The Living Skies of Saskatchewan


Gazing at the Milky Way in Grasslands National Park

I spent a wonderful week touring the star-filled nightscapes of southwest Saskatchewan.

On their license plates Saskatchewan is billed as the Land of Living Skies. I like the moniker that Saskatchewan singer-songwriter Connie Kaldor gives it – the sky with nothing to get in the way.

Grasslands National Park should be a mecca for all stargazers. It is a Dark Sky Preserve. You can be at sites in the Park and not see a light anywhere, even in the far distance on the horizon, and barely any sky glows from manmade sources.

The lead image shows the potential for camping in the Park under an amazing sky, an attraction that is drawing more and more tourists to sites like Grasslands.

Milky Way Panorama at 76 Ranch Corral

This is a multi- panel panorama of the Milky Way over the historic 76 Ranch Corral in the Frenchman River Valley, once part of the largest cattle ranch in Canada. Mars shines brightly to the east of the galactic core.

At the Two Trees site visitors can stay in the tipis and enjoy the night sky. No one was there the night I was shooting. The night was warm, windless, and bug-less. It was a perfect summer evening.

Twilight Panorama at SSSP 2018

From Grasslands I headed west to the Cypress Hills along scenic backroads. The main Meadows Campground in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, another Dark Sky Preserve, is home every year to the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party. About 350 stargazers and lovers of the night gather to revel in starlight.

This year coincided with the annual Perseid meteor shower and we saw lots!

Most nights were clear, and warmer than usual, allowing shirt-sleeve observing. It was a little bit of Arizona in Canada. Everyone enjoyed the experience. I know I did!

SSSP and Cypress Hills are stargazing heaven in Canada.

Panorama of the Milky Way over the Great Sandhills

From Cypress Hills I drove due north to finally, after years of thinking about it, visit the Great Sandhills near Leader, Saskatchewan. Above is a panorama from the “Boot Hill” ridge at the main viewing area.

The Sandhills is not a provincial park but is a protected eco zone, though used by local ranchers for grazing. However, much of the land remains uniquely prairie but with exposed sand dunes among the rolling hills.

There are farm lights in the distance but the sky above is dark and, in the panorama above, colored by twilight and bands of red and green airglow visible to the camera. It’s dark!

Four Planets Along the Ecliptic at Great Sandhills

In the twilight, from the top of one of the accessible sand dunes, I shot a panorama of the array of four planets currently across the sky, from Venus in the southwest to Mars in the southeast.

This is the kind of celestial scene you can see only where the sky has nothing to get in the way.

Sunset at Great Sandhills

If you are looking for a stellar experience under their “living skies,” I recommend Saskatchewan.

— Alan, August 26, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

A Wonderful Night in Waterton


The Milky Way over Vimy Peak

A clear break between storms provided a marvellous night in the mountains to shoot nightscapes. 

Every year I travel to Waterton Lakes National Park in southwest Alberta to deliver public talks and photo workshops, usually as part of one of the festivals held each year. I was there June 15 to 17 to participate in the annual Wildflower Festival.

On Sunday, June 17 skies cleared to allow my workshop group to travel to one of my favourite spots, Maskinonge, to practice nightscape shooting techniques. The sunset was stunning, then as skies darkened the Moon and Venus over Waterton River provided the scene.

As twilight deepened, a display of noctilucent clouds appeared to the north, my first sighting of the season for this unusual northern sky phenomenon. These clouds at the edge of space are lit by sunlight even at local midnight and form only around summer solstice over the Arctic.

As the sky slowly darkened and the Moon set, the Milky Way appeared arching across the east and down into the south. The sky was never “astronomically dark,” but even with perpetual twilight illuminating the sky, the Milky Way still made a superb subject, especially this night with it reflected in the calm waters on this unusually windless night for Waterton.

On the way back to town, I stopped at another favourite spot, Driftwood Beach on Middle Waterton Lake, to take more images of the Milky Way over Waterton, including the lead image at top.

It was a perfect night in Waterton for shooting the stars and enjoying the night sky. By morning it was raining again!

— Alan, June 21, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

The Night-Shadowed Prairie


The Night Shadowed Prairie

“No ocean of water in the world can vie with its gorgeous sunsets; no solitude can equal the loneliness of a night-shadowed prairie.” – William Butler, 1873

In the 1870s, just before the coming of the railway and European settlement, English adventurer William Butler trekked the Canadian prairies, knowing what he called “The Great Lone Land” was soon to disappear as a remote and unsettled territory.

The quote from his book is on a plaque at the site where I took the lead image, Sunset Point at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

The night was near perfect, with the Milky Way standing out down to the southern horizon and the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana. Below, the Milk River winds through the sandstone rock formations sacred to the Blackfoot First Nations.

The next night (last night, July 26, as I write this) I was at another unique site in southern Alberta, Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. The sky presented one of Butler’s unmatched prairie sunsets.

Big Sky Sunset at Red Rock Coulee

This is “big sky” country, and this week is putting on a great show with a succession of clear and mild nights under a heat wave.

Waxing Crescent Moon at Red Rock Coulee

The waxing crescent Moon adds to the western sky and the sunsets. But it sets early enough to leave the sky dark for the Milky Way to shine to the south.

The Milky Way at Red Rock Coulee

This was the Milky Way on Wednesday night, July 27, over Red Rock Coulee. Sagittarius and the centre of the Galaxy lie above the horizon. At right, Saturn shines amid the dark lanes of the Dark Horse in the Milky Way.

I’m just halfway through my week-long photo tour of several favourite sites in this Great Lone Land. Next, is Cypress Hills and the Reesor Ranch.

— Alan, July 27, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Spectacular Skies at a Lighthouse


Lighthouse Beams by the Southern Cross

The sky and sea present an ever-changing panorama of light and colour from the view point of an Australian lighthouse.

Last week I spent a wonderful four nights at the Smoky Cape Lighthouse, in Hat Head National Park, on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales. I was after panoramas of seascapes and cloudscapes, and the skies didn’t disappoint.

At sunset, as below, the sky to the east glowed with twilight colours, with the bright clouds providing a beautiful contrast against the darkening sky. The kangaroo at far right was an added bonus as he hopped into frame just at the right time.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse at Twilight Panorama
A 270° or so panorama of the Smoky Cape Lighthouse near South West Rocks on Trial Bay, NSW, Australia, and in Hat Head National Park. This is a stitch of 12 segments, each a single 1.6-second exposure at f/8 with the 35mm lens in landscape orientation. Stitching with Adobe Camera Raw.

At sunrise, the Sun came up over the ocean to the east, providing a stunning scene to begin the day.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse Sunrise Panorama
I shot this at dawn on April 28, 2016. This is a 7-section panorama with each section being a 5-exposure HDR stack, all stacked and stitched in Adobe Camera Raw.

The Smoky Cape Lighthouse was lit up for the first time in 1891. It was staffed for decades by three keepers and their families who lived in the cottages visible in the panoramas above. They tended to the kerosene lamps, to cleaning the lenses, and to winding the weight-driven clockwork mechanism that needed resetting every two hours to keep the reflector and lens assembly turning. By day, they would draw the curtains across to keep the Sun from heating up the optics.

Lighthouse Lenses

The huge optical assembly uses a set of nine lenses, each a massive fresnel lens, to shot focused beams out to sea. The optics produce a trio of beams, in three sets.

Each night you could see the nine beams sweeping across the sky and out to sea, producing a series of three quick flashes followed by a pause, then another three flashes, the characteristic pattern of the Smoky Bay Light. Each lighthouse has its own flashing pattern.

Lighthouse Beams by the Southern Cross
Beams from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse in the twilight sky, beaming out beside the stars of the Southern Cross and the Pointers (Alpha and Beta Centauri) below, rising into the southeast sky in the deepening blue twilight. This is a single 0.6-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 6400.

The lead photo, repeated above, shows the beams in the twilight, with the stars of the Southern Cross as a backdrop. Three beams are aimed toward the camera while the other two sets of beam trios are shooting away out to sea.

The image below shows the beam trio shining out over the water toward one of the dangerous rocks off shore.

Lighthouse Beams over the Starry Sea
The trio of beams from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse scanning across the sea and sky in an exposure shot as short as possible to freeze the beams. This is a single 1.6-second exposure at f/1.4 and ISO 12800, wide and fasrt to keep the beams from blurring too much.

The Lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1962, when staff was reduced. Then in the 1980s all lighthouses were automated and staff were no longer needed.

While we might romanticize the life of a lighthouse keeper, it was a lonely and hard life. Keepers were usually married, perhaps with children. While that may have lessened the isolation, it was still a difficult life for all.

Today, some of the cottages have been converted into rentable rooms. I stayed in the former house of the main light keeper, filled with memorabilia from the glory days of staffed lighthouses.

Southern Cross and Pointers from Smoky Cape
The Southern Cross, Crux, and the Pointer Stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri, above in the moonlight of the waning gibbous Moon before dawn, from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse looking southwest, on the coast of New South Wales, Australia. The Cape was named by James Cook in 1770 for the fires he saw on shore here. This is a single 5-second exposure at f/2.8 with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 1000.

The image above takes in the Southern Cross over the moonlit beach in the dawn twilight.

The last image below is my final astrophoto taken on my current trip to Australia, a 360° panorama of the Milky Way and Zodiacal Light from the back garden of the Lighthouse overlooking the beach at Hat Head National Park.

Milky Way over Smoky Cape Panorama
A 360° panorama and from horizon to zenith of the southern sky and Milky Way from Smoky Cape and the grounds of the Lighthouse and Cottages. The panorama is a stitch of 9 segments, each shot with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens in portrait orientation, and at f/2.8 with the Canon 6D at ISO 3200. All exposures 1 minute, untracked on a tripod. Stitched in PTGui using equirectangular projection.

It’s been a superb trip, with over half a terabyte of images shots and processed! The last few blogs have featured some of the best, but many more are on the drives for future posts.

Now, back to Canada and spring!

— Alan, May 4, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

 

Sunset over Horsethief Canyon


Sunset on August 1, 2015 at the Horsethief Canyon Viewpoint overlooking the Red Deer River, north of Drumheller, Alberta, on the Dinosaur Trail scenic drive. The name comes from the pioneer days when horses would get lost in the Badlands here and 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.

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.

– Alan. August 2, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Worlds Amid the Sunset Clouds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus low in the sunset colours of a July summer evening over the waters of Little Fish Lake, in southern Alberta. Jupiter is at upper right but much fainter.  This is a 3-segment panorama taken with the Canon 60Da and 18-200mm Sigma zoom.

The thin waxing Moon shines near Venus above the colourful clouds of sunset.

Tonight, July 18, was the evening of a close conjunction of the crescent Moon near Venus in the evening sky. From my latitude at 50° North, the conjunction was going to be low, and at risk of clouds.

In this case, the clouds added to the scene as they lit up with sunset colours.

You can see the Moon and Venus at centre, while fainter Jupiter is at upper right, and perhaps not visible on screen at this scale.

The location is one I used last month for the Venus-Jupiter meeting, Little Fish Lake and Provincial Park, north of Drumheller. It’s a quiet spot. This Saturday night there were just three families there camping.

I shot this telephoto panorama with my red-sensitive Canon 60Da, which is designed to record red nebulas well, but does a nice job on punching up sunsets, too!

Alas, the clouds that painted the sky so nicely here, moved in as the worlds set lower. I wasn’t able to shoot them closer to the horizon amid the deep colours of a late twilight. But I’ll settle for this image.

– Alan, July 19, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Waterton Lakes in the Twilight


The waxing gibbous Moon over Upper Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta with the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel in the distance, on a calm evening with still waters, rare in Waterton. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens, shot from Driftwood Beach.

Happy Canada Day! From one of the most scenic places in the country.

I spent a wonderful four days and nights last week at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, with near perfect weather conditions.

For one, the infamous winds of Waterton weren’t blowing, allowing me to shoot the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel reflected in the calm waters of Middle Waterton Lake at Driftwood Beach, with the waxing Moon above in the twilight sky.

Earlier in the evening, I was at the Maskinonge Overlook shooting some video for upcoming tutorials. At sunset I shot this image, below, of the Moon above the alpenglow of the last rays of sunlight.

The rising waxing gibbous Moon in the sunset sky over Maskinonge Wetlands at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, June 2015. The last rays of sunset are illuminating the peaks in alpen glow. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.
The rising waxing gibbous Moon in the sunset sky over Maskinonge Wetlands at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, June 2015. The last rays of sunset are illuminating the peaks in alpen glow. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.

Happy Canada Day!

And don’t forget to look west for the ongoing Venus-Jupiter conjunction. I missed the best night last night, June 30 – clouds! But here’s hoping for tonight.

– Alan, July 1, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Double “Star” in the Dusk


Venus and Jupiter on June 28, 2015 approaching a close conjunction two nights later, as seen over the water of Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, Alberta in the evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the pair. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens. The long exposure blurs the ripples and waves on the water.

Venus and Jupiter now appear as a brilliant “double star” in the evening sky.

This was the scene last night, Sunday, June 28, as the two brightest planets in the sky appeared close to each other in the evening twilight.

I shot the scene from the eastern shore of Little Fish Lake at a Provincial Park in southern Alberta bordering on the Handhills Conservation Area which preserves northern native prairie grasses and an abundance of bird and wildlife species.

The planetary conjunction culminates on June 30, when they will appear very close to each other (less than a Moon diameter apart), creating the best evening conjunction of 2015.

Venus and Jupiter on June 28, 2015 approaching a close conjunction two nights later, as seen over the water of Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, Alberta in the evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the pair. Some subtle crepuscular rays from cloud shadows are at right. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.
Venus and Jupiter on June 28, 2015 approaching a close conjunction two nights later, as seen over the water of Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, Alberta in the evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the pair. Some subtle crepuscular rays from cloud shadows are at right. This is an HDR stack of 3 exposures with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.

More details are in my previous blog post. 

– Alan, June 29, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

A Twilight Triangle of Worlds


The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and fainter Jupiter above, with the three worlds forming a triangle in the twilight, on the evening of June 19, 2015, from a site north of Bassano, Alberta. This is an HDR stack of 5 exposures to retain detail in the dark foreground and bright twilight sky. This is with the 50mm lens and Canon 6D.

The three brightest objects in the night sky gathered into a tidy triangle in the twilight. 

On Friday night, June 19, I chased around my area of southern Alberta, seeking clear skies to capture the grouping of the waxing crescent Moon with Venus and Jupiter.

My first choice was the Crawling Valley reservoir and lake, to capture the scene over the water. I got there in time to get into position on the east side of the lake, and grab some shots.

The waxing crescent Moon below Venus and dimmer Jupiter above, all over Crawling Lake Reservoir, in southern Alberta, on June 19, 2015. This is a 5-exposure HDR stack to preserve deatails in the dark foreground and bright sky. Shortly after I took this shot clouds from an approaching storm front obscured the planets and the sky.

This was the result, but note the clouds! They were moving in quickly and soon formed a dramatic storm front. By the time I got back to the car and changed lenses, I was just able to grab the panorama below before the clouds engulfed the sky, and the winds were telling me to leave!

A wicker looking storm front moving in quickly over the Crawling Lake Reservoir in southern Alberta. I had just a few minutes to get set up for this after shooting the gathering of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the evening twilight from a nearby spot. Then clouds soon covered the planets. By the time I got back to the car to change lenses the storm front was almost on top of me. I grabbed segments for this panorama using a 24mm lens and Canon 6D. While the outflow winds really picked up, the storm didn’t amount to much and cleared off shortly after as it moved to the east from the northwest.

I drove west toward home, taking a new highway and route back, and finding myself back into clear skies, as the storm headed east. I stopped by the only interesting foreground element I could find to make a composition, the fence, and grabbed the lead photo.

Both it, and the second image, are “HDR” stacks of five exposures, to preserve detail in the dark foreground and bright sky.

It was a productive evening under the big sky of the prairies.

– Alan, June 20, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Moonlighting at Monument Valley


Moonrise Behind the Mittens at Monument Valley (#1)

The Full Moon rises behind the famous Mitten buttes at Monument Valley.

I spent a fabulous weekend capturing sunsets and nightscapes at the iconic Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border, the photogenic outdoor set of dozens movies over the decades.

On the eve of the total lunar eclipse I shot the nearly Full Moon rising behind the West (left) and East (centre) Mittens and Merrick Butte (at right). On the evening of Friday, April 3 the Moon rose and sat amid the sunlit clouds with the Sun still up.

The alignment that would place the Moon directly opposite the Sun to create the eclipse was still 11 hours away.

Note how the butte’s shadows point almost, but not quite directly, at the nearly Full Moon. They point at the place in the sky the Moon would be before dawn at the end of that night.

Indeed, on eclipse morning on Saturday, April 4 the Moon set exactly as the Sun rose (see my photos in my previous blog).

But on eclipse eve the Moon rose 30 minutes before the Sun set, providing a chance to catch the Moon behind the still sunlit red buttes.

Moonrise Behind the Mittens at Monument Valley (#2)

I shot this image about 20 minutes after sunset on April 3, so the foreground is now in shadow but the Moon appears in a more richly tinted twilight sky.

Orion and Venus Setting at Monument Valley

Later on April 3 I captured this scene, with the Tear Drop and Rock Door Mesas now lit by a bright Full Moon, and with the stars of the winter sky setting into the west. Canis Major and Orion are at left, while Taurus, including the Pleiades star cluster and brilliant Venus, are at right.

The Orion & Venus image is a 2-panel panorama.

Moonbeams at Monument Valley

On the evening of April 4, clouds thwarted plans for a long star trail sequence above a moonlit foreground.

Instead, I shot toward the Moon and clouds, to capture subtle moonbeams radiating out from the Moon, now some 14 hours after the eclipse, rising behind Merrick Butte. I shot this from the dusty Loop Road that winds through the valley floor.

Big Dipper over West Mitten, Monument Valley

Instead of lots of images for a star trail composite, I was content to shoot this one image, catching the Big Dipper in a brief hole in the drifting clouds, hanging in the sky over the West Mitten butte. The foreground is lit by the partly obscured Full Moon. The long exposure streaks the moving clouds.

Night or day, it’s hard not to take a great photo here, clouds or not!

Sunset Panorama at Monument Valley

On my final evening at Monument Valley, high winds common to the area, blowing dust, and the closed Loop Road, scuttled plans again for long star trail sequences from the valley floor.

So on Easter Sunday, April 5, I settled for a panorama from the classic viewpoint showing the setting Sun lighting the buttes and mesas of Monument Valley.

It is an amazing place, but one that still requires patience to wait out the clouds and dust storms.

– Alan, April 6, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Rising of a Pre-Eclipse Moon


Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #4 (Oct 6, 2014)

‘Twas the night before the night before … an eclipse of the Moon.

This was the beautiful moonrise tonight, on Monday, October 6, two days – by calendar date – before the total lunar eclipse on October 8.

However, as the eclipse occurs at pre-dawn on October 8, it’s really just a day and half to go before the Moon turns red as it passes through Earth’s shadow.

I shot these as the gibbous Moon, waxing toward Full, rose over the harvested field to the east of home. The setting Sun nicely lit the clouds which partly hide the Moon.

Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #1 (Oct 6, 2014)

Earlier in the evening, I grabbed this shot as the Moon appeared and two white-tailed deer ran through the yard and out into the field below the rising Moon. Moon deer!

TLE2014Oct08-MDT

This is the sequence that will happen early on October 8, in a diagram courtesy Fred Espenak at EclipseWise.com. The times are for Mountain Daylight, my local time zone. The eclipse will be total from 4:25 to 5:24 a.m. MDT (6:25 to 7:24 a.m. EDT) when the Moon will be immersed in the umbral shadow and will appear deep red.

Use binoculars for the best view of the colours. An eclipsed Moon looks wonderful, like a glowing red globe lit from within, but it’s really lit by the red sunlight from all the sunsets and sunrises going on around the world at once.

The next total lunar eclipses are April 4, 2015 (again pre-dawn) and September 27, 2015 (at convenient early evening hours), both visible from North America.

Clear skies and happy eclipsing!

– Alan, October 6, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset over David Thompson Country


Howse Pass Viewpoint Panorama (Partial)

The setting sun lights the clouds over the river plains of the North Saskatchewan.

This was the panoramic view two evenings ago from the Howse Pass viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Banff.

We’re looking south over the North Saskatchewan River near its junction with the Howse and Mistaya Rivers. The spot is near where Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway, comes in from the east to join the Parkway. It’s a modern highway now but 200 years ago this was a main canoe route for the fur trade.

The area is known as David Thompson Country, named for the great explorer, surveyor, and celestial navigator who mapped much of western Canada in the early 1800s.

Until about 1810, Thompson passed this way every year en route to the fur trade forts he set up in the B.C. interior, his main job for the North West Company.

Conflicts with the local Pikanii people, who objected to Thompson trading with and arming their traditional enemies, the Kootenais, forced Thompson to find a new route across the Rockies, the Athabasca Pass in what is now Jasper National Park.

Howse Pass Viewpoint Sunset Panorama (Full)

The top image is a 180° panorama, the bottom image is a full 360° panorama from the viewpoint. In the distance are Mt. Murchison, at left, and Mt. Cephren in the far distance, the prominent peak by Waterfowl Lakes.

I shot these with a 14mm lens, in portrait orientation, and stitched them with PTGui software. The top image is made from 6 segments, the bottom from 12 segments.

The software blended them perfectly, no small feat in such a uniform twilight sky. I’m always impressed with it!

– Alan, August 14, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Prairie Sunset Panorama


Prairie Sunset Panorama

What a spectacular sunset tonight. The Sun is just going down in a blaze of red, while the waxing Moon shines in the deep blue twilight.

I grabbed the camera fast when I saw this happening out my front window, and raced out to the ripening wheat field across the road.

The top image is a 360° panorama of the sky, with the Sun at right and the Moon left of centre. The zenith is along the top of the image.

I used a 14mm lens in portrait mode to cover the scene from below the horizon to the zenith, taking 7 segments to sweep around the scene.

You can see the darkening of the sky at centre, 90° away from the Sun, due to natural polarization of the skylight.

Red Sun in a Prairie Sunset

I shot this sunset image a little earlier, when the Sun was higher but still deep red in the smoky haze that has marked the sky of late. It certainly gives the scene a divine appearance!

This is a 5-exposure high-dynamic-range composite to capture the tonal range from bright sky to darker ground, the wheat field. I increased the contrast to bring out the cloud shadows – crepuscular rays.

I boosted colour vibrancy but didn’t alter the actual colours – it was a superb sky.

I used PTGui v10 to stitch the panorama at top and Photomatix Pro to stack and tone the HDR set. While Photoshop is wonderful it did not work for assembling either of these images.

– Alan, August 6, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Wild Rose Twilight at Red Rock Canyon


Waterton Wild Rose Twilight

Evening light illuminates the peaks around Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Lakes National Park.

I took this image last evening as part of a time-lapse sequence, framing the wild roses in the foreground and the peaks of Mount Blakiston (at left) and Mount Anderson (at right) in the distance. The site is the popular Red Rock Canyon area of the Park.

The last rays of sunlight are hitting Blakiston.

That peak is named for Thomas Blakiston, the first scientific explorer to map the area of Waterton and the passes of the southern Canadian Rockies. Although at the time he was here in 1858, this was still British colonial territory separated from the United States by an ill-defined border running along the 49th parallel just south of this spot.

Blakiston was part of the British Palliser Expedition, led by John Palliser, whose mission was to survey the little-known region south of the South Saskatchewan River to assess its suitability for settlement.

Palliser concluded that the parched rain-shadow area of what is now southern Saskatchewan and Alberta was “desert, or semi-desert in character, which can never be expected to become occupied by settlers.” That area became known as the Palliser Triangle. Only extensive irrigation made settlement possible.

Blakiston was the expedition’s magnetical observer, taking readings of the Earth’s magnetic field strength and direction throughout the region. He disputed Palliser’s leadership and soon broke away from the expedition to conduct his own treks and compile his own reports. It was Blakiston who named the area after Charles Waterton, a famous British naturalist of the time. The region became a nationally-recognized park in 1895

— Alan, July 18, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset over Waterton Lakes


Waterton Lakes Sunset

The setting Sun lights the clouds over Upper Waterton Lake, Alberta.

Waterton Lakes National Park is certainly one of my favourite places. The scenery is wonderful and the town small and quiet. It has all the beauty of Banff with none of the retail sprawl and traffic jams.

I shot the scene above two evenings ago, July 15, from the viewpoint at the Prince of Wales Hotel. It overlooks Middle and Upper Waterton Lakes, the latter lighting up as it reflects the sunset clouds. This is a frame from a motion-control time-lapse.

Waterton Lakes Trees

Last night I shot a time-lapse from the lakeshore, looking through the windswept trees toward the south end of the Upper Lake, as the Milky Way begins to appear in the darkening twilight.

Lights from the campground illuminate the trees with just enough light to balance the foreground and sky. Sometimes you can make use of man-made light.

I’m here at Waterton to conduct some public programs Friday and Saturday night. Skies are clear but hazy with smoke and cirrus clouds. But the days and nights are warm and aren’t windy, a welcome treat in Waterton!

– Alan, July 17, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Super Moonrise over Canola Field


Super Moonrise over Canola Field

The orange Full Moon – a hyped “super moon” – rises over a yellow field of canola.

What a colourful sky this was tonight – the pink Belt of Venus twilight band above the blue shadow of the Earth, above the yellow ripening canola.

And the orange Full Moon embedded in our planet’s shadow.

The onslaught of publicity about super moons this week – it seems we now have not one but several a year making them all a lot less super! – does serve one purpose: it gets people out looking at the Moon they might otherwise take for granted.

Supermoon or not, this confluence of colours can occur any time the Full Moon rises. But if you aren’t outside watching you miss it.

– Alan, July 12, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Sunset over the Lonely Log Cabin


Log Cabin at Sunset

The clouds paint the sky at sunset over a pioneer cabin in the Cypress Hills.

This is a scene the original resident of this cabin would have enjoyed – and painted.

This lonely log cabin in the Battle Creek valley was built by Robert David Symons, renowned as a rancher, naturalist, game warden, and painter, in the style of western artists such as Charlie Russell.

The cabin looks like it dates from the pioneer days of the first European settlement of the area, in the late 19th century. But Symons settled here and built this log cabin in 1939, during the time he worked as a game warden in the Hills, posted at the Battle Creek Ranger Station. He lived in the cabin for only three years before selling it to Albert and Sylvia Noble in 1942.

The Nobles expanded the cabin to accommodate their family. They lived here for 10 years, working a sawmill in the area.

Today the cabin is a scenic stop on the rough and often muddy Battle Creek Road that winds from the Alberta to the Saskatchewan side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Travelling it is like being back in the 1940s, when roads were no better than improved cart tracks.

Shooting Time-Lapses at Cypress Hills Log Cabin

I spent an evening here two nights ago on a perfect summer night, shooting the sunset and then the cabin scene by moonlight using time-lapse cameras and gear.

The main scene at top is a high dynamic range stack of 6 images to preserve details in the bright sky and dark foreground.

The self-portrait is a single shot taken by moonlight. Mars and Spica are just setting as a pair of stars over the hills across the valley.

It was a magical night in the Hills.

– Alan, July 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Wild Rose Sunset


Wild Rose Sunset

The sky lights up pink to match the wild roses in Cypress Hills.

Last night the twilight sky over the Cypress Hills was simply stunning. The clouds contrasted with the blues and pinks of twilight. On the way out to an evening shoot I stopped to take this image of the darkening sky colours behind the blooming wild roses, the floral emblem of Alberta.

In this photograph I’m looking east, opposite the sunset. The dark blue on the horizon is the shadow of the Earth rising. Above the shadow is a fringe of pink, the Belt of Venus, from red sunlight still lighting the upper atmosphere in that direction. Its colour nicely matches the pink roses – Earth and sky in colour coordination.

This is a high dynamic range stack of 6 exposures, to capture the bright sky and darker foreground in one image, to render the scene as the eye saw it but the camera could not, at least not with a single exposure.

– Alan, July 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset on the Range


Sunset on the Range

The setting Sun provided a fine light show on the open range of the Canadian Prairies.

This was the scene Friday evening, July 4, as the Sun lit up the clouds in the big sky of the Historic Reesor Ranch.

I’m here for a week of intensive shooting and writing. On the first night the setting Sun put on a fine show, captured in still images, like the high dynamic range composite above, and in time-lapses captured with the motion control gear below.

Reesor Ranch Sunset Shoot #4

When I took these shots I was likely right on the 105th meridian, the line of longitude that marks the boundary of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Either way, the land is expansive and stunning.

Just to the south the land rises to the Cypress Hills and the namesake provincial park where I’m spending most nights shooting stills and time-lapses. More to come this week I’m sure!

– Alan, July 7, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset at the City of Rocks


Sunset at the City of Rocks (May 2, 2014)

The Sun sets behind the desert landscape of the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico.

This is another shot from two nights ago, May 2, taken during my evening shoot at New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park. I took this right at sunset, and you might be able to see the tiny crescent Moon in the twilight sky.

I used an ultra-wide 14mm lens and took a set of 7 exposures taken at 2/3rds stop intervals to capture the full range of brightness from brilliant Sun to shadowy landscape.

I stacked the exposures using Photoshop’s HDR Pro module and then “tone-mapped” the huge range of tonal values using Adobe Camera Raw in its 32 bit mode. This is an excellent way to process “HDR” images, compressing the huge range in brightness into one displayable image. I’ve used several HDR programs in the past but the new method of being able to use ACR, made available in recent updates to Photoshop CC, produces superb natural-looking results. I highly recommended it.

— Alan, May 4, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

New Mexico New Moon


New Mexico New Moon (April 30, 2014)

The thin waxing crescent Moon returned to the evening sky tonight, seen here in the deepening blue of a New Mexico evening.

I’m in Silver City, New Mexico (altitude 5900 feet) for a few days and nights, checking out places to spend next winter, under clearer and warmer skies than back home … and with rarely any snow to shovel.

This was the scene tonight, on the ranch road with one of the prime property choices – astronomers check real estate locations by day and night!

The crescent Moon is lit by Earthshine as it sits amid the deep blue twilight. The stars of Taurus show up flanking the Moon, with the Hyades at left and Pleiades at right.

This image is a high-dynamic range stack of 6 exposures from 2 to 20 seconds, to capture the ground detail without blowing out the Moon. Lights from an approaching pickup truck nicely lit the trees during the final longest exposure.

For the technically minded, I stacked the images using Photoshop CC HDR Pro, then “tone-mapped” them using Adobe Camera Raw in 32 bit mode.

Sunset from Silver City, New Mexico

The sky was hazy all day and evening, from wind-blown dust common to the area. Fierce southerly winds were whipping up dust all day, which hung in the sky all evening as well.

The sunset was a golden yellow from all the dust in the air. Once it got dark the sky lacked the ideal desert transparency, muting the zodiacal light I saw last night from the Chiricahuas.

Not every night is perfect in the high desert!

– Alan, April 30, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Goodbye Winter Sky – 2014 Edition


Orion Setting & Zodiacal Light (24mm 6D)

After a brutal winter for most of us in the northern hemisphere, we’re glad to see the last of the winter sky.

This was the scene on Tuesday night, April 29 as the last of the winter sky descended into the evening twilight.

Here, Orion (left of centre) sets into the western sky, next to the gossamer glow of the zodiacal light (right of centre). The stars of Taurus sit amid the zodiacal light, with the Pleiades just about to set behind the ridge. Sirius, the sky’s brightest star, shines at far left.

The zodiacal light is the glow of sunlight reflecting off cometary dust particles in the inner solar system. It is a glow from interplanetary space, not from our atmosphere. Spring is the best time to see it in the evening sky, no matter your hemisphere. It also helps to be in the desert of the U.S. Southwest!

I took this parting shot of the winter sky from a favourite observing haunt from years’ past, Massai Point, at 6800 feet altitude in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The sky was perfectly clear and the night warm and windless. I’m back in Arizona and New Mexico for a few days, checking out accommodations for a long-term stay next winter, so I won’t have to endure the snow and cold that plagued us last winter. Good bye winter sky! Good bye winter!

– Alan, April 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

Moon over the Chiricahuas


Moon over the Chiricahua Mountains #1

The waxing gibbous Moon rises over the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona.

This was the stunning scene on Sunday night, December 15, as I drove out to Chiricahua National Monument south of Willcox, Arizona for some moonlight photography. I stopped on Highway 186 to catch the colourful twilight in the east with the Moon rising over the desert mountains.

Moon over the Chiricahua Mountains #4

This image, taken a few minutes later, shows a darker sky but with more prominent crepuscular rays – shadows cast by distant clouds to the west where the Sun set. A photogenically placed windmill adds to the scene.

I love the contrast of Earth tones and twilight tints – a very desert-like palette.

– Alan, December 15, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Twilight in the Chiricahuas


Evening Twilight in the Chiricahuas, Arizona (Dec 3, 2013)

The colours of twilight illuminate the eroded rock formations of Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.

This was the scene tonight, Tuesday, December 3, as night fell over the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. The landscape below is a maze of eroded towers of ancient volcanic ash. The sky above is one of the finest on the continent for stargazing.

I spent a week or so here back in May 1995, stargazing with friends from the parking lot at Massai Point at the summit of the Chiricahuas. Tonight was my first visit back to that parking lot in 18 years. The evening was just as windy as I remember it in 1995. And as it was back then, Venus was in the western sky tonight.

Sunset in the Chiricahuas, Arizona (Dec 3, 2013)

This was sunset a few minutes earlier when the clouds were lit red by the setting Sun. I used a 24mm lens for this shot but a 14mm lens for the main image above.

Both shots are 7- to 8-frame “high dynamic range” composites that stack images taken in quick succession over a range of exposures from 2 stops under to 2 stops overexposed. The stack of images, when merged with HDR software, captures what one exposure cannot, due to the huge contrast between the bright sky and the dark foreground at twilight. I used Photomatix Pro software to do the merging and tonal balancing. Such amazing digital tools were unheard of and undreamed of in 1995!

— Alan, December 3, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Green Flash – At Last!


The Green Flash (Nov 15, 2013) from Barbados

At last, I enjoyed a successful attempt to capture the elusive green flash.

During three weeks at sea attempts almost every evening from the ship to sight the green flash always failed, as the Sun set behind low horizon cloud.

But this night, the Sun set into the ocean with a clear horizon. My location was a small public oceanside walkway on Bay Street near Bridgetown, Barbados. It was a great spot to watch the sunset, though our main purpose for stopping there was to pick up some fried chicken at the KFC just steps away!

But the imminent sunset under ideal conditions made it worthwhile sticking around to see if we (I was with two friends from Alberta) could sight the green flash.

We did! I shot a rapid fire sequence – the image above is one frame of many catching the last bit of the Sun remaining above the horizon and turning green.

The infamous green flash is a refraction effect caused by the atmosphere separating out the green light and lifting it higher so it’s the last thing you see as the Sun sets. Conditions aren’t always amenable to seeing the green flash – you need a clear horizon and you also need the atmosphere structured with warm layers near the sea creating a mirage effect.

For more details on the technical explanations see Andrew Young’s page at http://aty.sdsu.edu/ 

… and Les Cowley’s page at http://www.atoptics.co.uk/atoptics/gf1.htm 

Andrew Young has a nice simulation at http://aty.sdsu.edu/explain/simulations/inf-mir/inf-mirSS4GF.html

Sunset from Barbados (Nov 15, 2013)

This was the view moments before, with the lower edge of the setting Sun distorted by atmospheric refraction, a sign that you might see a green flash as the upper edge disappears.

Sunset & Sailing Boat from Barbados

I shot this image a few minutes earlier as a photogenic sailboat drifted into the scene. Red sails in the sunset!

I’m nearing the end of my stay in Barbados and my 4 weeks away from home. There are heavy snowfall warnings out for southern Alberta this weekend so I’m not anxious to return! But winter will be waiting for me next week.

– Alan, November 16, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Red Sky at Night … Sailor’s Delight


Sunset over the Atlantic (Nov 8, 2013) #2

We saw many wonderful sunsets on our sail across the Atlantic, but this was one of the finest.

This was the sky two nights ago, on the evening of November 8, as the Sun, now below the horizon, lit up the clouds to the west. You can see a few people out in the netting of the bow sprit taking in the view.

Sunset and Sails (Nov 8, 2013)

Here was the view looking up into the square rigged sails on the foremast. “The sky is on fire” was the comment I heard from folks on deck.

Red Rainbow over the Atlantic (Nov 8, 2013)

Contributing to our theme of a rainbow eclipse trip, a red rainbow appeared to the east, lit by the light of the setting Sun. What a wonderful sky this was!

Indeed, one of the other astronomers on board tallied up the number of naked eye sky sights he had seen on the voyage. It was an impressive list, equalling what had previously taken him over 30 years of sky gazing to accumulate.

I’m writing this post from back on land, now in Barbados at a latitude of 13° north. However, now that I have high-speed connectivity I can get caught up with posts from the sea voyage, with a couple of more to come from at sea.

– Alan, November 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Post-Eclipse Moon over the Atlantic


Moon & Venus Post Eclipse (Nov 6, 2013) #1

Following any total solar eclipse it’s traditional to look for the crescent Moon as it returns to the evening sky.

This was the view on November 6, three days after Sunday’s total solar eclipse when the waxing Moon was near Venus, with both high in our tropical sky as we finish our sail across the Atlantic. As I write this, we have just sighted the lights of Barbados off the port side as we round the north end of the island. It’s our first sighting of any other sign of civilization in two weeks, since we left the Canary Islands.

Moon & Venus Post Eclipse (Nov 7, 2013) #2

This view is from the next night, November 7, with the Moon higher and well above Venus, set amid the square rigged sails of the Star Flyer clipper ship.

It’s been a fabulous voyage across the Atlantic, with largely calm seas and beautiful weather on most days.

Tomorrow I start a week stay in Barbados.

– Alan, November 9, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

 

Sailing to the Sun


Cloud Shadows Near Sunset over the Atlantic

As we continue our sail across the Atlantic, our heading takes us southwest, directly toward the setting Sun.

This was the scene last night, a day out from the Canary Islands, as we set our course toward the eclipse intercept point. Our heading of roughly 245° takes us into the setting Sun each evening.

We’re now often under sail alone, with engines off. As Columbus and all trans-Atlantic explorers did, we’re letting the northeast trade winds blow us across the ocean. Under their steady force, we’re making a good 8 to 9 knots, sufficient to get us to the eclipse path on the appointed day and time on November 3.

Moon Amid the Rigging

On that day the Moon, seen here as a waning crescent in yesterday morning’s sky amid our square-rigged sails on the 4-masted Star Flyer, will cover the Sun for 44 seconds.

Tonight, October 28, was a magical night. Many of the eclipse tour folks gathered on the aft deck with all the lights off to lie back on deck chairs and gaze up at the Milky Way, with us now hundreds of kilometres away from any other lights.

We had the Milky Way above, while below, the ocean in our wake was exploding with flashes of bioluminescence. The night was warm and of course windless because we’re travelling with the wind. It was an amazing experience.

— Alan, October 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Equinox Highway


Equinox Setting Sun (Sept 23, 2013)

Highway One heads into the setting equinox Sun.

I try for this shot every year, and every year I’m thwarted by low clouds over the Rockies to the west.

So here’s the shot from tonight, Monday, September 23, the night after equinox. Had the horizon been perfectly clear tonight the Sun would have appeared right at the end of the Trans-Canada Highway as it set behind the Rockies. Instead, it disappeared higher up and to the left, behind low cloud.

At equinox (fall or spring) the Sun rises due east and sets due west. So tonight, it was shining into the eyes of all the drivers as they headed west into Calgary – a little demonstration of the annual motion of the Sun.

The previous night, Sunday, Sept. 22, I shot a time-lapse movie of the scene, again hoping for a clear shot to the setting Sun. Alas! A neat movie but still not quite what I was after.

There’s always 2014. But I think I need to aim east and catch the rising Sun at equinox instead. The mountains attract too many clouds.

– Alan, September 23, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Harvest Moon Panoramas


Harvest Moon & Earth Shadow Panorama (Sept 19, 2013)

The Harvest Moon rises into the dark arc of the Earth’s shadow.

What a perfect night this was. The Full Moon rose into a crystal clear sky, tinted with the dark blue shadow of our planet arching across the eastern sky.

The main image above is a 7-section panorama sweeping from northeast to southeast, but centred on the rising Harvest Moon rising almost due east.

The Moon came up just before the Sun set. The panorama below shows that scene. It’s a crop of a full 360°, 45,000-pixel-wide panorama, taken just as the Sun was setting almost due west and the Moon was rising 180° away in the east.

Harvest Moon Panorama (Sept 19, 2013)

I took both panoramas with a Canon 5D MkII and 50mm Sigma lens, with the segments at a 30° spacing. That way I take 12 segments to cover a full 360°, a habit leftover from the days of shooting photo pans for planetarium projection systems consisting of 12 Kodak slide projectors.

 

My previous post showed some still frames from a time-lapse movie of the rising Harvest Moon. The final movie is above, assembled from 670 frames taken at 2-second intervals with the Canon 60Da and 200mm lens. I’ve shot this subject a few times now, but this was my best capture of the rising Full Moon at harvest time, always the most photogenic Moon it seems.

It was a marvellous night for a moonrise!

– Alan, September 20, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Waterton Lakes Panoramas (Night and Day)


Waterton Lakes Night Panorama #1 (Aug 31, 2013)

Two panoramas compare the view of Waterton Lakes National Park by night and by day.

Last night was as perfect as it gets here in the southwest corner of Alberta. The sky was crystal clear and the wind was calm, unusual for Waterton Lakes.

I spend the night travelling around the Park shooting nightscapes, including this night pan taken from the shoreline in the townsite, again contending with the light pollution of unshielded town streetlights, and the glare from lights on the Prince of Wales Hotel. But even they can’t wash out the marvellous Milky Way.

Just after taking this I went up to the Hotel to shoot scenes from its overlook, back toward the town. As I walked up to the Hotel, a guest was getting out of her car and waving an iPhone around with an astronomy app, hoping to see the stars. I overheard her saying, “I guess we won’t see a lot of stars from here,” referring to the glare of the lights of the Hotel.

The night panorama sweeps from northwest to southwest over 270°. At left we’re looking north toward the prairies. An aurora there would have been well-placed and timed. As it is, there is just the faintest hint of Northern Lights. At right, is the centre of the Galaxy area of the Milky Way.

Stars shine reflected in the unusually clam waters of Upper Waterton Lake.

Sunset at Waterton Lakes Panorama (Aug 31, 2013)

This day panorama takes in a smaller angular sweep. I took it from a similar shoreline location just at sunset, as the last rays of the Sun lit Vimy Peak in alpenglow. Returning to dock on the last voyage of the day is the historic tour boat, The International, a wood-hulled ship built in 1927, the same year the Prince of Wales Hotel opened. It plies these waters every summer and by winter is stored in a dry dock down the lake on the U.S. side.

It’s been a wonderful weekend here. More photos are in the processing pipeline. But for now, it’s off to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

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

 

 

Dinosaur Moon


Waxing Moon in Badlands Twilight (August 18, 2013)

The waxing Moon rises into a colourful twilight sky over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

What a great night it was last night! Warm summer temperatures (at last!) allowed for shirtsleeve shooting even well after dark. To shoot on the warm August night I went out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a magical place to be at sunset and in the summer twilight. The colours on the badlands are wonderful. It’s earth-tones galore, with the banded formations from the late Cretaceous blending with the sagebrush and prairie flowers.

This was the scene after sunset, as the waxing Moon rose into the eastern sky coloured by the blue band of Earth’s shadow, the pink Belt of Venus and dark blue streaks of cloud shadows converging to the point opposite the Sun. That’s where the Moon will be Tuesday night when it’s full. But last night it was a little west of the anti-solar point.

Moon and Sunset Glow at Dinosaur Park (August 18, 2013)

I managed to grab this image as soon as I got to my photo spot on the Badlands Trail, just in time to catch the last rays of the setting Sun illuminating the bentonite hills of the Badlands. Both shots are frames from a 450-frame time-lapse, taken with a device that also slowly panned the camera across the scene over the 90-minute shoot.

It, and three other time-lapses I shot after dark, filled up 40 gigabytes of memory cards. It’s been a terabyte summer for sure!

– Alan, August 19, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset from the Cypress Hills


Horseshoe Canyon Sunset (August 11, 2013)

The Sun sets over the pines and prairie of Cypress Hills, Alberta.

Tonight it was too cloudy for meteors. But the sky did provide a very fine sunset.

I was at the Horseshoe Canyon viewpoint on the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, to catch a deep-red Sun going down into haze and cloud. This is looking northwest, from the pine-covered hills out over prairie plains of southern Alberta. The image is a high-dynamic range stack of 7 images.

The viewpoint also had an interpretive sign explaining the virtues of dark sky preservation – Cypress Hills Park is a large dark sky preserve – and I was pleased to see one of my photos used as an illustration on the sign. I had sent it to the Park several years ago.

But alas, no meteors in view tonight. And while there were a few visible the night before at the star party, out of 200+ shots I took, not one recorded a decent Perseid meteor! Of course!

– Alan, August 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset Panorama at Reesor Ranch


Sunset at Reesor Ranch Panorama #1 (July 11, 2013)

The setting Sun lights up a classic Canadian prairie skyscape. 

This was sunset last night, July 11, from the historic Reesor Ranch in southwest Saskatchewan, on the north edge of the Cypress Hills. The clouds opened up across the sky in a Chinook arch, with clearing to the west where the waxing Moon and Venus were also setting into the twilight.

It was a stunning scene looking out over the plains from the highlands of the hills.

I’m in the area for a week of shooting, weather permitting.

This shot is a 7-section panorama, stitched with Photoshop’s Photomerge command.

– Alan, July 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

VLA Dishes at Sunset


VLA at Sunset with Crepuscular Rays

The photogenic dishes of the Very Large Array aim skywards as the setting Sun casts shadows across the sky.

If these were optical telescopes I could write that the telescopes were getting ready for a night of sky viewing. But radio telescopes can observe day and night.

Still, there is something magical about catching any type of telescope in action as the Sun sets and night falls. Here, the last beams of sunlight coming from the west illuminate the dishes, while dark shadows – crepuscular rays – cast by clouds converge toward the anti-Sun point in the east.

As part of my trek around New Mexico this past week, I shot this on Sunday, March 17, about an hour before I took the image of Comet PANSTARRS over the VLA dishes – for that image I was east of the array looking back to the west and to the comet.

But for this image I was at one of the public access areas, standing under one of the dishes, looking east.

At first, all the dishes were aimed up to the zenith, stowed I assume due to the high winds that were blowing all afternoon. But then, right on cue as I began shooting, all the dishes began to move in unison. The dishes first aimed toward me, then turned to aim up to the south, as here. It was an amazing dance to watch. It gave me goosebumps. And tears.

There is likely no more iconic image of our exploration of the universe from Earth than this array of antennas listening for the faintest signals from deep space – not alien radio programs, but the natural signals emitted by atoms and molecules where stars are forming and dying.

– Alan, March 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

A Comet and Earthlit Moon Amid the Stars


Comet PANSTARRS & the Moon (March 13, 2013)

This was the scene tonight, March 13, as Comet PANSTARRS set over the mountains in deep twilight, with the waxing Moon hanging overhead.

The small comet sits low in the orange glow of twilight, where the Moon was last night when it was down beside the comet. Tonight, a day later, the Moon appeared much higher in the sky as it waxes toward first quarter Moon in another few days. Tonight it was a crescent with most of the dark part of the lunar disk lit by Earthshine. I took this shot just before the comet set behind the mountains, to get the sky as dark as possible and the exposure longer to bring out some stars in the deepening blue of twilight.

I took this from the Painted Pony Resort in New Mexico where about 15 of us are gathered for a week-long star party and dusk to dawn “observathon.”

Indeed, I have to get back outside to continue shooting the Milky Way. It is another stunningly perfect night under New Mexico skies.

– Alan, March 13, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Whitsunday Sunset


Whitsunday Sunset #1

This was a perfect sunset for displaying the subtle shades of twilight.

On this evening the sky over the ocean showed off the classic sunset gradient from deep orange though yellow, purple and into deep twilight blue. I shot this on the water on my cruise around the Whitsunday Islands on board the Solway Lass. Note the dark reflections of clouds in the water.

We’re looking west, of course – the Sun still sets in the west in the southern hemisphere! – which is back toward the mainland of Queensland, Australia.

– Alan, December 3, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Island Moon At Sunset


Moon Over Baur Bay, Whitsundays

One of the great joys of sailing and being out on the water is the wonderful sunsets. In this case, sunset included a fine moonrise.

This is the gibbous Moon of November 26 in the evening sky over the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. On this evening we were moored in Baur Bay, at South Molle Island. The bright waxing Moon shines amid the red clouds in the east still lit by the last rays of the setting Sun from the west. It is everyday scenes like this, painted with the wonderful palette of colours only the sky can provide, that you begin to appreciate all the more – or more to the point, simply see – as you become “sky aware.” So no great science lessons to learn here – just some beautiful colours to soothe the soul as gentle waves lap against the side of the ship.

– Alan, December 2, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Harvesting the Wind


The Harvest Moon rises behind a new crop, a wind turbine harvesting the wind.

I shot this Friday evening, September 28, technically the day before Full Moon and the annual Harvest Moon. The location is amid the Wintering Hills Wind Farm northeast of me and south of Drumheller, Alberta.

This is one frame of 450 in a time-lapse sequence going from sunset into twilight with the Moon rising through the clouds. The changing colours were wonderful.

– Alan, September 29, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset on the City


The Sun sets in a ball of fire behind the skyline of Calgary.

For this shot on September 27 I found a spot on an overpass on the Ring Road east of Calgary to look west. Using an app for the iPad, LightTrac, I was able to locate the exact spot where the Sun would set behind the skyline, including the new 50-storey Bow Tower.

Getting the Sun big compared to the buildings means shooting from a distance with a telephoto lens. I used a 200mm and 1.4x extender here.

It would have been nice to have shot from a higher altitude but such places are hard to find east of Calgary where the land flattens out onto the prairie. However, this was a good test of the technique for lining up a rising or setting Sun or Moon with a photogenic foreground. That’ll come in handy this weekend for the Harvest Moon.

– Alan, September 27, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

A Ball of Fire Descending


Smoke reddened the Sun and turned it into a ball of fire setting into the west.

This was Monday night, September 24, looking toward the hills in the west end of Calgary. I positioned myself on the north side of the Bow River across from the downtown core, at the top of the river valley to catch the Sun in this telephoto shot. The other camera was taking a time-lapse sequence in a wider scene with the Bow River in view.

We are certainly having some fine sunsets of late, thanks to forest fire smoke.

– Alan, September 24, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Driving into the Equinox Sun


At equinox the Sun sets due west and shines into the eyes of drivers heading west into the sunset.

This was the scene Friday night on Highway 1, heading to Banff out of Calgary. I set up beside the highway to catch the scene of the Sun going down at the end of the road. I was hoping for more smoke and haze to dim the Sun to a clearly defined disk rather than deal with a bright glow. But you shoot what the sky gives you.

This is one frame from a 315-frame time-lapse movie of the traffic madly moving down Highway 1 (a true to life recording!) and the Sun glow setting behind the Rockies.

– Alan, September 23, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Right Angle Moon


Saturday night was a fine evening for witnessing the geometry of the night sky.

This is sunset on the evening of the autumnal equinox, September 22, 2012, with a first quarter Moon in the sky. The image illustrates the geometry of the quarter Moon’s position, which is always 90° away from the Sun, a quarter of the way around its orbit in its monthly cycle.

In this case, because the Sun (at right) was on the equinox position on the ecliptic, it was setting due west this night (something it does only on the dates of the fall or spring equinox). This put the quarter Moon (at left) 90° away, due south at sunset.

Draw a line from the Moon to your eye (the camera) and then back out to the Sun and it forms a 90° right angle. This geometry holds true for any quarter Moon, but being equinox the Sun and Moon were nicely aligned due west and south, making their right angle arrangement more obvious.

I took this shot from the grounds of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory on the occasion of their monthly Open House.

– Alan, September 23, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Star Party Sunset in the Badlands


A hundred or so stargazers were treated to a beautiful sunset in the badlands of the Red Deer River valley on Saturday night.

This was the setting for the annual Alberta Star Party, at a campground north of Drumheller, Alberta, amid the late Cretaceous sediments of the badlands. This is big sky country.

Earlier in the week the night sky was clear and inviting. But this night the clouds served only to provide a fine sunset. They failed to disappear after nightfall. However, on a such a night, a good time is still had by all as everyone enjoys the company of fellow stargazers during the last of the fine weather before star party season ends for another year.

I took this 360° panorama with a handheld camera, and stitched the segments in Adobe Photoshop CS6.

– Alan, September 16, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Mercury Rising Over Calgary


Mercury is elusive but here it is, showing up as a speck over the skyline of Calgary, as it begins its best evening appearance of the year, rising a little higher into the twilight sky each night for the next few evenings.

To find it, follow the line down from the Moon and then bright Jupiter and Venus at upper left and continue that line to the lower right. Just to the right of the tallest building (the new Bow tower) and just above the rooftops there’s a tiny dot of light. That’s the inner planet Mercury. It’ll get higher in the first week of March but not by much. Mercury is bright. It’s just not very high and is easy to miss.

But with Mercury coming into view, and with Venus and Jupiter so prominent now in the evening, and Mars now bright in the east after sunset – look for a red star – we have a nice array of 4 naked eye planets across the sky at once. Saturn comes up later after midnight now. So you can see 5 naked eye planets in one night.

It’s a great evening sky show now in early March.

– Alan, March 1, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

A Prairie Palette of Earth and Sky Tones


Following up on my previous post, here is the wide-angle scene of that same winter moonrise, taken at sunset on January 8, 2012.

This was a spectacular and truly “amazing sky,” with the last rays of the setting Sun illuminating the clouds and the rising Full Moon coming up in the pinks and blues of twilight. It is the big prairie sky at its best.

The wide scene captures dark cloud shadows converging toward the point opposite the Sun, near where the Full Moon sits. These are “crepuscular rays,” a common sight at sunset or sunrise.

— Alan, January 8, 2012 / Image © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sunset in the City — This is Only a Test!


This is one for the time-lapse geeks!

One of the trickiest subjects for a time-lapse sequence is a smooth and seamless day-to-night transition. Exposure times vary from fractions of a second before sunset to several seconds at night fall.

How to do it? Manually shifting exposures is too much work and prone to error. Putting the camera on Automatic can work but inevitably results in an effect known in the time-lapse world as “flickering.” The camera’s automatically-judged exposures aren’t consistent from frame to frame so the final movie shows minor bright/dark flickering, making it look jerky.

For this test sequence of sunset over the Calgary skyline, I tried a new toy for the first time, as a solution.

The device is called the Little Bramper (for Bulb Ramping). It is a custom-made intervalometer that fires the camera shutter every few seconds (at whatever interval you desire). Nothing new there. But what’s unique is that it can be set to slowly increment the exposure time by as little as 1/1000th of a second from frame to frame, gradually increasing the exposure (“ramping” it) to accommodate the darkening scene. The result is a smooth transition from day to night with no flickering.

This was my first use of the Bramper and it wasn’t without its glitches. The shortest exposure the Bramper can provide (it always controls the camera thru its Bulb setting) is about 1/10th of a second (I had no idea camera shutters can fire as quickly as that even on Bulb).

But at the beginning of a sequence like this, with a bright sky, achieving that exposure (still quite long) means using a small f-stop, a slow ISO speed, or a neutral density filter, or all of the above. But as the sky darkens and exposures lengthen, exposures would become too long to fit within the desired interval between frames (typically no more than 5 to 10 seconds for a smooth sequence). So, to shorten the exposures you then have to open up the lens, switch to a faster ISO, or remove the ND filter, while also commanding the Bramper to quickly reduce its exposure time, all in one exposure cycle (i.e. 5 to 10 seconds) so as not to lose or ruin frames. Takes some coordination and practice (hit the Bramper’s button, adjust the camera, all within 5 seconds), and I didn’t get it right the first couple of times.

But overall, for a first test, the sequence turned out very well. The $80 Little Bramper does the job, though it does take careful monitoring through the sequence, not just to perform the exposure swaps, but to also watch that the ramping rate (adjustable on the fly) matches what the scene is doing and you aren’t under- or over-exposing. It’ll take a little more practice, but the results certainly are worth it.

It’s another neat tool in the time-lapse arsenal.

— Alan, August 10, 2011 / Movie © 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