Sunday, July 31, 2011

Travel TidBits: Star Tracks

Starry Night

After exploring the fireworks on July 4rth and the last full moon, from explosion of colors to a romantic themes, I wanted to experiment more with the ‘light of the night’ or the absence?

This weekend in the Sierra after the sun had set and the stars came out on a clear sky, I set up my tripod and camera to explore.  I choose the edge of a golf course, quiet and dark with some lights for the club house in the distance.  Since I wanted to capture the earth rotation, I set my camera on manual: Bulb and left the shutter open for 20-35 minutes.  This would be a long night!!

But patience was rewarded:

Now for those interested in the technical aspects, here are some specifics:

The Gear:
You need a camera with manual: Bulb setting, a tripod is a must and so is a cable release with release lock– nobody can hold a finger on the shutter release for 30 minutes!!  A wide angle lens – I have seen images done with a fish eye lens and would like to experiment with that in the future.  I used a 24-120mm lens.

The Camera setting:
My setting for the above image was:
f/5.6; ISO 200;  manual focus: infinity; 
Long exposure: noise reduction on;
Vibration reduction on lens: off;
Open shutter:  31 minutes.

What did I learn:
Powering your camera!
I shot 5 images – hanging around for 2 ½ hours and admiring the sky!
However, after I closed the shutter of the 3rd image and waited for the image to process, nothing happened.  Starting to troubleshoot, I noticed that the camera was off!  My battery had run out of juice after 2 images!!  ½ hour wasted for nothing but lesson learned!! 

Although it is hard to even see the composition, the image above with a bit of the foreground was the most pleasing to me.  Here is another one with less foreground:

The mystery in this image is the source of the light on the left which counter balances the vegetation in the right.

These images may not be the most glamorous ones -  and I have seen quite creative ones in my search on the web - but I was happy when I turned in well after midnight – and I know I will be out at night again to capture the mystery of the night!!

If you would like to learn more about night photography, 
check out my next Full Moon Photo Workshops.

For further resources:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Travel TidBits: Fireworks and Moon

Travel TidBits:  Fireworks and Full Moon

I have long admired photographers who capture the night with its mysteries and shadows, and over the years I have tried to capture what I see with varying success [maybe I will show you some of those in another Travel TidBit!].  Being a morning person, my energy wanes after dark and I rather find myself at home.

However, stimulated by an article on the Adorama web site written by Mason Resnick [] on how to photograph fireworks, I went out and scouted for a good place where I can see the Shoreline fireworks and then on the 4rth I went out and celebrated among many other onlookers. 

To prepare, I followed the advice I give to my workshop students:  Know your camera, dig out your camera manual from the bottom of your storage, and refresh your memory.  Now for me, I had never used the ‘bulb’ setting and in the afternoon, I studied up and set my camera since doing this in the dark can be tricky.  Geared up with a blanket, tripod, camera and cable release, I sat on the lawn of the golf course and just enjoyed the fireworks.  Oh yes, my finger on the cable release and counting the seconds that I wanted the shutter to stay open (usually between 3-5 seconds).

Fascinating how the clouds are illuminated by the colors!

At the end, smoke was hanging over the area and even without the light burst, made an interesting parting shot before braving the crowds heading home in a gigantic traffic jam..

Amazingly, after downloading what a pleasure so the see the outcome!  
I really need to go out more often and dare the night!

Hold that thought:  July 15:  Full Moon. 

The newspaper listed the moon rise at 8:48pm – would it be dark enough with the sun setting at ~8:30p?  Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  So I called a friend and the 2 of us packed our photo pack, tripod, cable release and met shortly after 8p to see what we would find.  This time, I thought about the composition and wanted to capture reflection of the moon over water – a favorite for a lot of photographers.  So, we parked outside the gate of Shoreline Park as the sun was setting– we don’t want to be locked in for the night [which has happened to me some years ago – with an angry ranger scolding me before unlocking the gate!]

and dusk was falling over the marshes.

At the lake shore, we set up our gear wondering whether the cloud bank towards the east would hinder or add to the images?

And then right on time, we actually saw the moon light just peeking over the East Bay Hills before vanishing behind the clouds (light in middle of the image between the trees). 

As night fell, our patience was rewarded!!

Moon just raising over the clouds.

It was a mild night and as the moon marched across the sky, we walked on to look over the water towards the light in the East Bay:

The light was casting a net over the water!

Later that night, the stars and the moon started to vanish behind the growing clouds

but the light from the below cities colored them beautifully.

Turning around the darker sky was full of stars.

When we walked out of the park I couldn’t believe it was close to midnight – I had been so absorbed in the beauty of the raising moon, the stars and the landscape around me that I had not noticed how long we lingered.  It was quiet and beautiful.

Back at home, I lit some candles and had a cup of hot tea reflecting on the evening.  Typically, when I go out at night it is in the city.  But this evening showed me how much beauty is in the quiet outdoors and how much we can see when the full moon shines down on us.

Til next time,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Travel TidBits: A Love Story

A  Real  Australian Cockatoo Love Story

About eight years ago a wild Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoo flew into a car and broke its wing.
The motorist took it to the Vet in Nerang, Queensland , who had to amputate the wing.  We adopted her - for which we needed a National Parks and Wildlife permit – and kept her in a cage outside where she was often visited by wild Cockatoos.  One of the things that impressed us was how she would push lettuce leaves through the bars of the cage, offering food to visitors.  Last Sunday she again had a visitor.

As usual he spent a lot of time sitting on the cage with a tamper proof latch.

There was a lot of talking and grooming. A suitor has to look presentable when courting a bird!

Things got interesting when he approached the front door...

The clever fellow figured out how to undo the tamper proof latch!

He opened the door for a lot of mutual grooming and food sharing...

Oooh that's nice! Scratch a bit more on that side, dear...
He was not shy to get into the cage and would go in and out a number of times.

They mated!
We are looking forward to beautiful baby cockatoos.

Later on, the whole extended family came visiting but the special mate was back every day so far.

We leave the door open during the day but if we forget, it doesn't matter - cockatoos have intelligence that rival primates.  Because she has only one wing, she stays inside or just sits on top. 

Guess what happened next...

The Babies

At first it seemed as though he was annoyed because she did not fly off with him and he would
squawk a lot. He soon came to understand that she could not fly so he just stayed.  However, she was no longer returning to her cage.  The two of them would stay in the trees in our garden and because the yard is well fenced, they were safe from dogs but the neighbor's cat is not kept indoors at night and we often have to chase it away.  Chances are the cat would come off second best in a confrontation with a Cockatoo but at night cats remain a danger because they could stalk a sleeping bird on the ground.

Cockatoos make their nests in hollow logs but we noticed the male hard at work digging a hole under a clump of Lilly Pilly trees.  We put down a hollow log for them but they just ignored us.  The nest he dug was a hole with a short tunnel leading off to where she laid her eggs.  Once there were eggs in the nest,
the male became extremely aggressive.  You better not get near the nest or he will take chunks of flesh from your foot.  It was difficult to take these pictures because I literally had to steal them while running away from the male.

We kept a vigil to see how things were progressing.
They took turns incubating the eggs and covering the tunnel.
After about three weeks, the eggs hatched.  Have a careful look at this
 picture and try to spot the bit of yellow fluff.

Whenever Mum & Dad Cockatoo leave the nest, we try to get a look but you have to do it while running because Dad Cockatoo is chasing you!

Second lap running around the trees!

Well, I hope his mother thinks he is pretty and eventually I might think so too but at the moment, both of them just look like pink balls with a bit of yellow fluff.

What a beautiful Love Story!!

Photographer/Author unknown.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Travel TidBit: Elephant Rescue

Baby Elephant Rescue

Here is an amazing elephant rescue story of a very tiny elephant that has trouble climbing out of a watering hole.  The whole 'family' gets involved and it appears they are steppping on each others toes to help the little one:

What a heart warming story.  Nature at its best!

This type of behavior isn’t surprising for these highly intelligent creatures. All of the elephants in a herd are related females (the only males are immature calves; mature bulls live separately) and the sisters of the matriarch cow and their offspring demonstrate very strong family ties. The bond between a mother and her calf is exceptionally close and (when the calf is female) can be a 50+-year relationship. According to The Behavior Guide to African Mammals, ”Small calves remain in almost constant contact” with their mothers. “If one wanders more than 15-20 meters away, the mother goes after it. She pushes it under her to protect it from danger or the hot sun, boosts it up steep places by crooking her trunk around its posterior, and lifts it down embankments or over hollow trees and out of wallows. She assists it to water and washes it gently by squirting water over it and scrubbing it with her trunk. In time of drought the mother will regurgitate water from her stomach and spray it to cool her calf. . . Even at 9 years a calf may spend over half the time less than 5 meters from its mother.”  It is also quite normal for cows to suckle another’s calves.