Photo hikes in nature can present one with surprises. We visited the Lorain County MetroParks’ Sandy Ridge Reservation hoping and expecting to see an assortment of birds native to that wetland. What we did not expect to see along the way is, well, what you see here: a couple of small snakes literally hanging from and on trees! The first was a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) stretched out along the skimpy branch of a tree along the trail. When we first saw the dark-colored reptile, a spot of sun was shining on it from between the trees; perhaps it was catching some rays to warm its cold blood. The snake allowed fairly close approach and did not move at all during the “photo session.” On the way back from enjoying the birds — there’s a long hike through a heavily-wooded area between parking lot and wetland — we spied another little snake. Snake number two had hung itself vertically on the trunk of a tree, head curved out parallel to the ground. The tree-hanging Butler’s Garter Snake (Thamnophis butleri), like the water snake, held perfectly still during our entire time watching and photographing it. Snakes alive, what a surprise!
A train of strong thunderstorms rumbled through Ohio late Monday night. In some areas the storms were declared severe, even dropping a tornado or two, damaging trees and homes. Here, we were treated to needed rain and a brilliant light show.
Most of the lightning discharged somewhere in the clouds, the bolts unseen but lighting up the sky in brilliant repeated flashes. The sparks themselves could occasionally be seen and a few were spectacular.
Over the course of an hour or so, I managed to capture several cloud-to-cloud strikes, most of which were fairly ordinary for such an active storm. I did see work from another photographer, who has a perch overlooking Lake Erie, in which twisted arcs fill the sky and reflect from the lake waters. I do miss Lake Erie.
For all of us not asleep, the storms brought a lightning-brightened night and an opportunity to witness and record something of Nature’s power.
Yesterday (August 21) millions gathered along a thin path crossing the continental United States to watch a total eclipse of the Sun. Those with favorable viewing conditions along the path of totality enjoyed an amazing sight and experience. Totality fell close enough to a west-to-east center line across the continent that at least a partial eclipse was visible to anyone with access to clear sky.
Since, with some self-doubt, I had decided not to travel to the path of totality, I organized and promoted the Hiram Eclipse Watch event. With the support of the Hiram College Physics Department, it took place on the campus of the college.
I planned to set up two telescopes: a six-inch Meade refractor with a Baader Planetarium Safety Herschel Wedge, and a 90mm Meade refractor with glass/metal filter. I also was to carry my Canon EOS 7D Mark 2 camera, 400mm telephoto, and 2X teleconverter (>1,200mm focal length equivalent), and white light film filter. Only a day or so ahead of the eclipse, I was testing focus and exposure using the gear I’d planned to carry with me. The camera failed! I contacted Canon and they advised it needed to be sent in for factory service. Fortunately, I’d saved my old Canon EOS 50D DSLR. I pulled it from its storage box, charged the camera’s batteries, and without testing, bundled it up and took it to the Eclipse Watch site.
The 50D performed like a champ, making the images I’m showing here!
Despite last-minute worries over cloud cover, even possible rain, we had clear to partly-cloudy skies for the duration of our 80-percent partial eclipse. An estimated 375 visitors came out to share the experience, and by all accounts had an excellent time. Several guests even sought me out and thanked me profusely for bringing out the telescopes and hosting the watch event. Some families even brought blankets and enjoyed a picnic on the lawn in the shade of old trees!
Their happiness and excitement = my pay day!
It was very hot and fairly humid and I labored hard in the sunshine erecting and operating the telescopes, rationing out eclipse viewing glasses, explaining the eclipse event and solar features, and making a few photographs of my own. By the end I was dripping with sweat, dehydrated, hungry, and very tired. I packed the gear quickly because a newspaper reporter wanted me to email her my eclipse photos for publication.
In the cool air of the Physics office I was ready to edit and upload my image using my iPad and cellular connection. Oh, right. No adapter for the old-style memory card the Canon 50D uses! I had a memory card reader with USB connection with me but >> gad! << Hiram College computer network was down because students were returning to school and bringing malware in with their laptop computers! The Physics Department’s computer didn’t have a card slot for camera cards so I couldn’t transfer files from old card to new and to the iPad from there. Frustrated at every turn! So, I had to rush home to process and upload a photograph of maximum eclipse to a newspaper.
At home, I loaded the images on to my computer, edited the best one, composed a brief email, went to click [send] and the computer froze!! First. Time. Ever. Fortunately, after an emergency restart, the computer came back up as if nothing had happened, the message and image attachment had been saved in [drafts] and the email was transmitted. Whew!
End of day I was tired, wired, and dirty.
Oh yes, and happy.
Stirring in my bed this morning, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I heard a severe weather alert tone from my phone. Looking at the screen, then checking radar, I was surprised to see a compact and intense area of heavy rain coming our way. It had the hallmarks of a storm that might offer visual drama! So I threw on some clothes, grabbed my trusty camera, and headed out to meet the monster at the city limits.
It’s wonderful having access to high-resolution weather radar in near real-time available on-the-road via iPad. Though I had no problem getting through from one side of the city to the other, the storm was fast coming. Looking around I spied a road I’d never explored; it looked like it offered a wide view to the west so I made a turn and parked at the curb. Yes, a very nice view and just in time!
Rolling in from the west was one of the most beautiful storms I’ve seen: It featured layers of smooth clouds, separated by striations and trailing off into graceful waves. The morning was quiet, the storm silent as it approached. Until the rain pushed in.
I could see above the treeline a soft, curved cloud feature below all of the other layers, slightly glowing in morning light. I began to hear a sound in the distant trees. Wind? No, rain! The outflow cloud was running ahead of a torrent! I shot a few additional frames, calmly walked to my car, got in, and the rain arrived. I headed home.
It was a wonderful way to start the day!
Storm clouds flowed overhead at the edge of a storm seen from rural Medina County (Ohio) but light could be seen on the horizon. “Even in the midst of the storm the sun is still shining.” ― Dayna Lovely
On Saturday night, July 29, I headed out to the Medina County Park System’s Letha House Park for a little stargazing and photography. The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association was hosting a public star party and it seemed a good occasion to try some Milky Way photography from their “dark sky” site.
Following a beautiful orange sunset, I shot photos of the assembling sky watchers. I had not planned to shoot photos of the Moon but the waxing crescent dominated the sky with its bright presence. I installed the 2X telephoto adapter to my 400mm lens for a nice 800mm optic. I got decent photos of old Luna but the effort would have benefitted with use of a crop-sensor camera body and its boost in apparent magnification; instead, I was using my full-frame (35mm equivalent) body. I won’t complain too much. The photo looks pretty darned good for an image made on a whim!
Waiting for the sky to darken enough for Milky Way images, I spoke with several small groups of people and pointed out objects of interest in the dimming sky. Many folks had never looked through a telescope before and were thrilled to be doing so that night! Others were excited to learn the names of a very few constellations, and to see the emerging Milky Way. One couple asked whether I’d ever seen strange, unexplained phenomena in the night sky (UFOs, etc.): strange and wonderful, yes; unexplained, no. It’s a little surprising how many people ask, however.
Sky dark enough, I started recording images of the sky. I used a simple photographic tripod, a 15mm diagonal fisheye lens, and my full-frame Canon EOS 6D, wide open at f/2.8, for various lengths of time. The waxing Crescent Moon drown out most of the Milky Way visually – it looked like an area of cloud spread thinly from the south to overhead – but showed up better in photographs. Near the horizon in the photo above, may be spotted the “Tea Pot” asterism of Sagittarius, and constellation Scorpius on opposite sides of the tree (and Milky Way) at center. The bright star above the Moon is Arcturus.
In another shot, concentrating on the Sagittarius area of the sky, I captured a little meteor that I did not see at the time of the exposure! I will definitely want to try shots like this again on moonless nights! Trouble is, however, on the horizon: human-made light pollution! Over the years since the astronomy club built their rural Medina County (Ohio) observatory, light pollution from the city of Medina has grown noticeably worse. My final photo in this post shows just how bad it’s getting. The center of Medina is about 12 miles from the park observatory and the city’s glow is intruding high into the sky. What once was a nighttime glow just above the treeline now extends high above it.
We are losing the glory of the night sky to the form of human environmental pollution that is probably easiest to control and that provide immediate benefits in doing so: turning off unneeded lighting, directing lights downward where they are needed (uses less light and power), and immediately save energy and money. I hope I don’t have to drive farther away from town with each passing year in search of darker skies. I can hope, can’t I?