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

 

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

 

Wild Rose Stars


Wild Roses and Stars on the Reesor Ranch

The floral emblem of Alberta, the wild rose, appears in front of a twilit starry sky.

Last night was another good one on the Ranch! I had three cameras shooting from my log cabin front yard – I had no ambition to travel farther afield this night, after 6 nights in a row of shooting around the Cypress Hills. This is a scene from one of the time-lapses taken from “home,” of prairie flowers in front of a prairie sky.

Milky Way over Log Cabin at Reesor Ranch (July 16, 2013)

I also took the opportunity to reshoot the popular “Milky Way over Log Cabin” scene, getting better results I think than the shot I posted from the first night I was here a week ago. This was with the specially-modified camera that picks up the red nebulosity in the Milky Way better. The colours are much nicer.

Reesor Ranch Night Sky Panorama (July 16, 2013)

Finally, this is a 360° panorama of the scene from last night, taken before the Moon set but when it was behind the trees out of sight. Its light still illuminates the sky blue, yet the Milky Way still stands out. The red lights are from two other cameras shooting time-lapses. This is big sky country for sure!

It’s been a wonderful week of shooting on the century-old Reesor Ranch in the Cypress Hills. I highly recommend the location for anyone who wants an authentic western experience in a stunning setting. I’m sure I’ll be back.

– Alan, July 17, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Time-Lapse Techniques — Creating Star Trails


Dinosaur Park Star Trails (May 26, 2013)

The stars wheel above the Cretaceous-age sediments of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

One of the most powerful techniques in the nightscape photographer’s arsenal is to stack lots of short-exposure images together to create the equivalent of one long exposure showing the motion of the stars. A creative tool to do this in Photoshop is the “Advanced Stacking Actions” from Steven Christenson who maintains a blog and eStore called Star Circle Academy.

I used one of his Actions to create the feature image above. Unlike more run-of-the-mill stacking procedures, Christenson’s nifty Actions can create star trails that look like comets or streaks fading off into the sky at their tail end. It’s a clever bit of Photoshop work achieved by stacking each successive image at slightly lower opacity.

You can use his Actions to create a single composite still image, as above, or to create a set of “intermediate” frames that can be turned into a time-lapse movie with stars turning across the sky and drawing trails behind them. My movie shows several variations. Click the Expand button on the movie to have it fill the screen and reveal the sub-titles.

In Clip #1 I stacked the original set of 360 images without any trailing, using the original frames that came from the camera, albeit with each frame processed to enhance contrast and colour.

In Clip #2 I stacked the images using the “Comet Trails” Action, one that produces very short comet-like streaks.

In Clip #3 I used the “Long Streak” Action to produce longer star trails, but the process also creates unusual cloud streaks as well. Rather neat.

In Clip #4 I used the more conventional “Lighten Mode” to create trails that accumulate over the entire sequence and never fade out. The result on this night was pretty wild and excessive, with the twilight and moonlight adding other-worldly colours.

I certainly recommend the Star Circle Academy Photoshop Actions. While there is a basic Test Set available for free, the full Advanced set is well worth the $30.

– Alan, June 1, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Moonlight on the Hoodoos


Dinosaur Park Nightscape (May 26, 2013) (16mm 5DII)

The stars shine in a bright moonlit sky over the Alberta Badlands.

My feature image above is one of several still frames I took at the end of 4-hour photo shoot last Sunday at Dinosaur Provincial Park. The nearly Full Moon provides the illumination on an eroded landscape originally cut by water from retreating ice age glaciers.

But the volcanic ash layers hold treasures much older, from 70 million years ago. This area contains the world’s richest collection of late Cretaceous fossils of dinosaurs and other flora and fauna from near the end of the dinosaurs’ reign.

The movie below is a 300-frame time lapse of the stars turning behind the hoodoos. It’s a dolly shot, using the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero rail and controller.

The system works very well, but such shots demand a site with a suitable immediate foreground, as well as a good view to the distant sky. It is the parallax motion between foreground and background that makes a dolly move interesting.

I planned this shot to begin at twilight and continue as the sky was darkening, then into the rest of the night with the Moon rising and lighting up the landscape. The moving clouds were perfectly timed and placed!

– Alan, May 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Moonrise on the Badlands


Dinosaur Park at Moonrise (May 26, 2013)

It was a marvellous night for a moonrise. A beautiful night in the badlands

Last Sunday I headed east to Dinosaur Provincial Park, to catch the planet conjunction early in the evening, and then shoot time-lapse sequences of eroded hoodoos lighting up as the nearly Full Moon rose in the east.

The night could not have been better for moonlight photography. The clouds fanned out perfectly from the cameras’ focal points to the north, and in the time-lapse movies (to come!) they add dramatic motion in front of the rotating northern stars.

The feature image above is one of 300 from a motion-controlled dolly shot. The frame below is one of 380 from a static camera time-lapse.

Dinosaur Park at Moonrise (May 26, 2013)

I shot both from a favourite spot at the eastern end of the Badlands Loop drive. As I arrived at sunset, the last of the day-use folks were leaving and I had the place to myself. There was no wind, no humidity, few bugs, mild temperatures and the solace of absolute quiet broken only by some passing geese and the occasional chorus of coyotes.

Even if the images had not turned out it would have been worth the trip.

– Alan, May 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Milky Way and the Northern Lights


Aurora and the Milky Way (May 6, 2013)

The Milky Way appears from behind the colourful curtains of the Northern Lights.

This was the scene last Saturday night, into the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, May 5, as the summer Milky Way rose in the east while a display of aurora  played across the northern sky. The Northern Lights weren’t particularly bright this night, but the long 2-minute exposure I used to bring out the Milly Way recorded the aurora with colours and an intensity only the camera could see this night.

The green is from oxygen glowing in the lower part of the atmosphere, though still some 80 km up, where only rockets and high-altitude balloons can fly. The tops of the auroral curtains are tinged with the pinks from another type of oxygen emission possible only at the very top of our atmosphere, where molecules are few and far between and what’s left of the air that surrounds us meets the vacuum of space some 150 km up.

From Earth it’s hard to visualize just what we are seeing when we look at display like this. But check out some of the Aurora videos at  NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. You’ll see time-lapse videos taken from the Space Station as it flies by and through the same types of aurorae with green lower bands and pink upper fringes, beautifully captured  floating high above the Earth in vertical curtains reaching up into the blackness of space.

– Alan, May 8, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer