Photos & Random Thoughts

Stellar Nursery

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Here in the Orion Nebula, countless newborn stars are soaking up the surrounding clouds of gas and debris to become grown-up stars that may one day coalesce solar systems like ours.

Speaking of stars, today marks the beginning of my 36th trip around our own star.   I don't know, 36 years ago, if my own nursery was stellar or not but I do know my parents were stellar people, just trying to do what they thought was best in their own Journey around the sun.   It wasn't perfect but I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything. 

During the good-times you learn trust and experience Joy.  During the bad stuff you gain independence and build mental strength. 

Kinda like the elementary particles colliding in the cosmic crucible pictured here. :)

Space is freaking awesome.

Summer Blooms, in Spring

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The Hibiscus Plants in the back yard had some pretty great colors for Easter Weekend.  Normally we don't see these sorts of blooms until summer!

Handheld Moon Exercises - Learning to Play by Feel

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One of the things that I recommend to folks who ask me for photography advice is to 'know your camera.'  

While I feel that menu navigation and feature control are important, I feel it is much more important to learn a 'natural feel' of how the camera operates.

Think of how a skilled musician is with their instrument.   The guitar player can feel the fret position without looking at the neck, he or she 'feels' how the tone will travel across the pickups based on where the strings are strummed.

When I hear photographers debating shutter speeds and f/strops for a given situation, my eyes roll.

It isn't that these things aren't important - they certainly are but they shouldn't be intimidating obstacles to the new photographer, though they often are.

There is a little exercise I developed for myself a couple years back, meant to improve camera handling and control.   It goes like this:

On a night with an interesting moon (scattered, moving light cloud - cover preferred because it changes the metering situation)- start by propping yourself against something steady.

A tree, a house, whatever -- the goal here is just to limit the natural body swaying position of standing.   By anchoring yourself to something solid, you can turn yourself into a bi-pod of sorts.  Useful when out without a tripod and the need to capture something that would usually call for one. 

Using Manual Focus most modern cameras have a feature for Manual-Focus assist that will show a 1:1 pixel peak of your object while manually focusing on an object.   This is pretty crucial.

Start with highish ISOs, using a long telephoto, start shooting the moon. I started in Aperture Priority but your mileage may vary..  Adjust down your f-stop (the lower number which is larger aperture) and start to walk down your ISO between shots, continuing to manually focus, shoot, adjust..   Listen to the shutter.  Develop a 'feel' for the shutter times the camera metered based on the light situation, your aperture, your ISO.
Sensor size, sensor capability, lens aperture all will vary this feel from camera to camera.

As your ISO drops into the less sensitive ranges, the difficulty of the shot will increase.   Continuing to work on manual focus and keeping your hands steady, you will be forced to work on your breathing.   Just like shooting a rifle, your breathing is essential for steady shutter clicks at these long tele / low ISO shots.    You may want to exhale during the shutter press, you may want to hold your breath during the shutter press - different strokes for different folks..

Once you get a feel for the shutter speeds, jump on over to manual mode and keep going, anchoring to a large aperture and tweaking the shutter speed to the get the right exposure.   Don't settle necessarily for the right exposure according to your camera viewfinder's meter but the right exposure according to your brain and eye.  What 'feels' right?   Shoot that.

..Anyway, this may be 'hoo-doo' but for me I found it to be a useful exercise to acquaint myself with the light collection capability of a new camera, not to mention the natural proficiency of the menus and dials that you will gain along the way..

So, this isn't my best moon shot ever but experimenting with the FE 24-240mm, I propped myself against the house exterior and started shooting the moon hand held, trying to find the right balance of shutter speed, manual focus and ISO for this reasonably slow f6.3 lens at distance.   

The result is 'okay' but I do think the exercise itself is worthwhile and wanted to share it with you!   

Happy shooting..

Aerial Colors at Dusk

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That sinking feeling, as a landscape photographer that you get when you peer into the sky and see the signs of an epic sunset underway.  

I took the Inspire 1 up to 400 ft above our yard to capture some of the really interesting colors the other day.

Sunset Gatherings

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One of the things that I like about the Gulf Coast is that we have great locations to enjoy Sunsets.  It isn't uncommon to find families along the Bay or along the Gulf, gathering around sunset to just enjoy the end of the day with one another.    So many times I've seen families with a picnic blanket at the bluff in Fairhope, some wine and snacks - sometimes we are that family.

Good views and good company.  This was taken today along the Eastern Shore at the Daphne Bayfront Park.   Hopefully my flying camera didn't detract too much from folks enjoying a pretty great sunset.

Rivers of Sand

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Sitting on a piece of driftwood on the eastern shore, watching the kids play.   The light was harsh but the breeze was nice.   A few 100 feet down the beach, a family tossed color packets at each other, a Holi celebration.

The Chandelier

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As you enter the Disney Cruise Line Ship, The Disney Dream, they call your party's name from the gangway, so that you can make a grand entrance.

Well, as grand as one can do wear Mickey Ears with the kids in tow. :)    This midship atrium is very photogenic.  Lots of cool textures and angles that I thought made it a good candidate for HDR.

This was shot handheld, in a 3 frame, 2 ev step bracket and then later stacked with Photomatix.

USS Alabama March 2015 -via the Inspire One

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I frankly hesitated, stepping up from the DJI Phantom 2 to the DJI Inspire One.  Biggest reason for my hesitancy was that I felt I had a workable system with the DJI Phantom 2, though it had its quirks.  I wasn't sure if the extra investment would be 'worth it' for the newer system.   Chief among them being, the lack of integration between the Quad and the Go Pro.  

Even though there is a remote control with the Go Pro Black Edition that I was flying, it shares a radio signal adjacent with the control interface of the quad.  Using the wifi remote, could end in peril.   For stills, putting the Go Pro into Time Lapse, interfered with the FPV feed.    So, I'd generally record 4k video and carve out still frames later.  It worked well enough for most purposes..

One of the biggest Pros that i'm experiencing with the Inspire One is that camera control via a Mobile device on the ground makes a huge difference.  Being able to switch between video and photo mode, control exposure and bracketing and shoot RAW were all some great touches to the overall Inspire package.    It is ridiculously stable - even more so than my DJI Phantom 2 was and super easy to fly.    

The only surprising drawback I'm experiencing with the Inspire One is that the FPV feed doesn't appear to extend to the full advertised 2 km control range of the radio and the FPV video feed can be jerky with high latency at distances over 500m.   I won't be FPV racing an Inspire One anytime soon but these are all minor setbacks in what I'm finding is an otherwise perfect aerial photography tool.  

Amber Jack

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I like how some boats just have a ton of personality, borderline on facial features.      Amber Jack here, docked in Nassau had a ton of personality.

Mobile Aerial Panoramic - March 2015

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I haven't been posting much from my Inspire here so I thought I'd start it with something a little different.   

This is a stitched together HDR Panoramic from 397.5 feet high. 

I really appreciate the Inspire's ability to shoot RAW and the reduced distortion afforded by not having to shoot at an angle beneath the whirring blades.

The epic sunsets we have been having didn't hurt, either.

Have a great week!

Fired Up

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Today, six people converged on the Spanish Fort Fire Department, to start some fires.

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.. It wasn't a band of hooligan arsonists.  Instead it was the group of volunteers from Fired Up

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The concept is pretty novel.   They BBQ Epic ribs and sell them for a given charity.  The slogan says it all, "Making a Difference Through BBQ."

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This isn't your leisure cookout of the guys guzzling beer, telling war stories over some brats.

Four custom-made smoker-griller trailers, churned out ~ 250 ribs.

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Putting on Rub, cooking, turning, pulling off the grill, seasoning and wrapping..  These guys stayed busy!

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"Dave the Drone" got a little use this afternoon shooting interesting angles of the cooking setup.

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The Results?  Yep, we took a rack home for lunch.   They were quite good!  Just the right balance of spice & sweetness.    Follow these guys on their website, or on facebook and when they are near you, stop by and buy some epic ribs.   When else can you get great food and give to a good cause?

The Passage of Time

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I was out for an afternoon Walk / Run and decided to take a break to observe the sunset.   The clouds were doing some interesting things..  Like a giant roadway in the sky.    This reminded me of those time lapse videos you see of clouds rolling across the sky as if they were on a giant conveyor belt.

The sun itself was obscured and as I headed back, I found about 20 minutes after sunset that I had misjudged it as some serious colors spread across the reflections of the clouds in the sky.

In my impatience I may have missed 'the good part' but I'm always happy to spend some time by the water on a chilly February afternoon. 

Seeking Adventure by Sail

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A couple of years ago, I owned a small sailboat.  It wasn't too different from the one pictured here, maybe a little older and less equipped but similar in all of the ways that matter.

I miss it!   ..or.. maybe I miss the idea of it...

I had a couple of software deals mature into some pretty decent deals for me and I had just buried both of my parents. I decided it was time to do something unpractical and selfish: like the Jimmy Buffet lyric suggested, "I bought a boat and sailed off on it.."  

Problem is, I didn't sail too far.  

We used the 30ft sailboat for some weekend getaways at first but it ended up spending more time in the Marina than being dragged by the wind across our Bays.

During my ownership of the boat, I tried to make some improvements.  Among which was to try to give it a proper name.   The boat's previous name, which I won't print, was a silly French New Orleans saying about not having two pennies to rub together.   I thought that a more appropriate name would be, Stargazer.   So we went with that. 

Being a Stargazer myself, the name was also inspired from Star Trek, The Next Generation, Captain Picard's characterization of the first ship he ever captained:

He described that ship, also called Stargazer, as an
"overworked, underpowered vessel, always on the verge of flying apart at the seams."

Besides, the whole point was to spend time on the water, under the stars with nothing but the sound of the wind and the waves.   Stargazer was a far more fitting name, I thought.

What I learned along the way is that renaming a boat is seriously frowned upon in maritime circles, it is considered terribly bad luck for the boat and the crew.  Still, there is a generally-agreed-upon ceremony and procedure that one can employ to rename a vessel and keep the bad mojo away.  After our Christianized version of the ceremony we removed anything from the boat that had the old name, as is the procedure.   The superstition states that once you rename a vessel anything with the old name should not be returned to the vessel.

We put all of the old maintenance logs, manuals and documentation into a sealed bin and removed them from the boat. 

After a while, sailboat ownership wasn't going as I'd planned. The family didn't exhibit a patience for the amount of time it took to travel by sail. I had bought the boat hoping to escape with my family, not escape from them. I spent far more time either 'working from' the boat or 'working on' the boat than I did enjoying it under sail.  

Eventually my practicality caught back up with me and we sold the boat. 

The person who bought it had all sorts of big ideas for it, too.   After a haul-out, sea trial and comprehensive survey he started to make some improvements of his own prior to sailing it home to Texas.  He made a couple road trips back and fourth from his home in Texas and the Marina on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.   When the day came for him to sail it home with a friend, I was a little surprised to see he brought the sealed box of documents with the old vessel name on board for the journey.

Evidently, that voyage home didn't go as expected.  The 30 year old gasoline engine started to act up around Mississippi.   I tend to believe this was related to an exhaust back-pressure issue they created by making changes to the exhaust system, rather than some vengeful seafaring deity that was pissed about the boat having been renamed.   

Then, as they entered the waters coming into Texas, a near disaster struck.   Strong storms shredded the sails, ripped off a spreader and started to bend the mast.   They were rescued by the Coast Guard and the boat was hauled in to be repaired.

When I last talked to the new owner, that was enough sailing adventure for him, he planned to have the insurance repair the boat and sale it.

This all came back to me when I saw this sailboat moored comfortably in the waters around Nassau in The Bahamas.   It was a bit of a knife of defeat into my gut.   Stargazer's USGC stamps and captain's logs showed she had made the trip before and it was my intention to make the sail trip from Mobile, AL to the Bahamas.  It was an adventure I didn't get the opportunity to undertake during my brief years of ownership.

With kids in school and a demanding work schedule, right now that adventure feels as far away as the Bahamas themselves but I'm hopeful to be able to pick that adventure up again in the coming years and finally get to make the journey, this time under sail and instead of from the comfort of a Cruise Line. :)

They Reached into the Bay like Fingers

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This was taken from the maximum (legal) altitude via my DJI Phantom 2 (400 ft) while in Gulf Breeze flying R/C with some friends.  Awhile back I did a post about the state of flying cameras (drones, etc), it is here:

For over a year I used a DJI Phantom 2.  Prior to that, I used other camera platforms like the F550 and Phantom 1. The Phantom 2 / Go Pro combination afforded me a 20-25 minute flight time and a range of a km, which was more than I needed in most circumstances.   It really was an impressive platform, especially considering the low cost of entry.  To get photos such as this but maintain my FPV video feed, I would typically put the Go Pro on a 4k video mode and then pull the photos as stills from the resulting video feed at full resolution.    It's workable but not the resolution one would hope for.  

(Using Time Lapse disabled the FPV video feed, so that wasn't ideal, either - for framing and control.)

My Phantom 2, (I called it Theodore: the other two were Alvin and Simon) found a new home this week.  So, now, I'm learning the ins and outs of the the Inspire 1.   I'm looking forward to seeing what we can capture with this new platform.   Getting full camera control from the base station of the Inspire 1 was a major factor in my decision.   Hope to post some results in the next couple of weeks! :)

The Walt Disney Theater

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I have to  commend Disney Cruise line on the level of opulence aboard their ships along with maintenance in general.    It was difficult to go a single day without seeing someone fussing over the condition of the ship.   Painting, cleaning, pressure-washing; you-name-it.   Sitting next to the other ships at port in Nassau you could plainly tell that Disney Cruise line spares no expense in the condition of their ships.

I snapped this, actually using my iPhone it was three different exposures shot handheld and merged for HDR.   I snapped this while my wife was shopping, it was somewhat difficult to find this area without crowds of passer-by'ers.   At any rate, I appreciated the symmetry of it!

As Orion Moves

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I like to share both successes and failures.  This image was a bit of a failure.

I wrote about this some in the main astrophotography primer, here.  Deep space astrophotography can be tough.   If you think about it, we are on a spinning, wobbling ball, rotating around a larger spinning, wobbling ball, with other spinning-wobbly balls in a collection that spins around other spinning and wobbling things in a great dance, whose unheard tune is gravity.

It is really a wonder at all that we were able to observe, record and predict the motion of celestial bodies.

On the day of this outing, I couldn't get my laptop and telescope autoguider to play nicely together, limiting my exposure lengths to those that are tenable within the typical sidereal rotation tracking. 60 second exposures is about all you can get before stars start to trail, on my equipment without guiding.

As the winter comes to a close and our humidity increases, I will do less astrophotography from the backyard and more via remote observatory control, leaving the back yard / telescope for observing sessions over super gear-head astrophotography sessions.

Even though I was only able to get a 60 second exposure and I wasn't able to reliably collection Red, Green and Blue frames, it's always pretty awesome to pluck these images out of the sky.

Warmer Days

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On cold days like we've had recently, you can't help but think about the Warmer Days ahead... 

Some days, I wish the Gulf Coast had a different climate.   Less humidity in the summer and more 'real' seasons.  It seems like when you'd want it cold (around the Holidays) - we are still in shorts.   When you're ready for winter to end (early spring) - we get our coldest snaps.

The Bahamas were sure nice this time of year.. :)

Tell it to the Shadows

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I've always like the look of this tree, the spanish moss, against the backdrop of the pier and the Bay but I never really know how to photograph it.   If you go super wide, there is all of this junk in the way: trash cans, benches, rugged underbrush and sometimes litter  - even a porta-potty.

This perspective seemed mostly agreeable, relegating the details to the shadows, since the details distract in this case.