As I sat by the window of the living room last night, the incessant flashes of lightning outside kept on catching my eye. Mainly 'sheet lightning' away behind the cloud, illuminating that foreboding sky as it crept slowly across the horizon.
After a good 20 minutes or so, streaks of lighting suddenly began darting through the air between the horizon and the clouds. At first I just watched, but as they become more frequent and, in some sense at least, more reliable; I got the camera gear out and set up for very long exposures using the tripod, timer and some heavy manipulation of the aperture, ISO and shutter speed to capture multiple strikes. I 'lost' the sky and city to burnt out highlights as expected, but simply took another two much shorter exposures to capture them correctly, later merging them to make one correctly exposed frame.
Not my usual thing but worth shooting, not just for the photography practice but for the impressive number of lightning strikes too. I stayed dry on the balcony with my camera gear, in humid heavy air getting bitten repeatedly by passing mozzies....worth it I think. .
6766 years ago, our ancestors watched the last pass of Neowise; the retrograde comet currently illuminating our night skies with the most wonderful, languid orbit. Obviously, the comet would have had a different name back then, and it would have brought along with it, great foreboding for those few homo sapiens observing it's progress across the night sky. Thankfully we're no longer tied to ancient ritual and superstition, says I, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Fortunately for me, last night the horizon was also filled with noctilucent clouds, I have seen these several times but never understood exactly what they were, until a few weeks ago when I looked them up. They are comprised entirely of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere and only visible during astronomical twilight, so, as they say in Canada, this is a twofer.
My image today isn't anywhere near portfolio work, it's a memory, and a wonderful one at that. As I have said repeatedly, this is why I love photography, the ability to capture a moment and keep it forever is still, to me, a genuinely remarkable thing.
Here is a comet made of dust, rock and ice, hurtling through space 250 million kilometres (150 million miles) from our great blue planet, which is itself, hurtling through space. This remarkable waltz on an infinite dance floor, is visible from earth only every six and a half thousand years or so. Yet, this evening, from my own balcony at home, I have captured this once in a hundred lifetimes event. As I wrote some time ago when I made an image of mercury in transit across the sun, what a spectacular place we live in, and what wonders it provides.
From the balcony of my home in Alberta, Canada, I see little of the sunset for much of the year. But springtime brings the sun on it's long, slow, northern journey to a point beyond the foothills within reach of my camera. I am fortunate to see many great sunsets from the balcony, but because I do, I photograph few of them.
But, as the sun reached it's northern maximum this week, it put on another wonderful display and I couldn't resist making a few images of the spectacular skies above the foothills. I made this simple three shot panorama with my 100 - 400 mm lens, at 135 mm handheld, though I do use a deck pillar to support my elbows. Aperture is f/5.6 and ISO at 200. I kept only a small portion of the foothills using the extended rule of thirds principle to give more of the frame to the sky, exaggerating the scale.
The colours move wonderfully from blue, through red to yellow, before contrasting with the black silhouette of the mountains beneath. The red diagonal from lower left to upper right carries us through the image rather than it being staged in straight lines, and the dark upper, works well with the silhouetted lower portion to form a letterbox vignette across the whole frame.
Admittedly, it's not an image for the portfolio but it's a wonderful memory of the summer solstice 2020 and an evening with my wife watching the sunset, what could be better.
We all have one, to be honest we all have a number of them. Those locations that didn't work out on the day, the only day or time we had there, and we missed. They stick in our minds and bug us, like fishermen who are landing a huge fish, and after a good battle they are nearing the net, only to see the prize slip from the hook and elude capture, here's one of my 'fish'.
During a road trip to Grasslands National Park I found a tree on the Saskatchewan prairie that was perfect. Sitting in a clear dip in the land, and able to be picked out of the landscape entirely, leaving only the sky behind it as a background, what potential. Except on the day I was there it was green, lush spring green with a blue sky behind and more lush green grass in the foreground. I grabbed a shot in order to remember the location and potential but it didn't do justice to the possibility here.
Months later I found myself passing the location in the fall, it's quite close to the main highway, so I turned onto the gravel track and made the detour. This time the little cottonwood tree was turning, past it's best but still beautiful. The grass in the foreground was dried and yellowing in the late autumn sun. I drove a good way past as planned, and then stopped to make the shot. I used the 100 - 400 mm lens at 400 mm with an aperture of f5.6 to blur the foreground further reducing the impact of the grass and better isolating the tree. The low sun clipped across the top of the grasses in the foreground and caught the tree with all it had on the day, but that wasn't much. The setting sun was weak and shrouded in low hazy cloud, leaving the sky a flat fading blue.
Don't get me wrong, it's a nice shot, but it's not the shot I had envisioned. I still believe the right sunrise here would make for a spectacular image, that's the one I thought of as soon as I saw the location.. A good sunset might do the same as the tree can be shot from either side but there could be some composition issues due to access constraints from the other side. A milky way over the tree, starlight shot with a little light painting, or star trail shot could also work, but for me the right sunrise is the shot.
In the mean time I'll make do with this image as a reminder of one of my top ten 'one that got away' locations.
Last night I was shooting a beautiful sunset from my balcony at home. Storm clouds drifted overhead at the right altitude to attract that beautiful light from the setting sun. I made a number of wide shots, capturing the scene as a whole, but found myself picking out cloud shapes and colours, in ever smaller areas as the light faded.
I always have my 70 - 200 mm telephoto for sunset shoots, because isolating a spot of light and making it the focus of your shot often works tremendously well. Don't get me wrong, a wide angle sunset is always stunning but the view from my balcony, though nice, is not landscape worthy.
I shot an almost perfect donut cloud, and another that resembled an explosion, but as the light faded toward the blue hour I spotted this 'mayfly' coming in to land behind a foreground storm. I couldn't believe my luck and fired off just two frames before it changed to more of a blob and was lost. I really like this shot. The clouds in the foreground framing the only splash of colour remaining as it sits within the lighter blue/grey background, with the 'wings' glowing in the fading light as the body arcs toward a resting place.
So, this week is a different sort of artistic interpretation for the blog, isn't it great how many different ways we can find beauty with a camera in our hands.
Alberta, Canada has begun the slow road to recovery from the Covid nightmare. The local and provincial parks are now open to all, and I took the opportunity to escape to my favourite sunset location with my lovely wife, by way of celebration. It was a real surprise to find we had the whole area to ourselves. Perhaps the length of the day (sunset is now just after 9 pm) put off many who might otherwise make the trip. Perhaps they didn't notice the opening of the parks as it wasn't exactly "shouted from the rooftops", perhaps they just weren't as fed up of their home and garden as I, whatever their reasoning, I am so pleased that they let us have the place to ourselves.
My wife and I had a lovely evening snack of sultana filled danish pasties, and hot tea, as we watched the early spring sunshine illuminate the mountains opposite. Low cloud to the west reduced the impact of the sunset but the wonderfully calm water of the lower lake reflected what colour there was and it was beautiful to observe.
The trip wasn't about photography, it was about getting out there again and enjoying an evening in the mountains with my wife. As we watched the last light fall on those spectacular monoliths opposite, a Great Horned Owl broke the silence with his easily identifiable call which reverberated around the still waters and completed the evening perfectly.
It feels so incredibly good to be out again, hopefully there will be more frequent posts now as I return to my landscape pursuits in earnest. I wish you all a speedy return to normality and the joys of your chosen genre of photography.
Covid 19 continues to keep us all firmly ensconced in our homes and there is only so much TV we can watch. So, why not get enthusiastic about photography again by planning some trips you're going to take in the future. It doesn't have to be an immediate thing directly following the return to normal, but anything you want; your photography bucket list.
It could be a local day trip to a park, desert, or mountains, it could be a world tour, or anything in between. But as part of your planning, ensure you work out where you will shoot, the time of day and all the equipment you'll need. Think about how you'll get there, and back, will you take a friend or loved one along to enjoy the day with you, or will you go alone. Will it be part of a larger holiday where you steal a day for image making, or will it be a specific photography day or days.
For me it will be a road trip, and , if the border with the US is open it will most likely be south, initially toward northern California and the stunning redwoods there (see todays image). Then onward across the deserts and prairies toward the east coast, calling in on friends in Oklahoma and Tennessee along the way.
If the border remains closed, I will take a Canadian road trip through Saskatchewan to Manitoba, this time via the northern areas of these two provinces. From Manitoba I may just keep on going to the east coast, there's so much to see and do along the way and I've always wanted to see Newfoundland, what an epic trip that would be.
That's it. I'm heading to the maps right now and I'm planning both, and before this year is out I will have made one of them, or perhaps, joined them together to make a mega trip. I can already feel the pull of the highway and the excitement of the next image along the way.......where are you going?
In October 2017, on a road trip to North Carolina from my home in Calgary, Canada I made an overnight stop in 'small town America'. I had considered stopping in Kansas City, but I much prefer the small towns so I carried on for an hour or so heading south east until I reached Clinton.
Once I had found a hotel and refreshed myself from the journey, I set out to locate a venue for dinner and was pleasantly surprised to find the most picturesque town square. The red brick buildings were adorned with awnings fighting a losing battle with the setting sun, their colours so vibrant against the cobalt blue sky. I really enjoyed the moment of just being there, and I made a nice shot capturing the extended perspective of the shop fronts leading down to the town water tower.
I have always enjoyed the shot I made here, I enjoyed this little town, the warmth of the setting sun, and the vibrant colour of the buildings. But, as the Covid 19 lock in continues and I trawl my hard drive for images to share, I decided to try a black and white conversion which I think turned out well. I don't really have a preference for either one, I really do like them both, but more than that, I like the memory of this little town and another fantastic road trip.
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