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Sun Pillar Spirits in the Sky

Sun Pillar Spirits in the Sky
Sun Pillar Spirits in the Sky

Sun Pillar Spirits in the Sky (A good one of Halloween or just a Wednesday….).

Let me say right off, I did NOTHING to this image but crop it size it and put my signature on it. It is as it came out of the camera. It definitely matches the scene I was watching 40 miles out from my position on Rattlesnake Ridge. I have at least another 1/2 dozen images pulled back of this with the images “face ” slowly morphing into a not as good a happy face.

I’m always looking for figures in the sky but this one gave me goose bumps. I didn’t know whether this character was carrying a sickle or not lolol. Reminds me of a Nickolas Cage character that did a lot of flaming up on his bike in “Ghost Rider”. (Classical Reference). It even has a bandana. It’s probably just me.

Ok, It’s a scientific/atmospheric. phenomena. Falling ice platelets, reflective surfaces of same, resulting in a strong reflection with a pillar. The clouds on top prevented almost any other light from coming through. It was VERY dark where I was but for this spot light at the foot of the Red Hills 40 miles out.

One more redeeming characteristic in this image. It forms a very nice natural Letter T for my Collection of images of nature forming letters. A colorful letter T to boot. This was truly an extreme / unique sunset event as I’ve never seen such a display before.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Sun Pillar Spirits in the Sky

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Back Country Sun Dog

Back Country Sun Dog
Back Country Sun Dog

Back Country Sun Dog

This big old sun dog happened one cool sub-zero morning. Ice crystals refracting light were falling out of the air in front of my camera everywhere. All the white speckles are ice crystals close to the camera. I was just driving along a high ridge as is my typical backcountry drive. It suddenly appeared as I was driving along. The ice fall moved over me.

Two ways these form:. 1: light passing through suspended atmospheric plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals in high and cold cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Alternately, refraction from drifting in freezing moist air at low levels as diamond dust as here. Those “mock suns’ are from the aforementioned “Diamond Dust”. The colors usually go from red closest to the sun outward with the standard rainbow sequence. This was VERY bright.

This half circle halo is 22 degrees from the sun. These 22 degree refractions are present with and without mock suns in my experience. This particular Sundog even has a sun pillar above AND below the sun itself. Pillars develop as a result of ice crystals slowly falling through the air, reflecting the sun’s rays off of their hexagonal flat surfaces.

I’ve only seen one better sundog off the face of the Jackson Hole Ski area at the Village mid winter back in the 90’s. This was a few miles back in the backcountry pretty much across the border with sky in both Montana and Wyoming. .

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Back Country Sun Dog

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Biggest Sun Pillar Ever

Biggest Sun Pillar Ever
Biggest Sun Pillar Ever

Biggest Sun Pillar Ever

Sun pillars are shafts of light. Ice reflected spotlights as it were shooting generally 90 degrees up or down to the horizon. This is BY FAR the tallest pillar I’ve ever seen.

I’ve seen them below the sun many times as well. They form on ice crystals in the atmosphere. A combination of many many reflections off the large flat face of horizontally falling plate ice crystals. The effect is very similar to any slightly tilted horizontal surface. For instance, water reflect a light source (usually the sun) and spread it out vertically. This one is REALLY big. This is close to a 24mm image which is about 1/2 again the angle than your normal vision at 55mm.

The Physics explains it of course but the bigger they are, the rarer they are. The maximum extent of the pillar is about twice the maximum tilt of the plate crystals. Big oriented plates of ice at a high angle were required for this particular phenomena. The crystals are all flat 6 sided plates that fall the same way due to atmospheric resistance and their shape. Calm falling air is necessary. The high tilt is unusual. I’ve read that 5-10 degrees tall is not unusual. I bet this is 40 degrees tall if not 45 (I’d have to look at the meta data and do the math. It certainly seemed big to me at the time (click click click etc ).

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands. (Wyotana)

Title: Biggest Sun Pillar Ever

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Sun Pillar Over the BigHorns

Sun Pillar over the BigHorns
Sun Pillar over the BigHorns

This V-shaped Sun Pillar over the Bighorns northern ridges was magnificent from 130 miles distant.

The Ground Blizzard on the peaks must have been intense at the peaks for it to blow so obviously. Remember the area of the sky in this photo is smaller than a postage stamp at arms length. I look into really bright little areas of the sky with my gear. 130 mils is so far that the air between here and there becomes a serious deciding factor if I can see the range or not. It’s the ice in front high between the ranch and myself that is lit up by the sunlight pushing over the saddle between the peaks. The sun is actually down for this so this is a night shot 😎

LONG telephoto shots like this are deceiving. Hold a postage stamp out at arms length and look at the horizon. This image would fit into that stamp. A 1200mm looks at very small things on the horizon. The mountains in this image are ONLY 9,000 – 10,000 feet high at this northern section of the Big Horn Mountain Range. The Big Peaks are to the left of this frame. .

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana

Title: Sun Pillar Over the BigHorns

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Big Horn Sun Pillar

Big Horn Sun Pillar
Big Horn Sun Pillar

Capturing a Big Horn Sun Pillar: I had to drive about 10 miles south of my ranch to have this line up a few days ago to Capture this Sun Pillar over the Big Horn Mountains. The weather window between me and those little 13,000 foot high peaks just left of the sun has been closed recently. As I type this, tonight looks to be a repeat of this performance but the sun will be over the V notch . It’s all about weather, moisture in the air mostly, maybe smoke these days. We will see……So I’ll take a drive to start with with a LONG lens say 600 mm tonight before sunset…

Photographic musings:

Looks like a gas flame off the ridge to me lolol… Those Hills are 130 miles out from the camera. This image is 100 miles wide as well at the Big Horns.

There is a lot to be said for having a mirrorless camera built to look right at a really bright sun. Of course you would never look through a standard DSLR camera to do this. The direct optic path through the camera to your retina would blind you. Don’t try this with a DSLR. Only use mirrorless cameras for such things where you are looking at a video of what your are taking a photo of. Know what is safe before you try this at home. You could also damage your gear if it’s not rated for this. My Sony’s do fine (large sensor Alpha 7’s. )

This light level is a pretty rarified ultra-bright playground for most photographers…. you obviously need Manual Camera settings. High F-stop, High shutter speed and Low ISO. Your basically shutting the camera down to light. But you have to have enough to see the silhouettes in the image. Every camera setting depends on lenses and lighting so using my system of priorities, you figure out the settings pretty quickly.

You know your not going to be shaking the camera at high shutter speeds of 1/2000th or so. Iso 100 which is as low and most cameras under 1200 bucks for the body go. And balance the light equation with f-stop. F-stop is aperture size…. higher number means smaller aperture. Your basically looking here at one focal plane at infinity so ANY f-stop setting will work. Changing f-stop higher will just defract light a bit more but with high settings , you get less light into the camera than low f-stop numbers. (low f-stop # = big aperture/pupil of the camera)

There, now you know everything I know about setting up your camera for this high light.

Being a 2:1 Aspect image at high resolution, this is two 560mm shots side by side combined in the digital dark room. It is a composite but an accurate one showing the scene as my Sony Alpha 7R4 saw it.

Location: Bliss Dinsoaur ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.