A complete washout

I said in the previous post that we’d done two outings in the past week, and this is evidence of the second – there will probably be a little more about it along later. Right now, we’re going to examine how I fared with a particular goal for this one, which was monochrome; given the light conditions and the lack of foliage and so on, I decided it was a good time to tackle some black & white images. However, I don’t shoot in monochrome, unless I’m using film, because digital allows some creative approaches that we’ll see below.

blue channel exposed roots
The exposed roots of trees bordering the water (this is Eno River State Park) make an obvious choice of course, but the contrast came up better with channel clipping – in fact, almost all of the images here use channel clipping, though some have additional edits done. The sun was bright, thus producing bright highlights and distinct shadows, which gives contrast that works better for monochrome, and for this frame, I selected only the blue layer because it had better shadows in these conditions. And I like the root ‘dipping its toes into the water.’

I believe this is the same tree:

treetrunks in green channel
In this case, however, it was the green channel that looked best. In my experience, the red channel tends to have the best levels when used for B&W images, green following, and blue often the worst, trending towards blotchy and weak. But there’s a possibility that was only with the old Canon DReb and 30D bodies; I’m using the 7D now, and the blue channel has been quite useful, at least for this outing. We’ll have to see if this holds true in more conditions.

small rapids in blue channel
Often, monochrome images do better with a boost in contrast to use the full range of light levels available, but this one needed no such thing – the light was already contrasted enough, and the use of the blue channel again heightened that slightly (given that the more prominent colors in the original frame were dull greens and browns.)

opened milkweed pod in blue channel
Another blue channel choice without further editing, with the backlighting illuminating the milkweed seeds pretty brightly – this one does well in color too. There was a hint of greenish hues from the background, so the green channel naturally rendered them lighter, and I liked them being darker better, so blue was the choice. Not so with the next one though.

white-throated sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis in first winter plumage and green channel
Here, the green channel carried it again, because the blue rendered the overall frame too dark, but I tweaked contrast very specifically to keep the details of the sparrow where I wanted them. It took me far too long to determine that this was a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) though, because they only have this coloration in their first winter. I almost mistook it for a savannah sparrow, but they have a distinct ‘mustache mark,’ one of the many terms specific to bird identification. I’m not a big fan of the little birds and haven’t tried memorizing what can be found in the area, and believe me, when looking through the Sibley Guide to Birds, you’d be amazed how many are ‘almost but not quite’ identical to this. Sheesh.

Slightly easier with the next one, but only slightly, even with the original color image.

eastern river cooter Pseudemys concinna concinna basking in blue channel
The eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna) bears more than a passing resemblance to the very common yellow-bellied slider, and in some cases (like this one) the distinguishing traits aren’t that distinct, but I’m using the low-profile shell to pin this down as a cooter. It’s one or the other, anyway – what, you writing a biography? The blue channel was good, but a very selective yet harsh increase in contrast made it better, and the rim-lighting from the sun behind the turtle helped – I was careful to keep most of the texture of that broken log. I was also a little surprised to find this one out basking, but we honestly haven’t had a lot of cold weather this year (yet, anyway,) and this day was only a little chilly, so this guy took advantage of the sunlight.

Now some contrasts in contrast.

American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua in winter and blue channel
A few of the American sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) on the river’s edge were showing very pale trunks, as well as being sidelighted by the afternoon sun, so of course I had to use that natural contrast and didn’t tweak this or the next one at all. Really, the only reason I can identify this is because the gumballs, the spikey little seed pods of the species, are still largely attached to the branches, nature’s own holiday ornaments. The sky was clear blue, so the blue channel rendered it quite light, with the prime contrast coming from the trunks and shadows thereon. I was lucky enough to find a trees without too much interference from branches of the neighbors, which is often tricky. But now let’s look at the red channel in the same conditions, albeit a different tree.

Unidentified tree in red channel
Actually, I had thought this one was the same species, but I don’t see the gumballs, so I’m leaving it unidentified for now. Using the red channel for this (which had more visible pale trunk lines throughout) worked better for the details, even though it almost blended in with the neighboring trees in hue, but the questing shapes of the limbs still helped to make it stand out a bit.

I’m assuming you did not fail to notice, however, that the moon appears in each of these tree images. Yeah, I’m in a rut – I’ll try not to post too many more moon photos for a while, unless they kick ass, but I’ll take the opportunity to point out that both of these required specific positioning to put the moon where it was among the branches – that meant traipsing around on the sloped banks of the opposite shore (both of these were shot across the river) until I could get the right angle. It’s that kind of elaborate effort that brings me the big bucks, let me tell you.

And our last one for today.

elaborate rotting trunk not in greyscale
Okay, directly alongside the others, it’s probably obvious this is not actually greyscale, even if it is almost monochrome all by itself – I might have pulled off the deception had all the rest of the images been brightly colored. But yeah, I liked the textures and the lack of color was already there, so this one made the cut even if it is cheating, because it’s my blog and so I got it in with the judge. Which is me. Who is also just about the only reader too. Exclusive, that is.

But as a winter exercise when there’s not that much to shoot… well, it kept me busy, anyway, and gave me a little more to post. That’s good enough for now, and I can say that because, again, I’m the judge…

No comments

So the Industrious Mr Bugg and I actually had two outings this week, in abject denial of the season and the bare fact that there really isn’t much at all to chase, photographically. Thus this is more proof of making the effort, and not something that’s gonna rock anyone’s world. Right now we’re going to deal with only the first outing back on Tuesday, down to Jordan Lake.

great blue heron Ardea herodias passing familiar dead tree
The admittedly-loose goals for this one were to see what kind of wildlife might be showing itself (not too much) and to be present for sunset, which we’ll examine shortly. And aside from a tiny handful of songbirds and seagulls, the wildlife was practically nonexistent. Above, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) cruised past a tree that should look familiar, almost as soon as we’d arrived, and made itself scarce thereafter. A lot of hiking along the shoreline didn’t turn up much else, though another heron was spooked by something in the distance and almost overflew us, semi-obscured by bare trees and croaking unhappily. We spent some time examining the shore where it had originated to see what caused the alarm but failed to find anything. On the return trip, at least a sailboat was cruising across the lake and I attempted to use what foreground was available to at least shoot something, and happened to catch a photobomber.

bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus cutting between sailboat and photographer
I wasn’t really expecting to see any bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at this time of year so I was pleasantly surprised, also finding it curious that the bird was skimming the surface in this manner, which I’ve never seen an eagle do, but then again, my experience with eagles is not exactly comprehensive. I tracked it until it disappeared beyond a point on the opposite shore and never saw any signs again, even though (now encouraged) I scanned as many trees as were within view of the long lens to see if anyone was perching nearby. Still, nesting season for this area should start soon, so here’s hoping I can locate something within relatively easy sight.

Finding little else, I got out the 10-24mm lens and did an overhead shot in a small clearing in a weak attempt to be fartsy. Seriously, there wasn’t anything else to shoot.

wide-angle vertical shot in small clearing
At least the sky was a nice clear blue, which would have made it very nice for photographing birds – had there been any to see.

While we waited out the sunset conditions, I was reminded of a pic from last year and had Buggato pose alongside a post for comparison. This is from Tuesday, when the lake levels were about average.

Al Bugg posing by post for scale
And now we have a shot from last February, when the water level was just a wee bit higher.

Al Bugg standing knee-deep in floodwater at head of boat launch approach
That same post is visible just to the right of Buggarino – no, the one up over his shoulder. Bugg stands about 183cm so this would put the lake level better than 3.5 meters higher back then, and Jordan is not a small lake – that’s a lot of damn water. We’ve seen our share of rain this year (the yard is finally not squishing like a sponge now,) but this was nothing compared to last year.

As we feared, sunset came around without a cloud in the sky, which really gives little to provide any color at all, so I just used the lake surface instead. Not that that improved things much.

sunset on too-clear day at Jordan lake
Annnnndddd that was it, really – the barest hint of color appeared, but not even worth photographing. No sunset flocks or fish jumping, and the sailboat was now well down the lake. Ho hum.

But we hung out for another half hour, because there was an event that I was curious about capturing. The International Space Station is now quite large and reflects a lot of light, and it was due to break the horizon right after 6 PM and pass almost directly overhead – nowhere near the moon, which would have been fantastic, but I was curious to see if I could snag any detail with the 150-600 and 2X teleconverter.

As it was, the ISS wasn’t visible until it had risen significantly, and Buggato spotted it before I did since I was looking a little too low at the time. I had already used the moon to pin down tight focus and was ready with mirror lockup and the remote release, but what I wasn’t ready for was the speed that it was crossing the sky, leaving the viewfinder within seconds at that magnification. Nonetheless, I fired off several frames as I endeavored to keep it within sight. This is the full frame, showing how it appeared while tracking it.

full frame of ISS passing
For the record, this is 1/10 second at f6.3 (though with the teleconverter that’s effectively f13,) ISO 800, and as you can see, nowhere near fast enough even though the exposure was acceptable. Let’s take a closer look.

International Space Station with some little detail, blurred by motion and vibration
Several things wrong here. I have other frames where the ISS wasn’t as elongated, so I suspect the lengthy blur is more due to tripod movement than the passage of the station itself, and I’m quite sure the squiggly bit is due to camera vibration – I really couldn’t wait out several seconds of mirror lock without the subject simply leaving the field of view. Yet, the stripes and ‘wings’ tell me that the structure of the station and the solar panels to either side can be made out at this magnification – as long as I could get the shutter speed short enough. And of course, have a stable camera position as it passed into view.

What this means is, either a really precise aim before it passes (highly unlikely given no way at all of aiming the camera within arc-second measurements,) or catching it as it passes in front of a known object – like the moon. Others have done this, so I know it’s possible, and the ability to silhouette the station against the sunlit moon could allow for a much shorter shutter speed, but from my previous experience, getting this alignment might still be hard. I’ll just have to keep trying.

But while I had the stuff all set up, I re-aimed at the moon for an updated image.

not-quite-half moon
The exposure was a little high, but this helped accentuate a detail that I was pleased to get, so let’s go in a tad closer, full-resolution.

detail inset showing Maurolycus and Theophilus craters
This is only a day after the frames in this post, so notice how Theophilus crater, towards the upper right corner, is now lit – and you can still discern the multiple summits of the central peak within it. Meanwhile, lower and at the terminator sits Maurolycus crater, with sunrise just hitting its own central peak. I consider this a lucky grab, because that peak is quite eroded now and not very distinct. Wouldn’t it be great to have the ISS pinned against this kind of detail? Yeah, well, we’ll just have to see how many factors are likely to work against this, but hey, I like a challenge.

Some kind of record

I just have to add this.

Rendering the name of the model from today’s Profile post was slightly tricky, given that many of the language’s letters don’t appear in the standard English/Latin character set. I was up to the challenge of course, but while writing the post (yes, they’re written and not randomly generated,) I have to note that my computer’s spellcheck routine was more active than usual. Here’s a screenshot:

screenshot of post showing spellcheck selections
The model’s name receives not one, but four separate red tags indicating spelling unrecognized by the internal dictionary, though a lot of that has to do with the HTML Unicode character tags that were required to render the name correctly. Those always start with an ampersand [&] and end with a semi-colon [;], which tells HTML-rendering programs like web browsers what to display when the ‘regular’ character sets don’t contain the right bits. I use them every time I put down degrees [°] or copyright or trademark symbols [©, ™] so I have a collection of common ones in a note file with my bloggy stuff. If I want to tell you or show you how to use them, however, I have to use even more of them just to say that the symbols for ampersand and ‘hashtag’/pound/octothorpe [#] are, “&#38” and “&#35,” which when typed look like “&#38” in the WordPress editor, and typing that out to display made it even worse (and took me three tries.) You follow?

Most times, I simply refer to this page for the more common diacritical and pronunciation marks, but for the preceding post I had to use this page instead. The most common pronunciation marks however, such as “é,” can often just be copied from your own computer’s character map, buried someplace in the accessory menus. It’s this esoteric knowledge (and the willingness to spend way too much time for a simple visual) that allows me to bring you such posts as this one and this one; It’s what makes this blog what it is.

Profiles of Nature 3

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis in fetching pose
In today’s Profile, we have Szczęście in her favorite headshot, the industry term for the flattering portrait necessary if you intend to do anything at all in show business (as opposed to the gamer term which is decidedly less family-friendly.) Szczęście has every intention of making it big in Hollywood and has the acting chops to do so, but she’s gone through six agents so far because she refuses to adopt a stage name, choosing to remain true to her heritage (and let’s face it, her name’s both memorable and appropriate.) She just missed getting the part of Pola Negri in a docudrama about the silent film era because her eyes were the wrong color, and neither she nor the studio could budget for the 10,000 colored contact lenses. She credits her rise to near-stardom with healthy furniture polishing and a diet free from slightly underripe beef ribs. In her free time, she enjoys painting the little identifying characters on the ends of light bulbs, presenting barrages of questions about tire pressure to used car salespeople during test drives, and tripping small children. Szczęście is fond of insisting that she’s the reincarnation of Beverly Cleary, but she (Beverly Cleary we mean – well, both of them actually) is still alive, so some remain skeptical. She can usually be found hanging out by the bag dispensers in the produce section, and her favorite form of technology is that little hose that you used to run over at gas stations and it would ring a bell.

Join us next week for more fascinating facts about nature photography models! I’m sure one of these days we’ll find one…

Real quick now

Trying to slam this story out before the date changes – wish me luck!

So, in checking out Stellarium earlier (a couple of times, actually,) I noticed that there were a few satellite passes that would appear to cross the still-slightly-crescent moon, one of which would trace right across the crescent itself from side to side, as long as I was in a particular location. Since this wasn’t too far away, I loaded up the equipment and headed out there.

Let me go into detail just a little. The path simply to cross something the width of the moon is quite narrow, and much more so when you’re aiming to cross a particular portion. For something as bright as the International Space Station can get, you would probably want this to cross the shadowed portion, to show up well against the sunlit crescent or whatever. But with most satellite passes, which tend to be only the magnitude of surrounding stars, you’d want to cross the sunlit portions of the moon instead because the moon is too bright: an exposure that captured detail on the moon won’t allow something as dim as stars to show, and exposing for the stars would mean bleaching out the moon incredibly badly. But, silhouetting the satellite against the moon? Maybe.

Also note that Stellarium includes its own caveat about not being used for pinpoint accuracy, but I thought it was worth a shot. I made sure my watch was synced with the International Atomic Clock, packed the stuff, and set up on time, ensuring that I was running video as the satellite would have passed across the moon.

Alas, I captured no sign of it, whether due to Stellarium’s inaccuracy, the exceptionally small size of the satellite (actually a Chinese rocket booster,) or the camera being the slightest bit out of focus which might have rendered the small object too soft to see, I cannot say. So, no luck this time. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for more opportunities, especially with the bright ISS. It gives me something to do in the winter, at least.

But I did shoot a couple of still images, while I was set up.

waxing crescent moon without rocket booster
Using the Tamron 150-600 with the Tokina 2x teleconverter, this came up pretty damn sharp, if I do say so, but this was one of several – most of the others weren’t quite this good. In fact, let’s see this at full resolution.

full resolution crop of previous image
That prominent crater is Theophilus, and yes, the central peak really does have multiple summits, so I’m pleased to snag this with a simple telephoto lens setup. Man, I gotta get the telescope in shape.

For giggles, I did a couple of shots of Orion’s ‘dagger,’ the seat of the Orion Nebula, boosting the ISO to 6400 to keep the exposure times short because Orion, sitting right at the plane of the ecliptic, moves the most across the sky and so longer exposures (without tracking correction) will capture this movement. Then, I did a little post-processing to counteract a little of the motion blur and enhance the colors will clearing a little of the noise.

Orion Dagger & Nebula with standard camera setup
While not too impressive, this is the most color and detail that I’ve captured (I believe I’d removed the teleconverter by this time to improve light transmission.) See above about having to get the telescope in use, especially with tracking, because a low-ISO, low-noise, extra-long exposure might be really slick.

And while I’m here, another from earlier today, a brief pass around the nearby pond while the weather was threatening to turn ugly and I was resigned to not being able to get any of the images you see above. The neighborhood spooky great blue heron (Ardea herodias) allowed a couple of distant frames, which I tweaked a little in color and contrast because both were too low. Nothing exciting, but I’m trying.

great blue heron Ardea herodias in winter
Does that date still say January 18? Boom!

On top of things

Ha! That title’s a joke on so many levels. HA! Levels!

But first a story. Yesterday afternoon, I was working at my desk and would hear this little tapping sound, every once in a while, quite randomly. Yet it kept repeating, and did not appear related to any motions of the desk that I might have made, and was consistent enough in tone that it warranted investigation. The problem was, it was sporadic, and I’d hear this faint little noise and lean in the direction that my ears indicated it lie, hear nothing for a bit while I examined everything on my desk (a big desk, with a hutch and shelves across the top) that might be producing noise, and then the sudden recurrence would redirect me – up, down, left, right, deosil and widdershins. Part of what had me searching was an event some months back, when a seed pod that I had collected proved to host some minuscule beetle that was gnawing its way through a seed as it sat, again, on my desk. And let me tell you, my desk has some shit on it, because I collect odd things and get involved in way too many projects and, seriously, I’m not showing you a picture because it’ll ruin your impression of me. You know, as a bug chaser and terrible title writer…

Anyway, I finally pinned it down when I remembered that, on occasion, some websites will produce sound for no good reason, and I checked my various open tabs. The culprit turned out to be the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, which I pulled up yesterday to discover that the first bald eagle eggs in this webcammed nest were less than a week away from hatching. What I was hearing were the sounds of new messages coming in, weakly through the headphones hanging alongside my monitor, since their afternoon chat window had just opened up.

So, check out that website, because the camera views are excellent, and this nest of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus – I just typed that accurately from memory) is occupied every spring. Yes, I know it’s not spring here, in fact for most of the world, but it’s warm enough in Fort Myers, Florida, or at least the eagles think so. Hatchling eagles are vicious and competitive little dustbunnies, almost as much as Buggato, and watching the whole process up close is quite informative. They even have infra-red cameras so you can see what’s going on at night, such as the great horned owl that has repeatedly struck at the roosting eagles, likely trying to convince them to leave the territory, in the dark hours. Go – check it out!

Now do you see why I decided on that title? Not only did I remember the site only days before the first hatching, but the eagles are sitting on top of the eggs, in a nest on top of a tree! Genius! It could even be said to refer to my finding of the mystery noise on top of (kinda) my desk. Eventually, anyway…

Profiles of Nature 2

southern flying squirrel Glaucomys volans looking stressed
Continuing our profiles of various nature photography models, here we have Fionnuala, a southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) with crippling acrophobia. Because of this, she doesn’t actually fly and in fact has not ascended a tree beyond a meter in height; this has made her very good at distracting cats and small children, as well as finding short hollow stumps. She had her first novel published at the age of three, which is no great shakes because average life expectancy for flying squirrels is five, but hey, at least she got it done. She’s fond of recounting the time that she met Bruce Willis at the adult toy store and mistook him for H. Jon Benjamin. Her schoolmates voted her, ‘Most Likely to Sneeze During a Rectal Exam,’ but she admits this has only happened twice, neither time for schoolmates. Many have said that her voice is a fluid blend of Bonnie Tyler and Nancy Kulp (Miss Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies, the one that kept saying, “But Mr Drysdale!”,) though she herself (Fionnuala this time) confesses that she isn’t at all turned on by adolescent boys. Her favorite html tag is <rt>.

Be sure to join us this time next week when we get to know another celebrity nature model! We’re sure you’re as aquiver as we are!

A valiant effort

Well, okay, you’ll probably have to be the judge of that…

A few days back, in the previous post, I mentioned that the rising moon the next day would be this itsy-bitsy little crescent, a mere 0.6% illuminated, preceding the sunrise by a little over 20 minutes. I also mentioned that the weather here wasn’t amenable to pursuing it.

In the interim (within a day, really,) the moon became ‘New,’ meaning invisible, entirely backlit by the sun. But then, after that, it would be an itsy-bitsy little crescent again, only this time waxing and appearing just after sunset. And that would be happening Wednesday the 13th – yesterday’s sunset. The skies had cleared almost perfectly by then, so I headed down to the lake to try my luck. It would be the slightest bit more illuminated this time, hitting 0.7%, but that’s not a lot. For reference, this one a year ago was taken when it was 1.0% illuminated. I was curious to see just how fine I could capture this.

I arrived early and had a chance to poke around before sunset, though granted, there wasn’t a lot to see. But I shot a version of a semi-frequent setting here on the blog with the sunset light and clear sky.

dead tree at sunset
As sunset drew nigh, I got the tripod out and set up, almost exactly where we’d been a few weeks back for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction; this is hardly surprising, since I was aiming in very much the same direction (and in fact, Jupiter became visible before I’d finished the session yesterday.) As the sun set, I used it as a rough aiming point, knowing that the moon would hit the horizon just south (left) of the same spot.

clear sunset sky over Jordan Lake, NC
It would be a little over 20 minutes before the moon hit the horizon, and I knew that it wouldn’t be visible until the sky darkened a bit more, but I kept an eye out anyway. A KLM jet on its way from Atlanta to Amsterdam passed way overhead, many kilometers distant, and I used it as a focusing point.

KLM flight to Amsterdam
And as the time counted down to moonset, I scoured the skies looking for that minimal crescent. A smidgen of thin clouds were close to the area it should appear within, but not enough to obscure it, so I diligently tracked back and forth, up and down, with the Tamron 150-600 lens.

And saw… nothing. Not a damn thing. I shot several frames of the most likely areas, just to examine them once back home and see if I captured something anyway without realizing it. But nope.

twilight sky not showing the moon which could be there
Near as I could tell, from the timestamp and the careful comparison of angles with the sunset photo and Stellarium, this frame (with a circling Piper and a very distant contrail) should contain the moon. But even boosting the contrast off the scale in GIMP failed to produce even a hint of a crescent. Nertz anyway.

While there, I glanced out over the lake and spotted a lone floating waterfowl, too silhouetted to identify but looking like a loon to me. It disappeared underwater before I had a chance to refocus, but when it reappeared I shot a few frames as it flapped momentarily, turned surreal by the light angle on the water.

unidentified waterfowl flapping on the surface
I could have saved this or the dead tree for the end of the month abstract, but using them now just puts a little pressure on me to shoot some more this month – I’ve had the camera out twice so far, but finding almost nothing of interest, so the most successful outing this year has been shooting an illustration for a book review. Sheesh.

As I mentioned, I was able to find Jupiter in those same skies, and this told me I was searching in the right location, because Jupiter was above and just slightly right of where the moon was. But even with this help, I got nothing, and my few shots of Jupiter were just a wee bit out of focus, so not worth showing here – all you would have seen would be a pale spot anyway.

The sky went indigo, and I switched back to a wider lens for a quick setting shot, leaving the long lens on the tripod for atmosphere.

post-sunset sky over Jordan Lake, NC
By the way, Jupiter really is in this frame, but with the wide angle lens, even at full resolution it’s a mere speck, which didn’t carry over into resizing to blog dimensions.

Anyway, I tried, and at least shot something, but not what I was after. I’m not sure the skies could have been much clearer, so I’m going to assume that not far below 1% illuminated is the point where atmospheric glow will overwhelm any chance of spotting a bare crescent. Maybe I should try for moonrise about eight hours from now, when it’ll be 2.7% illuminated…

Too cool, part 45: Lunation libration animation

I’ve mentioned, many times, the curious wobble of the moon known as libration, and of course the different features and details you can see when photographing anything other than a completely full moon. Now, courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day comes a wicked animation of it, with lots of additional details.

The video was created by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio using images from the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter, and includes dates, times, the moon’s position around the Earth, and even an axial tilt and libration graph, which is the part I found the most surprising; I’d been under the impression that the axial variation was somewhere around 10-15°, and instead it’s in the realm of 50. Part of what makes this hard to realize is that, when viewed from Earth, the moon is almost always cocked at an angle, or at least, we’re viewing it at such. Since it describes an arc through the sky, it changes angle as it travels – in relation to our viewing position (we’re really the ones that are changing due to the rotation of the earth and having to ‘turn our heads’ to look at it as we rotate.) If, for instance, I had the camera mounted to a properly-aligned tracking platform, the rotational angle would be cancelled out and then I’d be able to plot the libration more accurately. This is possible, but extremely fussy, and not something I’m planning to tackle just for moon shots. For long exposures of fainter nebulae and such, well, we’ll see about that…

But it’s also worth watching the terminator, the edge of the shadow, as it reveals craters and mountains by their shadows as it tracks across the face of the moon, the reason why I don’t bother shooting a full moon anymore (aside from, you know, having a few dozen frames of it already.) Bear in mind that, the less of the face that’s illuminated, the more the moon is visible during daylight hours, something you can actually see with the polar perspective at top left. For very thin crescents – less than 2% illuminated – they’re generally only visible during twilight hours, being below the horizon during the night hours and overwhelmed by the atmospheric scatter during the day.

If you’re feeling adventurous, tomorrow morning the moon will rise ahead of the sun by only about 20 minutes, and will be a crescent a mere 0.6% illuminated; if you have very clear skies and a great view of the eastern horizon, you might be able to catch it as it breaks the horizon, solely from the Earthshine it will display before the sky lightens too far. The weather here is looking far from promising, but if it clears, I may make the attempt myself. This is what Stellarium shows for my prime viewing location:

moonrise plot from Stellarium for 01-12-21
That blurry bit at the bottom is the rendered ‘horizon’ in the program, showing how low it is and how bright it’s getting, more or less – your location will almost certainly differ to a degree, so check with your own copy of Stellarium (because if you haven’t downloaded it by now, seriously, what are we gonna do with you?) And believe it or not, there really is an illuminated crescent there, on the lower left side – you can see that it would be overwhelmed almost immediately by sunlight. However, it’s easier now than at other times of the year, largely because the colder weather reduces the atmospheric humidity. Don’t make the mistake that, since the nights are longer, this gives you more time to see the moon – that’s a result of the Earth’s axial tilt, and it means the moon is reduced in visible times as much as the sun is.

So if you try, good luck! But enjoy the video anyway.

The shit I get up to

So let me tell you a little story, which will not only illustrate what it takes to compose a specific photo, but presents the question of how much of this is creativity with attention to detail, and how much is pointless obsession ;-)

The previous post was a book review that had been started, as I said, many years ago and I somehow didn’t get around to finishing it – it just kept getting pushed aside, and I usually find enough to post about in the photographically productive months. So as winter rolled in this year, I decided to finalize it (the bulk had been written long ago,) and get it out to help flesh out the lack of photo subjects. This meant I needed the cover illustration, and it certainly deserved a staged, thematic one. What to do, what to do…?

I had a couple of ideas that required sand, for the desert climate depicted therein, but there are not a lot of choices for sand nearby, and right about the time I was thinking of this, we were in the midst of repeated, torrential rains; this meant that those sandy areas, all waterside, were actually submerged and would remain so for a few days, whereupon the rains took up again and resubmerged them. Fine.

Then I settled on the rock and bullroarer props. Now, a bullroarer isn’t a hard thing to depict, but it does take a shaped plank of some kind, and we have no such things ready at hand here; scrap wood is very limited. I kept it in the back of my mind for days, even looking for one when I was out collecting some driftwood (at one of those submerged-sand locations,) to no avail. Nertz.

Eventually, I recalled some thin laminate wood sheathing scraps and unearthed one. Too thin for the real thing, but a lot more realistic than a piece of cardboard, and I did some rough shaping with a saw to give it a ‘raw’ outline, then sanded the edges with a palm sander to take away any idea of it being a wood sheet. But it was still white pine in color, not at all like an old and weathered bullroarer, so I first tried staining it with tea, but that was very weak. Then it got a wash of the local red clay and allowed to sit for an hour, but that gave it only a hint of deeper color, so I finally mixed a little acrylic paint, thinned well with water, and stained it that way. Much better.

I attempted, twice, to emboss/etch a simplistic rendition of The Luggage (look it up if you need to) onto the surface, but the first one vanished under the absorbed teawater, and the second, done after the paint stain, was at the wrong light angle to show up. More on that in a bit.

The rock. Finding one with a reasonably flat side in our very own backyard, I set it aside to have the graphic painted on it, and while I’m here I have to excuse that; if you’ve read the book, you might find it a reasonable representation, but if you haven’t, it’s going to look like a childish doodle, because it was. Unless you know the passage, don’t judge my artistic skills. Yet before I made it even that far, we got into the rainy season, and painting the rock had to wait. Multiple times.

Eventually (yesterday, actually,) I lugged it up to my desk for this little adornment, discovering in the process that it weighed 25 kilograms! Sheesh. I did the graphic, found it to be a bit too distinct, and roughed it over with a brass brush. Much better. Lugged it back outside, now with the bullroarer, book, and camera in hand (okay, it took multiple trips.)

Now I needed a raw earth spot for the outback conditions. I raked out a few likely areas, finding most of them too damp (see the bits above about rain,) but settled on a spot under the overhanging porch that was mostly dry and in the right sun angle. Setting the rock down, I found that one of the flat sides (actually, I think it’s a chunk of concrete from an old foundation) tipped it too far forward for best effect, so I then got out the spade and created a hollow for it to lean backwards into. Some of the dirt was used around the base to fill in the gaps and make it look properly buried, but eventually the book and bullroarer covered these anyway. By the way, I also had to pat down the entire area by hand to eradicate the rake marks – tried simply stepping on it but that left footprints. One of my original ideas had involved bare footprints, but it’s not the weather to be tripping around barefoot.

Took the book and propped it on a dead leaf to keep it out of the dampness, adjusting the angle on the rock until it looked right. Set the bullroarer and string (had to unearth a bit of raw twine too, because it needed to look native) in photogenic positions. We had bright sunlight yesterday, which was also crucial of course – I’d had to wait for that too – but naturally my shadow couldn’t be in the shot. Neither could the trunk of a tree in the backyard, so I waited for the sun to track across the sky enough to move the shadow out of the way, and had lunch in that time.

The book is, naturally, slick and shiny, so the bright sunlight produced very bright reflections from the cover, and I had to shift angles a couple of times to not obscure the actual writing thereon in those highlights – you can see that they’re still there, but at an acceptable level. I point these out because shadows and reflections are often the things that people miss when photographing, and if you’re doing any kind of professional or promo work, you have to be acutely aware of them. I tried a few different contrast and saturation settings while this was all set up, then came in to unload the card.

Two frames made it into the final options, and I settled on the one you see because the composition just seemed stronger – it may be hard to consider that there’s any composition at work here, but the angle of the rock and book, and how the book, bullroarer, and graphic all fit together is subtle but present nonetheless. I boosted saturation slightly on my final choice, and dubbed out a few stray green leaves that had made it into the frame – thankfully, I caught nothing of the porch supports and collected objects that sat within a meter of my setting. If you look hard, there’s one stray bit of the ubiquitous pinestraw in the frame (I had obsessively raked and picked it out, mostly because it didn’t belong in the setting, but also because I hate it,) yet it’s subtle enough that no one would place it as an anachronism.

Yes, I was aware, the entire time, of putting a lot of effort into a simple illustration, solely for a book review, on an obscure blog that you’re not even reading. And now I’m writing about it in detail. But here’s the thing: illustrations, the visual aspect, stick with people, forming impressions and establishing conditions, and if you choose to illustrate something, doing it right is almost paramount. There was a certain challenge in not just realizing my ‘vision,’ as it were, but it attempting to produce a photo that would match the conditions in the book as accurately as possible (but yes, I probably should have gone with the sand.) It was as much proof to myself that I could illustrate the book as it was intended for the readers here. While bullroarers were/are ceremonial in the culture referenced and thus frequently painted or adorned, the one in the book was blank and unmarked (though I attempted the etching of The Luggage that never got the necessary sun angle to be seen, but that was subtle enough to slip past as artistic license, in my opinion.) And even as I finished that little figure on the rock, I asked The Girlfriend what it looked like and she immediately gave the correct answer, so I feel vindicated by that to a small extent. This is what I wanted it all to look like, so in that, I was successful; whether it’s a good representation or impression of the book is up to someone more objective than I to determine.

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I have to throw this down here, because if not here, then where? But many, many years ago I tossed out a quick, impulsive joke, with the necessary voices, entitled “Crocodile Dundee meets Mad Max:

Dundee: That’s not a knife…

Max: You’re right – it’s a shotgun.

And I only point this out because, in the book, Pratchett did the exact same joke! Well, okay, with a small cultural change.

Also, for giggles I tried out my bullroarer and it really does work, a little, but needs to be much heavier for best results. No, the ladies didn’t hear it.

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