Thar she glows

crappy comet C/2014 Q2 LovejoyThat was terrible, I admit it…

As comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy has been getting brighter, we’ve had zero visibility here, until tonight. I went out and did some searching with binoculars, finally locating it, then brought the camera equipment out to give it a shot. The result you see here; certainly not going to win any awards. It’s still dim as far as celestial objects go, unable to be seen unassisted in the light pollution at my locale, but also too dim to register very well without an extended exposure, even at ISO 1600. The problem with extended sky exposure is the Earth refuses to stop turning, so stars and comets keep skidding across the sky – that’s the source of the elongated streaks in the image (and not camera shake – I was using a sturdy tripod and a remote release.) This is a mere three-second exposure at ISO 3200, f5.6, 500mm focal length. The way to prevent such streaking and get nice, detailed long exposure images is with either an equatorial tracking telescope mount, or a little homemade device called a barn door tracker. If you’re interested, there are numerous sources online to show you how one is made. I don’t possess much of any woodworking tools, so this project has been sitting in the background for a few years, and is not likely to get tackled before Lovejoy has faded from view.

If you want to see this for yourself, have a decent set of binoculars (10×50 or better recommended) and use to plot its precise location as seen from where you live. Stellarium also helps, since Heavens-Above doesn’t give the best broad views to help locate it, but they do give precise coordinates which can be used in Stellarium, since Stellarium doesn’t give the comet’s location on its own (or at least I never found it myself.)

shady dude on lakeshoreWhile I was out, I tried a few other long exposures for giggles, and kinda liked this one. That’s my own shadow across the water there, and I’m amazed at how clear the reflection of the opposite shore is – I don’t think I’ve ever done a long water exposure that sharp. Also, I was apparently accompanied by four ghosts while out there, as you might see when looking at the bottom portion of my shadow. They’re remarkably distinct at full resolution too, but not otherwise mystical – they’re just optical reflections within the lens of the bright lights at top right.

If we ever get a really decent snow, especially if the pond freezes over, I’ll be braving the cold and doing more night exposures, since this pond is within walking distance. If I think I can get a really slick shot or three, I can cope with freezing my ass off for a little while. I need to cover the tripod legs with pipe insulation again before that happens, though – the last set got shredded by the cats, which found it much more satisfying to sharpen their claws on than any of the myriad scratching posts they have access to. Half an hour out in the cold and those aluminum legs get painful to handle, even with gloves.

A few days earlier, we had overnight freezing rain/mist conditions. I didn’t get the chance to do any shooting as early as I should have for the best results, but I still managed to trot out to the botanical garden before all of the ice melted. The sky was still overcast and, naturally, most of the plants were not exactly vibrant, so I was exercising an even greater selectivity in subject matter, with much of a sameness despite those efforts.

Frozen mist on naranjilla
This is a naranjilla fruit, a little past prime now, but quite fetching with its coiffure of frozen mist – a shot of direct sunlight to provide some sparkle would have been appreciated, but it wasn’t going to happen that day.

cotton pod with frozen dripAnd this is a rather sad cotton pod – usually they burst wide open like popcorn. This is a stacked image, two sandwiched together; one image had the front surface of the husks in focus, the other had the stem and icicle. Shooting handheld in dim light, I didn’t even try for a depth-of-field that would have both of them in focus, because the shutter speed would have gone too slow, so I simply cheated and edited them together afterward. I find this a little too direct and centered for my tastes, but there really weren’t many other framing options – I cut out a lot of distracting elements as it were, and liked the visual aspect of the pod, so there it is.

By the way, I’m not really sure why this is, but brown hues like this tend to come out much better in overcast light. This is counter-intuitive, since cloud cover filters out yellow and red wavelengths, which is largely what brown is made of. What’s left is mostly blue wavelengths, giving us that colder feel, yet it works well for dead, dried, or old vegetation in a lot of cases. This might simply be the nature of the vegetation itself, somehow not reflecting much blue at all but capable of bouncing back the vestiges of other colors. I’m just guessing, I really have no clue.

Atop one of the wood fences in the garden was a really impressive forest of lichens, and this is where I regret not getting out sooner, because ice might have made this quite an interesting subject.

close-up of lichens
There is always something otherworldly about lichens, and to the best of my knowledge, there were two distinct varieties in close habitation (I can’t be bothered to look them up for this.) None of these alien stalks were more than 10mm in height, and I wanted a semi-gravity-defying perspective, so I was shooting through the miniature forest for this one. Definitely something that benefited from softer light as well. If you find it kind of creepy-looking, well, that’s the point. [If you don’t, just keep quiet and let me be happy in my ignorance – there are too few bugs around to maintain my regular icky posts.]

frozen mist on dying purple flowerAnd finally, my favorite image from this short session. I had already walked past these small flowers earlier without noticing them, but had returned to check out another species of plant I’d photographed on an earlier trip, and the tiny splash of color caught my eye this time around. No idea what they are, but the minuscule frozen mist drops were catching the sparse light just well enough to really stand out. And this is probably an ancient holdover from my youth, when grape was my favorite flavor of anything, but that purple color is so compelling I can almost taste it, contrasting nicely with the green as well. It also helps illustrate how low-contrast light can be useful when dealing with a high-contrast or colorful subject – bright sunlight might have been too much.

There are a couple of trips still in the planning stages that might produce some more decent images during these slow months – not promising anything, but we’ll see what happens. I also have a few archive subjects that should pop up within the next week or so, just in case anyone else was going through bug withdrawal as badly as I am. You are not alone, so take heart! Arthropods will be coming shortly.