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My 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

Posted: August 30th, 2017


Getting there...

I left the San Francisco Bay Area Friday afternoon (8/18) and survived the rush hour traffic getting out of there, adding two extra hours to an already long drive. About 12 hours later I landed at Alvord Desert, where I had planned to spend the night and also take some shots, which I did!


Alvord Desert - three days before totality

Saturday morning, after a quick breakfast in the middle of the playa, right after sunrise, I took a few strolls with the car (one's gotta do what one's gotta do) and I continued my journey into the totality path to my final destination, Phillips Lake in Oregon.


Saturday sunrise at Alvord Desert - two days before totality

...it happens!

I was fearing traffic, but those back roads from Alvord Desert to Burns and up were mostly empty of any cars. I was somewhat surprised, but not that much, frankly.


Typical traffic jam in Oregon's back roads - two days before totality

It really was the kind of ride you hope your car doesn't break down... Then, 50 miles before reaching Burns, my car... broke down! The radiator was leaking... Right in the middle of nowhere and, despite I was still about 3 hours from reaching my destination, it felt I was so close. It was a bad moment, as you can imagine.

I managed to reach Burns by adding drinking water as coolant to the car every 20 minutes, which was the time it was taking for the coolant to nearly run out. Once in Burns, I tried a few tricks but nothing worked, and attempting a repair that'd get my car back on the road safely could leave me stuck in Burns for the eclipse. No way... I was determined to reach my destination, and although I was still nearly 130 miles from Phillips Lake, I loaded some coolant in the car but continued driving, again adding water (not coolant) every 20 minutes, and again, and again ... and three hours later I finally arrived! Tenacity won the battle here, that's for sure.

In the totality path - Phillips Lake, OR


My broken car right after arriving Phillips Lake - two days before totality

I was worried about crowds at Phillips Lake because of the eclipse but instead, I found the opposite. Just three cars plus two more that would arrive later. That was it. By the time I got there, the leak had gotten worst and it was running fast.  I knew the only way out of that beach would be in a tow truck. It was Saturday afternoon, two days away from the eclipse, and I was stuck, yet, it didn't bother me a bit. In fact, I almost enjoyed knowing I was "trapped"! It's something difficult to explain but hopefully easy to understand.

Saturday night a couple of friends, Fernando Cabrerizo and Domicio Carbajo, who came all the way from Spain to watch the eclipse from a campground in John Day just a 90 minutes drive from the lake, paid me a visit, and we had a nice night photo session right there by the lake. After spending some time with Fernando's gang at their campsite (thanks for the ride and hospitality!) all that was left for me was just waiting by the lake until the eclipse.


Fernando and Domicio during their visit to my campsite by the lake - day and a half before totality

That's how the rest of Sunday went.... sometimes just enjoying the unexpected solitude, sometimes sharing some time with my neighbors by the lake, mostly a young couple that showed up shortly after I arrived Saturday afternoon (forgot their names), and a young woman named Jessica, who came a bit later. Nothing of substance to report here... Making acquaintances, chilling for hours, having a bite or a drink, enjoying the scenery... come sunset and its colors... come the night and the stars....


Every night I would walk a few steps from my campsite and enjoy the MW reflections - the night before totality

Every night I spent at Phillips Lake prior, during and after the eclipse, I was feeling that having this view right by my campsite was an amazing "filling" for the main event that brought me to this spot, no doubt. Each night I would walk a few steps and take a shot of our Milky Way reflecting on the lake, just like the one above.


Eclipse Day

Monday morning arrives. Skies are all clear, with the soon to be eclipsed Sol shining bright! I notice a couple of guys heading in direction to the point I had planned to watch the eclipse, and moments later, Jessica and I also head in that direction.

I set two tripods with cameras, my Sony a7S and my Canon 5d mk2. I prepare the intervalometers, settings and what not, then sit down and just enjoy the view there while I wait. It was showtime. Following is the only image I managed to capture during totality, and the piece I wrote to go with it.


The Great Gig in the Sky


The great gig in the sky - last few seconds of totality and first instant of 3rd contact

There were no crowds on this beach at Phillips Lake, an idyllic location at anytime. Just four strangers in a beautiful landscape otherwise void of people. It is Mother Nature and each of us, nothing else.

The moon hasn't started hiding the sun yet, when Jessica starts playing Pink Floyd's "Dark side of the moon". I don't mind. In fact, what else would one play? No one is talking, but the usual sounds of the morning by the lake blend well with the mellow but dramatic tunes of songs like "Time" or "The great gig in the sky"...

Then... as the sun is half way gone, she starts to walk into the lake quietly. Pink Floyd's still playing, perfect soundtrack, again. Totality is imminent. We know what's about to happen... except we don't.

The music ends but no one notices. The sky starts to darken. You catch a glimpse of a confused bird flying by over the lake. Your heartbeat is accelerating, you're breathing slowly and rushed. It gets cold, fast.

And then, after a small breeze blows suddenly for a moment, a complete and chilling silence takes over. The whole scene... the lake, mountains, trees, the sky and us... Everything around us is at a frightening still, literally, in colors that don't belong. You're trembling.

Then, as we are there not being able to make a move nor a sound just as everything else, within a split second the whole landscape falls apart right in front of you and then, unannounced, totality happens.

She now says, very slowly, with a broken voice, nearly whispering: "Oh my god..."

So did I.


Oh, life!

There's a reason I don't even bother to describe totality. I can't. The closest I can get is by telling someone in person and that still wouldn't be even close. No words or pictures can describe the emotions, sights and feelings. For whatever reason, this surreal experience touches deep inside of us in a way we can't find words for it.

After totality, we all spent a bit more time at that point. We shared some words but at the same time we could feel we were out of them, words... A while later but before fourth contact (when the Moon no longer covers the Sun), we all headed back to our cars. Within two hours, everyone was gone except for me, with my broken car, and an RV back in the distance, and I didn't leave until Wednesday. Surely many things happened during that time, or maybe nothing at all, but it was okay still being there, by the lake, eventually all by myself... another dip in the lake, another sunset, another glorious Milky Way... And I admit I was looking at everything in a different way, after hours earlier I had seen that same landscape like no other. At some point I also returned to the spot where it all happened for me and again, it now felt weird and unreal in a different way. It wasn't weird or unreal because of I was seeing, but because of what I had seen before, right there. Once again, words fail me.

Eventually I got my car towed to and fixed in Baker City within a day, enough to get me back on the road at least, and 11 hours later, after crossing four states, you could say on Thursday already (6 days before I left) I was back home, safe.


On my way home - two days and 1/2 after totality

Unknowingly, a lake I might have not ever visited otherwise (it's just too far from home), became a landmark in my life, a beach I will always remember as the place where I saw and felt the most out-worldly experience I've ever had. My only, and huge regret is that I did not take my family with me - the memory would have been so much more memorable and they would be carrying the same experience with them as well. This is something I hope to amend on a coming eclipse if I live for it and have the means to chase it. In case you're wondering, yes, there's one more total eclipse chaser in the world. Thing is... after this eclipse I think there's also many more. How could one not be?


Behind the scenes & aftermath

"The Great Gig in the Sky" wasn't a staged or scripted shot. There were no sponsors, no planning, no praying that everything would work... No, I'm not talking down the hundreds of amazing and carefully planned shots that so many people have produced of this eclipse. I'm a seasoned astrophotographer. I've done literally hundreds of planned shots during my ten years shooting at the night sky. I've produced images (deep-sky mostly) that take months to produce, so I know about planning, persistence, precision, patience and technique... I've been rewarded for it, I do talks and workshops about it... and I love it!

I mention it because not being a staged or sponsored shot, there was no making-of crew on site, no videos or behind-the-scene shots that I could share with you. To be honest, if there had been someone there doing just that, the whole thing would have been so vastly different.

But yeah... Many people had been telling me to go for the experience, to forget about pictures, but when you're a photographer, an astrophotographer... you can't just go on an eclipse trip without a camera!  Needless to say, I had never shot a solar eclipse before, total or not, and my plan was simple: forget about doing my homework, just go for some landscape shots, not closeups, and have a ball. That's why you're going to a lake after all! For the scenery!

By the way, about Jessica, the young woman in the picture... we didn't exchange contact information other than first names and me giving her my Instagram account, but I'm not aware she has started following me or that she has seen the image. If you happen to know a woman named Jessica who went to Phillips Lake in Oregon for the eclipse, please send her to this page!  UPDATE 9/4/17: Jessica found my Instagram account, so she was finally able to see herself in the picture during that moment!

Back to the story, that's what I set my rig for prior to the eclipse, landscape shots. Two full-frame cameras, a Sony a7S with a Canon 70-200mm lens, the other one a Canon 5d Mk2 with a Rokinon 24mm. I did take some shots through a solar filter with the a7S, but they weren't coming out very sharp at 200mm, and I didn't sweat it. Interestingly, I neglected the Canon for the entire time before totality.

Totality... The instant it happened I was caught off-guard. I was staring at the landscape around me, not at the sun, so it came unannounced. And the last thing I could think at that moment was to go take a shot. It's not that I forgot, it's that all my attention was drawn into the eclipse and how our Earth - and us! - reacted to it, in an unbelievable sensory overload. Still, as my mind started to settle a bit, still mesmerized,  at some point I remembered about the cameras.

The shot
Approaching the a7S with the 200mm didn't even cross my mind. I went directly for the Canon and the wider angle... I had set the framing, focus and settings beforehand and simply took one shot without double-checking anything. It was just a two seconds exposure. After that, I checked the framing, realized I hadn't captured any landscape, just sky, and I pointed the camera down a bit (hoping for a 2-pane mosaic of sorts) and took another 2 seconds shot, this time mostly getting the landscape. During that quick shot, third contact started... This is not something I noticed at the moment. In fact, the instant I pressed the shutter for the second time, I forgot about the cameras again, completely. I had taken two shots and that was that, I didn't even bother to wait and check. It was an hour later after looking at the images more carefully that all made sense.

A couple of minutes after totality, when we were all brought back to the real world, I honestly didn't think I had captured much. I knew I had something but likely nothing more than a personal souvenir.  I didn't even bother to re-check the shots until later, back in my car. When I finally did, seeing the shot with the landscape  got me intrigued. It felt a tad too bright and I wasn't sure whether that would combine well with the much darker shot of the sky during totality.

It was only several days later, when I finally returned home and everyone was already sick of seeing eclipse pics on social media, that I got to build the mosaic and be like "it works!". And for me, it absolutely does. I also know the image wouldn't be even half of what it is if it wasn't because Jessica walked in the water just in front of me, adding that powerful human touch to the image, and while she merely did what she felt like doing, now I'm very happy that she did.

The aftermath of the experience is something I have difficulty writing about. As for the "gig" image...I've captured hundreds of night shots at places that have left me speechless - from remote beaches in Moloka'i or glowing volcanoes to the darkest skies in the continental US or moonlit "firefalls" - and many of these images bring me back to those places, those moments, every time I see them. Yet, "The Great Gig in the Sky" is an image of one of the most surreal moments of my life, and for some reason, it transports me back like no other image I've captured has ever done. I could blame it on the emotions being so strong, so it's easy to relate, but at the same time, the emotions were so rare, so unfathomable, that IMHO it took a very special image to bring them all back.

It was probably the most widely viewed and shared celestial event in history. This was my bit.



Would you like to read other articles I've written? Here's a couple of interesting readings:

Moonlit Firefalls @ Yosemite
Making-of my three "moonlit firefall" images. That's the famous Horsetail Fall in Yosemite, but unlike the well-known effect caused by sunlight, here the effect is caused by moonlight.

Clouds of Andromeda
Behind the scenes and a load of information about my image of the Andromeda Galaxy that also shows never-seen-before red-glowing hydrogen clouds "around" it.






The Great Gig in the Sky (Lady of the lake)

Posted: August 29th, 2017


This is not a staged picture – the girl isn't posing – nor a fabrication, and I nearly improvised the shot, as I was in complete awe at the sight of totality. It's a 2 panes mosaic, one captured during totality – top pane – and then a second one taken exactly, by chance really, during the diamond ring effect as the Sun started to reappear, which adds the nice highlights to the image, giving also the image an enormous dynamic range. As for the story, here it goes…

There were no crowds on this beach at Phillips Lake, Oregon, an idyllic location at anytime. Just four strangers – a girl, two other guys and me – in a beautiful landscape otherwise void of people. It is Mother Nature and each of us, nothing else.

The moon hasn't started hiding the sun yet, when Jessica starts playing Pink Floyd's "Dark side of the moon". I don't mind. In fact, what else would one play? No one is talking, but the usual sounds of the morning by the lake blend well with the mellow but dramatic tunes of songs like "Time" or "The great gig in the sky"…

Then… as the sun is half way gone, she starts to walk into the lake quietly, just to her knees. Pink Floyd's still playing, perfect soundtrack, again. Totality is imminent. We know what's about to happen… except we don't.

The music ends but no one notices. The sky starts to darken. You catch a glimpse of a confused bird flying by over the lake. Your heartbeat is accelerating, you're breathing slowly and rushed. It gets cold, fast. And then, after a small breeze blows suddenly for a moment, a complete and chilling silence takes over. The whole scene… the lake, mountains, trees, the sky and us… Everything around us is at a frightening still, literally, in colors that don't belong. You're trembling.

Then, as you are there not trying to make a sense out of anything nor being able to make a move nor a sound just as everything else around you, within a split second the whole landscape falls apart right in front of you and then, unannounced, totality happens.

She now says, very slowly, with a broken voice, nearly whispering: "Oh my god…"

So did I.




Would you like to read other articles I've written? Here's a few interesting readings:

My 2017 Eclipse
The complete story of my 2017 Eclipse trip, including more details about the "gig" shot, other images I captured, and more.

Moonlit Firefalls @ Yosemite
Making-of my three "moonlit firefall" images. That's the famous Horsetail Fall in Yosemite, but unlike the well-known effect caused by sunlight, here the effect is caused by moonlight.


Clouds of Andromeda
Behind the scenes and a load of information about my image of the Andromeda Galaxy that also shows never-seen-before red-glowing hydrogen clouds "around" it.





The Great Gig in the Sky

Posted: August 29th, 2017


This is not a staged picture – the girl isn't posing – nor a fabrication, and I nearly improvised the shot, as I was in complete awe at the sight of totality. It's a 2 panes mosaic, one captured during totality – top pane – and then a second one taken exactly, by chance really, during the diamond ring effect as the Sun started to reappear, which adds the nice highlights to the image, giving also the image an enormous dynamic range. As for the story, here it goes…

There were no crowds on this beach at Phillips Lake, Oregon, an idyllic location at anytime. Just four strangers – a girl, two other guys and me – in a beautiful landscape otherwise void of people. It is Mother Nature and each of us, nothing else.

The moon hasn't started hiding the sun yet, when Jessica starts playing Pink Floyd's "Dark side of the moon". I don't mind. In fact, what else would one play? No one is talking, but the usual sounds of the morning by the lake blend well with the mellow but dramatic tunes of songs like "Time" or "The great gig in the sky"…

Then… as the sun is half way gone, she starts to walk into the lake quietly, just to her knees. Pink Floyd's still playing, perfect soundtrack, again. Totality is imminent. We know what's about to happen… except we don't.

The music ends but no one notices. The sky starts to darken. You catch a glimpse of a confused bird flying by over the lake. Your heartbeat is accelerating, you're breathing slowly and rushed. It gets cold, fast. And then, after a small breeze blows suddenly for a moment, a complete and chilling silence takes over. The whole scene… the lake, mountains, trees, the sky and us… Everything around us is at a frightening still, literally, in colors that don't belong. You're trembling.

Then, as you are there not trying to make a sense out of anything nor being able to make a move nor a sound just as everything else around you, within a split second the whole landscape falls apart right in front of you and then, unannounced, totality happens.

She now says, very slowly, with a broken voice, nearly whispering: "Oh my god…"

So did I.




Would you like to read other articles I've written? Here's a few interesting readings:

My 2017 Eclipse
The complete story of my 2017 Eclipse trip, including more details about the "gig" shot, other images I captured, and more.

Moonlit Firefalls @ Yosemite
Making-of my three "moonlit firefall" images. That's the famous Horsetail Fall in Yosemite, but unlike the well-known effect caused by sunlight, here the effect is caused by moonlight.


Clouds of Andromeda
Behind the scenes and a load of information about my image of the Andromeda Galaxy that also shows never-seen-before red-glowing hydrogen clouds "around" it.





5 Milky Way Photo Concepts You May Want To Avoid This Year

Posted: July 7th, 2017


Horatian satire: Satire in which the voice is indulgent, tolerant, amused, and witty. The speaker holds up to gentle ridicule the absurdities and follies of human beings, aiming at producing in the reader not the anger of a Juvenal, but a wry smile.

Nightscape photography is a form of art and, as in any artistic discipline, anything is valid as long as it's legal and you're honest about it. The list of do's and do not's is strictly personal, as are your goals, motivation, abilities and budget!  Neither avoiding nor embracing the concepts I'm listing here will make you any better or worst Milky Way photographer.

With that out of the bag, here's my opinion about five nightscape concepts that will definitely NOT make your creative abilities shine and are likely NOT going to catch anyone by surprise this year, except perhaps some of your neighbors and relatives :-)

NOTE: All the images in the article are my own, so before you think I'm lecturing you, please realize I'm "criticizing" (more like satirizing) my own work, thanks :-)


The "headlight" shot

Well, this one has to stop. Really folks. It's fun and entertaining to get these shots, I get it, but you should know by now that other than yourself, no one will be amused by seeing you standing up there with that cone of light emanating from your forehead anymore. Your viewers would mostly care about everything in the image but that, and would likely wish you had stayed behind the camera for this one, or at least turn that spot light off.

The fact is, this concept became old-fashioned two or three years ago already, but it has no sign to stop... Art has no limits, and no one is to tell you how should you have fun, but when you repeat the same concept over and over, you are in fact, limiting yourself to doing what's already been done.


The tent shot

A few years ago it became fashionable shooting nightscapes, usually mountain-based, with a precarious tent somewhere in the scene is being lit up from the inside. The feelings such images depict are very attractive indeed: coziness, adventure, the million stars hotel... Who wouldn't like to capture all these emotions in a beautifully composed night shot?

The problem is that, as it always happens when a concept is abused, when you've seen a hundred of those, those feelings start to dissipate, and what once was genius at work, is now dull, repetitive and no longer inspiring. Now it is up to the view, not the concept itself, to provide something intriguing. So next time you think of this concept, focus on the view and forget the tent, we've seen it in about 27 different colors already.

Apologies for not including a "sample" shot. Although I have nightscapes with tents in them, they aren't quite the same concept I'm describing here (they are much more unassuming, which wouldn't help).

The road shot

Ever seen a photograph of a road - paved or otherwise - and the Milky Way rising about where the road seems to end? That's another sexy concept brought to irrelevance by abusing it.Way, way, way too much! As in "Do you know any nightscape photographer who has NOT taken one of these?"

Yes, almost everyone I know has one. I do, too - although I admit it felt so uninspiring that I decided to tilt it and suddenly I felt I was racing, what do you know! No, I was not on drugs.

It gets even worst if you're tempted to name your image "Road to the Stars", "Highway to Heaven","Path to the Universe" and other predictable and overused names. Just don't bother.




The tree under the arch shot

The concept here is positioning a single tree in the middle of the image, coinciding with being right under the center arch of the Milky Way. Powerful concept, indeed. In fact, all concepts I'm listing here are powerful. That's probably what turned them into such predictable targets.

Someone might be wondering why I'm not listing "Milky Way and trees" and instead I'm specific to this particular framing. Here's why... Trees are one of the most powerful photog magnets - meaning they attract us photographers like a magnet :-) day or night. Suggesting someone to not shoot at a tree and the Milky Way makes almost as much sense as suggesting not to include the Milky Way either. Trees give us plenty of game and opportunities, perspectives, game of lights and shadows... Trees are awesome!!

In this particular framing, however, many of those opportunities and games are gone, and we're stuck with a mathematically centered tree under a mathematically centered arch. There's game, but greatly reduced, not to mention that during Milky Way season there's about 10 of them popping up nearly every day. At the very least,shuffle things around a bit, move the trees to the side or something!




The "top of the world" shot

Do you know what I always think when I see this classic shot of someone standing on top of some sort of rock or elevated area, usually an incredibly hard to reach spot? That I'd rather see the image as the person was trying to get there! :-)

Yes, it's another classic. And that's why perhaps you should try to avoid it. Did I say avoid it? Well, you know what I mean. But yeah, please, take a bunch of shots while your fearless friend is getting to that crazy spot! The end shot looks well in a travel magazine, but we want the real thing, the action!! ...not the staged pose. This ain't Hollywood and even if it was, we've already seen the movie.

As if it couldn't get any worst, the subject in the image seems to not being able to keep their arms from stretching all the way up. Oh boy, seriously?

I have not published any of this kind of shots. This is the closest it gets, and I have to admit, I like it a lot. Would have I liked it should I have been on the top of that dune while stretching my arms to the sky? Nah.... I'm too tiny in the image, anyway (which I love), no one would be able to tell! :-)




Wrapping up, all these are powerful concepts that make for great photography from the get go, and can be just ridiculously amazing when well planned and executed. Can a new shot that uses any of these concepts still make our jaws drop? Absolutely! Can we have fun replicating what others have done a million times? Yeah, we can. Yet, what can be more fun and rewarding than avoiding the beaten path? In the end, if you're out there, you're already ahead of most human beings. Now, go further!


~RBA

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Moonlit Firefalls @ Yosemite

Posted: May 10th, 2017


MOONLIGHT FIREFALL
[Signed, Limited Edition]
Select Size/Media

 

This is the famous and elusive Horsetail "Firefall" Fall in Yosemite, but unlike every other image you may have seen - always taken near sunset around February - the fire effect in this image is caused by moonlight. That's the only possible way one could see the firefall and stars at the same time!

How does the firefall effect happen in the first place?

Before we dive into the moonlit firefall, let me quickly explain how the more popular firefall event works. That is, the one driven by direct sunlight during sunset.

It's basically a rare event that happens in specific dates when the sun is about to set (so you get the typical "golden hour" colors) and its rays only hit in the thin area on the El Capitan walls right behind Horsetail Fall, reflecting it right against the waterfall, causing the effect that the water is indeed red or golden color, almost lava-like. Several things must come together for a firefall to form, though.

First, the sun must be in the right place at sunset, something it only happens for a couple of weeks in February (also in October but the fall always dries up much earlier than that). Skies must also be clear, especially the western horizons so sunlight isn't blocked. It must have also snowed enough that winter to build a decent snow pack, which is what triggers and feeds this waterfall, and it must not be too cold so the snow would melt. When all this comes together, you'll still need to find a decent vantage point among hundreds of other photographers! It really is a popular event that draws large crowds!! As for the effect itself and its game of light and shadows, the following illustration should be self-explanatory. Please note that the outlines - both red and yellow - are only approximate.



Now, if the Horsetail Firefall that happen around February is famous for being elusive, try moonlight!

What does it take to capture the Moonlit Firefall?

As with the firefall effect caused by the sun in February, the moonlit firefall only happens a handful of times a year - sometimes not at all - and it has to be precisely timed, but other than that, the effect is exactly the same: same reasons, same logic and nearly same experience as far as the firefall goes. Of course, the experience of witnessing it under a starry sky is wildly different than at sunset.

So, what does it take to capture the Moonlit Firefalls? You need to find a night when the moon is in the right place near moonset and it's also bright enough - more on that later. As I mentioned, there's only a handful of such events per year, maybe 1-2 nights only, some years may even have none....Also, the fall must still be pouring water, of course. Since the fall usually dries mid-late spring or early summer at best, anytime after June is probably wishful thinking, regardless. June itself is a stretch.

Of course, the sky needs to be clear near the west, so the moonlight isn't blocked by clouds. It's good if it's also clear on the northwest, unless you're okay with the sky being cloudy (you'd miss the starry skies).

Last, it may sound trivial but it's not: you must be able to take the trip. For me, as you shall see, it was a killer doing it mid-week: an 8 hours round-trip, at odd hours, tired... Nevertheless, it was so worth it!


How I captured these two images

This, much more elusive firefall driven by moonlight is not completely unknown, but not many people know about it and there certainly aren't many shots of it. In this case, I had already been mulling about the idea, not being too sure it could be done, but certainly interested in finding out (What do you expect an astrophotographer to do?) and then, Tunç Tezel, a photographer from Turkey, brought it up on a Facebook post of one of  my (sunset-driven) firefall shots:

"You should consider shooting a moonlit version at bronze hour, too."

Tunç and I continued the topic offline, figuring out the dates. That's when Tunç pointed the dates of May 8 and 9 as possible candidates this year, which I confirmed. Tunç continued his calculations, predicting a bad "Moonlit Firefall" year for 2018 and 2019, probably not improving until 2022. This is not to say it will be impossible to capture another moonlit Firefall until 2022, but that conditions will not be "perfect", just "good enough".

I had been waiting for these two dates, May 8/9th since February when Tunç and I talked. By May 5th, I was watching the forecast taking away any chances, as the weather models were predicting mostly cloudy skies for both nights. May 8th was clearly the better night as far as the position and timing of the Moon. In fact, May 9th wasn't really ideal, especially since moonset was happening nearly at twilight. Sadly, a cloudy forecast kept me home the night of the 8th. However, the forecast suddenly changed for the 9th to mostly clear skies and that's all I needed to know that I'd be heading to Yosemite next evening!

Moonset that night was between 4:30am and 5am, so I headed to Yosemite around 9:30pm. It's a 3:30 hours drive under fluid road conditions, and that's what it took me. The skies were clear when I arrived, and the big, bright Moon was up high. I looked at it, thinking "Are you the one who's going to put up a show tonight?"

I took a couple of strolls with the car around the valley - always amazing under the moonlight! - and also (re)scouted the two classic vantage points for the firefall, trying to decide which one to use. In the end, the point by Southside Dr. won the bet, as I could do both, close-up and widefield shots.

As I arrived at the spot, I was ready to perhaps see a couple of cars. What I found instead was... not a single soul. No complains there, though I admit I mumbled a "Oh, that's interesting" as I noticed I'd likely be all by myself. I later found out the "action" that night was at the lower Yosemite Falls with several folks trying to capture a moonbow.

The whole place was actually a swamp, and the area where a few months earlier about 100 photographers gathered to do the sun-driven firefall was entirely covered in water! If you've been there, you know the area where you can get a clear view of the firefall is rather narrow. This unexpected flood actually limited my options even more than in February with the crowds! I did eventually  manage to find a dry spot that, although didn't give me a complete open sky view, was really the best I could find. It was around 3am and I was supposed to be tired (up since 6:30am the day before, 4 hours driving and what not) but this is when adrenaline kicks in. Don't ask me how that works, it just does :-)



Still one long hour to go and suddenly, thin high clouds took over most of the sky. You could still see stars through the thin clouds, but I wasn't thrilled. The Moon also contributed to a "whiter" sky, as the moonlight illuminated the thin, high clouds. The good news was that the clouds were happening right above El Capitan, not low in the west, meaning, the firefall effect would still happen (as mentioned earlier, if you get clouds in the low western horizon, the firefall won't happen at all).

I patiently waited while I enjoyed the solitude and the spectacle that only Yosemite Valley can offer. One thing the pictures don't show is how the area being hit by the light starts to slowly narrow until only the firefall is illuminated, and shortly after that, it vanishes completely. When the area was getting pretty narrow and the firefall effect was about to happen, I got into position, then framed and focused the two cameras I had brought with me, a Canon 5D Mk2 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, and a Sony a7S with a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4. I started shooting as I dialed the settings, trying different things with the exposure and ISO.  I took the "close up" image with the Canon, and the image with the wider FOV, the river and such came out of the a7S.

132 shots later, around 4:45am, twilight started to kick in, brightening the sky, and I stopped. Slowly packed my gear and headed back home. Phew!

Update June 6, 2017

On June 5th, 2017 I headed once again to Yosemite, as this was the second and last time the moonlit firefall could happen this year and, although I repeated location (for a number of reasons), I'd like to share the results. The fall was just a trickle, but that was actually pretty remarkable this late in the season.

I know that saying "rare" at this point might feel like an odd thing to say, given this would be the third moonlit firefall shot I share in just a month, but trust me, the moonlit firefall really is rare and proof is the handful of shots that have been taken so far of it. Catching it in June is even more unusual, but who cares, the point is that it really is an awesome spectacle no matter when!!

In spite of the limited space for a decent vantage point (the whole area was flooded and the only line of sight to the firefall was already taken by some folks), I managed to locate a waterfront view, enough to get the firefall in sight, with some trees still illuminated by moonlight and a nice reflection on the Merced river. Hope you like it!




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Nightscape Image Types

Posted: April 12th, 2017


For the last few years I've been following a rule when it comes to describing my nightscape images: if the image is a composite (definition below) I would always state it, otherwise it is not. In other words, I'd always disclose composite images upfront, but if I don't say anything about a particular image, it means it is not a composite.

The problem with this method is that it only works IF you already know the rule I follow, otherwise how would you know?

To avoid that, from now own I'll be using a tagging method, and every new image I post on social media will include a quick tag/label describing the type of image. This way, there's no guessing. Of course, you're always welcome to ask any questions about any of my images.

Please note that I use this nomenclature for nightscape images, not for deep-sky imaging.

#SingleShot: A single image, end of story.

#Blend: An image composed of several different images sharing the same field of view but captured at either different times or using different exposure settings, always during the same session (see #Composite below).

#HDR: A special type of "blend" that aims at producing an image with a larger dynamic range than what may be achievable with a single shot at certain exposure time and settings. The main difference between a BLEND and an HDR is that HDR images blend the very bright areas of long exposures with the darker equivalent of shorter exposures, and vice-versa, through an automated process. Blending, on the other hand, involves manual selections of the different images being combined.

#Stacked: a series of images of the same area and at the same settings, that were later stacked together, regardless of whether they were registered (to increase the Signal-to-Noise ratio) or not (star trails and similar images). Tracking - using a mount that "follows" the stars as Earth rotates - may or may not be involved.

#Mosaic or #Pano: An image that was built by stitching together several different photographs, all at the same settings and exposure, and during the same session, usually seconds apart.

#Composite: An image that was built from elements taken from several different  images that does not fit into any of the previous categories. A classic example in nightscape images is an image where the landscape was taken from one photograph (or set of photographs) and the sky was captured separately, on a different night or location, with different optics or pointing at a different area.

I encourage other photographers to use a similar approach when they share their image. You don't have to categorize them exactly as I did, although you're welcome to do it if you like.



Murcia Workshop - Photos

Posted: June 28th, 2015


Here's some photos taken (none by me :-) ) during yesterday's (June 28, 2015), PixInsight workshop in my hometown, Murcia, Spain.

First, two group photos. Not everyone is in them as some had to leave early and we took the picture after the workshop. Iko and Angel switched as photographers in both pics.

 

A photo of the venue (thanks Miguel Lloret!) taken by Victor Fernández Cano

 

Now, some individual shots...

Left to right: Rogelio and Iko

Left to right: Rogelio, Marta and Miguel

 

Left to right: Rogelio and Alvaro

Left to right: Rogelio and Jose (no, I didn't do that fancy background thing ;-) )

Left to right: Rogelio and Luis

Left to right: Rogelio and Christian

Left to right: Juan Jose and Rogelio

Left to right: Jose Francisco and Rogelio

Now, some views of the class, most of them right before we actually started..:

Some of the gang went in the evening for a walk around the city. Yes, we do have a pretty bulky cathedral in Murcia :-) ...

  

I may receive more images in the next couple of days. That being the case, I'd definitely be adding them to this post.




COSMOS v2.0

Posted: March 9th, 2014




The remake (more like a brand new endeavor) of the famous series COSMOS starts airing tonight March 9th, 2014 on Fox and other channels (if you don't live in the USA, the starting date may be different), and I have the pride, pleasure and joy of having contributed some of my images to the series.

So... Yes I'm on Cosmos v2.0! Well, sorta.. Just for a few bits! (BTW, a few other fellow astroimagers are as well!)... I was thrilled when some of my images made it to the IMAX Hubble 3D motion picture, but "being" on the remake of such legendary series as Cosmos even for a split second is beyond cool!

So, despite it's such minimal contribution in comparison to the effort of the entire project, I'm goin to celebrate it by offering a FREE print of any image in my portfolio to the first person to identify one of my images used in the series.

You will need to describe the image (for example "the Orion nebula") and the episode in which it appeared.

Guessing it's okay, but only reasonable guesses (like if you see an image you're almost certain it's from me). Remember this could happen in any episode, not necessarily on the first one. Heck, the first appearance might happen in episode 8 or 9, who knows!



First astrophoto: Moon

Posted: June 5th, 2012


The other night, my 9 years old girl - who knows about Photoshop more than what she should ;-) and has spent actually dozens of nights with me during my photo outings, even to parties like GSSP (twice) or Calstar (three times) - took our Nikon S6 that we have for family photos and stuff, pointed at the Moon, zoomed in, captured it, and after some Photoshop, this is what she delivered... Well, I later did a 800x600 crop at 100%, no further touchups

I do guarantee that the photo has improved a bit from the original... That nice color balance, the sharpening free of  Gibbs stuff... Pretty cool!

Okay, don't mind me if you'd rather, but... how could I not post this photo here, for goodness sake!! Sure, she could have done this a year or two earlier if she had thought of it, but what excites me is that this was her first, and that she went and got it all by herself.  Maybe some other day I'll show her how to put the camera - but preferably the Canon 40D, not the Coolpix S6 again - on a tripod and get an even cooler Moon or whatever :-)




Head to toes, large scale!

Posted: April 25th, 2012


For the AIC 2011, a group of dedicated imagers (Bob Caton, Eric Zbinden, Al Howard and myself) worked on a fine display of The Clouds of Perseus. What most people don't know is that, since producing that image was becoming increasingly difficult and we were almost out of time, we actually had a backup in case we couldn't complete the image on time for the AIC. The backup was also used as a test, to make sure things would look okay in the huge 14-feet display.

We finally did finish on time, not without some considerable imaging and post-processing efforts, and we all were happy. But I figured that by now it would be okay to unveil what was that backup project. Well, see it for yourself!



After AIC, Bob Caton - who is the one who paid for that print - was kind enough to give it to me as a gift. Still, so far, I haven't found a wall area in my house that would fit such gigantic image. Oh but I will, eventually, eve if it ends up in the ceiling! :-)



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