Tag Archives: Stars

First Impressions of Hoonah, Alaska

Incredibly I have been in Hoonah, Alaska for an entire week already. There is so much to see, learn, and do in Southeast Alaska that I cannot wait to dive into life here more fully, but I hope to give you a small taste of what I have experienced up this point and foreshadow future opportunities.

Seeing as the community is along the rich waters of Port Frederick and the Pacific Ocean there is strong interest in the cycles of fish. The chatter throughout town is that the herring will be here any day and will fuel an entire diverse ecosystem. Once they arrive the whales, salmon, halibut, eagles, bears, and much more will all follow in short order. Four types of salmon may be commonly caught by simply casting a spoon from shore, and if you have a boat, the opportunity of a 300 pound halibut is just a stones throw away. I was told that whales bubble feed underneath the docks on the Hoonah Harbor. The waters here are so clear that if they are near the docks you can likely watch their underwater feeding before they break the surface.  Once the salmon are in the rivers, the highest concentration of brown bears in the world will flock to the rivers to fatten up on salmon for the winter.  All of these wildlife will present photographic opportunities that I cannot wait to shoot!

Clouds and rain are a staple of Southeast Alaska and fuel the temperate rain forests containing mammoth spruces, hemlocks and cedars growing to over 200 feet in height. Some regions of Southeast receive over 200 inches of rain each year and never seem to have cloudless nights. To my delight I was presented with a relative rarity in Southeast Alaska : clear skies. There are very few large towns in Southeast and light pollution is minimal. The conditions are perfect for night photography. I ambled my truck filled with camera gear high above the ocean to Gobbler’s Knob. From there the Milky Way stretched out in front of me and the aurora emanated from the far northern horizon. I listened to the sound of Long-tailed Ducks from the ocean below, the rumbled of diesel boats, and my own heartbeat. Certainly a memorable night more easily expressed through photos! The photographs below are a slice from Hoonah which I look forward to embellishing on and bringing your more of!

The Galaxy Rises in Alaska

Growing up in Minnesota one of my favorite constellations was Orion. The appearance of his belt at earth’s horizon was a sure sign that autumn was approaching, and as I fell asleep each night I would watch him out my southern facing window. Many people, cultures, and seasons are tied to the position of the stars. In Alaska and as a night-photographer, I have grown to appreciate the rise of the Milky Way Galaxy to the north as spring approaches. Although at least a part of the Milky Way is visible through the winter, its growing prominence and brightness in February and March really documents the changing season. The Milky Way rises through the summer, but by the time we are able to see into the center of the Galaxy the sun will never set! Of course, the sun blots out any opportunity to see the center of the Milky Way from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Earlier in the night (about 10 PM) the galaxy was very bright and intersected a red and green display of the Northern Lights.
Earlier in the night (about 10 PM) the galaxy was very bright and intersected a red and green display of the Northern Lights.

I have been researching and “perfecting” techniques (lots of room for growth and creativity!) to stitch together large panoramas. The images here were created from stitched 25 – 32 images. The results are certainly  interesting and beautiful! My goal when creating these images is to capture as much of the Milky Way as possible. On moonless nights like March 2nd in Fairbanks, Alaska the Milky Way shows up as a bright band in the sky. With some luck, the aurora accents its celestial beauty. As part of the Panoramic technique the resolution of the image grows to extreme proportions. These panoramas here are approximately 21,480 x 10,850 pixels! That’s nearly 233 megapixel resolution! The power of the technique the possibility of wall-sized panoramic prints. Hint, hint – I would love to see one of these printed to 50″ or bigger! If you are are interested, you should contact me!

A lone birch stands as the focal points of this large panorama. The city lights of Fairbanks show up on the right.
A lone birch stands as the focal points of this large panorama. The city lights of Fairbanks show up on the right.
A large panorama showing off the Galaxy and the Aurora Borealis over Black Spruce Dogsledding.
A large panorama showing off the Galaxy and the Aurora Borealis over Black Spruce Dogsledding.

From a bit purer side of photography, I was also able to capture the galaxy and aurora in single images. However, there is an interesting distinction in them over many of my other aurora shots – they are no longer “real”. I am a stickler for not over-processing aurora shots to  give the viewer the truest colors and most accurate representation as possible. However, to emphasize the galaxy it necessary to compromise on the color of the aurora. The aurora in these single shots and the panoramas is more vibrant than it was to the naked on this night.  Because of the color changes these are truly “works of art”, not just documentation of the aurora.  Its not a bad thing, but I feel should be made clear, as there is a growing opinion that aurora photography does not represent how it truly looks. In this particular case, that is true.

A bright section of aurora hightlights a beautiful scene capturing the Milky Way over the sleds at Blackspruce Dogsledding
A bright section of aurora hightlights a beautiful scene capturing the Milky Way over the sleds at Blackspruce Dogsledding
A fusion of the northern lights and the Milky Way Galaxy at Black Spruce Dog Sledding.
A fusion of the northern lights and the Milky Way Galaxy at Black Spruce Dog Sledding.
Star Trails
A long star trails shows off the multitude of stars on a moonless night in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Starry Stitches

On the evening of December 8th this year, a wonderful series of phenomenon occurred. The sun went down, the aurora remained muted, brilliant stars of the Milky Way dappled the darkness, and a new moon sealed the deal for a night of very dark-skies.  I left the orange glow of Fairbanks behind and set off on a quest into the inky darkness of interior Alaska to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy.

When photographing the galaxy you are capturing the “galactic plane” which is the stars which spin out from the “galactic center“. Our sun and solar system reside on the edge of the galaxy, and give us the opportunity to look into it. However, depending on the season and the photographer’s location on the planet, the true center of the galaxy may not be available. In Fairbanks the galactic center would be visible in the summer when it is always light. During the winter the galactic plane of the Milky Way is visible,  but we do not get an opportunity to see the center because we are blocked from it by the planet.

MilkyWay
This image does a nice job of demonstrating our position in the disk of the milky way, and translating that disk to the “galactic plane”. Brilliant Milky Way images capture the nuclear bulge a the center of the Milky Way. The nuclear bulge is not visible from Fairbanks in the December. Image Credit : UCSD.edu

Fairbanks has not felt wind for over two months and snow  which would ordinary not persist with wind clung to the spruces encasing them . I angled my camera at the bases of those trees and slowly moved at up into the sky after each exposure with the goal of creating panoramic ‘stitches’ of the Milky Way. The method compounds the star density of the galaxy, and brings out distant features like a nebula seen in the upper left of several of the images. I hope you take to opportunity to view dark skies when you can!

A panoramic stitch of the Milky Way.
A panoramic stitch of the Milky Way and a nebula cluster in the upper left.
Milky Way Stitch
I was able to achieve the most definition of the Milky Way in this particular shot and misty veils of aurora float through for effect.
Milky Way Panorama
A tall vertical stitch of the Milky Way over a winter paradise.
Nebula cluster
The nebula cluster in this shot is pointed out by a snow covered spruce that arches into the picture from the left.
Milky Way and Nebula Cluster.
The Milky Way springs out of this crotch formed by these snow-covered spruces.
Milky Way Stitch
A distant planet, perhaps Venus, is particularly bright in this image.
Hoar Frost
The hoar-frost covered trees are a testament to the lack of wind in the region.

Autumnal Aurora

I jumped when my alarm went off at 11:30 PM, and I looked at my surroundings to remind myself where I was. The sleeping bag wrapped around me and my reclined seat reinforced I was in my truck as my blurry eyes brought the steering wheel in focus. My memories flooded back to me; I arrived 30 minutes ago, and with no aurora in sight had set an alarm and took a nap. I was expectant that a G2 storm forecast was going to pay out, and as I peered out of trucks window it seemed I was in luck. The aurora was starting to show a band high in the sky. I turned the ignition, and drove down the road to find the “perfect”, golden tree – my goal for the night was to fuse autumn colors and the aurora together.

I stood on the road with my head craned up, watching a beautiful, green aurora band overhead. This aurora was  Mr. Jekyll which soon morphed into Mr. Hyde – albeit a beautiful version of him.  I was not ready for the full force of the aurora as it transformed the sky into a green and pink blanket of shimmering, dancing lights so different than what I had been looking at minutes earlier.  The energy that rolled overhead, I learned later, was the result of a monstrous, KP7 event, that pushed the aurora into Washington and the Midwest.  I was so overwhelmed by the aurora that I expressed myself by simultaneously singing, praying, and taking pictures by myself under the vast display of lights. For those who know me, you might guess that I was also grinning broadly from ear-to-ear. My smile would not have disappointed you!

For parts of the night, my only focus was to capture the overhead aurora corona to the best of my ability. The last time I successfully captured the corona was in Denali National Park last year. I couldn’t be more happy to show you this gallery of images from last night  – there were many more taken! The gallery is chronological, and hopefully gives a sense of the scale of the aurora and how quickly it built. These images are taken at 9mm, and hence have a ~120 degree field of view!

I am continuing to boost my online portfolio, so please stop by if you have a moment! A selection of these images has been added to my Fine Arts America Photo Gallery for purchase. Thank-you for your consideration!

Fine Arts America Photo Gallery

Celestial Sights : Comet Lovejoy in Alaska

Comet Lovejoy has been visible in the Northern Hemisphere, but peaked in magnitude on January 15th and is now headed away from Earth. Viewers can still see it with binoculars for probably only a while longer, so get out there soon. It will not be visible for another 8,000 years! Last night I went comet chasing, which I think is the first time since Hale-Bopp! I was just 9 years old at the time, but I remember sitting on the back deck at the house and observing the skies. You may have heard of comets in the news lately. During November 2014, the Rosetta Comet landing (Philae Lander) by the European Space Agency made history as the first time humans have landed a craft on a comet. Some incredible science will hopefully be done once the lander’s solar panels start gathering light again. However, one of the incredible things to come from the observation of the comet was the “sound” that a comet makes. “ESA’s Rosetta probe detected cyclical changes in the comet’s magnetic field environment. To make the comet’s magnetic ‘song’ audible to people, researchers sped up the data 10,000 times its actual rate.” (www.space.com). It has been likened to Predator (the movie), and the similarity is uncanny! The timelapse below includes the eerie and amazing ‘song’!


Comet Lovejoy does not have a huge tail, however is very, very distinctly green. I was told it was green, but the forest/lime green color was much more distinct that I was expecting! Through the night I shot the Lovejoy comet in a variety of methods, I learned a lot! The three images here are meant to give you an idea of where to find Lovejoy current, as well as the look of different focal lengths. At ~300 mm the maximum length of exposure without star trails is about 1.5 seconds.

If you want to get out to see Lovejoy in the next couple of nights let me know. It is worth it!

This image of Lovejoy will give you a good idea of where to look in the skies. The cluster of stars you see is the constellation the '7 Sisters'. On 01/17/2015 the comet was located below, and to the right of that constellation. This image was taken at 17mm, f/2.8, 25sec, ISO 1600
This image of Lovejoy will give you a good idea of where to look in the skies. The cluster of stars you see is the constellation the ‘7 Sisters’. On 01/17/2015 the comet was located below, and to the right of that constellation. This image was taken at 17mm, f/2.8, 25sec, ISO 1600
This images of Comet Lovejoy was taken at 100mm. f/4.0, ISO 3200, 3.2 seconds.
This images of Comet Lovejoy was taken at 100mm. f/4.0, ISO 3200, 3.2 seconds.
This image of Comet Lovejoy was taken at 286 mm. It starts to give you a pretty good idea of the green halo/fuzz which surrounds the comet. f/5.6, ISO 2500, 3.2 sec
This image of Comet Lovejoy was taken at 286 mm. It starts to give you a pretty good idea of the green halo/fuzz which surrounds the comet. f/5.6, ISO 2500, 3.2 sec
This abstract shot of the Comet Lovejoy was assembled in Star Trails. Because of the noise associated with these shots I had to edit it heavily. However, I love the neon green path that it it plows across the sky!
This abstract shot of the Comet Lovejoy was assembled in Star Trails from ~200 shots. Because of the noise associated with these shots I had to edit it heavily. However, I love the neon green path that it it plows across the sky!

A Tale of Two Auroras

Two nights ago I watched the Aurora with someone for whom it would be their last (for awhile), and last night I brought someone out for their first experience of it ever! Both moments are joyous, I believe and this is the tale of two auroras. Both of the nights have been put together into this timelapse which is undoubtedly one of my best to date. I grin at how well the music matches the event and the footage here gives a certain feeling to the urgency of the Aurora.

On September 25th my friend Jonathan and I headed to Eagle Summit (the same place where I timelapsed the solstice) for the aurora. Its location 120 miles north on the Steese Highway provides huge vistas and no light pollution aside from any passing cars. This Aurora was actually Jonathan’s last of his current career in Alaska, so we wanted to make it memorable 🙂

The new moon on the 25th provided inky darkness for a backdrop and the aurora used green and pink ink to sign its signature in the heavens. We were able to enjoy the brilliance of the Milky Way just as much as the Aurora which presented us an excellent show!

Two lone spruce trees stand watch of the Milky Way which spanned across the sky. Dark skies are one of the hardest things to comprehend, but they are BEAUTIFUL!
Two lone spruce trees stand watch of the Milky Way which spanned across the sky. Dark skies are one of the hardest things to comprehend, but they are BEAUTIFUL!
The explosion of activity over Eagle Summit - whoa!
The explosion of activity over Eagle Summit – whoa!
The aurora just starting to build over Eagle Summit, Alaska on 09/25/2014
The aurora just starting to build over Eagle Summit, Alaska on 09/25/2014
The Aurora streaks over a lone pine tree at Eagle Summit, Alaska in the early AM
The Aurora streaks over a lone spruce tree at Eagle Summit, Alaska in the early AM

On September 26th the hype was high that the Aurora would be booming. In fact, I believe there were shows in Minnesota last night, and may be tonight too. Keep your eyes up!

One of the shots I wanted to highlight was this 30 minute exposure of the aurora. I have been trying to pull of this shot for a very long time, and the moonless night provided just the backdrop! The north star is the non-moving point of this shot. I couldn’t be more happy with it!

I must admit this is a shot I have been trying to pull of for quite awhile, and finally think I nailed it! :D This a 30 minute exposure of a low-grade aurora and the north star. The moonless night kept the exposure from blowing out. This is basically how it came out of the camera. Very cool to see the north star stay still and the rest of them move!!
I must admit this is a shot I have been trying to pull of for quite awhile, and finally think I nailed it! 😀 This a 30 minute exposure of a low-grade aurora and the north star. The moonless night kept the exposure from blowing out. This is basically how it came out of the camera. Very cool to see the north star stay still and the rest of them move!!

I wrangled my housemate Roman to go out for the Aurora with me. He is an international student who had not had the opportunity to see the the Lights before. The show actually burst at 9:30 and presented some great colors including the “watermelon aurora”. To top it off Roman was creative enough to build us a small fire – it was a great night!

This pink aurora is what I like to call the "watermelon auroa" :)
This pink aurora is what I like to call the “watermelon auroa” 🙂
A small fire and the Aurora to keep this group warm. It was Roman's first aurora!
A small fire and the Aurora to keep this group warm. It was Roman’s first aurora!

A Mirror Lake

This Memorial Day I had a great time with family at our lake cabin in central Minnesota. The night I got there the humidity had dropped from the sky and the stars were intensely clear and beautiful. I walked down to our dock and immediately realized that in the completely still night the earth and sky were the same; the lake was reflecting the stars and lights along the shoreline with mirror-like precision. Not a ripple blurred them. Taking pictures from the dock I did my best to capture the beauty and stillness of the night.

The starry night was reflected perfectly in the lake. The only thing that discerns the the earth is the the dock.
The starry night was reflected perfectly in the lake. The only thing that discerns the the earth is the the dock.

 

I have a tremendous sense of place at our cabin. I’ve been going there since I was a little kid and have helped in many of the building changes, mowed its lawn, ate pancakes cooked by my grandma every morning, fried fish for dinners, and fished its waters. Fish stories and memories have been firmly set in my memory and the lore of the cabin. Bent hooks, broken rods, and big fish are remembered by uncles, nephews and cousins. A walk down the dock is the beginning and end of any fishing trip. Over the years the has changed in length, shape, style, and design. But regardless of how it looks it is ALWAYS there. I took these photos from that dock to capture a beautiful night.

The boat pictured here has been part of many, many fishing trips. It is decades old and has held up through perhaps a dozen different 4-10 horse engines. The night was so still the boat hardly rocked during this long exposure.
The boat pictured here has been part of many, many fishing trips. It is decades old and has held up through perhaps a dozen different 4-10 horse engines. The night was so still the boat hardly rocked during this long exposure.
This image is a single 8 minute exposure. The stillness of the night reflected the spinning stars captured above.
This image is a single 8 minute exposure. The stillness of the night reflected the spinning stars captured above.