Sunday, February 19, 2017

The August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

     I am sure that most of you know by now, that a total solar eclipse will occur on August 21, 2017.  I have been looking forward to this event for more than four decades and cannot believe that the eclipse is almost upon us.  I remember as a teenager thinking, “I’ll be sixty-two years old when this eclipse occurs.  I’m going to be a really old man.  I hope I live long enough to see it.”  Well, my perception on old age as changed considerably since I was a teenager, and hopefully I will around at least another seven months and then I will have lived long enough to see the GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE.

     Now, if the weather cooperates all will be just great.  I’ve been doing a lot of research over the last year on where to be.  My decision is, or was to be near Hopkinsville, Kentucky near the point of Greatest Eclipse.  However, sites are now coming online with information on cloud cover from previous years and predictions of this August 21st cloud cover percentage.
     Though Hopkinsville is my first choice, I plan to be flexible and prepared to drive as far west as necessary, or east for that matter.   Current predictions, and satellite images from previous years indicate that the further west, the better the chances of a cloudless sky.  I am certainly keeping my options open.  Hopefully the entire continent will not be socked in with thick clouds, what a bummer that would be.
     I have only seen one total solar eclipse in my life, and that was the February 26, 1979 eclipse.  The “79” eclipse enter the US on the Washington coast, then crossed in to Canada at the North Dakota border, then onto Greenland.  I was a young man then, and my wife and I drove from Michigan, to 120 miles west of Winnipeg, Manitoba to be near the center line of totality. 

     It was a breathtaking experience!  Once the Sun’s photosphere was covered the brilliant solar corona shown bright against a starry velvet backdrop, not day nor night, but somewhere in between.  Totality only lasted a short two and half minutes or so, but it was one of the best two and half minutes I have ever experienced.  It was an event that is still vivid in my mind and one I have longed to have again. 

     Of course my goal is to photograph the August 21st eclipse, and do it better than I did in “79.”  Back then I used a Nikon F2 camera and a Nikkor 500mm mirror lens with a homemade 2x teleconverter.  My wife and I had only been married for eight months, and we were really living on a tight budget.  I could not afford a teleconverter so I took an old, non working 35mm lens and took some of the lens elements out and placed them between a couple of extension tubes.  Much to my surprise I got something close to a 2x converter.   The photos above were taken with that setup.
     Back in those days I was shooing film and my favorite film was Kodachrome 64.  At that ISO I was shooting some pretty slow shutter speeds.  What I did was bracket exposures, starting with /12000 of a second and then shoot a photograph with every shutter speed down to 1 second.  It worked, and I got some semi-decent photos with my homemade rig.  This time I’m going after the eclipse with better equipment and higher ISO’s.

     The eclipse can be photographed with just about any camera and lens.  My preference is a 800mm to 1000mm on a full frame camera.  These focal lengths provides about a 6mm image size of the Sun and show detail in the solar corona. I do not have an 800mm so I will be using a 500mm with a 1.4 teleconverter.  The effective focal length of the 500mm with the 1.4 converter is 750mm.  To capture various aspects of the eclipse a wide range of exposures will be necessary.  Check out the exposure guide chart on this site:
     I do hope that you plan on seeing this eclipse.  It is an astronomical spectacle that will live with you for the rest of your life.  It is a must see event.  If you are like me and are planning on photographing the eclipse, don’t forget to take a few seconds to stop and see this spectacle with you own eyes, and not through a camera lens.
     Below is a list of website that will help you if you plan on visiting a site on the path of totality and photographing the eclipse.  Though I have listed some of these sites under charts and illustrations in this post, the live links are at the bottom of this post.

My favorite site when it comes to exposure recommendations.  This is a must see site:

This is an excellent website for exposure guide through the various stages of the eclipse.  It is a Shutter Speed Calculator for Solar Eclipses. 

Another good site with an exposure chart and good photography information:

If you are using a point and shoot camera visit this website:

For details on the path of totality:

For map of average cloud cover go to:

Excellent site to see cloud cover on the eclipse path over the last several decades and the current cloud cover predictions.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pic of the Day

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
February 10, 2017

    This is a composite of 5 exposure of last nights penumbral lunar eclipse. The sky had a thin layer of clouds, but it was not possible to expose for the wide range of values of the clouds. Thus I made different exposures to capture the various values of glowing clouds from the moonshine. 

Note: Though I am from Alabama, the term moonshine here refers to the light of the moon, not the home grown elixir made from corn.

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
February 10, 2017
(the above image is a composition of 5 different exposures combined in photoshop)
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
February 10, 2017
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens with 1.4 teleconveter making an effective 750mm lens

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Great Birding Escapes

In the Shadows of the Rockies
Bobby Harrison

    Perhaps no sight is more inspiring than the mighty Rocky Mountains.  In Rocky Mountain National Park the mountains rise to such heights as to divide a continent into east and west, and host a wilderness that harbors a grand diversity of flora and fauna.  They are indeed a spectacular
     Moraine Valley, at over 8,000 feet elevation is one of my favorite Rocky Mountain destinations.  The valley, carved by glacial erosion is surround by craggy, snow-covered peaks that rise to more than 14,000 feet.  Spring is a mecca for wildlife such as Elk, deer, bears, coyotes, ground squirrels and of course, birds.  Wildlife is so abundant that viewing animals is as simple as just being there.   Of course, I had come to Moraine Valley to photograph its birds, but the snow-clad mountains and the curvaceous stream that meanders through the valley made the experience even more enjoyable.

 Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park
     I arrived with great anticipation of photographing birds. But, no sooner had I arrived, heavy, dark ominous clouds roll over the mountaintops at the head of the valley.  Within minutes the storm darken the sky and a light rain began to fall.  The images of the birds I had envisioned soon vanished.
     I spent the rest of the evening and night in the campground listing to the falling rain.  In the wee hours of the morning the rain intensified, and my hopes for a Rocky Mountain sunrise were dashed.  As the dawn waxed the rain stopped, but thick clouds covered the sky from horizon to horizon.  The world seemed mighty drab that morning.
      By the time I drove out of the campground the sky began to clear.  As quickly as the storm had arrived the day before, the cloud cover dissipated.  It was as if someone had flipped a light switch, the sun shown bright, animals became active and the birds began to sing.  It was as though new life had been breathed into the valley and those images I had envisioned earlier began to fill my head once more. 

Mountain Bluebird, Sialia currucoides:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

      Scanning the woodlands I saw all the birds I had come to photograph.  Mountain Bluebirds and Pygmy Nuthatches were busily gleaning insects and ferrying their gathered morsels to young still in nest. Violet-green Swallow swooped through the air scooping insects into their wide gapes, while Black-billed Magpies harassed a couple who had stopped for a picnic.  All the elements were in place.
     After watching a pair of Pygmy Nuthatches for a while I discovered their nest in an old Ponderosa Pine snag.  Slowly I worked my way toward the nest tree.  The nuthatches seemed at ease with my presence as they continued to forage and feed their young.

Pygmy Nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

     While I never tire of photographing birds, I was distracted.  While shooting the nuthatches a pair of Mountain Bluebirds flew to a nearby branch.  Opportunity had presented it self again.  I took advantage of the fearlessness of the bluebirds and shot frame after frame.  After a short time I discovered that they too had a nearby nest.  As I lingered in the area both birds gave me wonderful shooting opportunities.

Violet-green Swallow, Tachycineta thalassina:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

      But there was more.  The Violet-green swallows circling above decided to take a break from their feeding frenzy and alighted on a branch near the nuthatch nest.   The black-billed magpies that harassed the picnicker’s decided to check out what I was doing.  A coyote intrigued by my presence stopped by, and so did a cottontail rabbit, but he waited for the coyote to move on before showing himself.   Two bull elk and mule deer strolled by, but they paid little attention to me. 

Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia:  Moraine Valley, Rocky Mountain NP

      Not every day is like the day that I spent in Moraine Valley.  Usually I spend hours just waiting for one shot.  But, there is something special about Moraine Valley.  Perhaps it is the fearlessness of the wildlife, the high altitude light; or perhaps it is the grandeur of the mountains themselves that draws one closer to the nature.  What I did realize while standing in the shadows of the Rocky’s, is come rain or shine never give up on what nature offers.

Plan your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park with these connections.

Information on Rocky Mountain National Park:

Places to stay at Estes Park, CO:

Eateries at Estes Park, CO:

Places to stay at Grand Lake, CO:

Eateries at Grand Lake, CO: