Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another PanSTARRS Session

I just can't seem to get enough of the latest Comet PanSTARRS performance.  The Earth crossed the orbital plane of the comet early in the week, and instead of a anemic comet with a small tail, the comet appears to have a HUGE anti-tail many degrees long!  It isn't very bright, but still visible in hand-held binoculars, including a couple degrees of anti-tail.  But it is still easy to photograph, with exposures of a fraction of a minute showing it and its new tail appendage.

Tuesday night, I again headed North up the Mount Lemmon Highway in search of dark northern skies.  Instead of stopping at Geology Vista, I went up another 3 miles and perhaps 500 feet higher to San Pedro Vista.  Those few extra miles distance to the Tucson metropolitan area makes a big difference.  I set up at the pullout and set up 2 cameras.  The first was with my tripod-mounted Canon XSi and a 50mm lens (a Nikon F/1.4 stopped to F/3.5).  With the comet so close to the celestial pole, it doesn't trail very much - I took a series (15 in total) of 1 minute exposures, then used the program "Nebulosity" to take out the rotation around Polaris, and reduce the noise from individual exposures.  The lens' field of view is wide enough to show all of the Little Dipper, as well as a pretty good view of the comet, anti-tail, and it also caught the passing of an Iridium Flare during one of the exposures!  It is shown at left, and an annotated version is shown at right.

At left is shown a cropped version of the single 60 second frame where the Iridium Flare occurs - shows up much better here since it is not diluted by averaging with 14 other frames.  I've talked about these Flares before - the antenna of the communications satellite reflects sunlight down on a narrow path on the Earth's surface.  These appearances can be predicted accurately (Heavens-Above).  A fainter satellite also appears - many were in the above stacked frame, but only the Iridium Flare was bright enough to show in the sum (appeared to be about magnitude -2).

The other camera I used was Melinda's T1i on my Vixen tracking platform with the 70-200mm zoom set to 100mm at F/3.2.  It doesn't show a lot more than the above frame, but has a little better image scale.  There was a blustery wind blowing and critical analysis of the star images show some movement, but at these resampled images isn't too objectionable.  It is a stack of six - 100 second frames, so 10 minutes total exposure.

While wrapping up the imaging, before heading back down the hill, I took a few exposures of Mount Graham, visible to the east outlined by a dim glow of Safford, AZ about 50 miles away.  I've been up to the LBT telescope there and was amazed by the amount of light atop the mountain from the state prison at Fort Grant on the southern base of Graham.  Sure enough a full-resolution crop of a stack of five minute-long frames shows not only the LBT enclosure, but shadows in the canyons cast by the lights of Fort Grant!  Click the image to load the full-sized version.

After packing up, I dawdled at Windy Point Vista, a "scenic viewpoint" which is a favorite at night to see nearly the entirety of the Tucson valley.  Of course the city lights are spectacular if you are into that sort of thing.  This is a five-frame panorama with the same 50mm Nikon lens used above.  Unfortunately, our blog provider only allows a maximum picture width of 1600 pixels, so you can't enjoy the 16MB file that is 16,000 pixels wide.  What you see here is the maximum allowed...

Another great night of comet observing.  The tail will tilt-offline from the main tail and get faint again, but the visibility of this anti-tail will be burned in my memory as quite spectacular!  The Grand Canyon Star Party starts in 8 days, and I'm hoping we'll be able to show some good telescopic views to the public there...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Latest Cat Toy...

Our cats are an endless stream of entertainment for us, even better than TV sometimes!  And they love showing off, especially when they are proud of their achievements.  Just the other day Hannah came in making some weird sounds, sort of a "HHmmmHH", trying to get our attention.  Well, she had a pretty good-sized lizard in her mouth, about 18cm long.  She put it down, the lizard took off with about 3 cats and 2 adults in pursuit!  Now normally lizards sort of "spin their wheels" on the kitchen linoleum, going full speed but pretty much running in place, but this one actually made some headway.  After getting close a couple times, I finally caught him before he got behind the computer desk, to be lost forever...  He seemed to be in pretty good health, and before releasing him in front of the house, where the cat density is lower, Melinda got the camera out for some closeups.  Don't you just love the little lizard claws?

This fellow had seen better days, but survived to tell the tale of his close escape.  Most lizards can shed part of their tail, the wriggling segment sometimes distracting the attacker long enough to escape.  This fellow's had lost his tail at some point in the past and it was in the process of regenerating when Hannah found him.  He also had some toes on one of his hind feet gnawed off.  Don't know if Hannah is responsible for that or not.  Both these defects are seen at left.

I didn't have much luck doing a search on the Interweb identifying her, but I did notice that amateur astronomer friend Sam Rua had a large number of reptile images on my Google search, so I e-mailed him with the above pictures.  Ten minutes later (!) came the reply - Tiger Whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris!  That's why Hannah was so proud - caught a tiger!  She tired quickly of having her photo taken, so I released her in our front planter and a split second later was gone, but not forgotten!  Meanwhile, the cats sit and watch the back yard fence for any wildlife brave enough to enter through the cracks...

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Conjunction and Orbital Plane Crossing!

After Melinda got safely off to work tonight, I headed west of Tucson looking for a suitable foreground for the planetary conjunction.  Tonight is about the best view of the trio, so I went to my standby background of Kitt Peak National Observatory.  It is easy to head south on the Sasabe Road from Three Points to position the Observatory at nearly any western view.  Back 7 weeks ago I used it for the Moon-PanSTARRS conjunction, so figured it would work again.

Unfortunately, there were some clouds near the western horizon, but sometimes they can add a lot to a photo, so I continued on my quest.  I set up about 15 miles south of Three Points, after a quick check with binoculars showed I needed continue another half mile or so.  I set up the new Vixen Polarie tracking platform, as I expected using a telephoto lens and a couple second exposure might show some trailing.  Using its half-speed mode, it split any trailing between the planets and the Observatory.

There was a little orange color visible in the clouds from last remnants of the sunset, but otherwise the Observatory is nearly invisible, but the planets were caught before clouds hid them.  I can't decide which I like best, but likely this last one at the intermediate telephoto setting (used 70X200 zoom with 1.4 converter for 180mm on this last one, 2 seconds at F/8).  Feel free to let me know which one you prefer, and of course, click the image to load a full version!  For those of you new to this triple planetary conjunction, the lowermost bright object is Venus, with Jupiter to upper left, Mercury at upper right.  As you continue to watch through this week, Jupiter will continue its dive downwards, Mercury and Venus will continue in the western sky for the next few weeks.

After packing up the equipment and heading back towards town, I realized that in the darkening sky, the moon was not up yet, and right in front of me as I headed north was Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) right next to Polaris - and tonight was the orbital plane crossing!  The anti-tail has been quite impressive of late, and I've not seen it for a week since a few days before full Moon, so I pulled over and set up the camera again.  This time, I was even too lazy to set up the tracking platform, but used the zoom lens at F/2.8 at 135mm.  A 30 second exposure easily showed the comet and anti-tail with minimum trailing so close to Polaris, which is in the upper left of the picture.  This image consists of 7 images, stacked and rotated to match up.  At lower left is NGC 188, and it is the anti-tail that is pointing towards the sun towards lower left!  In binoculars I could see the comet and make out part of its tail.  So it is still pretty impressive photographically, even without tracking equipment!  Just about the biggest bang with the least amount of equipment ever used!

RTMC 2013...

Melinda and I are just returned from the 2013 Riverside Telescope Makers Conference.  Always held over Memorial Day, I've been attending since 1986 except for 1988 when my Mom died and a couple years back when they disastrously tried to make it an observers event and moved it away from Memorial Day Weekend...  Living in some pretty pristine skies, I've always gone for the camaraderie and telescope making - seeing what people are doing and catching up with old friends...  In recent years attendance has nosedived and it is always a big question mark as to who will show up for the event, and like last year, Camp Oakes seemed pretty deserted for a Friday midafternoon.

So we ambled around...  It wasn't 6 years ago and you couldn't walk across the "Telescope Field" with all the vendor tents, which had displaced all the home-built telescopes. This year there were a total of 3 vendors at the edge of the deserted field.  Fortunately, as we continued down "Telescope Alley" we ran into the camp of Gerry Logan and Bob Pfaff, telescope makers extraordinaire!  RTMC attendance could drop to 50, and as long as Gerry was there to talk to, I'd be coming back!  He had repackaged a 7" Schupmann telescope, folding it and building a new chain drive mounting for it, shown at left.

A couple meters down the road and we ran into Jack Eastman who had found a volunteer offering an AP900 mounting onto which to mount his 130 year old 6" Alvin Clark refracting telescope.  The Clarks were the preeminent telescope makers of the 1800s and even today are held in high regard for both their small jewels of telescopes as shown here, and also for the largest refractors ever made, including the 24" at Lowell Observatory and the 40" at Yerkes Observatory.  At left Jack is using a sweatshirt to take up the gap in the oversize clamping rings on the mount.  At right they are doing the fine balance of the equatorial mount.  We made plans to come back a little later to observe through it - Jack himself admitted to never having it on a tracking mount other than the hand-turned tracking drive on the original mount.  It would be a lot easier for some critical observations with the tracking mount...

With the full moon Friday night (in fact, there was a very partial
lunar eclipse that night!), there wasn't much serious observing going on - most everyone was looking at Saturn that was moderately high in the Southeastern sky.  Interestingly, there were 3 scopes about the same size to compare - Tele Vue had a 5" Petzval (4 elements in 2 groups) that works at F/5.2, VERY fast for a refractor, but at about 180X, was showing pretty good views of Saturn.  Shown at left with the deserted telescope field, turns out I was observing with Jose Magsaysay, who I met years ago at the Grand Canyon Star Party...  A few minutes later, over at Jack Eastman's Clark 6", I waited behind TAAA member Gary Rosenbaum for a detailed look at Saturn, running about 250X.  By the way, these night time shots are taken with my Canon XSi with Nikon 16mm fisheye at F/4, exposures about 6 to 13 seconds - easy to aim by moonlight and short enough to get pretty good detail.

I also went by Gerry Logan's camp and took a look through his Schupmann.  He was running it at pretty low power, and at F/10 isn't really designed for high-powered planetary views.  We examined the bright star Regulus and marveled at the relay mirror adjustment that nulls out the color error in the design.  He had done a fine job with the scope and adjustments.  Gerry is shown here at left in the black jacket while an observer checks out the view.  Finally Melinda caught up to me (she was warming up in the car with temps in the 30s), and we looked through the Explore Scientific 5" APO that is F/7.5.  Unfortunately it wasn't on a tracking mount and at low power the image couldn't be critically examined.  Company president Scott Roberts here in the green jacket was there to answer questions for those gathered.

Oh, and the winner of the 5" or 6" Saturn Observing Challenge?  The 130 year-old Clark won hands down, the longer focal length and doublet way outperforming the much faster 3 and 4-element systems! 

We didn't stay late with the full Moon and cold
temps, so headed back to Big Bear for our room at Motel 6, an easy 15 minute drive.  The traditional swap meet usually starts at dawn Saturday, and the speaker program starts at 9, but we got a late start and swept through the swap meet on the way to Jack Eastman's talk on the cleaning and restoration work on the 20" Saegmuller refractor of Chamberlin Observatory in Denver (another Clark telescope!).  Shown in the picture at left is the lens-down cell of the telescope with the director of Chamberlin shown.  Another speaker later in the day was former publisher, editor, author, and software engineer Richard Berry covering much of the details of lens design from simple lenses to advanced astro-graphic systems in the 60 minute talk.  He is shown at right...  It was an interesting talk once he got past the misbehaving microphone system!

Between these two talks that started and ended
the speaker program for the day, we perused the swap meet and caught up with friends and acquaintances met over the years.  At left Teresa Plymate (TAAA member and current Big Bear residents!) tried to twist some arms in selling her and Claude's 14" telescope.  And at right Gene Lucas and Mike Spooner discuss some details of telescope optics over lunch.  We did our part in spending money at the swap meet and vendors - of course, we had to get the current-epoch RTMC t-shirts, and I was looking for a 4" diagonal for my 14" Newtonian telescope project, which I found there - interestingly, supposedly tested by buddy Bob Goff who died a decade ago!  I also bought a flash for my Canon, but owned it for only about 2 minutes before a fellow who had run off to get cash to pay for it returned.  I gave it up and made a dollar in the process...  I was tempted by many other offerings - fortunately the attendance about doubled between Friday and Saturday.

But as I said before, as long as the meeting continues to exist and my die-hard friends continue to attend, it offers a great venue to catch up, talk shop and spend some time under the stars with some truly unique optics.  I always swear I'll bring an entry next year - time to pull the trigger and show something.  It won't likely grow again until we all take a step to help out.  Come join us next Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A New Toy?

A medium-sized box came in the mail today for Melinda.  I didn't know of anything she was expecting, so put it aside for her to open when she woke up for her night shift.  After she was up feeding cats, I asked her what came in the box.  She promised to show me when she opened it.  A few minutes later she walked in with a smile in her face, handing me a 70-200 Canon zoom!  It looked identical to mine, except it had image stabilization like the newer models do.  But wait - it seemed awfully light!  Then she took off the "lens cap" and revealed the secret - a new insulated drink mug!  It was amazingly realistic, even the switch controls on the side to turn on auto focus and image stabilization work, though the rubber focus and zoom rings do not, nor does the rear "lens cap" twist off (I did try, though)...  Available on Amazon for under $20 - getting pretty favorable reviews, but I'm sure Melinda's greatest reward was the look on my face of the "new lens" arriving in the mail!

The Gang is all Here!

A few days ago I advised you to look to the west
to watch the beginning of the biggest sky grouping of the year.  Last night's clouds blocked the last guest, but tonight's mostly clear skies revealed the last of the trio, Mercury, to the evening sky!  For the next week if you have a clear western horizon you should easily be able to spot the giant planet Jupiter slowly sinking towards the sun, the brilliant Venus slowly getting higher night by night, and slightly fainter Mercury popping up over Venus the next couple nights.  Jupiter won't tarry long and continue towards the sun, leaving just Venus and Mercury to rule the evening sky, Mercury staying above Venus for almost a month!  Most of the world's population has never seen the innermost planet Mercury, and this is an excellent chance to spot it during this planetary alignment.  For a starting guide, the left image was taken after sunset this evening, the right image is the same one with labels to let you know the players...  Click on the images to load the full-size view.

The best time to look for the trio is about 30 minutes after sunset.  The window lasts about 30 minutes - by that time (1 hour after sunset) they are getting too low to see.  Note that while the three planets will appear very close to each other in the sky, fitting in a single binocular field for a night or two, in actuality they are close only viewed from Earth's perspective.  Jupiter is some 550 million miles away, Venus and Mercury, while still on the far side of the sun from us are 150 and 110 million miles away.

Meanwhile, get out every clear night to take in the show.  The next triple planet conjunction is at least 2 years away, so get 'em while they last!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Returning For Another Look!

Last night, with only a night or so left of moonless dark time to examine Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) again before the full Moon wipes it out, even though it was a "school night", I had to go up and take another look.  Since we are 2 days closer to the orbital plane crossing on the 27th, with the tail look any different?  Actually, I misspoke in my last post, it is not a "solar spike" even though it is pointing generally towards the sun, rather, it is called an anti-tail, because it is on the side opposite the main cometary body from the normal tail.  This is common when we observe the comet as we cross the plane of its orbit - perspective allows us to see dust released long ago appearing to jut out from the coma apparently the wrong direction from the head. In this case, the "real" tail is the puny spray of material going the other direction from the bright "ray"  It is that ray that is the anti-tail...

Anyway, last evening I napped part of the night away, awakening about 1am to head up to Mount Lemmon's Geology Vista again.  The bright Moon was still high in the western sky as I drove about an hour to the site.  Instead of setting up the AP1200 mount and the 14", this time, anticipating a long anti-tail, I just set up a tripod and tracking platform to enable me to use normal or telephoto camera lenses without a lot of setup.  Starting out with my 70-200 Canon F/2.8 zoom, I set it to 90mm so I could keep Polaris and Gamma Cepheus in the frame as reference to measure the tail.  I took frames for about 40 minutes, taking the in-camera darks as well to reduce electronic noise.  The stack of the 8 three minute exposures is shown at left.  As in Sunday's post, Polaris is the bright star at left, and Errai is at right.  This image is rotated about 90 degrees from that image.  The two stars are about 13.5 degrees apart...  In this frame the tail extends over 7 degrees across the sky!  That is a big difference from the 4 degrees seen Sunday morning...  The ray was also barely spotted in my hand held binoculars.  Sorry for the gradients of brightness in the exposure - it is a combination of the edge of the Milky Way encroaching in the lower part of the field, and perhaps also some airglow or sky glow since this in only 30 degrees off the northern horizon...

Since anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I took another quick series of images with a Nikon 135mm telephoto. I only got in 3 frames before the growing twilight stopped me.  But the stack of frames, stretched ridiculously to get a better tail length is shown at right.  Here is is imagined to 8 degrees before it fades out...  Also visible is a couple satellite trails, and as above and in Sunday's post, the cluster to left is NGC 188.

I'm not sure I'll get another chance to see the comet this well with the full moon coming about the same time as orbital plane crossing, but it is sure fun to see this comet continue to put on a good show since it first came over our horizon in March!

Update:  I forgot to mention the tracking platform!  I got the Vixen Polarie tracker a couple months ago and you saw the first results in the time-lapse of Omega Centauri rising a few weeks ago.  The comet shot this morning was really the second time used for tracking and it worked very nicely.  Shown at left is a pic of it while shooting the above comet shot with the zoom lens.  Even though it has a weight limit of 3.5 pounds, I suspect I was pushing it with the big lens, but it seems to work fine.  You can see that when shooting very far North with a long lens like this and you can easily hit the body of the tracker, but that issue aside, I look forward to pushing it to longer exposures.  Shooting very close to Polaris with couple-minute exposures isn't pushing it much!  The 2 cables - the one on the camera goes to the intervalometer (exposure control), and the one for the tracking platform is an alternate power cord.  While it runs off 2 AA batteries, they only last a couple hours, so I power it through the mini-USB and a DC adaptor off a car battery...  Another thing to note - though the stars are out of focus, their color shows more clearly - and also seen between the end of the lens and edge of the frame is the fuzzy glow of the Andromeda Galaxy in the 20 second exposure!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Night of the Comets!

I've heard that a couple bright comets (visible in binoculars, NOT naked eye!) were putting on a good show, so with the brightening moon already half illuminated and it being Saturday night, time to hit the road!  Since I wanted dark northeastern skies, I chose to go up the Mount Lemmon Highway to Geology Vista.  While it looks out over the Tucson Valley with a pretty view of the lights, there is absolutely nothing to the north, so the sky in that direction is quite nice!  Also, since the bright moon was up till about 1am, there was no hurry to leave home - with Melinda working, I left about 11:30, bringing up a pair of cameras, the 14" Hyperstar, and the Meade 80mm APO triplet.

Setting up in the dark is one of my pet peeves - I
try not to do it, but sometimes, like last night, you don't have a choice.  It takes about an hour  to set up for imaging and get aligned on Polaris and fortunately with my new (to me) AP1200, for short exposures, I don't need to track, at least that was the plan...  Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) was up first - it is actually only a few degrees from Polaris, so is up all night!  But while readily visible in binoculars, it held its secret until you get a picture of it.  We're about to cross the plane of its orbit next week, and it has been developing a very nice sunward-pointing spike!  I didn't observe it visually thru the 14" (can't with the Hyperstar Lens in place), but even in a telephoto lens, it was impressive.  It looks darn near like a jetliner with its headlight on coming in to land!  The left picture is with the Hyperstar (660mm focal length), and the sunward spike juts out of the frame, so I tried the wider field of the Meade APO (480mm focal length), and it still shot out of the field!  North is approximately up in both frames.

So I switched to an 85mm telephoto lens - a Nikon F/1.8, shooting at F/2.8.  Shown here at left is the result.  The star at upper right is Polaris, the one at lower right is Gamma Cepheii (Errai).  Measuring with a ruler on the screen, the tail is OVER 4 degrees long, and likely to get longer as we cross its orbital plane next week (27th).  Unfortunately, it happens a couple days after full moon, and it may be difficult, if not impossible to observe well.  Also visible is the open star cluster NGC 188 to the left of the comet and lower right from Polaris.

The other bright comet out last night was Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6).  It was a new comet to me, but has been putting on a good show in the Southern hemisphere the last few months.  It is just now moving north and can be seen rising to the left of the great square of Pegasus just before dawn.  The photo here is thru the Hyperstar again, and is a total of 8 minutes of exposure in a brightening sky.  It shows a nice blue ion tail to the right, as well as a dust tail below.  Both comets are on the other side of the sun from us, well over 1 AU(an astronomical unit is the earth's distance from the sun, about 93 million miles) from the sun and both 1.7 AU from earth.

It was great getting out seeing some bright comets (any time they can be seen in binoculars, they are considered bright!), and keep in practice imaging them.  I definitely need to improve my imaging skills, but fun nonetheless!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Look to the West!

One of the big sky shows of 2013 is about to start - the triple planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury will be reaching its peak near the end of this month.  But already Venus is rising up out of the twilight as it rounds its orbit behind the sun.  Rising steadily as Jupiter sinks slowly behind the sun, fast-moving Mercury will pop out of the twilight also, drawing even with Venus a week from tonight on the 23rd.  For a couple days afterwards, all three planets will be visible in the same wide-angle binocular field of view and easily visible to the naked eye!  Rarely is a triple alignment visible, and rarely also so conveniently right after sunset (look about 30-40 minutes after sunset, with a clear western horizon).  Shown at left is tonight's view showing Jupiter still pretty high, and Venus still low, just over the roof line below.   For more information, check out the NASA page about the alignment.  And keep looking westwards after sunset the next couple weeks!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Horse of a Different Color!

At first glance, this might appear to be a metal sculpture, thrown together of parts from around the garage.  It is, in fact, a bicycle, a recumbent variety which has an unusual riding position, more like a Lazyboy than your standard bicycle.  And while it is easy to dismiss such a bike as a toy, it is the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden!  Which is not to say that you can jump on it and ride across the state - it definitely takes some getting used to!  First the riding position is the big change you notice, until you get to the under seat steering - that is most likely the biggest thing to get used to.  In all bike riding, you subtly balance with minute steering changes to stay upright.  With the position and new steering, it seems a battle you are not likely to win at first!  But it does come to you eventually, and once it does, you notice that A, your butt doesn't get sore and B, neither do your hands, arms, shoulder or neck, used to support either part of your weight or keep your head upright on a normal bike.  After a longish ride (my longest is only about 15 miles), the only discomfort is  in your quads, which is normal after being off any bike for so long...

This bike was passed along to me by our RAGBRAI leader Carl, who was tasked to find a new home for it by a neighbor.  After a few sessions of practice and some minor repairs to fix a shifter, I look forward to getting out on it whenever we're back in Illinois.  Given the cost of bringing a bike up from Arizona (upwards of $200 on the airlines), I vowed to get one to stay up here when this one fell from the sky.  While shown here w/out bike helmet on one of my first rides (documented by Melinda), that had been remedied.  It is challenging enough to stay upright without worrying about cracking your skull too!  The only disadvantage that I'm finding is that climbing hills is a challenge, but it has a granny gear to grind through them.  Only keeping balanced at those slow speeds is more challenging too.  The way I weave around, I'm not sure I'm ready for the crowds of RAGBRAI riders yet, but I am looking forward to more time in the saddle, er, comfy chair!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More 3-D!

With all the flower pictures we've taken here in Illinois this trip, I've been working on more 3-D images.  If they give you headaches, tough!  I like them, so will continue working on them.  The idea of having your brain reconstruct a stereo image from 2 slightly different images is fascinating to me...  These are for cross-eyed viewing, crossing your eyes slightly to view the right picture with your left eye and the left picture with your right results in a center image with depth!  Do try it - it is amazing when it happens!  It may be easier to do it with the thumbnails, then click on the image to load the full-scale shot and try it again...  All these images were taken with my 100mm macro lens, including the moon/tree picture at the end...

First up is the recurved red trillium.  As I mentioned in the last blog - the flowers are unspectacular, but unusual, so it responds well to 3D, especially shooting with low angles and close up.  Both of these views are from the same pair of images.  They don't always come out this sharp, but the closeup shots, near the full resolution of the camera sometimes shows amazing details.  These are also all taken hand held, usually with a brief gap between them after waiting for the wind to subside...  And by the way, these are assembled in an early version of Photoshop Elements that came with one of my cameras - images are brought into "photomerge" and adjusted in alignment before the software assembles them side-by-side into the images you see here...

Next up is the white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) and here the larger-scale image is better, showing the depth in the more-interesting center part of the flower.

And in a blatant attempt to improve the 3-D moon shot from the 5 Feb, 2012 post, presented here is tonight's version.  I still like last year's image better - funny how sometimes you can't improve on a single lucky shot, but I'll keep trying...

Our Flower-Yard!

We've been having a blast at "Ketelsen East" in St Charles, IL!  Experiencing another Spring after the all-too brief appearances in Tucson and our visit to the Carolinas last month has been very restful.  Add to that many opportunities to visit friends and family makes this loads better than our trip in February when we were both sick with the flu... We even saw our groundhog neighbor (living under the building next door), who we've called "Bruce", though I think this version is likely an offspring.  Didn't get a picture of him though - he is pretty shy.  At left is a photo of the house lit up in the evening to make it look homey...

So we've been enjoying the cool weather and the first arrival of Spring.  Last year, it hit hard and a lot earlier, so was a joy to see all the blossoms and flowers in this year's edition.  The Fox River was flooding just a few weeks ago too, so the mowers haven't been over the yards here, so we've been enjoying the "yard-flowers" too.  We wouldn't dare call them weeds!  Besides the ever-present dandelions, we've got several colors of violets, and two types of Trillium too (white and red)!  We've even got tulips that have broken free of the flower beds, and are starting to come up willy-nilly!  Shown at left here is towards the north and other structures, where they mow a lot.  Just dandelions and violets in that direction, but to the south of the house is more of a jungle of other flowering plants, including big patches of Trillium, as shown at right.

Now the Trillium we have in our yard is a less-common recurved red trillium.  It is a pretty plant, but not showy like many other flowers because the petals curve inwards and hide the flower.  It is also hard to make look very impressive - the only way is to get down in the dirt and shoot it at its own level.  Then you can peek into it.  I'm working on some 3D shots of it too, so look for that coming up.  The White variety (Trillium grandiflorum) is showier, different but definitely related and shown at right.

And even the dandelions are spectacular when looked at closely!  A year or two back I took a macro shot of one that still serves as my wallpaper on my laptop, though didn't make it into a blog post.  Here is a triple-header on the left, each at slightly different ages, so show a slightly different general appearance.  Interestingly, our second day here was a cool one - it never got over 50, and NONE of the dandelions that were open the previous day made an appearance!  After all taking a day off, it warmed up a little and they all returned...  Even after going to seed, the macro lens reveals a wealth of details that are generally little-noticed.  While the seeds are wind-dispersed, the seeds themselves also have little thorns on them that would likely also stick to clothing for transport as well...

So I was shooting the tulips scattered in our yard...  Mostly they are near flower beds, but they seem to be migrating out towards the open yard...  I suspect that the later in the Spring that our "yard" is mowed, the more likely they'll keep on moving towards the exit!  So how do you shoot a tulip in a new way?  How 'bought straight down with a macro lens?  Looks pretty cool, even with the white tulip with subtle color variations...

So a day or two later, after the above shot came
out, I was shooting another the same way - straight down, stopped down considerably so that a good portion of the flower would be in focus with the larger depth-of-field.  This one was a yellow tulip with red highlights - beautiful colors...  But wait, what is that little green particle hiding among the flower parts near the center - aphids!  In fact, if you look closely at the white one above, you can spot one of the little buggers there too.  On this yellow one, I went in for an oblique closeup for more details.  You can see little legs, perhaps some eye dots - perhaps a probiscus with which they suck plant juice.  Will have to keep an eye out for more of these little microscopic critters...