Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Last one of the season.

I picked Katie up from camp on Monday. Can you believe the people there say she never barks at all? Me either.

She made up for it by telling me off the entire thirty minute drive home. And then barking at her dad and me off and on the rest of the day. She was pretty wound up. So after one restless night at home we set out for one last camping trip in the north.

Since it’s after Labor Day here in the United States, most people don’t think about camping and campgrounds are pretty empty, especially during the middle of the week. But it was going to be a beautiful couple of days, with highs in the 70s (23 C) and lows at night in the mid 50s (11 C). Plus the skies were supposed to be clear, and better yet, there would be no moon.

Perfect to make another attempt at taking pictures of the night sky.

I made one attempt during our drive across the Upper Peninsula last week, when we stopped along the way at an Inn right across the street from Lake Michigan. My husband was good enough to go out into the night with me even though he was tired from driving.

Natural and man made light brighten the night sky.

Turns out we had fun, though I didn’t get exactly what I was hoping for. My Wordless Wednesday post was one that I thought was sort of successful with it’s Milky Way high in the sky and the grasses in the front. Not entirely right, but not bad. And the image above was the best of what I got during our walk along the boardwalk.

So I was hoping for another opportunity as Katie and I headed north on Tuesday. Conditions should be perfect, and I had a sweet little lake in mind. With fewer people camping I had a better chance at getting a camp site right along the lake, and Katie and I scored a great site.

Do you see the little doggie back there?

There were only three other couples camping, each spaced far from the other. The weather was perfect. Katie and I went on several walks around the campground after we set up the tent. She was thrilled to be there, prancing along with her nose to the ground.

“Hey mama! There’s still wildflowers blooming over here!”

And then as evening arrived, we sat on the shore of our little lake and enjoyed the fading light.

It was a peachy kind of evening.

Still, it was a long time until the stars came out, and Katie got impatient and restless. I ended up going to get the car and parking it at the boat ramp so that she could nap while I worked. She was good with that.

Finally, after nine p.m. the sky was a midnight blue. I was hoping to get some images of stars reflected in the still water, but that didn’t really work out. I wasn’t high enough above the water to truly see many stars reflected. And the milky way wasn’t over the lake like I had hoped. But it was still pretty.

It was a pretty spectacular night.

I think if I had waited around a few more hours it might have moved on over the lake. But Katie was sleeping in the car and I wanted to be sleeping too. So after an hour of attempting to get the image I was envisioning, I settled for what I had and we went back to camp. None of the images were perfect. This one shows the tremor from me pressing the button to open the shutter. I can’t find my remote clicker thingy. And I think my tripod isn’t stable enough for this. Or maybe it’s just me not tightening it up enough.

Anyway, once back at our site, surrounded by tall dark trees, I looked up. It seemed like there were more stars right above my tent than all across the entire lake. I had to set the camera back up again.

Could have looked at this all night.

Even Katie seemed impressed. She waited quietly next to my feet as I clicked away. Sometimes she knows it’s not all about her.

And in the morning, after checking out the misty lake, watching a bald eagle snatch a fish out of the water, and happy with my nighttime experiment, we packed up and headed home.

A beautiful morning.

It was going to get warmer, and Katie’s not so good with heat these days. Plus sleeping in my own bed seemed pretty enticing. Katie did not agree and turned her back on me as I was taking the tent down.

“If I don’t look at you then it’s not happening.”

She tried to protest by refusing to get in the car after everything was packed.

“I’m not going with you mama!”

But when I asked her if she wanted a treat…well….she decided she’d come along after all.

“Well OKAAAAAY then!”

Yea, she’s a good girl, my Katie.

“No star is prettier than me mama!”


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A New Year Begins

It’s 4:30 a.m. and Katie the dog wants to go out. Just like every morning, her timing is meticulously accurate. I shake the sleep from my eyes as she shakes the tags on her collar and together we stumble to the front door where she prances impatiently as I don shoes and coat and gloves.

And then we step out into the blackness that is early morning.

Deep silence surrounds us. No cars out on the freeway, no stirring in the neighborhood. Only the far away wail of a train intrudes on the thick blanket of quiet. I whisper to her, unwilling to pierce the silence myself, to find a good spot as we wander the yard.

Almost directly overhead is the big dipper, sitting upside down, spilling good wishes down upon us. Orion’s belt has long since gone to bed. “Hi Dad,” I whisper. “Here’s to a New Year. Another one starting without you and mom.”

And then I pause, a bit of happiness floating from me up to him. “Well, not really without you…I feel you right here. See you tomorrow morning…say hi to Mom”

Katie and I head silently back to the house. At the front porch she stands on her back legs asking to be picked up. I do, picking up her awkwardly lopsided bobble-headed cone encased self and give her a tight hug and a kiss.

“Happy New Year baby-girl, Happy New Year.”

Happy New Year mama!

Happy New Year mama!


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Elusive stars

You know I’ve been working on my night photography, right?. Well, I was lucky to be able to meet Heather, aka Snap Happy Gal, while I was up north. We met out on the beach long after sunset and she gave me a few pointers about night shooting even though the skies were cloudy and the stars were hiding.

A rock.  And too blue.  But still...

A rock. And too blue. But still…

I learned a lot, though I need much more practice before I can even begin to think I understand all of this.

But I didn’t get much time to practice night photography on this trip because, as you have seen in recent blog posts, we had days and nights filled with clouds.

Clouds rolling in.  Again.

Clouds rolling in. Again.

Lots of them. Luckily my last evening the sky cleared and I hoped there might be a chance.

I checked the sky at 10:30 and found stars! So I rushed down to the beach with my tripod and my camera and tried to figure out what there was to shoot. The milky way was directly overhead, making it difficult to include in a photo of much of anything.

Stars over trees.

Stars over trees.

But the Big Dipper, my star symbol for my dad, was out there over Lake Michigan.

Hey Dad!

Hey Dad!

It was pretty high in the sky, so it was hard to include it along with anything on the ground. But I tried.

A little trick with a flashlight...slightly overdone.

A little trick with a flashlight…slightly overdone.

I tried a lot. I struggled with the tripod in the sand. But I think I’ve almost got that figured out.

It was fun to be out on the beach late at night. Slight breeze, no mosquitoes. Not cold. Not hot. Just perfect.

Beach grass under the stars.

Beach grass under the stars.

Now I have to say these shots aren’t close to what I hope to do someday. There’s definitely a shake showing up, and I found it hard to focus on anything in the dark, but they are the next step toward fully understanding how to capture the magic.

Freighter slides through the night.

Freighter slides through the night.

I’ll be trying again, the next time I find myself outside in a dark place. I figured out a few more things about the tripod. And I’m getting more confident in the camera settings.

Thank you Heather for all the helpful tips!

Flagpole points to the stars.

Flagpole points to the stars.


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Star gazing night two

It’s getting better, my night photography. Not by much, but there’s some progress. I studied white balance and made an adjustment. I think it helped.

Still…

Once again I slept in the tent in the backyard. Set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. and fell asleep with the camera on the tripod, ready to go. It was a hot and muggy night, but I fell asleep right away and didn’t wake until the phone began it’s gentle song.

Groggy, I pushed my sweaty hair out of my eyes and glanced up through the tent roof. I almost hoped the sky had clouded over, that the stars were hidden so I could go back to sleep. But as my eyes adjusted I had to admit there was a mix of stars and clouds up there.

Enough stars to give it a try.

So I crawled out onto the freshly mowed lawn and set up what I was hoping would be a less pink version of the sky.

High thin clouds obscure the stars.

High thin clouds obscure the stars.

I think the white balance is better on these shots than those I took the night before. But I also know I should start thinking about shooting in RAW. If I did that I could adjust the colors in post processing.

I looked into that last summer, and once, out on a walk with Katie the dog, I managed to get my camera into RAW (If I remember right it’s not difficult, but I just can’t remember anymore how to do it.) and took a couple pictures like that, then changed it back and took the same shot using my regular settings. But when I downloaded those photos the RAW shots didn’t download.

So I gave up. But clearly I should be able to figure this out. I need to go out and take more photos in RAW and try again.

Meanwhile, on night 2 of the great star shoot experiment I set up an image of my tent lit up, and hoped I got a bit of sky above. It turned out OK..lots of room for improvement…but it was fun to try.

Camping in the wild back yard.

Camping in the wild back yard.

So what have I learned?

Lots of things. Like…remember to take your glasses with you when you crawl out of a tent into the night to take pictures. Because without them you have no idea if what you’re doing is working. And don’t forget to do something with the focus. Just setting it to manual is not good if you haven’t actually set it to infinity or focused it on anything. And make sure the tripod is actually locked so it doesn’t sink in the middle of a 30 second shot. And for heavens sake, go find that remote thingy where you can hit the shutter without shaking the camera.

And mostly….it’s a lot more fun spending an hour outside after midnight in the winter when there aren’t any mosquitoes. And when sweat isn’t running into your eyes.

Stay tuned. This adventure is not over yet.

Humid night.

Humid night.


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Night Light

Heather’s photography always makes me smile. Sometimes gasp. And I’ve been especially intrigued by her night photography. Some of you have seen her work. If you haven’t hop over to her website. I think you will be amazed.

I don’t know anything about pointing my camera into the night sky. But I’ve been up north for awhile, away from the city lights, and I’ve been waiting to experiment. Two weeks I’ve been waiting.

Monday night, my last night here, I took the garbage can out to the road and glanced up. I stopped in my tracks. There were stars up there. Finally a clear night!

Low dunes, clouds on the horizon and maybe a plane.  Oh..and stars.

Low dunes, clouds on the horizon and maybe a plane. Oh..and stars.

I read a few articles while I was at the lake, sorting out manual settings on the camera, though I still have a lot of things to learn about how to choose shutter speed, ISO and apertures. Monday evening, once I realized I had one night to try this, I watched a short video about camera settings and star shooting. Sitting in the warm living room I adjusted the settings on my camera and then took it and the tripod down the dark snow covered stairs to the beach.

I left the lights on in the house, hoping I could play around with a house shot, stars above. I haven’t figured it all out yet, and there was too much light. I got an odd sort of image, but in the process I learned a lot. I especially learned I should have brought a flashlight down with me. Using my cell phone to light up buttons on a camera works, but it’s not great.

I messed around with trying to do the house for awhile. Then I pointed the camera straight up at the night sky. Another thing I learned is it would have been a lot warmer to practice what all the tripod levers and knobs did while I was in the house rather than out on the beach. Live and learn. Right?

I think this is the milky way. It was obvious to me looking up at the sky…not so obvious in the shot.

Maybe the milky way.  Maybe just a bunch of stars.

Maybe the milky way. Maybe just a bunch of stars.

I had the ISO up as high as it would go, and the aperture open as far as it would go, and the shutter speed at 30 seconds. I think that’s as wide open as I can get this camera. But I’ll read more and see.

These shots aren’t anything that I really like, but I learned a ton. Now I have to learn how to get rid of the red cast. And oh so much more.

And even though it was only 9 degrees out there I was never cold, protected as I was behind a low dune, with no wind, and the sound of gentle waves lapping at the beach below me. In fact it was sort of pleasant.

Two chairs on the beach.  One of my favorite subjects to shoot.

Two chairs on the beach. One of my favorite subjects to shoot.

Maybe I wasn’t cold because I was busy doing something that fascinates me, something that I love, something that I plan on learning a whole lot more about.

Next time you’re somewhere in the dark take a venture outside, regardless of the temperature. It’s pretty amazing. Even if you don’t end up with fine art, it’s pretty amazing.

Orion's belt is caught in the tree branches.

Orion’s belt is caught in the tree branches.