A weekend in Banff National Park — but three cloudy nights foiled the array of starry time-lapse shots I had hoped to take. But on Sunday night, July 10, I did get a nice evening shot of the Moon over the most famous Banff landmark.
This is the Banff Springs Hotel, in the deepening twilight as the gibbous Moon shone over Sulphur Mountain behind the hotel. I shot this from the overlook across the Bow River on Tunnel Mountain Drive, a popular spot by day for tourists to disembark by the busload and get their requisite shot. But at this time of night, about 11 p.m., I was the only one there. That’s the beauty of nightscape photography — you have the scene to yourself! And the bears.
Banff Springs is the epitome of a grand hotel. Opened in 1888 but since reconstructed and added to several times, the hotel was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway as the focal point for the tourists it planned to bring into the new Rocky Mountain Park, to take “the waters” in the Park’s sulphur hot springs and enjoy mountain wilderness in genteel splendour. I had the pleasure of staying there one night, in an upper room, courtesy of the Hotel as part of an astronomy outreach program we did there for Earth Hour in 2010. It was truly splendid!
For this shot, I combined three different exposures (1/2 second, 1.3 seconds and 3.4 seconds) in a High Dynamic Range stack, to bring out dark foreground detail but retain the still bright sky, and prevent the Moon from becoming too overexposed. So some Photoshop trickery was involved. But unlike many picture postcard scenes of the Moon sitting above a landmark, this one is real and has not had the Moon pasted into place, usually in a spot and orientation that is astronomically impossible! We astronomers hate that!
— Alan, July 11, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer
On one of the few clear nights of late I took the opportunity to shoot the Moon. It’s a familiar subject to be sure, but one I don’t shoot very often. Pity really, as it is rich in detail and makes for dramatic photos.
I took this shot June 12, about 4 days before the Full Moon of June, so this is a waxing gibbous Moon. Lots of terrain (lunain?) shows up at left along the terminator, including the wonderful semi-circular bay at about 10 o’clock called Sinus Iridum. At the bottom is the bright Tycho crater, with its distinctive splash of rays spreading out across most of globe. Imagine the devastating impact that caused that feature! It isn’t that old either — estimates suggest Tycho is just 100 million years old, putting its formation smack dab in the middle of the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. They would have seen that impact, little knowing another similar-sized impact 35 million years hence, but aimed at Earth, would do them in.
For this shot I used the Astro-Physics 130mm apo refractor with a 2x Barlow lens to increase the effective focal length to 1600mm, a combo that exactly fills the frame of the Canon 7D with no room to spare. I processed this image for high contrast, to bring out the subtle tonal and colour variations in the dark lunar seas, an effect due to different mineral content of the lava that oozed out forming the lunar plains. Judicious use of Highlight Recovery (in Camera Raw) and Shadows and Highlights (in Photoshop) brings out the detail across a subject with a huge dynamic range in brightness. A liberal application of Smart Sharpening also helps snap up detail.
— Alan, June 18, 2011 / Image © Alan Dyer 2011
For the past week I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, on a “cruise and learn” voyage, serving as one of the guest speakers to a group of astronomy enthusiasts who wanted an immersive vacation learning about the latest in astronomy research and, in my presentations, about the hobby side: choosing a telescope and doing astrophotography. The cruise was organized by Insight Cruises and by Sky and Telescope magazine.
The trip went great, with fabulous weather all along, and a welcome break to an awful winter in the north. However, a cruise ship is not the best place to actually do astrophotography!
This is a shot taken on Friday, March 11, from the upper deck and bow of the ship, the Holland America Line’s “Nieuw Amsterdam,” as we sailed on a northwest course back to Fort Lauderdale from our most southerly port of call in St. Maartens in the eastern Caribbean. The Moon is overexposed at right, and is directly ahead of us, making it look like we were sailing toward the Moon. At left is Orion and Canis Major, tipped over on their sides compared to our northerly view. This was from a latitude of about 20° North.
To keep the stars looking like stars (and not seagulls) and freeze the rolling of the ship, I had to bump the camera up to ISO 6400 and use a 5 second exposure at f/2.8 (wide open) with the 16-35mm lens. Not the best combination of settings, but it’s what it took to capture the “seascape” night scene.
— Alan, March 13, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer