Sunday, October 23, 2011

Desert Heat

In infrared light the landscape takes on an ethereal quality I deeply appreciate. I hope you do too. The images below were taken with a camera sensitive to IR light and I used it to capture a couple panoramas out in Saquaro National Park West this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Painted Picture

In commercial photography it is the duty of the photographer to not only provide the client with images that promote but also transform the product into something that captures the attention of the customer. Recently I was given the opportunity to work with Login, Inc. - a provider of Business Voice, Internet and Colocation services in Tucson Arizona. They operate three Data Centers located in Arizona and Colorado - fascinating places only techies can truly appreciate.

Data Centers typically contain racks and racks of expensive, high tech computers and equipment in windowless, secure, cold rooms lit by blinding florescent ceiling lamps and encased in the cacophony of sound from power generators and cooling fans - isolated from the torturous, dirty world outside. Matt J. Ramsey, the Co-founder and CEO of Login, being the astute and artistically sophisticated gentleman that he is - had admired my long exposure astronomical work and knew that such techniques could be used to document his data center for promotional purposes. My job was to make this sterile, self-contained world somehow look beautiful and inviting. I happily accepted the challenge.

Now I had done this sort of thing before - in the darkened studio and out in the desert at night - using shielded flashlights with colored gels to "paint" the scenes to my liking. This is a slow and painful process, as you must determine - empirically - the duration and intensity of the light laid down on the subject. Trial and Error - hour after hour of experimentation for a payoff of just one decently painted and properly exposed image.
This picture is the result of a single 12 minute long exposure made out in Saguaro National Monument West one night in October of 2003. I used 5 different mini-maglights with shields and colored gels to create the "painted desert" effect. (With apologies to my idol - William Lesch)
For the Data Center images, with the florescent lights turned off, I used the power and signal LEDs native to the equipment in the racks as the primary light source. I gauged my exposures as to allow these lights to provide most of the ambient illumination. For those areas that remained dark (or darker than I thought appropriate) I dropped back to my light painting experience at night in the desert and used gelled flashlights to add some artistic nuance and color to the scene. Exposures were typically 60 seconds at F/4.5 and ISO 400. Below are some of the more colorful results.
A special thanks goes out to "Heather" - the model in the one picture with a person in it. She expertly stood absolutely still for over a minute while the camera shutter was open and I painted her with a flashlight. Oh - and for those of you that are certain to ask - Yes - I was in frame in every single shot here. Why am I not visible then? I never stood in one place long enough to register "on film":-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Of Telescopes, Astronomers, and Comets

I repeatly wonder why I practice photography - especially astrophotography. It requires lots of equipment, time and effort. On Friday I had an engineering run on the 2.3 Meter Bok telescope on Kitt Peak. The moon was nearly full and didn't set until nearly 1.5 hours before morning twilight - leaving precious little time under dark skies. Knowing I was going to finish working on the BOk Telescope long before sunrise, I decided to bring my trusty Takahashi Astrograph and mount and attempt to photograph the early morning comet - 45P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova. This periodic comet made a close pass to Earth earlier this year but was poorly placed for northern hemisphere observers. Now close to the sun in the early morning sky - photographing it was going to be a challenge. Though it is sporting a modest tail, it is buried in the morning zodical light and only achieves 12 degrees above the horizon before the onset of morning twilight. To make matters worse - from Kitt Peak I would have to shoot through the heavy glow of the city lights of Tucson. Sigh.
After finishing my duties with the 2.3 Meter Beast - I returned to the dorm around midnight and setup my mount and scope in the parking lot favored by a good eastern horizon and shielded from the wind by low trees.
At about 2:30am as the moon was about to set I decided to attempt a few minutes of imaging on the old standby - M42 - the Orion Nebula. Yeah - I know - everybody shoots this thing - its like a flower for the terrestrial photographer - pedestrian, but pretty. After about an hour of fighting a bad USB extension cable for the autoguider I finally was able to get about 30 minutes of integration with the 5D II on the neb - here is the result.
At 4:15 the comet was supposedly about 5 degrees above the eastern horizon. Not visible with the naked eye (and not having my binoculars) I was forced to search for it using the autoguider. My mount is not a "Goto" model and I had to fall back on my skills I learned as a lowly amateur and star hop to the expected location. After about 5 minutes I found a fuzzy "star" in the guider that was near the predicted postition. Without the luxury of time to decide on whether or not this was the comet - I started taking 1 minute long subframes of the field. 40 minutes later, twilight stopped further efforts on the comet. After inspecting the images - indeed the comet was there - though buried in the fog of the city and zodical glow. After processing - 40+ images revealed the object below.
After a few hours of shut-eye in the dorm I wandered back to the 2.3 Meter dome and finished working on a couple of hardware issues with the spare control system computer. This evening was the annual Tohono O' odham visit to their sacred mountain. All the Observatories were open to the public and the o'odham nation for inspection. The Tucson Amateur Astronomers association (TAAA) were on hand to show visitors views of the moon and celestial objects through various small telescopes (small compared to the monsters that permanently inhabit the mountain). My friends Dean and Melinda Ketelsen are members of the TAAA as well as docents for Kitt Peak. Seeing a note on FB from Mel that they planned on being on the mountain - I made the trek across the hill to where the TAAA had setup teles. It was good to see a couple of fellow astro-nuts and chat briefly with them before having to return to tour duty at the 2.3 Meter. Here are a couple of snaps of the K's setup near the 0.9 Meter that evening.