great opportunities to shoot the Badlands under moonlight.
This has not been a great spring. Only now is the last of the snow melting here in Alberta.
But some mild and clear nights this week with the waxing gibbous Moon allowed me to head to the Red Deer River valley near where I live in Alberta for some moonlit nightscapes.
Here’s the Big Dipper high overhead as it is in spring pointing down to Polaris.
I shot this and some other images in this gallery with the new Sony a7III mirrorless camera. A full test of its astrophoto abilities is in the works.
This is Jupiter rising, with the Moon lighting the sky, and illuminating the landscape. Moonlight is the same colour as sunlight, just much fainter. So while this might look like a daytime scene, it isn’t.
This is Venus setting in the evening twilight at the Hoodoos on Highway 10 near Drumheller. The winter stars are setting into the west, to disappear for a few months.
Here’s Venus in closeup, passing between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters in Taurus, low in the twilight over the scenic Horsethief Canyon area of the Red Deer River.
While Venus is climbing higher into our evening sky this spring, the Pleiades, Hyades and all the winter stars are fast disappearing from view.
We say goodbye to winter, and not a moment too soon!
The arch of the Milky Way mirrors the sweep of the Red Deer River on a magical night in the Alberta Badlands.
Images of the Milky Way arching across the sky are now iconic. They are almost always assembled from individual frames stitched together to make a seamless panorama.
From the northern hemisphere, spring is the best season to shoot such a panorama as the Milky Way then remains confined to the eastern sky.
Later in summer, when the Milky Way passes directly overhead, panoramas are still possible, but the Milky Way looks distorted. The process of mapping a round sky onto a rectangular image, as I show here, inevitably stretches out the Milky Way near the zenith.
Last Saturday, in search of the Milky Way during prime panorama season, I set up for the night at Orkney Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River in the Alberta Badlands north of Drumheller. There, the river performs a grand curve through the valley below.
Above, the Milky Way, often described as a river of stars, sweeps in mirror-image fashion above the earthly river.
The panorama above contains the reflection of stars – of the constellation of Delphinus in particular – in the smooth water on a windless night.
To the north at left, the Northern Lights put on a subtle show. While never spectacular to the eye, the camera records the aurora’s colour and forms that often elude the naked eye.
The display was brightest early in the evening – that’s 11 p.m. now in May at my latitude.
The display then faded in intensity before I shot the two panoramas about 1 a.m., but the last few frames of the time-lapse show a final burst of colour from a lone curtain reflected in the river.
This was a magical night indeed. And a rare one this spring with clouds more often the norm at night.
The next dark of the Moon coincides with summer solstice. So while the moonlight won’t interfere, critical for shooting the Milky Way, the glow of perpetual twilight at my latitude will. The Milky Way will be set in a deep blue sky.
By July’s dark of the Moon the Milky Way will be high overhead, making panorama arches tough to assemble. It looks like this might have been my one best night to capture such a scene this year. But it was a good one.
On Friday night the Harvest Moon rose amid the arching shadow of the Earth.
This was the view on Friday, September 16 at moonrise on the Red Deer River. The view is from the Orkney Viewpoint overlooking the Badlands and sweeping curve of the river.
Above is the wide arch of the dark shadow of the Earth rising into the deepening twilight. Almost dead centre in the shadow is the Full Moon, the annual Harvest Moon.
Hours earlier the Moon passed through the shadow of our planet out at the Moon’s distance from Earth, creating a minor penumbral eclipse. No part of that eclipse, such as it was anyway, was visible from here.
But the alignment did place the Moon in the middle of our planet’s shadow projected into our atmosphere, as it does at every sunset and sunrise.
But it takes a very clear sky for the shadow to stand out as well as this in the darkening sky. I like how the curve of the shadow mirrors the curve of the river.
This is a marvellous spot for photography. I shared the site with one other photographer, at far right, who also came to capture the rising of the Harvest Moon.
The image is a 7-segment panorama with a 20mm lens, stitched with Adobe Camera Raw.
Orion appears in his winter element, over snowscapes on crisp January nights.
A couple of clear-ish winter nights this past weekend allowed me to capture that most iconic of constellations, Orion, over snowy landscapes close to home here in Alberta.
At top, he rises over the famous Hoodoos near East Coulee, Alberta in the Red Deer River valley. Clouds moving in on Sunday night, January 10, added the photogenic glows around the stars, emphasizing their colour and brilliance.
Here, from a shot on Saturday, January 9, Orion appears down the end of my rural country Range Road, with Sirius, his companion Dog Star, following at his heels above the treetops and in some haze.
If this looks cold, it was – at minus 25° C. Though two hours later it was only -15° C and by morning it was 0° C. Winter in Alberta!
Both images are short exposures, 10 to 15 seconds, at f/2 or f/2.8 with the wonderful Sigma 24mm Art lens and my new favourite camera, the Nikon D750 at ISO 3200. In both cases the ground is from a stack of several exposures to smooth noise but the sky is from a single exposure to minimize star trailing.
The Sun sets over the Red Deer River Badlands at Horsethief Canyon
This was sunset last night, Saturday, August 1, at the Horsethief Canyon Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River, north of Drumheller, Alberta.
The viewpoint is one stop on the Dinosaur Trail scenic drive that winds up and down the river valley, with a crossing just north of here by one of the few remaining river ferries in Alberta, the historic Bleriot Ferry.
The Canyon’s name comes from the pioneer days when horses would get lost in the Badlands here, then re-emerge found, but with a new brand on them.
The region is home to rich deposits of late-Cretaceous dinosaur fossils. Just south of here is the world-class Royal Tyrrell Museum, a centre of research into dinosaurs and prehistoric life.
This is a single-exposure frame (not HDR) from a 300-frame time-lapse sequence, with the Canon 6D and 16-35mm lens.
Mercury and Venus shine as “evening stars” over the Red Deer River in southern Alberta.
What a fine night this was for nightscape shooting. Mercury and Venus are both now about as high as they will get for the year in the evening sky from my western Canadian latitude.
Venus is easy to spot as the brilliant object in the west. But Mercury is more elusive. You can see it here low in the twilight glow and much dimmer than Venus.
The photo illustrates how far each of the two inner planets swings away from the Sun in our skies, and why Mercury has its reputation for being difficult to sight. Also, it appears at its best for only a couple of weeks at a time. By mid-May it will be gone.
Venus, however, continues to dominate our western sky for the next two months.
I shot the main photo from the deck of a rickety wooden bridge over the Red Deer River near Dorothy, Alberta, just off Highway 10 east of Drumheller in the Badlands.
The image is a high-dynamic-range “HDR” stack of five exposures.
Shortly after taking the lead photo, I drove west to the Atlas Coal Mine to shoot it by the light of the now high and nearly Full Moon. Mercury can still be seen low and to the right of the historic tipple building. Venus shines above it.
This is a single 25-second exposure at ISO 800.
The Atlas Coal Mine is now a National Historic Site and is the last standing from what was once a booming coal mining centre in the Red Deer River Valley.
It was a good year for time-lapse photography at home. Here’s my compilation of Alberta time-lapses in a 3-minute music video.
For a year-end look back at 2013 I assembled these highlights of my year of shooting time-lapse movies of the Alberta sky, by day and night.
I’ve included clips shot around home in rural southern Alberta, and further afield at popular photo spots around the province such as Waterton Lakes National Park, Banff, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, and Cypress Hills Provincial Park.
I hope you enjoy it! Be sure to maximize the video screen and select HD. Or for a better grade version check out my Vimeo channel.
Some technical background:
I shot all the frames for the movies (150 to 300 frames for each clip) with either a Canon 5D MkII or a Canon 60Da camera, equipped with various lenses from 8mm to 200mm. For many of the clips the cameras were on motion control devices: the Radian azimuth panning unit, an Orion TeleTrack mount, or aDynamic Perception Stage Zerodolly unit. You see the latter in action behind the credits.
The Big Dipper swings behind the Hoodoos in the Red Deer River badlands on a moonlit night.
Last night I headed north to the Red Deer River valley to shoot a time-lapse over the river with the badland hills lit by the rising waning Moon. After finishing that I stopped at the popular Hoodoos tourist attraction on Highway 10 east of Drumheller. I had the place to myself at midnight, and the photo ops around the moonlit hoodoos were many.
These formations form when harder capstone rock prevents the soft lower layers from eroding in the rain.
The Big Dipper was nicely positioned above the hills as it swings low across the northern horizon in autumn.
Here I aimed back toward the Moon, with its glare muted by high cloud, and backlighting the hoodoos. The stars of Perseus are rising at left. Unlike normal astrophotography, with nightscape work, and certainly time-lapse shooting, clouds can be a benefit.
This was a great spot to end an evening of nightscape shooting.
The timeless stars turn above a long-abandoned coal mine near East Coulee, Alberta.
For decades, between 1912 and 1979, homes and trains were fueled by coal from the Atlas Coal Mine, one of many in the river valley near Drumheller, Alberta.
Thousands of mine workers populated the boom towns set in the badlands of the Red Deer River. The mines and most of the people are long gone. The Atlas Coal Mine was the last to close, holding out well into the current age of natural gas for home heating and diesel for the trains.
It’s the only mine with buildings that still exist, now as a tourist attraction with daily tours of the mine, both above and below ground.
I spent the evening there last night, the only visitor, except for the owls and coyotes. I was shooting time-lapse sequences and some stills. The shot above is a composite of twenty 1-minute exposures to create the star trails.
For those who prefer a more realistic scene, the short-exposure image above captures the sky more as the eye saw it, with Arcturus and the stars of the Big Dipper shining above the massive wooden tipple.
The Drumheller area is rich in history and photo ops, both for day and night shooting.
In honour of Canadian Thanksgiving, here’s a shot from last night of a classic little church on the Canadian Prairie.
This is the long abandoned Catholic church at the hamlet of Dorothy, Alberta. The church was built in 1944, but as the coal mines in the Drumheller valley shut down (blame the invention of Diesel trains and the discovery of natural gas in Alberta) the once bustling town of Dorothy decayed into a ghost town. A few people still live there, but its main attractions are its relics of the pioneer age — this church, and the United church next to it (behind the camera), a picturesque grain elevator, and an old store. The companion United church has been restored, but this little church on the prairie, abandoned since 1967, awaits restoration.
The scene is lit by the gibbous Moon, and by a couple of sodium vapour streetlights, ubiquitous even in a ghost town.
In the sky are the stars of the Big Dipper and Polaris above the church.
This is one frame of 300 I shot over three hours as part of a motion-controlled time-lapse movie.