Ray of light

airport_rays_4599Clouds can make or break a photo.  Sometimes they obscure the sun just as the skids are about to get interesting.  Other times they provide just the right circumstances for a dramatic photo.  This is obviously the latter.

Taking a sunrise or sunset photo without any clouds just doesn’t work.  They perform an essential service in making the skies more interesting.  Whoa..did I just stumble upon a metaphor for life just now?


iss_31923I’ve had some great shots of the ISS over the years…passing over a Fort Lincoln blockhouse, streaking across the sunrise above the Double Ditch post, and above the Pioneers statue at the capitol mall.  Tonight I opted to grab a shot of it passing over the tower from the north, and it didn’t disappoint.

I like those direct overhead passes because they take longer.  There’s more to see.  But sometimes that poses a photographic challenge, even with a 10mm lens.  When it’s lower on the horizon it’s easier to get a nice arc over your foreground subject.  In any case, I’m relishing every photo opportunity I can get these days!

Moonshadow contingency

Kp_091214The sky sometimes, so unkind
Then again, he’s my best friend…
                                                            – Crocodiles, “Sleep Forever”

See that point where the K index plummets from a tasty 7, indicating a geomagnetic storm, to a serene 4, indicating bubkes?  That’s the point where a friend and I loaded up the truck and blazed north to catch those auroras that we’ve been anticipating.  That’s okay…my photo buddy and I had a backup plan, and it worked out quite nicely.


lake_mitchell_dock_31837Step One: I had this spot in mind, along a little lake northeast of town.  Even though the auroras weren’t cooperating, the moon and sky sure were.  There was a fantastic lunar corona which actually manifested as a couple of paraselenae, or moondogs as the sky conditions mutated.


lake_mitchell_dock_31841We played around at this dock for a little bit, allowing the sky to do some things and letting long exposures turn the rippling lake to glass.  At this point we were still hopeful for some auroral activity, but moved on to the next stage in our backup plan since it didn’t require Northern Lights to bear fruit.


arena_church_31845This is the abandoned church at Arena.  It looks like daylight, even though it was around midnight or so, because the full moon was a-blazin’.  I grabbed my big 6-D-Cell Maglite and did some light painting of the cross atop the church’s steeple, and we let the stars and clouds do their thing in the background.


arena_church_31851In this shot it almost looked like I could see some splashes of color in the clouds, as if the auroras were trying to peek through, but even at full size I wasn’t able to tell definitively.  It was cool to be able to visit this ghost town in the dark, though, and it was another excellent consolation prize since the Northern Lights trip was otherwise a bust.

I have the attitude that any time I return from a photo trip with even one image that I really like, that trip has been a success.  It doesn’t even matter if the photo is relevant to the purpose of the trip.  In this case, I have a few such photos, and they were the result of a solid backup plan, so I’m pleased not only with the results we captured but the success of that plan.

A couple more Aurora photos to add some color to your day

auroras_28780When I returned from my recent Aurora Borealis photo trip, it was around 4am.  On a work day.  I hastily grabbed and processed a few shots to share, grabbed a combat nap, and went on with my day.  This weekend was busy, but I had the opportunity to peruse the shots from the day and found a couple more that I really like.  The above shot is one that I used for this blog’s Facebook page.

auroras_28792While the layout looks a little jumbled, this one by far had the best colors.  The Northern Lights are a fleeting target, and you don’t often get the same light twice.  In fact, I don’t have a whole lot of different angles from the night because the peak of the lights came and left so suddenly.

I’m going to take another look to see if I have anything else that I haven’t shown already.  Hopefully the next time they come along, I’ll be ready!

Back in the saddle a bit

auroras_28783After dozing off early in my recliner tonight I woke up to a text from a friend who was out on patrol tonight.  He noticed that the Northern Lights were in full swing.  I grabbed a good friend, hopped in the truck, and took off.  We were not disappointed.


auroras_28789As I mentioned recently, I’ve had some health issues and other things that have just plain sidelined me as far as photography and blogging.  This was a great way to get back in the saddle for a bit as much as my pain would allow, and happens to have been one of the better aurora borealis nights in a long time.  Just because I’ve been in my recliner doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching what the sun and skies are up to.


We appear to have arrived along one of my favorite rural roads just in time to see some very spectacular lights.  We saw spikes, we saw ripples, and we saw a lot of them.  I worked the area the best I could within the time allowed, and we pointed the truck back toward the Bizzo once things began to taper off.

I can’t speculate on the frequency with which I ease back into my beloved photo hobby, but hopefully this is a harbinger of good things to come.  With the weather changing in our favor and another spring and summer on the way, things are looking pretty good.  I hope to be on the mend in time for mountain bike and volleyball season, too!

Tree with a view

Here’s something I never expected: to be out photographing auroras Friday night instead of tucked snugly into my bed! I was caught off guard by a sudden impulse warning from the Space Weather Prediction Center, and took off to catch any auroras that developed.

My ace in the hole: friends on patrol for local law enforcement who can let me know if it’s worth saddling up the truck and throwing my gear therein. I got a text that the auroras were “crackin!” and that was all I needed.

Things didn’t pan out at the first place I went to, but I did notice this little tree in the middle of nowhere as I went looking for a suitable foreground object. I figured it would do just fine, and I was right.

You can bet I’ll have a better plan for the next time the auroras spike! I have dozens of places marked in my GPS, it’s just a matter of being ready to bolt there at a moment’s notice.

Sky as canvas

“…stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God…Dost thou know the balancing of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?” –Job 37:14,16

I found myself in a unique position today just as my wife called to tell me about the beautiful clouds, looking as if painted upon the canvas of the sky. As usual I was doing some video work but took a second to employ a panoramic app for iOs and nab this shot. Puffy clouds, wispy clouds…they were all there, as if they’d been hand selected and nudged perfectly into place.

Naturally, once time allowed, I couldn’t help but jump into Photoshop for a couple of minutes to make a quick polar (spherical) version of the same shot. Even though I was only able to shoot a 180 degree pan, it still turned out okay due to some Photoshop trickery I learned a while ago.

This year I’ve developed a new love for September. I love the days which are warm, but not too warm. I embrace the cool mornings and used yesterday evening to follow up the TEA Party rally and sunset with a roaring bonfire. The crisp, clear nights are perfect for stargazing and, as I’ve noticed over the past several days, the clouds are quite remarkable.

The past six weeks have been a blur due to a hectic work schedule, culminating in a frenetic Week Six that delivered some marathon days but satisfying progress. Now that the major rush has subsided for the time being, I’m grateful for the opportunity to, as Job was instructed, stand still and consider the wondrous works of God. Wondrous indeed.

Starry-eyed surprise

After attending the midKnight showing of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES my friend and I meandered out west of town near the Crown Butte area to see what was going on in the sky. As I looked back toward Bismarck-Mandan I noticed a compact thunderstorm bearing down on the cities. There was a distinct band of rain falling from the amber clouds, so we decided to head for high ground and dig out the camera.

Once I was all set the lightning began. I was absolutely delighted to find such an amazing setting: the band of rain beneath the storm clouds, several bolts of brilliant lightning arcing from the ground, clouds aloft lit by cloud-to-cloud lightning, starry sky above the storm, and a celestial alignment of Venus, Jupiter, and the Pleiades ahead of its advance. That’s a packed photo!

What a blessing to have such a great vantage point for this storm. Despite going an hour early to the movie, we still had to sit in the absolute front row (albeit in the center). That wasn’t really bad seating, but certainly not optimal. Our view of this storm, however, couldn’t be finer.

It’s a good thing I took Friday off from work, because this storm was worth watching (and photographing) until after four in the morning. Some shots turned out better than others, but this one is pretty close to perfect. I’m so thankful we went out that night, and we had no idea we’d be treated to such an amazing spectacle.

Love tractor

Sunday night I went out on a limb to stay out late and chase the auroras with some friends. While they went for the wide shots on a hill overlooking our favorite farmstead (which we visit with permission), I decided to brave the dark alone and head toward a pile of old equipment. I knew I wanted another crack at photographing this baby, a nearly hundred-year-old Rumely Oil Pull kerosene-driven tractor!

A curious and somewhat protective owl landed just above me on an old threshing machine as its young screeched in a nearby tree. I used my 6-D-cell “Louisville Slugger” style Maglite to do some “light painting” on the tractor once I was set up in place. I got the tractor, the Northern Lights, and the Big Dipper in the shot, lit to my liking after many attempts. Evenly lighting something in the dark by waving a flashlight at it isn’t as easy as it may sound.

If you’d like to see what such a beast looked like in its heyday, check out this video of a restored 1921 model:

I love this machine and hope to photograph it again under different circumstances…thus the title of this post, also a reference to the name of one of my favorite 80’s Athens bands.