May is one of my favorites times of year for photography! The weather is warm but not too warm, the days are long but not too long, and the Milky Way is out for most of the night! Every year I take a trip to Joshua Tree National Park for my brother's birthday. I managed to book out campsite really early this year and got spot #1 at the Jumbo Rocks camp group. This was an amazing location because it was pretty central to some of the major landmarks like skull rock and the famous Juniper tree. It's surrounded by giant boulders and groves of Joshua Trees that are easy to hike around, climb, and get lost. On this trip the moon was waxing a crescent so we had fairly dark skies for most of the time. However the first night we had some slight cloud cover that stifled my chances of getting the rising Milky Way in the east. Making most of the situation I tried to get some star trails while waiting for the clouds to clear.
They never quite cleared for that long so I decided I'd head out a scout a location for sunrise for an image I've been after for a while. I wanted to capture a Joshua Tree silhouetted by and giant rising the sun or the moon. This mean I needed to find a daily flat location with a Jusura Tree eleven just slightly about the horizon so that I can get an unobstructed view from a very far distance. I found the perfect tree perched on a tiny mound and walked due west, the opposite of where the sun would be rising. Using my Photopills app I keep that special tree in my line of sight and about 1km away I set up my Sony A7sii with Tamron 150-600mm + 2 x teleconverter. I waited for a little while then just a planned the sun rose exactly behind the tree. My heart was racing and i snapped as many photos as I could not wanting to miss anything! I was so happy with this photo that I submitted it to this year's Joshua Tree National Park photo contest and it was selected! It will now be featured on every Joshua Tree park pass for next year! I couldn't be more honored becasue this is one of my favorite places to visit!
The next night my bothers and I started exploring the jumbo rocks that surrounded the campsite. There were so many incredible features but there was one that we had to capture. It was a lone Juniper tree seemingly fighting its way out of the rock and right along side is an eerily vertical standing boulder that seems to resemble a person. We came back later that night when the moon was getting ready to set, but we weren’t the only ones. There were a few people already there waiting for the same thing. Rather than get irritated or jockey for position we all decided to make the most of it and played around with differnt poses between the rock and tree. They offered such a weird and unique persecutive it ended up being really fun and some of my favorite images form the trip!
My wife and i always try to get out of town for our anniversary and this year she surprised me with a trip to Tulum Mexico. It is a beautiful tropical destination filled with warm Caribbean beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, and crystal clear cenote oases. We arrived on March 22 which was just after the Spring Equinox which is extra special to this area. On the morning of the spring equinox the Mayan Temple Chichen Itza comes alive and the sun casts a unique shadow of a serpent running down the side of the staircases. A sight we would have to save for next time, nonetheless we still got to see the wondrous ruins of the ancient city. It was hard to simply take in the sights and enjoy my time without taking my camera everywhere. Being right on the beach I couldn’t help by try to capture the Milky Way rising from the Caribbean Sea in the east. I really wanted to fly my drone and get some aerial shots of the denotes and Tulum ruins overlooking the coast but the wind was non stop the entire trip. O guess that just means we will have to return next year for the spring equinox.
The Milky Way has been rising earlier and earlier over the past couple of months and its finally clearly visible at decent time to get some astrophotography in. I couldn't think of a better place to kick off my Milky Way chasing this year than Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs is a quiet little desert town in between the Anza Borrego State park and the Salton Sea. This is a dark sky community which means there is very little light pollution and it's pretty flat and overall pretty open. It is also littered with unique metal sculptures of ancient and modern life that has existed in this area. Combine all this together and you have an astrophotographer's dream set up.
For this trip I wanted to experiment with some star trails and my lens ball while waiting for the Milky Way to rise. A lens ball is a simple glass sphere, but to me it really makes some images pop. The most prominent sculpture in the desert is a giant sea serpent that actually crosses the highway. I pulled up to this guy and set up two tripods, one for my lens ball and one for my camera. It actually took me about an hour to get the composition just right, I wanted to ensure that I had Polaris, the north star, as centered in the lens ball as possible to maximize the star trail. Once I was happy I set up the timelapse. I used my Sony A7Sii camera and my Sony Zeiss 24-70mm Lens at f8 60 sec and an ISO of 6400. I normally wouldn't want to shoot any astrophotography at f8 but since I was after star trails this allowed me to get more detail in the lens ball.
This January hosted a very unique astronomical event, the super blue blood moon. A supermoon is when the moon is closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit and can appear visually about 14% larger. A bluemoon is simply the second full moon in a calendar month. Finally, a blood moon is when there is a lunar eclipse and the moon turns a red/orange tint due the the spill over of sunlight around the edge of the Earth. I wanted to make the most of this event by traveling to a unique location and capture a rock climber silhouetted by the rising moon. I met with rock climber Jakob Chew and we decided on using the iconic rock climbing faces in Joshua Tree National Park for this photography project. There were lots of elements we needed to prepare for to make this shot happen.
That night the moon lit up Joshua Tree National Park so brightly it almost felt like daytime and we were ready to set up for the lunar eclipse, blood moon, shot. I really wanted to get a shot of an iconic Joshua Tree silhouetted by the Blood Moon. This proved to be very difficult to plan becasue the time the lunar eclipse would be reaching totality it would be about 30 degrees above the horizon, which meant I needed to find a location where I could be at a lower elevation than the Joshua tree I chose. It also meant I needed to be a great distance from the tree in order to use my large lenses or even my telescope. I found a spot in a dried up river bed with a Joshua Tree grove perched on a tiny hill above me that might work out. As the moon was starting to eclipse I was blown away by the vibrance of the red/orange color. I set up my telescope to capture a timelapse of the whole process. It was truly memorable. Once the moon started to drop in the sky I was able to line it up with some Joshua trees and I got a few shots of the blood moon setting behind them. I was not far enough away to use my telescope or super telephoto lenses so the subject to moon ratio was not as impressive as I had hoped. I was a little disappointed I did not completely fulfill my vision but thankfully there will be another blood moon in almost exactly one year!
I couldn't think of a better way to kick off the new year than with a fun winter wedding. On New Years Eve I was invited to photograph the wedding between two large and loving families in the midwestern city of Dubuque, Iowa. Just days before the wedding we received 5 inches of snow which perfectly blanked the city. The wedding day was crystal clear and beautiful which provided amazing backdrops for our photography session. The wedding was at the unique National Mississippi River Museum. This was amazing venue that provided lots of memorable spaces for this fun occasion. For this wedding I shot with my Sony A7S ii which was great for some of the low light conditions. I experimented with two flashes, the Sony HVLF32 M and the Canon Speedlite 430EX II. Both were comparable in price and versatility. I had hoped the Sony would be quicker to respond with the Sony camera but this was not the case. It recharged much faster but the Canon was quicker overall and much more versatile for the large open space of the museum. I'll have try them again to really see which I'll be using in the future.
In Palm Springs earlier this year there was an art exhibition called Desert X. Artists from differnt parts of the world were invited to make work that responds to the unique conditions of the desert in the area. Artis Doug Aitken built a house made completely out of mirrors. This house stands on top of a hill overlooking the valley of Palm Springs. It's an amazing site during the day but really comes alive at night! I took a trip up there at night and could not put my camera down. So many amazing compositions with the city lights, the mountains, and the stars reflecting off of every surface. I had been planning on visiting this site for a while and I really wanted to get a photograph of star trails on one of the reflected surfaces. I spent one evening scouting the place out. Testing different shots and looking for the best angle that would highlight the star trails. I returned for a second night during a new moon and got exactly what I wanted. I set up my Sony A7S ii and my Rokinon 14mm wide angle lens close to the north face of the house. I wanted to get Polaris reflecting off the north face of the house and star trails circling around it with the background of actual stars streaking in the distance. I didn't know for sure if I had it lined up right becasue I was working just off the reflection in the mirror. After two hours of exposures I was really excited I was lined up perfectly! The final composition took 60 x 30 sec images shot a f.28 and ISO of 1000. I stacked all the images in StarStaX. This was one of my more adventurous and creative shots of this year, I was very proud I was able to turn my vision into a reality!
This summer all of America obsessed over the solar eclipse. I had wanted to travel to experience the totality of the eclipse because southern California was only going to get a view of partial coverage. I had just become a new father so traveling was out of the picture so I tried to plan for a unique shot nonetheless. I was inspired by a photographer who took an amazing silhouette of a skier backlit during an eclipse. I was after the same type of image and contacted my friend at Red Bull to see what we might be able to pull off. The eclipse was going to happen mid morning which meant the sun would be really high in the sky and not that easy to line up any action sports unless the vantage from the photographer to the subject was just right. We decided the best way to achieve this was with a sky diver!
When the day finally came we set up during a beautiful hot and clear morning. A whole plane of sky divers took off and we waited in anticipation for them to drop. While waiting I got to practice shooting a plane that just happen to cross the sun, I was able to only catch the tail end of it. Getting sky divers was going to be vary difficult. Once the sky divers started to get into view my friend spotted them and gave me a heads up as they got close. We was literally just shooting in the dark. I needed to wait for their shadow to cross over me and just keep my finger on the shutter and hope for the best. I got a lot of close calls and a few shots of parachutes in different corners of the frame. I didn't know what I got until all the sky divers had landed and I could review the footage. My heart exploded when I saw the one shot that had the sky diver in just the right position. I was relieved and excited we pulled it off!
This summer has been very busy for me, I got to travel to Virginia, Iowa, and Nicaragua all the while preparing for the birth of my first baby. I wanted to take advantage of every clear dark sky that I could before spending my night bottle feeding in place of star tracking. Here are a few of my favorites from Iowa. Yes Iowa is the home to the field of dreams and it really did feel like I was smack dab in the middle of that movie. Corn fields as long as the eye could see means there were some very dark and clear skies. I played around a lot with different lighting and compositions of the fields before the moon rose and these two are my favorite shots.
The few weeks that I was home during this summer I took a few trips to the San Diego Astronomy association private telescope pads at Tierra del Sol. This is located in Campo very close to the US/Mexico border which meant the the skies were very dark and clear. I knew it would be my last chance to get some images of the Lagoon and Eagle Nebula before the galactic center of the Milky Way would no longer be visible. I was pretty happy with the result. Both images were comprised of about 60 10sec stacked on each other. I have been using the program Regim for my stacking and I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.
I also spent a lot of time playing around with some of my other astrophotography from throughout the year. I am a huge fan of Star Talk Radio hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and I was very inspired by what he had to say during a live panel on how to improve science and education in the United States. I turned some of my favorite original astrophotography from this year into 2.5 Dimensional video and threw in some cosmic music. Enjoy!
It has become an annual tradition that my brothers and I go camping at Joshua Tree National park to celebrate our eldest brother's birthday. This year we got a jump on our reservations and booked an amazing site at the Indian Cove campground. Joshua Tree is a very popular destination for all kinds of outdoors people and this site was ideal for anyone wanting to rock climb, go hiking, or just be out in the night to enjoy to clear, dark skies. We were stoked to have a campsite right in the middle of the campground, surrounded by giant boulders to our north and beautiful mountains to our south. It was a perfect spot for setting up some night time astrophotography. Days are getting longer so it took a while before we could set up my telescope and do all the proper alignments. Once the night finally came, it was very easy to align my 8" Celestron Edge HD Schmidt Cassegrain. We spend the night imaging several different galaxies I have never tried before, the Sombrero Galaxy, M83, and Bode's Galaxy.