This full color image taken just outside the north fence of our homestead here in the Montana/Wyoming borderlands. Best tail of a comet I’ve ever taken and I’ve done a few over the decades back to Halley’s Comet in the 1980’s. The surprise Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 is it’s official designation. IT is a naked eye comet in this dark sky environment. Enjoy it as it’s not coming back for another 7000 years. So this will have to do. Let me know what it looks like next pass around the sun. It’s a big one with a 3 mile diameter nucleus. The orange tail totally took me by surprise. I could barely see the windmill in the viewfinder as this presented as pretty much a black screen with a few blotches on it lol. Focusing by instinct really.
I suggest about 3 AM though this was taken around 3:45 AM. I was “working” the comet after doing photography yesterday afternoon AND last sunset. It’s been a pretty short night. I might take a nap today…… Doing night photography is a whole different animal I point out. Not having light makes for a host of issues you have to deal with inside the camera and outside.
With a long lens (this zoom was set to 300mm. Now the hard part with no light, is that turning your shutter speed to 10 seconds makes it VERY hard to focus precisely. Some “messing around” and testing the waters is necessary. Also there has to be some extra camera sensitivity (ISO) to boost the already silly low amount of light coming into the camera. A really good challenge.
Close / Far perspectives are complex during the daylight. This is a 10 out of 10 difficulty image requiring a tripod, proper shutter settings, not too high an ISO and enough F-stop to be able to focus BOTH close and far objects. Razors edge stuff… My lighting source are the low beams on my Ford F-150 Raptor. The LED light bar was TOO bright for the foreground without fogging out the background. So just a little ground light with a 10 second exposure. Any longer shutter with this long focal length, your going to get motion blur on the stars and Comet. To say this was a challenge would be an understatement. I didn’t think I had enough depth of field (focal depth) to pull it off. Got lucky I guess. Good luck trying this.
I have a few more nights to potentially work this comet. It’s all about the cloud cover. Normally I am at least 7 – 10 days out from taking a photo to publishing. This was taken this morning. Front of the line lolol.
This was a very Late afternoon “Golden hour”. Clouds all illuminated of the west side of a huge growing Mesocyclone. The Sun had already set where I was standing even on a high hill top. . The lower part of this cloud is in the shadow of the horizon as well. I was miles out on that high ridge from the homestead watching a huge storm in the distance when I noticed the “hat” on the top. The amount of energy tied up in these massive spinning monsters is amazing. The 60 mile across storm was growing stronger as it traveled away from me. It was visibly growing taller as well.
The Science of this:
Pileus Clouds are also called “cap” clouds or “Scarf” clouds. They typically are short lived. Usually the climbing cumulonimbus absorbs them. Only occasionally seen only over strong updrafts. THe change caused a dew point tripping phase change. Flashing vapor to condensation droplets. The appropriate changes in either Temp/pressure/humidity can cause the condensation.
Personally I’ve only seen them once before. I didn’t have a camera with the legs to reach out and capture their essence. Rule number one of Photography is (Have a camera). Rule number one subsection 2 (1.2) is have the right lens on the camera to get close to what you want in the frame. This was a 1200mm on a full frame mirrorless Sony Alpha 7R4. This is about 10 miles distant.
IT was very late Golden Hour Lighting and the sun was settling into a cloud deck. (thus the red colorcast… natural). I had been watching this 5x5x5 bird (5 pound, 5 foot tall bird with a 5 foot wingspan) for 15 minutes. Sitting across a pond literally on the Montana / Wyoming border, he is 50 feet up a mature CottonWood Tree. The Pond is artesian and never dries up. The birds commonly seen in marshlands in the south, are rare sightings in this backcountry setting. There is a Heron rookery on ranch so I see them more than most. This photosession was just 9 days ago as this posts.
The cottonwoods are leafing out. I could only see 1 nest in the tree line where 6 were visible a week ago. I’m worried about the huge wind storm that blew through a few days before this. I’m guessing 80 mph gusts took a few nests out. Hopefully others are just obscured by the leaves of the trees. I looked very carefully to sky other nests but could only make out one. There was a Red Tail Hawk Nest not far down the tree line that I also could not locate in the 15 minutes I was watching this timeline unfold.
Catching a bird of any size at take off is a matter of reading it’s body language. Birds OFTEN poop just before they go errrr launch (no pun intended). Then there is that Squat 200 microseconds before the feet leave the perch. Timing and anticipatory focus. I’m thinking the focal field is 2 feet deep here… maybe 3… Focus a few feet in front of where he is standing…
I left after this fellow flew the coop as the sun was going down and I was a way out in the backcountry. A few miles to go over grass fields in the dark is tricky sometimes…. .
One of my favorite antiques on the ranch is this 1920’s-1930’s Deering Seeder sitting on the toe of a high ridge. The Cretaceous Sandstones capping/covering this isolated plateau of Sage and Spanish Dagger are these hard layers and lenses of hardened sand. This hard sand/rock was cemented harder than the sandstone taken away by erosion around it. Harder due to differences in the “Diagenetic” processes that turned loose plastic sand to rock. Notice I didn’t say magic processes. Good google word for today… It’s the reason the ridge is there… Hard rock protects the softer sandstone below…
The hard cap rock this scene is built over was laid down by just one act of a 3 million year long stage show. At the End of the Reign of the Dinosaurs on the coastal slope (piedmont really) toward the Cretaceous Era “Inland Sea” Sea sediments are 900 feet down here. Above them, the Beach Sand above that marine sediment. That is named Fox Hill Formation. From the old beach is where we get our water. Above that (below me) is another 700 feet of River Sand (Hell Creek/Lance Formations) that many ancient rivers carried lazily here.
I say many because these watersheds with rivers miles wide.. (think anastomosing braided channels of dendritic sand choked channels on a massive scale. Similar to the amazon water shed. This was the last stage for the dinosaurs to live out their last moments. The coast was extant from Canada to northern New Mexico. All along the coast of that land a mere 66 million years before present.
There were untold millions of high water/flood events in the history of this land. Mountains long gone to our west fed vast quantities of sand worn from them by wind water and ice. Our Ranch lies on 14 mile wide strip of Hell Creek/Lance formation exposed on the surface. This exposed due to streams and rivers moving thousands of feet of sediment that used to be above us away. Cutting into these old beds at a slight angle. Youngest rocks west with Older to the east.
Then somebody came along and “dumped this 100 (ish) year old farm implement here giving me a subject in this remote environment. What are the chances lolol.
In my world, the past is the key to the present and the future. Integral within our processes of the present exists hand me down learning from the past. Geological process occur without our being aware of them or not. My point is understanding the past helps predict the future as well as interpreting the present.
Oh, My LED lightbar on “Clever Girl” added some flavor to this freshly rained upon dynamic sunset through a storm in the deep backcountry.
I caught this gal Pronghorn nibbling on grass and other goodies in Silhouette. She was catching that last mouth full before the fading twilight during the new moon. It get’s REALLY dark here in the deep Wyotana backcountry. According to NASA’s website, we are as dark as the North Atlantic Ocean here. If you live near population, you really can’t appreciate how dark the night gets here.
Pronghorn are active most of the night I find. I find them sleeping at odd hours, resting when they are tired I suspect. This pregnant female is feeding for two. I can tell she’s pregnant just by her outline this time of year. The edge detail on this capture is amazing to me.
Low light/twilight work is my stock and trade. I primarily work in terrible photographic environments just like this one lol. Lack of light will make you do bad things to your camera resulting in lots of image problems. Grainy from turning up the ISO (camera sensitivity). No or a very shallow depth of focus because you turned down your f-stop number (lower) which makes your aperture (like the iris of the lens). Finally the last setting… shutter speed…. longer the shutter is open, the more the image is subject to blurring from shaking the camera. Plus the animal is not static so your looking at blurs from having too slow a shutter. Finding a balanced compromise results in images as this… Sharp, detailed and smooth colors without grain. I love the technology of mirrorless cameras….. 📸
See the medium sized Mare (Mare Crisium) at 12 oclock. The one near the edge. . That smaller crater will always point to 12 during a rising moon. It points to 3 oclock on a setting moon image. The little light from the twilight behind me was enough just to barely see the slope of that ridge. That ridge was around 10 miles from my camera/1200mm lens.
It’s not the moon that is turning in space to rotate that crater…. Actually you are the one that is spinning/rotating here on earth. IT’s all about your perspective. Question to think about…if your standing on Mare Crisium, does the earth ever set?🤔👀👅
A Supermoon is one when the moon is at perigee (closest to the earth on it’s elliptical orbit). The moon looks particularly large because it is lol. Blood Moon, Blood moons historically have actually had blood shed under them unfortunately. This has indeed influenced the course of history. The Blood red this month described from the Lunar Eclipse coincident this Super moon. I did not have a photographic window to the eclipse.😔 Syzyge (SiZ-i jee) … what a wonderful scrabble word. It’s a nifty occurrence though.
Conjunctions of 3 celestial objects (sun, earth moon) is an alignment in a straight line). A solar or lunar eclipse when all three are aligned is Syzyge Perigee syzgy… the moon is at perigee AND there is syzygy happening, aligning with the Earth and Sun, It’s termed perigee syzygy, AKA Supermoon. Now you know as much as I do about the Pink Moon this year. All my images are posted about a week or two after they are taken so this posts the 29, taken the evening of the 8th. It’s as fast as I can get to “recent” images finished and get the posted these longer /warmer days. I write these narratives right at a week ahead of their posting. (currently).
This is an 90 degree tall image. Almost straight up is top frame. HUGE tall pillar and pretty durn good dynamic range in this capture. To look into the furnace but still be able to make out the landscape ladder is extensive DR. Most cameras would show that as a black silhouette. Try it :).
Sun pillars are shafts of reflected 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 due to a 12mm lens wide lens.This is not quite 2 times again the subtended angle/width of view afforded by your normal vision at around 55mm would.
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 positioned at a high angle are required for this particular phenomena. The crystals are all flat 6 sided plates. These fall the same way/orientation due to atmospheric resistance and their shape. Calm falling air is necessary. The high tilt is unusual. I’ve read sunpillars 5-10 degrees tall is not unusual. (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 ).
I have not photographed many American Kestrels in my travels. They are not very large at only a foot tall. Somewhere between a robin and a crow in size. They are the most common falcon in North America as well as the smallest . They are aerial acrobats though with the ability to hoover with their head motionless. None the less they are so small buffeting in the high winds here on the high ridges is visible. The vertical slashes on the face are shared by the sexes but the blue/slate wings and brown “cap” head markings are distinguishing in the males. (Update: This has been identified by a much better raptor ID’er than I as a Swainson’s Hawk. )
Kestrel eat a broad range of grasshopper sized bugs up to mice, bats, songbirds and even smaller snakes or frogs. Opportunistic hunters they are. I have seen them hunt before but are elusive to photograph being quite small. I was very fortunate to come up over a ridge top to find this guy sitting on a snowy branch. He spent about a minute and a half after we surprised each other observing me. I immediately stopped on seeing him. It was windy so he might not have heard me as he was up wind. It only took me a few seconds to bring this long lens to the task. I clicked a few images carefully checking focus each time and off he flew with speed. Apparently not happy with the surprise and this big Black vehicle. That’s 1….
Here “Sneaky Pete” the Windmill has thoughtfully placed himself dead center of my portrait landscape of this twilight sky show. I of course have no control of his actions as he is an attention seeker. I get for him that free publicity he’s longing for. The “deal is he works it out ahead of time with the deer and the Pronghorn to “sit” for me if I get him in the limelight. Seemed fair to me at the time and the animals do sit for me not and then… So when ever I get a cooperative Pronghorn (rare), I tip my hat to “Sneaky” for doing what he does best. Photobomb and give me a foreground object for scale 👁👅
Note: This narrative is quite complex with so little time and space for it all lol.
Windmill Junkies Unite: Windmill Wednesday :🤘 As I’ve mentioned before, don’t let your mother know you look at stuff like this…..☯
Musings on twilight color gradients: (back to reality).
I call this kind of twilight sky gradient “Alpenbows” Blue Down to crimson has a mix in between of yellow and blue to make green It’s a classic Twilight rainbow of color in the sky. The long through the atmosphere the light from the sun travels, the different colors drop out. Only red photons survives the trip down through the low atmosphere. Yellow higher, then mix Yellow with Blue to get green in between. Complete Color Gradients such as this are not common for me to see. I’ve seen WAY more the 20 years I’ve lived on the Ranch than all the years before.
The return of the Great Blue Herons signifies the start of their nesting season on Ranch. I have only seen 4 Herons so far but it’s early. We expect 5+ inchesnow/single digits over the weekend (a week ago as this posts). The Ranch has “left the light on” for others to straggle in as they work their way back from winter haunts south. There are 6 nests in the trees across the lake from my camera where this mated pair is building a nest. The third is probably waiting for a mate that is out hunting.
The group obviously weren’t worried about my truck as the three were mostly motionless for 20 minutes all through my maneuvering. Left them still standing like this as I backed up to leave. I drove away as the sun disappeared. It seems they just don’t care about my Black Ford Raptor. I have not been much of a concern to these birds. Many local wildlife are already familiar/tolerant to my 3 month old rig. Many see it at least 2 times a day on average.
Natural behavior occurs while I’m in this rig. I just drive around like I’m a grazing animal. Stop, Start, turn, sit a minute. The truck is all black and only a little smelly/noisy. Just like a Black Angus cow :). Going really Slow in a factory “Baja truck”…. only in America.. 😜🤘📸
I approach groups of animals living here on the huge grasslands with respect. If I scare them, I don’t get to photograph them. Of course most wild animals sense your approach early. At my crossing some pre-determined line in the sand, most bolt. Learning where that line in the sand is becomes pertinent towards the pursuit of the image.
I find stopping well back, take a few photos, figure out the light, get your settings up for a quick exit shot, then move. I usually readjust my settings for quality, get the composition set and click. Then go back to settings for speed (faster shutter, more ISO and or bigger aperture/fstop.). Move closer….rinse and repeat until you get the shot. (you might think this is “tough” light to work…. You would be right).
Most of the time with really long fixed (non-zoomable) lenses, I fill the frame, get the shot and leave without causing the animals to move. (Pronghorn excepted since they move regardless). 😜
Lone Trees and Large Suns are in an of themselves, each worth of pursuing with a long lens. (1200mm). 300 yards out,. With the dramatic veiled sun and clouds in front, I was able to pull a Japanese scene out of this light.
This Isolated Lone Tree actually has a fossil site at it’s base that I’ve not collected much. I just walk around the surface there and I have not dug. I even left a caudal (tail) vertebra under a boulder there so there is always a fossil to find there. If you were astute looking around you might see large chunky bone fragments coming out of the sandstone in a small outcrop under the ledge to the right of the tree. I keep this place native for the rare person(s) I would take to this place. One of my 4 rifle courses for the Wyoming Tactical Rifle Championship surrounds this hill top.
I have a theory that is certainly just anecdotal. I believe that the soil types derived from the underlying sediment from fossil sites is easier for this species of pine tree to grow in than surrounding soils. MANY of the small fossil sites in this Cretaceous Sandstone Country have either a big majestic Snag laying around or a tree growing just above the fossil site. It is a “working” theory in the jargon of science in that I’m always trying to observe subtle nuances
This joker was hanging out along the road where I was driving just as the nearly full moon was setting. The pink”Belt of Venus” was pervasive in the back show that morning. Alpenglow like the Belt of Venus is a result of LOT of atmospheric ice. The pink is the light that made it over the horizon, There are not many days of the month you can catch this and then the sky has to be clear enough to see the moon down that low to the horizon.
As the western horizon moves upwards, the full moon set in due time. Yet another low light (civil twilight) Close / Far perspective out of a 23-135 Sony G series lens. Some lenses do this kind of thing better than others but a medium zoom of about 70mm was my pick here. High F-stop for deep focal depth of field. Camera sensitivity and speed you set to light conditions with ideally lower iso and faster shutter if you can get away with it. Riding the razor blade of light balance. F stop is your priority here unless the horses are moving. If they are moving your going to have to make your shutter speed faster and turn up your camera sensitivity to compensate for the less light due to a faster speed/shorter exposure. It’s always those three settings working your camera in manual mode. Your camera on automatic is not going to take this image I assure you.
Location: near the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)
Long Red, Orange and Yellow wavelengths survived the gauntlet of the atmospheric filters present. This lake looks HUGE but I assure you it’s a perspective trick of angle and light. It is a small melt water pond on ranch probably 50 feet across but that is irrelevant to the illusion. If it were not windy that night, this would have been a very nice mirror. I know the bottom here and have driven into this pond before to work it from the center. This is an ephemeral pond that will dry up in the summer. The bottom is firm thick grass.
Reflections from lakes are always darker than the skies they are reflecting. Rippled water presents a smaller surface to reflect the available light so windy surfaces are even more dark. The dynamic range of these Sony Alpha 7 series never fail to amaze me and I’ve used them for 2 years now. I put a lot of clicks on camera bodies lol. Hard use up here in the backcountry. Lots of dust /environmental exposure plus wear and tear.
This location is for all intents and purposes, directly on the Montana/Wyoming border looking almost straight west. As this posts the sun is setting closer and closer to straight west each night until the March 19 at 9:50 PM MST. It will set at 270 degrees that day but just a tad earlier lol. I will be working long east west fence lines for the next few weeks with out a doubt. The sun will be at the end of east/west roads as well. There are so many opportunities over the next week folks, pay attention to sunset and sunrise and where those “leading lines” lead to.