Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The struggle is real

No, not that kind of struggle…the struggle to capture the night sky image I have in my head. Sometimes I think I should just get another head.

See that shadow hump in the foreground? That’s me hunkered down behind the camera, due to my neighbors GIGANTIC light hanging over her garage. Sigh. And the lights on the right are from my house.

This week we finally had a clear night. I swear, we hadn’t seen the sun in weeks here in Michigan, but one day this week the sun graced us with her presence and I excitedly watched the weather guy to see if we were going to keep those clear skies overnight.

Well…sort of…but it was the best we’d had in forever, so I figured I’d run over to a local park where I thought the skies would be darker than Katie’s park here in town. I was going to go over around 9 p.m., figuring it would be true dark by then. But I’m older now and was already yawning at 8. And it looked pretty darn dark to me even that early.

I moved, so it’s somewhat better. And you can see a couple stars if you look carefully, so it’s all good.

So off I went, camera on the tripod, settings already entered. Remote shutter thingy attached. Extra batteries in my pocket. Handwarmer in there too. It was 17F out there.

As I drove the few miles to the park I didn’t see another car. Good. I don’t really want anyone to know I’m at the park after dark. I just want to grab a few practice shots and get out of there and back to my nice warm house.

But just as I got to the park entrance, beginning my turn in off a narrow country road, a car came up over the hill from the other direction, bright lights glaring. We both stopped for a moment, and then I continued on, not wanting them to see me pull into the park. I drove about half a mile away, turned around at the next road and went back.

WordPress always shows images darker than I’ve edited them. Lots of light over there. Plus some clouds moving in.

All was still. I texted my husband that I was there, and was reaching for my camera when a car, possibly the same car, pulled into the parking lot and parked at the other end.

Well. I’m not getting out of my car. In fact I locked the doors and waited a few minutes. I’m pretty sure they were doing the same thing. I couldn’t think of one good reason for anyone to be out there long after dark unless, of course, they too wanted to shoot the stars. And what were the odds of that?

So I backed up, shot out of the parking lot, and went home. I think I was gone all of 20 minutes. I was so frustrated I decided to at least take a picture of the tree in our yard, still decked out in lights. I figured the camera was on the tripod, might as well get something.

When I walked into the house husband said something like ‘That didn’t take long.” and I explained the story, and he said he’d go back out with me in a little bit.

Lots of light looking behind me too.

So we did. I felt much happier sitting out on the pier knowing he was in the car just behind me. I got a few images…but there was lots more light out there than I anticipated in a Bortle 4, I think I was shooting over the next small town. I need to go further away.

Still it was fun trying to remember all the things I needed to do to get the stars. I struggled with my tripod a whole lot too. Good things to practice before the Milky Way is back up. I really want that shot that’s in my head

There were a LOT of planes that night.

Today I tried stacking a series of 10 images from that night. That’s supposed to take things that aren’t consistent between the images out and improve the noise level in the results. I think I need to figure something out, because this is what I got.

9 images of the airplane at 8 seconds each. Sigh. And another little one down near the horizon too.

Ah well, my classmates will help me with that…and meanwhile I had a midwinter adventure close to home and have another story to tell!

PS: I think you need to be looking at these images when you’re sitting in a dark room with no glare. 🙂


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Waiting on the Milky Way

So what does a person do all day while waiting for true dark to arrive? Besides nap that is.

Working on the river.

Well, on the one day the skies were clear while I was in the UP I wandered the Manistique waterfront looking for other things to photograph while impatiently urging the sun to hurry up and sink.

If you zoom in you might be able to read about the lighthouse.

The mouth of the Manistique River was being dredged so I watched that for awhile. It was sort of interesting, but you can only watch so many piles of mud being moved before you have to move on.

Scoop after scoop of muck was dug up from the river bottom and poured into the barge.

I couldn’t resist walking out on the causeway leading to the shiny red lighthouse. It was such a pretty day.

A wide cement walkway made the trip out there easy to navigate.

I spent quite a bit of time out there waiting for the sun to go down. And watching the light glint off the water.

It’s not a long walk on a pretty day.

A couple of guys were fishing but they hid behind the lighthouse for me to get some shots.

All metal, it can withstand some nasty weather. But none was forecast while I was there.

But as the sun lowered I came back into shore.

The flowers glowed, loosestrife, an invasive, and goldenrod.

The evening light makes everything so pretty.

The last bit of light before the magic begins.

And then, slowly, slowly, the sun sank and the blue hour began.

Let’s take a walk down this boardwalk.

Earlier in the day I had scoped out a place to set up, hoping that the Milky Way would be near the lighthouse from my vantage point. The compass said it should be. But I knew I only had one night so I hoped I wasn’t wrong.

The beginning of blue hour on the beach.

I waited impatiently. It takes forever for the night to get truly dark. And then….a few stars decide to turn on their lights.

Here we go…

I still couldn’t tell exactly where the Milky Way was going to shine…but the stars made me smile anyway. And then….finally, finally, there it was. It was pretty darn amazing. I don’t know why the beach wasn’t full of people just staring.

Take a moment and just look.

I stayed out there a long time. A lot of it not shooting, just standing there, in the moment.

Because, really, how many shots can you take of the same lighthouse with the Milky Way? Well, as it turns out…several dozen. You see, the dark sky requires that you have a high ISO and a wide open aperture and that causes grainy shots.

Beautiful without the lighthouse too.

But you can stack them. Did you know that? There’s software that will lay your photos, one on top of the other, and match up your stars and eliminate anything different. And that clears up a lot of the grainy noise. Huh. So I was taking 7 shots of each shot, in preparation for stacking. But I learned, just this week, I should have taken 10 to 15 shots to stack.

Ah well.

Many of my images had these streaks. I never saw it when I was on the beach, but some people say this light in the sky is the Sky-Link satellites. Zoom in and see what you think.

So, anyway, these are single images, no stacking here, just a little editing to bring out the whites and sometimes to lift the shadows.

I still have so much to learn…so many technical things that I can do to make the images more clear, more beautiful. But the Milky Way season here in Michigan is almost over. There will be one more chance in October, just a few nights, and then I’ll have to be patient until 2023.

Just to show you, we are never alone, the sky is full of stuff flying around.

Yea right. I can hardly handle waiting for the sun to set in a single evening. How am I going to get through months of no Milky Way?

It’s gonna be tough.


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So, on to the UP – ey?

Let’s see…last you knew I was hanging out in Mackinaw City waiting for it to stop raining so I could continue on over the bridge to my next adventure.

It was such a beautiful night.

Yep, I was feeling pretty good. Almost kinda certain that I had gotten some decent Milky Way shots at my last location. Of course I didn’t really know, but was feeling good about it.

The other end of the Milky Way.

And I was so excited to be heading to a new (to me) location to find more dark skies. I had a campsite booked for three nights at Fayette State Park which is located at the bottom of the “Garden Peninsula,” a piece of land jutting down into Lake Michigan from the southern edge of the UP. Should be perfect, right?

Well…wrong. When I arrived at the park about 4 p.m. and drove to my site I found a very small site (not necessarily a deal breaker) that was entirely sloped, about the size of 2 cars, and totally a mud pit.

Out of focus because I was speeding away.

I sat there in the drizzle for the amount of time it took me to say”H*LL NO,” and then I drove the long 14 miles back up to civilization where I sat beside the road and searched the internet for a cheap hotel.

Where do I go now?

Along the way, down and back up, I did note that the Garden Peninsula itself was beautiful. With lots of barns and windmills and such.

So that made it a bit easier when I had to drive back down there again to formally check out of the campground that I never camped in so that I could get a refund for the other two nights.

A barn being renovated.

A sixty dollar refund was worth the drive too. I should have just checked out the evening before when I decided not to stay but I was so freaked out by the campground I just ran.

Mama cow wants me to move along.

I made reservations at another state park, Indian Lake, which pretty close to the town of Manistique. It was a much nicer place, with larger camp sites and grass. It wasn’t full my first night so I had a distant view of the lake, though the second night someone camped behind me. Still, I had plenty of room.

Much better. Grass and a view.

And it was only three miles away from the lighthouse where I spent a lot of hours waiting for a sunset and hoping for a chance at a decent Milky Way image.

Did I get that image? Well, as usually this post is getting too long, and I still have lots of images to edit. So I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

Not much of a sunset….but there was the anticipation of stars.

I just had another 2 hour lesson from my Milky Way teacher and I now know more about what I don’t know. I guess I need to get out there for another practice session!

Meet Harlo, my doggie neighbor at the campground.

Oh darn.


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Starry night 2

After our first night under the stars I went back to the hotel, arriving around 5:30 a.m. ready to get some sleep. Unfortunately most of the hotel housekeeping staff, whose laundry room was across the hall from me, were arriving as well. And don’t even talk about the family with three kids who were in the room next door.

Anyway.

I gave up on napping and drove around a little bit looking for barns. And as the afternoon wound down I went out to the lake to see what kind of sunset was going to happen.

And to people watch.

Both were fun, but I was really waiting impatiently for the skies to darken again.

My friend and I were meeting at Esch Beach at midnight where we hoped to shoot the Milky Way amongst a stand of tall, dead trees. It seemed promising.

It turns out that on a warm Friday night the beach is a busy place. Lots of people sitting next to lots of fires which lit up the trees with a bold, red glow. OK then. We’ll just consider that our light painting and work with it.

While we were shooting the trees we listened to the group of people sitting right behind us discuss what we were doing. “Are they taking pictures of the Milky Way?” “IS that the Milky Way up there or just a bunch of clouds?” “Do you think I can get it with my phone?” “Look how cool that looks on the back of their cameras!”

When we moved off, closer to the beach, to see if there were northern lights (my friend was getting alerts for the lights on her phone) over the lake they were all standing up pointing their phones to the sky.

Made me smile.

And guess what? Though we couldn’t see anything but darkness out over the water, the cameras told us otherwise. It was my first time ‘seeing’ the northern lights. I was pretty excited.

Then more carloads of people began to arrive, so we decided to drive back to Point Betsie and try to get some more Milky Way images. The night was young. The air was warm. The lake calm. No time to waste!

No one was out on the beach at Point Betsie, and I shot my favorite house in the dunes again.

Then we walked up closer to the lighthouse, for a different angle.

It was pure magic and I loved being there in the warm darkness. I took a few images and then just sat down on a piece of cement in front of the lighthouse and watched the sky and listened to the gentle waves.

We didn’t mean to stay out all night again…it just happened. And when we finally left it was hard for me to say goodbye to my lake.

Lake Michigan is special no matter the season or circumstance. The lake under the stars?

Priceless.


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Stars, the first night

It’s taken me a few days to sort through the images from my two nights of photography. Looking through them I’m transported back to those warm nights again.

A place in the sand.

Before my photography friend arrived that night I spent a few minutes capturing the sky above the dunes and houses along the road. It was an image I’d had in my head since my last trip up to this area, back in May. I think it looks like an amazing painting, and I’m glad I got to go back and get it.

Once she arrived we went down to the beach to see what there was to see.

Our first glimpse of the beach.

It was a very windy night. We were pushing our tripod legs deep into the sand to try to reduce camera shake. The wind was cool, but I never felt cold until we stopped shooting. The adrenalin kept me warm.

Lighting up the sky.

The sky was stunning. The Milky Way was so clear. And when we turned around to face north the lit lighthouse was beautiful too.

The moon and several planets were supposed to line up around 4:30 that morning, so though we were done shooting the lighthouse and the Milky Way around 3:00, we thought it would be a waste not to stay and see. It was warmer up on the road, and we stood around talking as we waited for the moon to come up.

Waiting for the moon to wake up and join the party.

The moonrise was stunning, but it was rising through a bank of clouds and only intermittently visible. And in the end we didn’t see them all lined up, just Jupiter and sometimes Mars, and the moon.

The lighthouse catches me trying to grab an image of the pole and the Milky Way.

But even without planets we were both smiling when we finally headed to bed just as the sun was beginning to light up the world.

We knew we’d had a wonderful night under the stars, and if we were lucky we’d be out the next night too.

Stay tuned.


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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.