Saturday, July 16, 2016

Galactic Sky

We're moving from our current location north-west of Brisbane, halfway between Woodford and Kilcoy, into what's often called 'town'; meaning the suburbs of the city or even—shock and horror!—the city center or inner suburbs. Reasons for the move are manifold, but mainly it's all about living closer to our daughters, who live in the not-too-outer northern suburbs of Brisbane, and one of whom is expecting a child. Having to drive for 1+ hours to get there is impractical when it may be necessary to be there in a short time.

It being July, this is the time of the most impressive night-sky around this area of the world you're likely to get all year. But despite not a street light within 10+ km, light pollution from the city and nearby towns in the east and south-east has been creeping up steadily over the eight years we've been here; and now even on the clearest, coldest, and driest of nights we now have an ugly patch of glow on the horizon. It takes one of the attractions out of living here; and though what we can see from here is still better than anything you'll see in even outlying Brisbane suburbia, it's a perpetual reminder that our urbanized civilization is killing one of the most mythical visual experiences that our ancestors enjoyed as a matter of routine.

So, being in the process of selling our house, the time for me to take night sky images by just going out on the back of our 5.5 acre property is coming to a close, and so I thought it was time—in between unseasonal rains and the inconvenient timetable of the moon!—to go out and take some pictures.

As already mentioned, the outstanding feature of the night-sky around this time of year during civilized hours is the center of our galaxy. Here's a panoramic shot from my shoot a few days ago, composited very capably by Photoshop, despite being taken with a 16mm wide angle lens.

Note that this looks recognizable like to the famous composite that I look at as a kind of gold-standard reference image from ESO.

The way to get that image it to basically align your composite images as you would align an equatorial telescope. (For an explanation check out this link.) And, as you can see in the first image, the price you pay for that is a distortion of the Earthly objects around you. Of course, if you only snap a small section of the galaxy, the curvature is not as noticeable.

As people following full-sky astro-photography may have noticed, there is a current trend—I hesitate to call it a 'fashion', or even 'fad', though it's getting there—to take images that display the galaxy in a terrestrial context, with even panoramas effectively using the horizon as a reference. This produces some very spectacular images, like the one below.

Cool images, I admit, but I prefer something that focuses on representing what's really out there—and that is the galaxy, with the Sun pretty much smack in the center (along an axis perpendicular to the screen you're looking at in the image below) somewhere between two of its arms.

Viewing a clear night sky with this knowledge and dark-adapted vision, can make viewing a near-mystical experience. I know it has done it to me, if only I allow myself to surrender to the kind of perception-of-space that needed for it.

And I prefer to attempt to capture some of this feeling—preferably without compositing images that actually don't belong together, as is often done. As I hope you can see from the photos below—some taken from our property, and some others near Stanthorpe, Queensland—it is possible; even making use of the ugly light pollution and the lights from cars along the highway down the hill from where we live.

All of these images were taken with a Nikon D610, ISO 1000-1600, f 4-5.6, 15-20 s exposure—all depending on the circumstances. The lens almost always was my trusty Tokina 11-16, designed for DX sensors, but working just fine at 16 mm on an FX body.

The first image here in showing the Moon, setting behind trees in a wisp of clouds at the start of the shoot.

The strip of lights at the bottom in the next image is the D'Aguilar Highway; with lights of a few passing cars illuminating the trees lining the road. The Southern Cross and Coal Sack are prominent. The Magellanic Clouds are rising from behind the hills.

And that's out house, taken from two points of view. The first is shooting to the north; the second to the south-east.

From near Stanthorpe. You may have see some of these before. Taken in May, so the galactic center is quite near the horizon. Also, I used a different set of Adobe Camera RAW presets to process these. Still experimenting with what works best and when.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Looking at Death

There are some days when life holds up a sign and says "Pay Attention!" A few days ago this happened, as I not only chanced upon a little Singaporean Gecko that obviously had croaked it in the cold of the night, but also across a grotesque dried-out mouse corpse. And, of course, I couldn't resist...

 now only a shadow

still screaming
death in the night