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

 

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

 

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

 

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