Last night one of my students, Jacob, and I went up to Market Lake Wildlife Refuge near Roberts, Idaho. We hadn’t heard about the wildfire near North Butte over near Menan, but it was putting up a considerable amount of smoke. Thunderstorms were brewing to our northwest up in Montana and the lighting became quite the show later in the evening. The clouds cooperated and moved out of the way once it got dark enough to start shooting (it didn’t get dark until after 11pm!). The Milky Way was pretty spectacular as well. Being a wildlife refuge, we had hundreds of birds buzzing us all evening, including what looked like Glossy Ibises. The bugs were pretty annoying as well!!
Saturday night I went out with five current ISU students and one alum for some astro-landscape photography. For this trip, we went south of Pocatello down to Hawkins Reservoir. Absolutely clear skies, good temps, and low winds (after the sun went down), coupled with some great meteorites made for the start of a pleasant evening. Of course, I brought my camp stove and we had home-made chili and on of the students brought some great cornbread. Great feast!
However, stuff happens, and around 11pm three rather drunk young men nearly drove their pick-up truck into the lake right next to us! After getting the truck out of the water (boat landing), they proceeded to bring all their fishing gear, loud voices, and high explosive fireworks out on the end of the dock that was about 50′ from us. Suddenly, one of the fellows lit the fireworks, which shot about 100′ straight above us and exploded with a boom that shook the entire valley. Needless to say, the campers across the way were not happy! After a long exchange of loud, vociferous profanities, we packed up and left for home. In the composite star-trail shot below, you can see their truck headlights coming towards us on the highway, followed by the firework explosion in the upper right corner of the shot.
In November, I went out to Craters of the Moon National Monument with several of my photo students. The monument has been designated an International Dark Sky Park and the night we were there was on a new moon. That was one of the “darkest” experiences I have ever had, with the exception being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when I was in the Navy.
This past week I was able to spend several days at the Idaho State University Anthropology Department’s archeology field school over in west-central Idaho. Archeology site director, Dr. Andy Speer and his students were very accommodating in letting me poke around shooting stills and videos, along with capturing sound bites. Hopefully a nice documentary will come out of all this and will help future summer archeology field schools.
The field school/archeology dig site was in the Sweet Ola Valley on a private 1700 acre ranch located in the Boise National Forest. What an incredible view! The area is rich in history and more documentaries are there if I just had the time to keep digging!
The first night there, I couldn’t work on my astro-landscape work due to thunderstorms that kept rolling up the valley. Night two was crystal clear but I was too exhausted to stay up! The following night started off favorable, but then clouds kept scudding right though my field of view, but I at least captured one interesting image.
Here’s a few still photos from the documentary project. Enjoy!
The first night of December, I went up to Crystal Summit with my long-time friend and colleague, Wilson Hurst, to engage in some astro-landscape photography. Clear skies brought a considerable drop in temperature….5oF (-15oC)….the micro-brewskies stayed nicely chilled! After three hours (which seemed like all night!), we packed up our gear since everything was beginning to ice over. Here’s a few shots from our adventures in the Rocky Mountain deep-freeze!
After days and nights of freezing fog and clouds, I finally caught a break for some astro-landscape photography. Once the sun fell behind the horizon, the Milky Way was incredible. Unfortunately, it was directly overhead and I was aiming to the south in order to capture the sun setting in Arbon Valley. In the distance there’s Bradley Mountain to the left and the Deep Creek Mountain range falling in the background.
Photographing at 6,000-feet (1,829 meters) on a clear January night gets cold….8oF (-13C)!!! But, it was a pleasant evening listening to hoot owls and coyotes. In addition to watching airplanes cross the sky, there were satellites and meteorites as well. It’s interesting the different colors appearing from various light sources that our eyes simply do not detect at night (our rods and cones lose their color vision in low light levels). I had to finally give up after four hours, as my equipment, including my 14mm super wide angle lens, was completely covered in frost and ice!
Recently, after months of planning with colleagues (Dr. Tom Mitchell and Mr. Robert Breshears) from the photography program at the University of Central Missouri, myself and Idaho State University student John Lowry rendezvoused with our counter-parts at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Our primary objective was astro-landscape photography, which involves daytime images of the landscape that transition into night versions with star movement. All total we had seven faculty and students from both institutions.
During the last few days of May, we watched temps at the Badlands soar into the upper 90s, with nights dropping into the 50s. The temperature swings made camping an interesting adventure. Besides typical camp life and cold showers, we made numerous trips throughout the Badland region for making traditional photographs (with a mix of vernacular snapshots) of ubiquitous bison and prairie dogs. One afternoon included a trip to the infamous Wall Drug, where snapshots were made of tourists riding the giant jackalope!
After three days in the Badlands, we broke camp and struck out for the Black Hills, with stops at Keystone and Mount Rushmore. I found Rushmore disturbing with its extensive commercialization and grand architecture…hmm a potential critical theory paper in the making! Nothing like I experienced back in the 1970s and 1960s. Everything changes with time.
The last stop on our photo road trip was Devils Tower, Wyoming. Here I managed to craft an excellent astro-landscape photograph, which transitions from daylight into night with star trails above the Tower. The following day my Missouri compatriots departed to return to the Midwest, while John and I pushed westward. Photo opportunities presented themselves throughout Wyoming, including detailed shooting at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center (Japanese concentration camp) and Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks.
Just a quick post on astro-landscape photography of the Milky Way shot tonight on Christmas Eve. I found this beautiful spot just as I entered Arbon Valley, which is just over the mountain and through the woods from my house. For this shot I was facing east-southeast, towards Old Tom Mountain and that’s the highest snow covered peak in the first photo. I started shooting around 4:45pm just as the sun was setting and continued until 7pm. It wasn’t too bad until about 6:30pm when the temps dropped to 10 degrees F (-12C). The second shot was repositioned to include Scout Mountain, which is north of Old Tom.
Something new was encountered on this photo excursion, the sound of energy! I was setup under a telephone pole. Unfortunately, some of the wires are in the shot. Anyway, all was quiet sitting there in the dark along side the snow-covered road when all of a sudden I heard this deep throbbing sound. It kept getting louder and for awhile I was looking for a plane over head, but nothing showed up. Finally the sound was pronounced and sounded like it was right on top of me, which it actually was. I walked over to the utility pole and it was vibrating with the pulsing of the energy overhead through the wires. Eventually it died down, only to return later during the photo shoot. Shortly after the sound of electricity, coyotes started their singing in the valley below. Very strange and interesting encounter!
This first weekend of November, I ventured back up to the lake near the Chesterfield ghost town for some astrophotography. A storm front was beginning to move in from Seattle, so it was very windy and exceptionally cold. My sweetheart decided to join me on this outing and this was her first exposure to hours of patiently waiting for the stars to come out and images to be captured. What an initiation she endured!
In addition to shooting star trails (in the tradition of my friend and mentor, Wilson Hurst), I also tried photographing the Milky Way. Visibility of the stars to the east side of the lake and straight overhead was remarkably good. Unfortunately, I had not anticipated the glow of city lights to my north, which clearly is visible in my star trail shot. The light pollution came from Idaho Falls, which is about 65 miles (105 km) away.
Above is an example from a recent photo shoot where I stopped time in fractional slices. I was using a Nikon D700 set to the Continuous High mode, which fires off 5 frames per second with a normal battery. This illustration uses a total of six images captured during one shooting burst.
On the other hand, the illustration below of star trails uses 22 separate photographs using an external intervalometer by Aputure. These were five minute exposures with 1/10second interval between shots.