I’m posting early this week to give you a little advanced notice on an upcoming astronomical event.
A Great Conjunction is when the planets Jupiter and Saturn appear closest together in the night sky. The one happening next Monday (21 December) is the closest they’ve been since 1623. Here’s a Wikipedia article with more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_conjunction
Io, Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, and Saturn (bottom to top)
These planets are much brighter than their moons, so to get an image with a little detail in the planets and still show the moons requires stacking multiple frames. This one is a total of 5 frames – 4 for the planets (exposed at ISO 800, f/9, 1/250); and 1 frame for the moons (ISO 800, f/9, 1/40). It’s been heavily cropped and then digitally zoomed with ML Super Res in Pixelmator Pro.
Here’s a diagram from the SkySafari program identifying the objects and their positions for tonight.
And this is the diagram updated for Monday night:
These are at the same scale, so you can see how much closer they’ll be on the 21st.
I’m hoping the weather will be clear. If so, I plan to at least make another image using tonight’s approach. But I’m also thinking about digging out my telescope. I haven’t used it in a long time. If I can get it running and aligned I should be able to make a little better photo. I guess I’ll see…
Are you going to try and photograph this? If so, I’d really like to see your images.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – capture a conjunction!
Clouds last night were challenging. This was the scene at sunset:
And this is how it looked once it was dark enough to see the conjunction:
I went ahead and made some frames and this is the best of the bunch (same approach as above except I didn’t use ML Super Res in Pixelmator Pro this time). Click on this one to view a larger version on Flickr.
Great Conjuction, 12-21-2020. Left to right: Callisto, Io, Ganymede, Jupiter, Europa, Saturn
I did get the telescope out and tested. It seems to work fine but given the seeing conditions, I didn’t take time to set up and use it. I think I’ll save that for a future project when those two planets are higher in the sky (although not in conjunction!).
I’ve seen some awesome images of Comet Neowise C/2020 F3. I’m sure you have too. Did you make any photos of it? Then you might have a better image than you think, just waiting to be processed. Let me explain.
Lynn and I went up to Central Winds Park in Winter Springs to see if we could spot Neowise. This park is on the south shore of Lake Jesup and has less light pollution to the north than we do in our neighborhood. Once it was dark enough, we could easily find it in binoculars, but it was very hard to pick up with just our eyes.
I went back a few days later with my long lens to try for a close up.
Neowise. Central Winds Park. 7/19/20. 3 exposure stack, 600mm, f/6.3, 2s, ISO 3200 – 6400
I made a lot of frames of the comet on that trip, trying to find optimal settings for a single exposure. Almost all of the really spectacular images that you’ve seen are probably from a tracking mount, with multiple frames that are aligned, stacked, and processed together to reduce noise and bring out faint detail. I wasn’t trying to do any of that.
But after several attempts to get the best image I could out of what I’d captured, I realized I might have multiple frames I could stack too. So going back through my RAW captures I found three photos to try. They weren’t ideal since they were at different ISOs but I thought it was worth a shot. Here’s a before / after of a single RAW image compared to a stacked composite from three frames.
If you’re an astrophotographer, you already know all this. And you probably have some task specific software to align / stack / process images. If you’re not an astronomy buff, then do a web search for “photoshop manual align astro layers” and you’ll find a lot of info on how to do this without any extra programs – which is how I processed mine.
This is only the 3rd or 4th comet I’ve seen and the very first that I’ve tried to photograph. The first one I saw was Halley’s Comet back in 1986. I remember how exciting it was to show it to Lynn and Mike. I had a camera (and a telescope) then, but photos like these with that equipment would have been next to impossible. Photography has come such a long way!
So, if you made any Neowise photos, sort through them for frames you can try to stack. You may be surprised at the improvement you can get.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Hang in there and take care of each other. And if you can – stack some photos!
Big Cypress National Preserve is a 729,000 acre swamp in South Florida adjacent to Everglades National Park. It was originally going to be part of that, but instead was established as a national preserve in 1974.
I’ve wanted to visit for years and finally went down a couple of weeks ago. I stayed at the bungalow Clyde Butcher rents behind his Big Cypress Gallery along Tamiami Trail. This is a “first impressions” blog post, not a guide. I don’t know the area well enough to give you a comprehensive review.
Butcher’s Pond. Next to Clyde Butcher’s gallery on Tamiami Trail
The bungalow was very nice and provided a good base for exploration. I do wish there was cell service or that they provided an internet connection – although I guess you could argue that being cut off is part of the swamp experience!
Big Cypress is huge and there are a lot of places to check out. And even more places if you include Everglades National Park. For me, the southern portion of the Everglades was just too far away from where I stayed so I concentrated on nearby spots including Kirby Storter Park, Fakahatchee Strand, Loop Road, Shark Valley, and a few others. There was a lot I didn’t get to – I need to go back!
Pre-dawn stars and clouds, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
Kirby Storter was only a few minutes away and I hoped to take advantage of dark skies and catch site of the Milky Way from there. I did manage to glimpse it but clouds rolled in towards dawn and I had to make do with a starry pre-dawn photo instead. I can tell you that I felt very alone out there in the middle of the swamp at 5am. It was dark (no moon) and hard to see very far – kinda spooky. But I also felt pretty safe because every time I moved a bit, the crickets went silent. I figured they’d warn me if anything large got close!
Cypress swamp, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
There’s a lovely, short hike along a boardwalk that leads back into the swamp next to some flowing water and ends at a large gator hole.
Red-shouldered Hawk Pair. Fakahatchee Strand State Park
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park was close too. It’s the largest state park in Florida and Janes Memorial Scenic Drive is an eleven mile dirt road leading from the visitor center back into the swamp. There’s only about six miles open right now due to damage from Hurricane Irma. You can drive this yourself like I did, or take a guided tram ride.
I was busy trying to make landscape photos when a lady hawk (the one on the left) started calling in the tree next to me. I thought she was yelling at me for being too close, but it turned out she was calling for her mate. He flew in and they had a “conjugal visit” while I rushed back to the car to get my longer lens. I missed the action, but did get a nice family photo of the pair afterward.
Fakahatchee Strand 4, color
There are a great many views of this lovely swamp along the scenic drive. It took me a long time to go out six miles and back because I stopped so often to photograph.
Loop Road Cypress and Sawgrass
Loop Road is another scenic area. Both ends connect to Tamiami Trail and I explored those, but didn’t travel the whole twenty six mile route. Next time!
On my visit, I mainly focused on landscape images although I did see and photograph some wildlife – mainly in Shark Valley. There were alligators, turtles, and a lot of birds – most were the same ones we see up here in Central Florida although I did sight a yellow crowned night Heron which isn’t very common in my usual spots. There were also a lot of small birds / warblers that I should have spent some time photographing / identifying.
This was a good time of year to visit. It’s considered the “dry season” and in additon to the comfortable temperatures, I got zero bug bites even though I didn’t use any bug spray the whole time.
You could spend a lifetime exploring there. I stayed for three nights and was very tired when I got home but only touched the surface. Things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Corkscrew Swamp, a swamp buggy tour, a swamp walk, an airboat ride, the Indian reservations and many others. Things to look forward to!
Cypress and air plants, IR B&W
Location scouting is a huge part of good landscape photography. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of scouting in advance. You know that an area is special when you can come back from your first visit with photos you really like. Big Cypress is extra special – a Central Florida Photo Ops Must Do!
We should all be grateful that we’ve preserved places like Big Cypress and the Everglades and that we’re working to restore them to their natural state.
I’ve been using the iPhone 11 Pro camera for a bit and thought I’d post some sample photos and a few photographer type thoughts about it this week.
This isn’t a comprehensive review – you can find many of those on the web if that’s what you need. This also isn’t a “should you buy it” post. That’s a personal decision only you can make.
Morning Light on a Majestic Oak. I think I’m going to like the 13mm eq. FOV ultra-wide lens
The iPhone 11 Pro has three cameras and the ultra-wide is new this year. It’s a bit limited compared to the other two: It’s widest aperture is f/2.4 so it doesn’t gather as much light. It also doesn’t have stabilization, it’s fixed focus, doesn’t support RAW format, and doesn’t support night mode.
Wide angle at the mall
I’m not sure why Apple designed this camera with those limitations. But at a 13mm eq. field of view, it truly is ultra-wide. That’s going to be very handy in a lot of situations, especially where the light is good. It’ll probably mean I use panorama mode on the phone a lot less. And I think one of the main benefits of the ultra-wide is the inputs it provides for computations Apple can do.
Narwhal the kitten helping me test portrait mode
Narwhal modeled for me so I could test the latest Apple implementation of portrait mode. I think his image above looks great and would be pretty hard to tell apart from one taken with a high end camera and a large aperture lens.
That’s because I corrected some issues with the way the phone algorithms rendered depth of field in the original photo. Things like whiskers and hair are difficult to show correctly. Look at the image below to see what I’m talking about. Click on it to open, and then click again to enlarge.
Correcting depth of field flaws
Look at the crop on the left – it’s the Portrait Mode photo produced by the phone. If you’ve enlarged it, you can see that Narwhal’s whiskers have been clipped by inaccuracies in the algorithm. Bright highlights and low contrast have confused the depth map info. The middle photo is with portrait mode turned off. In that one, all of his whiskers are visible with no depth of field / bokeh effects. On the right side and in the full image I blended some of the middle image with the left one to show the focus rolling off more naturally.
Portrait mode has improved this year. You can make portraits with both the wide and tele cameras. And the depth mapping algorithms are better – but they can still be improved. You may not notice or care much about these things and compared to previous attempts, the algorithms are better and the results look great. Important photos could be manually edited to fix them. If we can do this manually, eventually the software wizards will figure out how to automate it into the phone algorithms. iPhone 12 super pro?
I complained last year, that other phones had low light modes and Apple didn’t. They listened to me (ha ha) and added it.
Night mode street scene
I think it captures low light situations very nicely. And the image stabilization is unbelievably good. I made this next photo of the constellation Orion in my back yard, hand held!
There are other changes that I haven’t tried yet and don’t have examples of.
If you shoot in landscape mode with the wide (1x) camera, it saves information outside the frame using the ultra-wide. This allows you to correct perspective distortion or rotate your images after capture without cropping(!).
“Deep fusion” is still in beta. It captures multiple frames and combines them pixel by pixel for the best results. The demos are super interesting and I’m looking forward to trying it.
What about RAW format and manual control?
So many of the improvements in phone cameras now come through software. But the hardware has changes too. In addition to a third camera, the sensors and lenses in the wide and tele cameras are improved. And (except for the ultra-wide) they have all the RAW format and manual control capability they’ve always had, with a little better output.
A touch of color. 4 RAW frames, stitched and processed in Lightroom / Photoshop
So manual control is still possible. The question is: “When should I bypass auto mode and use manual?”
With the software getting so good, and so much computation going on in the background, there are more and more reasons to use these cameras in automatic mode. As a photographer, you’ll need to really understand your phone camera capabilities and be able to wisely choose when to bypass it. For common situations, I think the answer is becoming “Use auto, most of the time”.
Should you give away your non-phone cameras? No, not yet. Phones are still at a disadvantage in some ways: Lens selection and sensor size are two important ones. And the interfaces on dedicated cameras are better and allow quicker control. But in some (many?) cases, your phone is an excellent photo (and video!) tool. And they’re going to get better. Just make sure you’re up to date on how to use the latest functions.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
You might not consider Nassau a “Central Florida Photo Op”, but I do. It’s one of many places that are very accessible via cruise ports in our area. We left from Fort Lauderdale, but Tampa, Port Canaveral, Miami and other places offer cruises to many destinations. If you haven’t tried one, check it out.
We’ve been to Nassau several times and wouldn’t normally think of it as our favorite port. But this time we had a wonderful visit and got to see (and taste) a lot of new things. Highly recommended! I’ve embedded links to most of the places above. Please click on them for more info. And you can see more Bahamas images in this folder on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
This morning, we’re waiting to see what Hurricane Irma is going to do and it looks like it might pass directly over Bahia Honda State Park as a Cat 4 or Cat 5 storm. It’s hard to imagine the damage that could result.
Lynn and I returned from the Florida Keys a week ago. We spent a couple of days in Key West and then were lucky enough to stay in one of the 6 cabins at Bahia Honda State Park for 3 more days. They’re built on stilts but even so are only about 10 -15 feet above the ocean. And we felt them swaying at times while we were there – even in good weather.
The cabins are on the right side of the overseas highway as you head down to the keys. They’re furnished with everything you need for a great Florida vacation. And the location on a beautiful lagoon is wonderful. These next three photos were all made on the patio, just a few steps from the cabin door:
Loggerhead Sea Turtle – The ranger told us that turtles, dolphin, and tarpon like the lagoon because it’s so quiet and protected. We’d see one or more of Loggerheads from the cabin porch almost every time we stepped out to look. We also saw Tarpon rolling on the surface a few times and maybe a dolphin or two.
Sunset Fishing – You can fish in the lagoon by the cabins, but other water activity isn’t allowed. We often saw campers fishing there.
Another view from the cabin porch. The skies at Bahia Honda are some of the darkest in Florida. Lynn and I got up at about 1:30am on our first night. The moon had set and we had a stunning view of this part of the Milky Way, right from the patio. And the bugs weren’t biting too much!
The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is about 8 miles southwest of Bahia Honda and snorkeling trips leave for the reef twice a day. It was a relaxing swim – the water temperature was in the high 80’s, which can cause storms to strengthen.
Looe Key Sergeant majors and others – The visibility wasn’t very good the day were were there, but the number of fish we saw was still impressive.
There are also 72 campsites in the Park. Many of them are in awesome locations too.
Between the bridges – This is at sunset, between the old abandoned bridge on the left and the new one on the right. You can see some of the lovely Bahia Honda campsites on the left side of the frame.
Lynn and I thought of this visit to Bahia Honda as a “scouting trip”. Based on what we saw, we definitely want to go back.
To everyone in Irma’s path and to everyone impacted by Harvey: We’re thinking of you.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – stay safe in the storm!
Did any of you notice the solar eclipse in the US last week? Here at Central Florida Photo Ops HQ we certainly did! And even though the full moon covered “only” ~85% of the sun, it was still an awe-inspiring show.
Our experience in Winter Springs started with heavy rain and thick cloud cover, but the sky quickly cleared and from then on we had an amazing view. I put together this time-lapse movie with ten photos I made at about ten minutes intervals :
To set up my camera, I first focused manually on a very distant tree and taped down the focus ring. Then I spent some time figuring out exposure so detail on the sun’s surface would show. The sun is really bright! I put two stacked neutral density filters in front of my lens to cut the light by about 11 stops. I ended up shooting in manual exposure mode at ISO 64, f/16, and 1/1000 sec at 800mm equivalent focal length. For insurance, I also bracketed around that base exposure. Luckily there were a few sunspots to see:
Sunspots on the surface
We had two other roving photographers on assignment to help document the eclipse. Kevin McKinney was in Orlando south of us. He noticed the sun shining through a tree and made the photo below. Small openings between the leaves were acting as pinhole lenses and focusing multiple images of the crescent sun on the ground. I’m glad he noticed this, I didn’t think to look:
Eclipses are fun to think about. They’re such a huge coincidence! The Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun, and the Sun is 400 times farther way. So they’re the same apparent size in the sky – that can’t be very common in the universe. We don’t see one very often because the Moon’s orbit tilts with respect to Earth’s orbit around the sun. And since the moon is slowly moving away from the earth, the geometry will be ruined after another billion years.
You can click on any of these photos to look at larger versions. I hope you were able to see this stunning event and get some photos of your own. If not, the next one in the US is in 2024.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go be amazed by rare natural phenomenon. And make some photos!
Our visit to Shenandoah National Park this year was extremely enjoyable (mentally not physically!) relaxing, and cooler than back here in Central Florida (highs there in the 70s). It was also interesting from a photography perspective and different from last year’s trip. I did a lot of sunset / night photography and didn’t try very hard to get up early every morning for sunrise.
We were fortunate with seeing conditions on the night we arrived. There were no clouds, and the Milky Way center was above the horizon for about two hours after moon set. Shenandoah has dark skies and the large cleared meadow near the lodge provides wonderful views all around the compass. Lynn hadn’t ever really seen the Milky Way before and I’ve never seen it this well. We were both amazed, and I was also impressed with how much detail my Nikon D800 was able to capture.
Big Meadows Milky Way. Three frame panorama, 24mm lens, manual focus and exposure, ISO 2500, f/1.8, 20 seconds.
Lynn is a big fan of meteor showers, and due to a gravity assist from Jupiter, the Perseid was predicted to be spectacular this year. We set the alarm for 1am the night it was forecast to peak and went out to watch. The area around Big Meadows was crowded with over a hundred people watching the show, and each overlook had cars parked with more people observing. It was a good show. Here’s one of my photos from that morning.
A Perseid Meteor and a cloud in front of part of the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy – From Old Rag View Overlook on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. 24mm lens, manual focus and exposure, ISO 3200, f/1.8, 20 seconds.
I tried sunset photos on most nights. The sky wasn’t as dramatic as I’ve seen it in the past, but there were many wildflowers in bloom helping to make up for that.
The end of the day – Looking out over Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive. The wildflowers were beautiful when we were there. Two frame composite, manual masking in Photoshop.
And storms also added interest. We watched this one develop from the balcony outside our room at the lodge.
Shenandoah Storm – A storm built up to the west at sunset. As seen from our balcony at Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park. Multi-frame panorama.
Dark Hollow Falls is one of the most popular places in Shenandoah. When we drove by on Sunday, the parking area was overflowing with cars. We waited until the next morning to hike down. Last year, I didn’t make it to these falls and used one of my 20-year-old photos to illustrate it. For some reason, the hike (especially the return up from the falls) is more difficult than it was when I was 20 years younger. Hmm – I wonder why? This is from very near the same place, and a horizontal, wider view. I like this one too.
Dark Hollow Falls. 14mm equivalent FOV, ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/13 seconds, Olympus hires mode.
We did a bit more hiking this year than last and went on trails we hadn’t tried before. Rose River Falls and Black Rock Mountain were two new favorites. Another one we hiked was Pocosin Trail. It was interesting, although I didn’t like it as much as the others. Maybe it was because of one sentence in the trail guide: “Soon the trail flattens.” It never did!
You can see larger versions of the photos above by clicking on them and more photos from Shenandoah in this album on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I’ve been busy recently learning all about the Raspberry Pi computer and using it on a project for our home. It’s incredible how much capability you can buy today for $35. Anyway, the project (especially learning to code in Python!) has left me with little time for photo excursions. So this week I’ll have to show you some photos I managed to make from our yard.
I made this first photo standing on our front walk, just before last month’s full moon. I like the way the sun was hitting the clouds. It’s a single frame, handheld, and slightly underexposed to keep detail showing on the moon.
Pretty moon tonight
Lynn put a small statue of St. Francis in our front flower garden. This brown anole likes to bask there in the morning sun.
St. Francis and the lizard
And last, an update on our backyard visitors. The cardinal pair built a nest on our neighbor’s patio and raised one chick that’s now fledged and fully grown.
But for the last couple of weeks, we haven’t seen too many smaller birds in the yard. Perhaps it’s due to this:
The hawk on the lamp-post
I’ve seen this Red-shouldered Hawk sitting on the lamp-post on several mornings recently. It doesn’t seem to scare the lizards, but small birds don’t like having it around.
By the way, the basics of my Raspberry Pi project are working, so I should have more time now for photography.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
I’ve been away for the last week and caught a bad cold on the trip. I got home last night and I’m feeling better today although I don’t have the energy for a long blog post. Sorry.
I’ll be back next week and I promise to provide more photos and info. Here’s one image to whet your appetite. This is a 20 second exposure at f/2.2 and ISO 1600, under the darkest skies I’ve ever seen. The Milky Way was easily visible even though the brightest part was below the horizon.
Two galaxies – Andromeda Galaxy and part of the Milky Way, from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!