Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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And then there were barns

Just last week I was heading up to Michigan’s thumb to attempt an astrological photo shoot. As you read, it didn’t exactly go as planned. But I did get this:

The last shot in a fun photo shoot.

So I’m happy. But I also can’t wait to try it again! The end of the month will be more moonless nights…if I can get the weather to cooperate maybe I can get an even better image. Maybe one with the whole Milky Way in the frame!

But until then there are always barns.

The cow caught my attention. Yes, it’s a real cow. I wasn’t certain at first.

On the way home from my starlit night I took my time, wandering around big farm blocks, teased by wide open vistas filled with barns.

Just a plain grey barn is beautiful too.

There are so many beautiful barns in the thumb!

I’ve shown you this one before, but it’s so cool, it deserves another showing.

It seemed like I’d see one across a huge field, get there, and then see more on the far side of another field!

This is the sweetest little barn.

I wasn’t too sure where I was during most of my barn hunting, but it didn’t really matter — how lost can you get in a thumb?

Classic red always works.

But it wasn’t just barns that I found fascinating. I loved the big expanses of fields, and the tree lines in the distance too.

The pops of white birch and the bit of yellow made this a must take shot.

And there was this guy who moved a wing and caught my eye while I was focusing on a barn over his left shoulder.

He stared at me, decided I was no threat and went back to surveying for food.

What barn was I focused on? Well, these two:

A two-fer.

But there were so many to choose from.

One of my favorites from the morning.

I could have driven around looking at them all day. It was almost as fun, in a different way, as shooting at night out under the stars.

Classic lines.

Almost.

Not a barn. But still very cool.


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Starry starry night

I’m taking an online Milky Way photography course. There are many modulus, lots of basics, but lots of details too. Our homework this ‘new moon cycle’ was to take a single image of the Milky Way. I’ve been trying to get somewhere dark on a night when there are clear skies.

March 12 at Katie’s park. Clouds AND too much light! (Bortle 5)

It hasn’t been easy. There is so much light pollution where I, and most of us, live. You can check out the amount of light in your area using a light pollution map. There are 9 levels of light pollution, from a bortle 1 (darkest) to bortle 9 (the most light).

Friday late afternoon I drove a couple of hours up into the thumb of Michigan, with a specific destination in mind. Though we were under heavy cloud cover the weather people said the sky would clear by 9 p.m. and stay that way up till 3 a.m. The Milky Way wasn’t scheduled to rise until 3 a.m. But I was running out of nights when there would be no moon, so I decided to hope and headed north.

I reserved a hotel in Bad Axe, and thought I’d shoot in the Dark Sky park which has an elevated platform and pretty close to 360 degrees of sky and was located ten miles away in Port Crescent. Imagine my despair when, after checking into the hotel, I arrived at the park to explore before sunset and found it closed for the season! OH NO!!!

March 27. Too much light, and so cold my fingers froze after only 7 shots. (Bortle 4)

I drove up and down the thumb coast looking for another location as the sun began to sink. I slowly came to the realization that any open access to the beach was going to have me pointing my camera in the wrong direction. I needed to be able to see the horizon in the southeast. I’d be looking north or west on the western side of the thumb.

Downtown Port Austin. Too much light, and looking northwest.

So I drove over to the eastern shore, remembering two spits of land at Grindstone City that Katie and I had explored three years ago while camping up there. I needed to see if I’d feel safe there alone at night.

April 1. This looks promising. (Bortle 3)

Turns out one of the spits of land is a boat ramp, and the houses at the top of the ramp didn’t appear to be inhabited in this offseason of cold and wind. I didn’t see a street light either. I figured it was my best chance. I drove back to the hotel for a nap, setting my alarm for 2 a.m.

But at 2, when my phone started chiming I was so nice and warm in a comfortable bed I considered just rolling over and letting sleep claim me again. After all, the clouds were supposed to be moving in and what were the odds I see the Milky Way anyway? Plus it was a half hour drive to a dark boat ramp. Kind of scary. Maybe I’d just stay in bed.

But that would be a waste of careful (and not so careful) planning. It was my last night of clear skies before the moon put in an appearance. My last chance this moon cycle to try. So I convinced myself to at least get in the car and drive up there. And I gave myself permission to not get out of the car if it didn’t feel right.

On the drive I could see stars overhead. I never saw another car the entire trip. Arriving at the boat ramp it felt comfortable. Twenty-eight degrees, no wind, I could set my tripod up right next to the car, facing out over a small bay and Lake Huron.

I decided to sit in the car and let my eyes adjust. Also to make sure that I was alone out there. So I turned off the headlights and waited for the dash lights to dim They stayed on. And on. I thought maybe if I locked the car doors they’d turn off. So I clicked the button and the doors locked and the dash lights still stayed on. I sat there waiting and they shone brightly back at me.

Well darn.

Maybe I’d just get out and set up the camera and wait for my eyes to adjust out there. I pulled the interior door handle to release the lock and the car alarm went off. Well double darn. Here I am trying to be inconspicuous and the dash light won’t turn off and now the headlights are blinking and the horn is blaring and I’m fumbling trying to get it all to just stop!

Deliberately overexposed to check star focus. Is that the Milky Way near the tree?

I finally click the right thing and the horn stops, and I sort of fall out of the car, slam the door and begin setting up the tripod. But one of the top sections of the tripod isn’t tight, and the camera flops around and in the dark I can’t figure out what I have to turn to stop the flopping.

I take a deep breath and tighten up everything I can figure out to tighten and wonder why nothing seemed loose in the hotel room. I take a test shot, deliberately overexposed, to help me check the focus of the stars. I think I see the Milky Way in that shot, but frankly, it’s hard to tell.

Whatever, there are stars so I’m happy.

I take several (ok, 50+) images, moving around a little bit, but finding that if I move away from the car I’m in even more light from the streetlight over on the other spit of land, and hope that maybe at least one of them is exposed correctly while also in focus without tripod tremor. (At one point my camera slowly sank to the right because something still wasn’t tight!)

I never felt nervous, never got cold, and I lost all track of time. I packed it up around 4 a.m. I was pretty much taking pictures of the same tree the entire time, but I was never bored. That’s what getting lost in the stars does for me.

April 2, 3:00 a.m. Lots of light everywhere. Not even sure that’s the Milky Way, but it was pretty!

I wish I could do more of this, but it’s just so hard to find a place that’s dark enough but where I still feel safe. I’m going to start planning for the next new moon cycle. Where to go, where to go…

And a side benefit? There were lots of barns around Bad Axe. Lots and lots of barns.

Stay tuned.


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Watching the night sky

I’m taking a Milky Way photography course on-line. It’s consumed a lot of my time, as there is so much to learn. I’ve been working on improving my night photography skills since 2017 when I took a one evening class. Too bad that one night there was sleet and rain, but I learned a lot.

And now I’m learning more. I went out a couple weeks ago to a local park, in the middle of the night, just to practice my settings and see how it felt to be out there in the dark again.

It felt pretty wonderful, but that was a park close to home. We have lots and lots of light around here, and I’m going to have to go further afield to find darker skies. Still, it’s good to practice.

I need to go out again soon and practice some techniques for getting the stars in focus. But it’s raining and it’s going to keep raining…maybe right through the next new moon window of opportunity for Milky Way shooting!

So, out of frustration I went back to some images I took in the summer of 2020 when the comet was flying high and I was standing on a sandy bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Once the comet was done for the night I turned around and saw the Milky Way.

Tonight I wistfully clicked through those pictures. They sure aren’t perfect, but they remind me of a wonderful time. But I hope to do a much better job of focusing on my next attempt!

Now if it would just stop raining.

Be warned, those of you that live in dark areas of the country, eventually you’re going to hear from me, asking to camp out in your backyard. I promise to be quiet as I skulk around under your sky.

You might even want to join me. You’d be amazed at how time flies when you’re standing in the dark looking up at millions of light years looking back at you.


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Yard stars

An opressively hot August has given way to dryer, cooler temperatures in September here in lower Michigan. Katie suggested I put up the backyard tent. After all, she hasn’t gone on any adventures this summer, so the least I could do is give her an outdoor sleeping experience.

I thought that was an excellent idea.

She doesn’t sleep through the night anymore, though, so about 3 a.m. every morning she wakes me up and we venture out into the yard for a walk about.

Our private camping spot right here at home.

While she’s choosing her spot, I’m usually looking up at the sky. There’s almost always something to see.

One night I noticed a perfectly shapped “C” of clouds moving in. The left half of the sky was clear with sparkling stars. The right was rolling with clouds. I tried to hurry Katie along so we could go inside to get the camera.

Trees lit from the neighborhood lights.

But by the time I got her inside, then found the camera, switched lens, attached it to the tripod and changed the settings, the perfect “C” was just a bunch of clouds.

Still, it was fun, and something I wouldn’t have done if my Katie-girl hadn’t picked the perfect time to wake me up.

No matter the weather it’s fun to spend some time in the backyard. Even in the middle of the night.

Ediit: These images will show best if you’re in a dark room and looking at a screen larger than your phone.


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Sky high

Let’s see. The last I knew you were all looking at barns because barns are so much easier to photograph than stars. I don’t suppose I can ply you with more of them?

Look! It’s a barn! (From my drive home on Friday.)

No? I understand–you’re wondering how I could have been at a dark sky park for three days and three nights and not produce something worthy of all that time.

Packing up my campsite Friday.

All three evenings we had nice sunsets, and I hoped that the skies might be clear enough to see some stars. But clouds rolled in after the sun went down and we had two nights of torrential rain and wind.

This little guy had to be presuaded not to hitch a ride home with me.

Definitely no star shooting those nights! Though I did see a couple meteorites each night before the weather turned really wicked.

Wednesday night’s sunset.

But I really wanted to spend a few hours on a warm summer night watching the sky, and behind those clouds I just knew there were hundreds of meteorites flying. It was frustrating.

Thursday night’s sunset.

Finally it was Thursday night, my last night at the park. Weather predictions were that Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights would be clear. But there wasn’t a campsite or a hotel room to be had over the weekend, so all my chips were on the table for Thursday night.

The stars from the campground beach about 10:30 p.m.

I walked down to the beach after dark to see if there were stars or clouds. Turned out there was a bit of both. I took a few pictures, but it wasn’t really dark, so I decided to drive to the dark sky park one last time.

And I’m so glad I did.

No that’s not a meteorite. It’s just a plane.

I arrived shortly before 11:00 p.m. and the parking lot was very full. You could feel the excitement, all those cars, headlights off, dark shadows of people scurying around with tripods and red headlamps.

Light from town interferes with the Milky Way.

I finally found a block of three empty parking spots and I quickly pulled into the middle one. Just as I was turning in I realized there was a person in a chair in the first empty spot. That shook me as I could have run right over them!

So many stars.

I got out of the car, intent on apologizing for almost mowing him or her down when I heard snoring. There was a very large man in a reclining beach chair full on asleep. I made a lot of noise, not intentionally, getting my gear out of the car and he never woke up.

The other end of the Milky Way.

I decided there were too many noisy people, including what appeared to be a whole group of school kids at the other end of the parking lot. I was already seeing metorites overhead, so I headed back into the dunes to see what I could see.

Most of the Milky Way was directly overhead.

Lots of people out there too, red headlights bobbing around, but the people were quiet, more respectful of the wonderful show going on overhead.

As the sky got darker and darker the number of meteorites bursting overhead increased. I was standing at an intersection of two paths and several people stopped by to chat about what a wonderful night it was.

There were a few clouds but they just added to the interest.

One young man in particular asked me right away what appeture I was using, and we ended up in a long conversation about lenses and iso speeds. He had a camera in the car, shooting film. We debated if it would work, and he went to get it.

Turns out it was color, with a speed of 200 (I can’t remember how we phrased that back in the film days) but he did have a really low f-stop. So I set my camera for 200 iso and shot 20 seconds to see what he might get…which ended up being a big, totally black rectangle.

It was such a beautiful night.

So he took one picture anyway, just for fun, but didn’t waste the rest of his roll of film. Then we talked about him going to the University of Michigan, and me having done that many years ago, and his road trip to NYC and my roadtrip to Baltimore, and his granparents (who aren’t much older than me), and photography composition, and today’s real estate values skyrocketing, and my dad’s truck crash, and his planned kayak trip the next morning. Then he headed back to his campsite, and I stayed out there and shot the sky for another hour at least.

Just after 1 a.m. the sky lit up with metorites. And I was lucky (and it’s all pure luck) that one appeared to dance right through the frame of one of my shots. I squealed as I am want to do in situations like this, then impatiently waited for the 15 seconds to elapse, and then the long wait for the noise reduction to work itself out before I could check to see if what I thought had happened had.

I still can’t believe I got this curly que meteorite!

And yes it did! HOW COOL IS THAT?

I could have stayed out there staring at the sky all night. But by 1:45 I thought I had captured all the angles of the few trees out there. And I had that drive home in the morning. So I started walking back to the parking lot. But then there’d be something else that was pretty so I’d have to stop.

There were lots of other people still out there, too, though some were also packing it up for the night.

This is what it looks like when a whole group of people with flashlights and headlamps walks through your 15 second exposure.

I’m sure there were several dozen back in the dunes still gazing up at the sky when I finally left, I hope they weren’t asleep like the three young ladies I found on the grassy berm in front of my car. I woke them up when I used the remote to unlock the back and my headlights turned on. I hadn’t seen them there asleep on a big blanket. At least they weren’t snoring.

It was such a wonderful night I’m having trouble deciding which images to show you. There was still quite a bit of light coming from town, but I guess that just adds to the effect.

I don’t know what planet that is on the left, but it was soooo bright!

I wish you all could have been standing right there with me. It’s really kind of hard to express how awe inspiring it is to be under those stars hanging so bright in the sky with metorites flitting through them which evoked oohs and ahs from people all over the park. It was better than the 4th of July fireworks.

I sweated through three days of heat and humidity and held my tent to the ground by sheer determination in two monsoons in a campground with no bathrooms for that one perfect night, and every bit of all that discomfort disappeared as soon as I was in the dark on the warm sand looking up on a clear night.

Hard to describe.

I heartily recommend this kind of experience for anything that ails you. And it’s OK if you bring your beach chair.

Just don’t snore.

PS: I recommend you look at the night images on something bigger than your phone, and probably turn up the brightness of your screen.


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Chasing the stars again

Every year I reserve a camping spot somewhere up north for mid-August in the hopes of being in a dark place to wittness the meteorite showers. Almost every year I am foiled.

Drove right through farm country.

Back in March I booked the last campsite at Port Crescent State Park which has a Dark Sky Park just a couple miles down the road from the campground.

But the sky didn’t look promising.

Of course, booking in March for August means you have no idea what the weather will be like once you’re there. And of course this year, while last week was clear with no chance of rain, this week, when the meteorites should be peaking, is forecast to be hot and stormy.

Harvesting in the heat.

A great debate ensued as my departure date grew nearer. Should I cancel or should I go north and see what happens? The debate grew more interesting when I received an email from the state park indicating there would be no restrooms, due to a sewer problem. Right. Stormy and no bathrooms.

Heavy skies, but lots of barns.

The answer seemed obvious. I should cancel, especially since they’d refund my registration money.

Do you see the red/orange left on the barns? I thought it looked great with the orange lilies below.

So I went anyway.

When the soybeans turn yellow this will be stunning.

The drive up was not encouraging. The skies were overcast, then filled with heavy clouds.

This little barn, with the queen anne’s lace, is one of my favorites from the trip north.

But my navigation system, instead of sending me up the freeway, took me on all backroads. Right through farm country. Filled to overflowing with barns.

The cows didn’t seem to be uneasy about the weather. Of course they get to see stars every clear night.

So. Even if I didn’t get to see meteroites or stars or anything I was after, I’d be sure to catch a few barns. So it was a win, right?

I liked the yellow stripped field against the purple clouds and the white windmills.

Well sort of. Just before I left I was messing around with settings, reading my manual and moving through the menus. I did something so that every image was severely overexposed. And I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

Barns and windmills and perhaps sugar beets.

So I drove north frustrated with the weather and my camera, and the fact I couldn’t find my Kindle so nothing much felt right.

Held up by the vines.

But I added almost 2 hours to the 3 hour drive, because, well, barns.

Barns were everywhere. But so were the clouds.

And when I finally, FINALLY, made it to the lake the sky was clearing.

The cool blue sooths me.

There just might be a chance that my very first night I’d get the shots I’ve been dreaming of.

Might see some stars tonight!

Unless…

Not much of a sunset. But there is hope for the night sky.

Well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Saw this guy as I headed to my car for the trip to the Dark Sky Park.


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Starry starry night

When last I left you I had crashed for a nap inside my tent while a thunderstorm rained down and the wind blew the trees above me, brushing clouds across the sky. I fell asleep believing there would be no stars that night, my last night near the Dark Sky Park.

But when I woke, an hour or so later, the wind had stopped, the rain no longer pounded down and there was just a tiny peak of sunshine making the wet leaves glow. Maybe there was still a chance.

Yep, the sun shines to set another day.

But of course, first I had to sit through another sunset. Such an inconvenience.

Everyone was enjoying the warm summer evening.

I was not alone on the beach. Lots of families were settled in for the show, or playing in the water. They were fun to watch. I remember playing like this when I was a kid.

Did you ever walk on your hands in a lake, your legs sticking out into the evening air?

The air was warm and the sky was pretty clear. I began to get excited about seeing some stars. If the sun would ever go down. I posted on Facebook that it was the slowest sunset ever. I messed around taking pictures of nothing much just to pass the time.

I liked the way the light played on the sand filled with footprints.

And then finally. FINALLY!

The sun sighs goodnight.

Soon I was back in the car and headed six miles north to the Dark Sky Park. The parking lot was full of cars and people when I arrived. Everyone figured that tonight was the night we’d see a meteor shower. Of course that pesky moon was still up there, a half moon never shown so bright, but I was just glad there were no clouds.

Once it was dark I grabbed my camera, already set on the tripod, with manual settings appropriate for night photography, and my little red flashlight and ventured out on the walkways through the dunes. Such a beautiful night.

Amazing how many stars there are, even when it’s not completely dark.

I was hoping for lots of shooting stars, and in fact while I was shooting the image below a huge one raced across the sky just off to my right. I hoped the camera caught it but it was just outside the range. People all over the park let up a big cry and applauded. It was soooooo wonderful, it looked like something out of a movie.

The light on the fence and the shadows were created by the moonlight. See the red light over on the right? Another stargazer enjoying the night sky.

I think I saw a couple of other, much smaller shooting stars, but was never quite sure what I had seen out of the corner of my eye. In fact I wouldn’t normally show you this image, but I think it’s interesting if not perfect. You can see the branches lit up by the moon, and what is probably a satellite in the upper corner. I didn’t see any of that when I took the image. I was just practicing getting shots without shake.

Taking pictures at night, you never know what you’ll see when you look at them on a big screen later.

There were lots of people there but by 11 there were only a few of us. I thought I’d wait until the moon set, but that wasn’t going to be until after 2:30 a.m. By 1:00 a.m. I was the only one left, and I decided I wasn’t even sure where the Milky Way was, or if it would be visible and I wasn’t comfortable being there alone…so I packed it in and headed back to my campsite.

A beautiful night.

I wasn’t sure what I had captured, though I knew it wasn’t what I had hoped to get. Still, I’m so glad I went and I’m pretty happy with the few decent images I got. I had to lighten these up quite a bit to put them into WordPress. The original images were pretty dark when I did my preview. I maybe have over lightened them here. I suppose everyone’s computer screen will show them differently. I think a lot of night photography, once you figure out the manual settings on the camera, will come down to figuring out how to process them. I’m still working on that.

I had to stop and take this picture, the barn was so beautiful.

I slept well that night, and in the morning packed up and headed South toward home. Right through all that farmland. With all those barns.

Barn and hawk.

Yep, had to stop a few times on the way. I’m sure you don’t mind.

I’ll go back to the Dark Sky park again someday, preferably when the moon isn’t up all night and the Milky Way is. And meanwhile I’ll mess around with the images I have to see how I can make them even more exciting. So you’ll think you’ve been there!

But you really should try to get there yourself. If you pick the right night you won’t be disappointed!

From the old days, still standing straight and tall.


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Camping during a pandemic

I’m just home from a short 3 day camping trip in the tip of Michigan’s thumb. It was my first camping trip outside my backyard of the season and I went to spend some time at a dark sky park that’s tucked into the dune grass along Saginaw Bay a few miles up the road from the state park campground.

A pretty minimal site, but I wasn’t there for the camping.

It was a last minute decision when our local weather person predicted clear skies and good views of a meteor shower.

I wandered on the drive up to my campsite on Tuesday afternoon through miles and miles of flat farmland which was filled with….you guessed it….barns!

You can’t beat red barns and puffy clouds!

So, while you might think this post would be filled with dark skies and bright stars you’d be wrong. At least for now.

The wheat is already harvested, mostly it’s soy beans and corn waiting to ripen now.

I knew you’d want to see the barns, it’s been way too long since I did a post about barns, and they are one of my favorite things to hunt down.

This was my favorite barn of the trip up, but notice the sky is filling with clouds.

And once I arrived at my campsite I had to go check out the dark sky park, to make strategic plans about where I might want to set up for prime star gazing.

Lots of low dunes and a few trees might make the perfect place for star gazing.

It’s a pretty little park with a huge parking lot and a viewing platform. But I found the low dunes and grasses more interesting.

I didn’t notice this dragonfly when I took the shot. But I like that he photo-bombed my image.

I also noticed all the clouds accumulating and wondered whether I’d have clear skies that night. But the weather guy said I would, so I tried not to worry.

If I weren’t there for stars I’d have been thrilled with the beautiful clouds.

That evening the sun went down amid the clouds in a pretty little show.

Waiting on the sun to sink.

I sat on a platform overlooking the Bay. Last year in June Katie and I visited this park, sat right here to watch the sun set. I was missing my girl, but it was much too hot for her to go camping with me. She was home enjoying air conditioning with her dad.

A nice place to watch the sky turn colors.

I went down to the beach to explore a little as I waited. High water in the Great Lakes have turned the beach into such a narrow strip of sand you could hardly call it a beach at all.

This split rail fence used to mark the beginning of the beach. Now it’s part of the bay.

The sky was pretty, but I was impatient for the show to be over so that I could scoot up to the dark sky park and see what I was there to see.

Just a bit north of the actual sun the clouds were turning pink.

Finally the sun gave up it’s grip on the day and settled with a sigh into the water.

The end of a pretty day.


The clouds seemed to be dispersing, so I was hopeful as I headed up the the night sky park. There were perhaps a dozen cars filled with other people hoping to see some meteor action.

I was hoping for stars.

And as the sky got dark an immediate problem became evident. The half moon was high in the sky and shining brightly. I checked my phone and learned that the moon would set at 1:30. I figured I could wait it out. But the longer we all sat there the more clouds moved in until even the bright moon was obscured. By midnight I gave up and headed back to camp for some sleep, not having taken a single shot.

I had one more night there, and I just knew the sky would be clear! The weather guy said so!

Stay tuned.

At least the barns were pretty.