Lately, when I travel to visit relatives, I’ve been taking the slow road — state highways instead of Interstates — as a sort of “road trip.” The slower pace and varied scenery of a road trip removes the sameness from regular travels. On the return leg of this weekend’s drive, I made a stop along the way for dinner and was rewarded with a pretty nice view of sunset-lit clouds over open fields in Northwestern Ohio.
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?
I took a late-day stroll Friday, exploring the neighborhood and enjoying the warm spring air. As the sun sank low in the west, I could see it had potential for a beautiful sunset — streaked cirrus clouds aligned north and south across the sky. So I waited. The air grew cool. The cirrus seemed to disappear. And then warm color rose, first lighting a few scattered cumulus and then revealing the missing cirrus. Just after sunset the sky turned orange, glowing clouds reflected in water, ducks made ripples as they found their nighttime moorings.
UPDATE: A small giclée canvas print of this image was contributed to the annual “In the Pink” show and raffle hosted by Hudson Fine Art & Framing Company in Hudson, Ohio. Proceeds from the sale benefit The Gathering Place, a local organization; their mission is to support, educate, and empower individuals and families touched by cancers through programs and services provided free of charge. I am pleased to have been a part of the show and fundraising effort! For more information on The Gathering Place please visit www.TouchedByCancer.org.
This started out to be an excellent year for photography. In addition to my still work, I was preparing to make my first nature film. Then we decided to buy a house and move. I look back at this blog now and fully realize how fully I dropped my artistic efforts. Finding, buying, and preparing a poorly-maintained house took the balance of summer and, now, the best of autumn. I hope it will be worth it. I do want to share here a photo I have come to love: it is both realistic and dreamlike; it is my remembrance of the seasons passed.
March 29 was a beautiful day and inspired me to pay a visit to a very active heron rookery in the Summit Metro Parks system, immediately adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) at the north end of Akron. I was pleased to discover that the resident Great Blue Herons were still working on their nests, providing me with plenty of “photo ops” for catching them in flight.
The trees that support the heron nests are part of an open wooded area, affording the birds access to fallen twigs and other materials with which to build and maintain their nests. Every so often a bird launched from a treetop, glide away, and circle down to the ground. Strolling around for a while, the heron would find just the right stick needed and, grasping it in its stiletto-like beak, lift from the brush. High into the air, the bird would soar, circling around for the right approach, and ever so gently alight near its nest. Mates, if on the nest, exchange greetings and the stick may be handed off.
Because the woods are full of herons, smaller birds and animals, raptors are also present. I had been told about hawks and eagles being around and occasionally spooking the Great Blues but I hadn’t seen them. This evening, however, was different. First one motorist, then another visitor flagged me and described where a Bald Eagle was perched. The first site was distant, in the shade, with strong backlighting — none-too-photogenic. The second site, however, put the eagle in a fairly decent position for photography: well-lit with the sky behind.
Up til now, the only Bald Eagles I had seen in the wild were either perched far away or flying away from me but not this bird! Apparently a young adult (four to five years old), the eagle watched the rookery from across a road! The eagle’s tree-top spot allowed it to see the main rookery, a secondary nesting area, and an open field; an excellent location for passive hunting. I got some decent shots, even if partly obscured by tree branches!
Sunset was approaching and I wanted to check out a nearby portion of the CVNP called Beaver Marsh, so I packed up and headed down the road. The wetland offered open waters and open sky to the west and the possibility of some nice evening views. A few visitors were on the boardwalk watching native beavers go about their business. Robins and other birds were singing their evening songs. And Canada Geese were noisily settling in for the night.
As I watched, a small group of geese began to fly over the spot where a pair had set up for the night. One of the floating birds looked up and squawked loudly as if to say, “Go! This is ours!” The birds overhead kept flying, leaving those below swimming on rippled waters lit by setting sun.
I really didn’t want to leave — the sky, the water, and the sounds were so beautiful — but it was getting cold, and I was expected home. I do plan, hopefully one day soon, to return “after hours” to enjoy evening’s wings.
Weather this month has featured cold, warmth, rain, frost, and wind. There was even a bit of thunder the other night. We’ve also been treated to a couple of really beautiful sunsets; they’re nice mood-lifters. We live in a high-elevation location but there are few clear, unobstructed views to be had. I wish I had clear views but I try and make do.
This one happened fast! Minutes earlier a layer of clouds promised to add interest to the scene but as the sun sank the clouds disappeared. The sky close to the horizon turned orange and, to my eye, showed a bit of green as well! I quickly got set up in the 20-degree evening air and missed the full disk of the sun. I did get this piece of old Sol but the next exposure showed only a dot. Then no sun, only a beautiful glow. Even the glow faded fast!