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  • Kruger National Park – Day 1, Part 2
  • Kruger National Park – Day 1, Part 1
  • Gullfoss
  • Thingvellir, Iceland
  • Even more Aurora
  • St. Patrick’s Day Geomagnetic Storm
  • Geysir / Strokkur
  • Iceland – Glacier Lagoon
  • Snowmass Rodeo, 2012
  • Venus Transit 2012
  • Last batch of Swiss pics
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  • Moonrise over the Eiger
  • More Bombay Hook
  • Another Bombay Hook sunrise
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  • Christmas Cactus
  • Making of the ‘Ghost’
  • Mount Rainier in black and white
  • Switzerland
  • Jinshanling Great Wall
  • Beijing
  • National Geographic Explorer
  • Fourth of July…. 2010
  • Spring trip to Yosemite
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  • 2011 Washington DC Cherry Blossoms
  • Aurora
  • New York
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  • Waterfalls and Polarizers
  • So close
  • San Francisco 2010 (mostly)
  • Bald Eagles
  • Bombay Hook Sunrise
  • Bern, Switzerland
  • Fall in the Shenandoah
  • Balloons!
  • Corfu, Greece
  • Article usage
  • Beckapalooza
  • Snowmass Rodeo
  • Pismo Beach Surfing
  • Little Blue Heron
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  • Horseshoe Crabs
  • Wild Ponies of Assateague
  • More Yosemite
  • Half-Dome
  • Cherry Blossom Festival

  • April 2018
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    Even more Aurora

    Best Höfn Aurora (Link to gallery, so you can skip the narrative).

    Following the success of St. Patrick’s Day storm ‘photoshoot’, I would have been happy to leave Iceland without seeing any further aurora. But Mother Nature wanted to send us out with a bang, and delivered another incredible display two nights later.

    As you might expect, following the excitement of St. Patty’s Day, I spent the next day flipping through the photos to see what I captured. A couple of things stood out, as items I needed to correct:

    1. Focusing. I knew in the moment that I was having difficulty keeping sharp focus, and far too many images were slightly blurred.
    2. High ISO noise. I had experimented with high ISO, going up to 6400, and although this brought out the sharp details of the aurora, the photos lacked ‘punch’, through a combination of the resultant low contrast and high noise.

    So two days later, when the aurora were starting to spin up, I went out and practiced. Since I knew I had good shots ‘in the can’ (or ‘on the card’, as it were), I allowed myself a little experimentation: I fiddled with ISO, f/stop and exposure, and wandered around the area quite a bit to change the foreground. If I missed an arc, so what. I was previously so intent on making sure I didn’t miss an opportunity, that I had neglected the immortal words of John Wooden: Be quick, but don’t hurry.

    With a few hours of practice, I was dialed in and ready.

    I had been out for several hours in sub freezing, windy conditions, so I went back into the cottage to warm up and wait for the big display… and almost missed it! By the time I had thrown on my coat and gloves the aurora were directly overhead. I snapped a few shots (here, here and here) then ran around the area like a mad man looking for good foreground material. By this time I was more experienced, and was able to quickly set up, reframe, refocus, and shoot. And because of that, the photos from this night are some of my favorite of the entire trip.

    There are three groups of photos from the night:

    1. ‘Practice time’. These turned out to be some of the best. The sun was slowly setting, leaving the sky a beautiful purple. A series of slowly drifting arcs appeared, and the green on purple contrast is wonderful. That comet PanSTARRS was also in the picture was completely by luck. Completely.
    2. Auroral Expansion. Active aurora all over the sky, including some beautiful, strong arcs over the mountains.
    3. Quiet time. This was the most interesting of all. After the auroral substorm, a large belt of aurora set up south of us. It changed slowly, and had immense structuring.

    All in all, a perfect way to end the trip. You can tell I was dialed in, because this time I posted only 20 photos from that night – I took shots I knew would be good, and didn’t shoot willy-nilly. The comet is in some of them, as are the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and the Andromeda galaxy. You can view them here:

    Best Höfn Aurora

    St. Patrick’s Day Geomagnetic Storm

    What a difference a few years (and a camera upgrade) make! My first attempt at photographing the aurora ended with some decent pictures, but nothing spectacular. Partly, I wasn’t experienced enough to know the appropriate ISO / exposure combination. Higher ISO captures some of the details, but at the expense of noise, while longer exposures with lower ISO reduce the noise, but blur the dynamic details. It was also 40 below, making it difficult to focus…

    My trip to Iceland was centered on obtaining much better pictures of the aurora, new camera and lens in hand. Success! The sun and solar wind cooperated – twice! – and generated a series of beautiful aurora on two separate nights. For the St. Patrick’s Day Storm, I had been monitoring the solar wind continuously and was praying for it to remain southward (needed to create the aurora) until dusk. Being at such high latitude, the sun took FOREVER to set. For about an hour I could see the aurora overhead in the slightly blue sky, providing a very nice palette of colors. An eagle eye observer will also spot comet PANSTARRS. Thankfully, just after sunset, a spectacular auroral display occurred just over our head. Amazing.

    My D600 can shoot at ISO 6400, with much less noise than ISO 1600 on my old D200, making it easy to capture details and colors of the aurora that I was unable to catch last time around. In fact, the aurora were so intense and long-lasting, that I was able to play around with framing, foreground objects, and even higher ISO (more so the second night). A truly spectacular display – our innkeeper said the best he’s seen in years. An experience I’ll never forget.

    A lesson for all those out there hoping to capture the aurora: Focusing is hard! Auto focus of course fails. One would think you could just rotate the focus ring all the way to infinity, but alas, no. Proper focus is a few degrees shy of that. And the aurora are too dim and dynamic to focus manually through the eyepiece. So, trial and error is the only solution, and zooming in or out changes the focus. So does bumping the camera as you excitedly move from scene to scene, which happened more often then I’d like to admit. Some of these photos are slightly out of focus, but I don’t care. I’m very happy with how they turned out.

    Of course, nothing can compare with actually being underneath the aurora. The best pictures in the world  just do not do it justice.

    Gallery of St. Patrick’s day storm aurora.

    Geysir / Strokkur

    It’s rare that I visit a site and have an exact vision of “the shot.” But for the Strokkur geyser, neighbor to Geysir, from which all geysers are named, I knew before I left what I wanted: the pre-eruption. By chance, I got the shot I wanted on the very first try. I say by chance, because I tried several more times, over two different days, to catch it again, but failed. A fraction too early, and you barely see the bubble. A fraction too late, and the bubble has burst through the surface.

    Click the link for a few of my favorites from Strokkur/script>

    Iceland – Glacier Lagoon

    My photoblog is alive! It’s been 8 months since my last post, a consequence of having a baby who loves to take every free minute of my time, so I was chomping at the bit to get out and take some photos. A trip to Iceland was the perfect opportunity to brush off the photographic rust, visit some amazing and unique sites, and put my new Nikon D600 through its paces. I came back with over 5000 photos, which is absurd for a 7 day trip. Some of that was due to extensive bracketing, but mostly I was just excited to get my finger on the shutter button again.

    Over the next several weeks, as I sift through and process the photos, I’ll be posting about various sites I visited along the southern portion of Iceland. Included in this are some great aurora shots that make me want to toss my previous aurora pictures in the trash. But those will take a while longer…

    First up, photos from the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón, where the glacier Vatnajökull calves icebergs that slowly drift out to the Atlantic ocean. It’s a photographers dream, although I struggled to find focus: tight shots of icebergs? The mountains in the back? The vastness of the lagoon? The lightning wasn’t very good on either day, either, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. My favorite shots are two that contain people (the best is above), without which the scale of the icebergs is not apparent.

    I took hundreds of photos over 2 days – once on the way to Höfn (cloudy), once on the way back (sunny) – and didn’t come away with more than a small handful I enjoyed. Although the more I look at it, the first photo at top I’m pretty happy with.

    Gallery of 15 photos here.

    The second photo in that gallery contains people on the hill, and you may have to click to make it larger and see them. The photo might be a bit dark, and I should probably brighten it up. But it was a cloudy day, imposing a somber mood on the bay; I think the photo captures that.