Night Skies

Airglow

Airglow

I recently added a new collection of star-studded (literally) images to my portfolio, captured during a workshop in Maine’s Acadia National Park. The workshop focused on night photography, in particular the Milky Way. Did you know the Milky Way has a season? Here in the Northern Hemisphere its brilliant core, containing some 84 million stars, drops below the horizon in November and doesn’t appear again until next spring. Of course the workshop last June was orchestrated for peak viewing – and photographing – the glowing heart of our galaxy in all its splendor.

I’m not an especially accomplished night photographer but, with expert assistance from the group leaders, I came away with a collection of Milky Way images that I’m proud to add to my portfolio. The technique I was using to capture my shots required eleven minutes of in-camera processing per image – allowing me plenty of time to absorb the summer night air, the soothing rhythm of waves lapping the shore, and the sparkling infinity of stars overhead that we rarely see through the light pollution of civilization.

I added a new word to my vocabulary as well – airglow. Wikipedia defines airglow as “a faint emission of light by a planetary atmosphere.” Even in the dark of night, the sky may glow with softly luminous shades of green and magenta. With its sensitive electronics, combined with the long exposures needed for night photography, a camera is able to reveal more stars and more airglow than the naked human eye can see, making the results of night photography particularly satisfying. Those long exposures reveal the soft colors of airglow on the horizon and simultaneously transform the constant motion of the ocean and surf into an ethereal mist. The resulting images radiate with a magical light that shimmers between earth and sky.

Slideshow:

Posted by Carol in Maine, Night Skies, Seascapes, 5 comments
Lighting the Lamp

Lighting the Lamp

We were cruising in the Bahamas early this year and one of our layovers was Hope Town in the Abacos. Hope Town is home to the iconic Elbow Reef Lighthouse, just a short walk from our marina berth. This classic red and white candy-striped lighthouse is over 150 years old and still in working condition. It is the last remaining kerosene powered lighthouse in the world.

This photo is a bit outside my usual style, but I thought it would be fun to share. The lighthouse attendant has just lit the lamp and he is watching to make sure the flame has stabilized. What makes this image work for me is the way his eyes are illuminated by the beam as the mechanism rotates. Handholding the camera in low light conditions is always a challenge, and it took several attempts before I was able to catch just the right angle as the beam passed over the keeper’s face.

The Hope Town lighthouse was built in the 1860s by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service despite vehement opposition from a local populace that had been profiting from a lucrative ‘wrecking trade’, luring ships onto the reef and salvaging the contents of the resulting shipwrecks. It took quite a long time to complete construction of the tower as repeated vandalism slowed progress.

Now, of course, the lighthouse is the pride of the island. It is even featured on the Bahamian $10 bill. The Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society works hard to raise funds to contribute to the maintenance and continued operation of the light, and vigorously opposes any effort to automate the operation. It is open to visit, free of charge, seven days a week. And, by request, the lighthouse keeper will allow visitors to come after hours to observe the lighting of the lamp shortly after sunset. This is a lengthy process that requires a period of slow heating before the light finally catches fire and begins casting its beam out to sea, slowly revolving as it warns ships away from the dangerous rocky coast. Another unusual job requirement for the lighthouse keeper is the task of winding up the mechanism every two hours, day and night, a process that has been going on without fail for the past 150 years of the lighthouse’s existence.

SHOP THIS PRINT

Sony a7Rii, 1/60 sec at f/4.0, ISO 3200, 25mm (16-35mm F4 AZ OSS), hand-held

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.

 

Posted by Carol in Bahamas, Humans, Night Skies, 2 comments
Blood Moon and Clouds

Blood Moon and Clouds

 

 

The total lunar eclipse of September 27, 2015, was a lazy photographer’s dream. For starters, totality was visible from my own home town of Tucson. No need to drive or fly to a distant destination to observe – bonus point #1. Bonus point #2 – not only was this a total eclipse of the moon, but it was a Super Moon as well! And best of all, here in Tucson, the eclipse took place during prime time! Totality commenced at 7:11 p.m. local time and ended at 8:24 p.m. No need to set alarm clocks – instead I was able to set up my tripod, camera and lens during the sunset hours while I could still read the settings on my camera without a flashlight.

Husband Mike came along with a bottle of wine and two glasses and set himself up on the nearby patio furniture, and when the time was right I just clicked away. The wispy clouds added some individual character to my shot, which otherwise was a scene photographed by the thousands (tens of thousands?) around the world.

Nikon D4 .5 sec at f/4.0, ISO 200, 400mm (200.0-400.0 mm f/4..0), tripod. Composite of two photos.

BLOOD MOON AND CLOUDS available for purchase HERE

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Please respect.

Posted by Carol in Arizona, Night Skies, Scenic, USA, 0 comments
Side Trip to the Frozen North

Side Trip to the Frozen North

CLICK HERE for Slideshow

I have always wanted to see the northern lights but living in Southern Arizona and cruising in the equatorial Pacific do not lend themselves to frequent aurora borealis sightings. And I always worried that making a special trip to the frozen North, fingers crossed to see the phenomena, could be a recipe for disappointment.

But earlier this year a post showed up in my RSS feed promoting an aurora borealis photography workshop operating under the following conditions: 2013-14 was to be the peak of an 11 year cycle of solar sunspot activity which generates solar flares which in turn generates auroral activity; the selected workshop location, on the edge of the Arctic in Churchill, Winnipeg, Canada, is one of the world’s best locales for observing the aurora – averaging approximately 300 nights per year with some degree of activity; March is the preferred month for viewing as it offers the best chance of combined clear skies and dark nights, as opposed to summer when the nights are warmer but dramatically shorter, or polar bear migration season in October/November when overcast skies are more prevalent and hungry predators are added to the mix of hazards.

The Northern Lights Photography Workshop was to be led by +David Marx, a landscape photographer and Adobe Lightroom educator (also, as it turns out, a Google+ aficionado), and +Jim Halfpenny PhD, a naturalist with decades of mileage guiding groups to extreme locales around the world including the Antarctic, Arctic, the Galapagos, and his own backyard in Yellowstone National Park. Our group was small, only five participants and two leaders. We all, organizers included, were brimming with anticipation for the adventure to come.

So I asked Mike if he was game and we both signed up for a week in the Arctic chasing the northern lights. Our first order of business was to acquire a new wardrobe suitable for subzero temps; online research soon pointed the way to Canada Goose Arctic expedition parkas and Sorel boots rated to withstand a cold factor of -40º Fahrenheit. Assorted layers of silk underwear, socks, scarves, hats, gloves, face masks and mittens completed our outfits. Fully clothed, we had to turn our bodies sideways to squeeze in and out of our tour bus doors.

So as soon as we arrived home from our Indonesia trip we stowed the swimsuits and snorkels, shorts and sandals, and proceeded to stuff our suitcases to overflowing with our new extreme-cold gear and flew north to the Arctic.

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Wind chill factor minus 40º F

It was seriously chilly with night temps dropping to -25º Fahrenheit with ‘feels like’ temps of -40º F,  although sunny afternoons warmed up to a balmy -13º F!  Night photography offers its own set of challenges regardless, but to throw in extended sessions in life-threatening temperatures gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘challenge’. Among other things we learned that the tape we needed to lock down the focus barrel on the camera lens lost all stickiness at such cold temps. Also that it is not possible to operate crucial camera controls (like the shutter button) wearing bulky mittens stuffed with handwarmers. The result was several frostbitten fingers that are just now sloughing off the dead skin, and a frostbitten nose tip acquired by squashing it against the camera viewfinder in an effort to compose an attractive image while operating in almost pitch black conditions. The flexible cable on my Nikon intervalometer froze stiff and snapped in two at a crucial moment…fortunately I had a wireless backup in my bag of accessories. Of course the nights were moonless, a deliberate scheduling choice on the part of our leaders, although starlight and red headlamps provided some degree of night vision.

Churchill is also the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world where the white bears congregate by the dozens during the fall months in anticipation of Hudson Bay waters freezing over, enabling the bears to strike off across the pack ice in pursuit of their preferred food, ringed seals. Theoretically this time of year the bears were all out hunting and not lurking nearby stalking tourists packaged in goosedown for their next meal. But our guides kept a close eye on us anyway. Another risk factor for a lone photographer would be injury sustained in a fall on icy footing in the dark and freezing to death before being missed.

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CNSC under a starry sky

Home base was a modern (only 2 years old) facility known as the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, a base for assorted working scientists studying the aurora, tagging bears, evaluating climate change and otherwise researching the Arctic environment. But the CNSC also takes in groups for educational ecotourism and is impressively designed and operated to offer a uniquely engaging experience. Lodging is provided in dorm rooms, each containing four bunk beds, two hanging closets, a desk countertop stretching wall to wall, a couple of chairs – and nothing else. Bathrooms are communal with composting toilets and showers that dispense precious water on timers. Community lounges, classrooms, media rooms, a library and a gift shop expand the amenities. There is even decent wifi! Meals are shared in the cafeteria and everyone, from paid staff to paying guest, pitches in to help wash the dishes. The cooking is appetizing and filling, plentiful homestyle fare that includes a plethora of treats (like warm-from-the-oven cookies) available not only after meals but at all hours of the night for aurora watchers to snack on during late night vigils. It’s tempting to assume exposure to cold burned off those extra calories, but I suspect that is only wishful thinking!

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Night igloo photography!

At night the facility enforces a lights-out protocol to prevent light pollution from interfering with the view of the night sky. Scientists, volunteer staff members and tourists roam the hallways at all hours, alert for the next light show, banging on dorm room doors to rouse sleepers to the call for action. Residents pass the wee hours chatting, strumming the guitar, playing board games by candlelight in the cafeteria, or watching the sky from the windows and glass dome in the cozily warm observation room. But we photographers toughed it out outdoors, negotiating slippery footing in the dark with tripods and expensive fragile cameras, frosty with ice crystals, balanced precariously on our shoulders. Batteries failed prematurely due to the extreme cold, condensation fogged up the lenses each time we returned indoors, and of course the sticky tape was non-sticky!

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Tracks on the ice lead to aurora

Luckily for us, each night the auroral light show was better than the night before. Our first night – nothing except cloudy overcast skies that fostered a faint sense of panic that the weather might not cooperate with our limited time table. But on the second night around 1 a.m. a faint misty veil glowed in the distance and our camera lenses captured it as a rainbow of light. One night we concentrated on lighting up the centre’s demonstration igloos with glow sticks and ventured out onto the ice of a frozen pond in hopes of capturing reflections. Another evening, after a day trip to town and dinner at the local favorite hangout, we set up our gear on the snow-covered beach fronting the shores of frozen solid Hudson Bay for a night shot of an aboriginal stone cairn called an Inuksuk. No sooner had we completed our preparations than the aurora kicked in with an impressive storm reminiscent of the genie escaping from Aladdin’s lamp.

Aurora over Inuksuk on the shores of Hudson Bay

And on our final night we were treated to the best show of all. Curtains of color danced over our heads filling the sky with light. By this time we had suffered through the worst of our setup woes and were prepped and ready to photograph the awesome display.

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Curtains of light dance in the Arctic

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The Churchill River frozen over

Of course those were just the nights and, no, we didn’t get much sleep! By daylight we benefited from classroom lectures, worked on our photos, and explored the Churchill environs as a group. We went out on the pack ice of the frozen Churchill River, 8-10 feet thick with ice and contorted into a fantastical landscape of ice sculpture eruptions created by the pressure of the ice expanding and contracting.

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Sled dogs waiting their turn

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Polar bear prevention

We enjoyed an introduction to dog sledding with Wapusk Adventures and received our very own certificate for completing the ‘Ididamile’ only a few days after the real Iditarod race was won by its ‘most senior’ victor ever. We saw local residences barricaded with window grates and nail-studded plywood planks designed to discourage marauding polar bears, and we dropped by the polar bear jail where errant bears are locked up and treated to spartan conditions designed to discourage further forays into town.

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Nike rocket

We toured the Eskimo Museum, filled with a fascinating collection of Inuit carvings collected over the years by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Churchill, and we were entertained by the reminiscences of Myrtle, the Métis village elder, and purchased her copyrighted caribou hair sculptures as souvenirs.  We missed out on a scheduled trip to visit the Churchill County Museum due to vehicle failure caused by extreme cold. The museum describes itself as ‘The Best Little Museum on Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Road’. Presumably this references the fact that Churchill has some 25 miles of paved road within the town environs, but the next closest paved road is hundreds of miles distant. Access to Churchill is by plane, train or (during the brief summer months) boat. Churchill attractions even include a now defunct rocket launch site that operated periodically in an assortment of capacities from the mid-50s until its final closure in the late 90s, and an historic stone fort (Fort Prince of Wales) that dates back to the early 1700s.

In all it was an amazing experience. Now that we possess suitably tested cold weather clothing, we’ll be looking for more winter extreme adventures in the future!

photo by Farshid Ariz

photo of Carol by Farshid Ariz

 

Posted by Carol in Animals, Canada, Churchill, Dogs, Landscapes, Night Skies, Scenic, 6 comments
Southwest Excellent Adventure

Southwest Excellent Adventure

Full Screen Slide Show

Welcome to my newly resurrected photography blog.  I’ve decided to expand my journaling efforts to include a photo specific website in addition to The AVATAR Logs. My last photography post was nearly three years ago! A lot of digital film has passed through my camera in that time, so the first posts will play catch up – casually perusing past images before moving on to current events.

I considered posting straight into The AVATAR Logs blog but decided instead to publish both in parallel with each linking to the other.  Hopefully it will be easy to navigate back and forth between the two seamlessly.  When we are cruising, posting to The AVATAR Logs will take priority. When land-based, CBParkerPhoto will take the lead.

If you are on my notification list for The AVATAR Logs, you will also be sent notices when I post to CBParkerPhoto.  Feel free to contact me if you wish to opt out.  Mostly I use these blogs to stay in touch with friends and share adventures in  a visual way, so I hope you will continue to enjoy the expanded content.

For starters I’ll reminisce about a wonderful week in early April in the Four Corners area of the desert southwest. I joined Laurie Excell again for one of her Excellent Adventures – this time a tour of Monument Valley in Utah and the Slot Canyons in Arizona. Laurie asked me to write a post for her own blog, so I’m republishing the content here along with a few favorite photos from the trip.

You can read the original post on Laurie’s website here, but it is reproduced in full below:

I’ve lived in Tucson for decades and true to the cliché that one never explores one’s own backyard, I had never spent time in the spectacular surroundings of the Four Corners area of the southwest. Having already enjoyed previous Excellent Adventures with Laurie (Bosque, Katmai) I was feeling the need for a photo workshop “fix” – a chance to chase pixels with like-minded enthusiasts. During a workshop we are all in pursuit of the same goal. The nit-picky details have already been prearranged, enabling us to focus strictly on our photography. The itinerary has been fine-tuned to take best advantage of the allotted time; the ho-hum details of car, lodging and meals have already been handled; knowledgable local guides have been booked in advance to take us off the beaten track and open the doors to a more unique experience.

In college my art instructor once commented that the creation of a painting becomes a souvenir of time and place for the artist. That thought struck a chord that has stayed with me through the years and applies equally to the images we are making. Why am I doing this, anyway? Does the world really need another photograph of The Mittens in Monument Valley or the rays of light in Upper Antelope Canyon? Surely images of these subjects have been recorded in the tens of thousands over the years and by better photographers than I. Why not just purchase a postcard or a coffee table book at the gift shop to remember my visit to the desert southwest?

But the photograph that I take myself has an entirely different significance to me than those commercial images. In the process of pursuing another worthy photo to add to my collection, the entire experience of its creation is imprinted on my brain. It is not just the snapping of the shutter – it is the process of working the subject that makes it my own. Months later one glance at the finished image and the adventure leaps to life.

– Camaraderie in the back seat of a rented Suburban with new acquaintances sharing the same passion…

– And the same frustration of arriving in Monument Valley during a sandstorm that obliterates sky and light…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Followed by the revelation a day or two later that this same sandstorm has refreshed the dunes and made them pristine for our lenses!

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Friendly Navajo ponies with their eyes squinted shut against the blowing grit…

Nikon D3S, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Lurching in four-wheel drive through the rough back country to access remote locations…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Photographing the Milky Way from the hotel balcony while asleep in a comfortable bed…

Nikon D3, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– Trudging through the desert on a moonlit night lugging 30 pounds of equipment on my back because I’m afraid of leaving behind that one essential bit of equipment needed to shoot the night sky…

Nikon D3, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– Cold fingertips on a brisk morning waiting to capture a starburst of the sun rising over The Mittens…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Our Navajo guide Lionel (a photographer in his own right) opening locked gates to ‘the Rez’ after hours to shoot Upper Antelope by starlight with not a single tourist in the vicinity…

Nikon D4, AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

– Gingerly setting up my tripod at the edge of a precipice to capture the curve of Horseshoe Bend in its entirety…

Nikon D4, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– Climbing up (and down) Home Depot ladders and squeezing our gear (and ourselves) through the narrow passages of Rattlesnake Canyon and the satisfaction of zeroing in on rhythm and pattern encapsulated in the overwhelming maze of the slot canyons…

Nikon D3S, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– And the sweeping vistas and play of light and shadow as the sun set on the last day of our most excellent adventure…

Nikon D4, AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Night Skies, Scenic, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, Utah, 0 comments