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Its been awhile

I haven’t been posting as much here as I’d like. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been taking photos, I have, but instead of uploading them anywhere I just sit on them and move on to the next project. I’ve been busy as hell this year. Started working as a freelance cinematographer the last few months. Did a music video, some product videos for my friends company, a dark comedy web series and about to start filming on a really dark bizzaro comedy I wrote called High Desert. So thats been that. I have been dabbling in an interesting timelapse experiment involving astroids and nebula but processing isn’t finished quite yet. I’ve also been using film again, even dabbling in film astrophotography. I don’t know how it looks yet because I still have to develop it. I told myself I’d do that tonight, we’ll see. I’ll post soon (I hope). In the meantime here is a big dump of photos!

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Sunset on the Sunrise Highway. Near Mount Laguna. Canon 5d mark III, Zeiss Jena 35mm @ f8.

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Santa Rosa Mountains area near Anza. Kodak Tri-x 400, Zeiss Jena 35mm. I don’t remember what settings.

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Milky Way from Toro Peak. Rokinon 14mm, Canon 6D, two remote strobes set up, one obvious one in the distance, another with an umbrella to light the underside of the trees. I think this was 5 minutes. Mounted on my iOptron Skytracker.

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Star trails with tri-x!

Thats it for now. I have more. Just need to remember what they are.

Assorted Stuff

Haven’t gone out as much as I’d like lately, but I have a few new photos I haven’t shared yet.

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Fonts Point Milky Way + my girlfriend as a Wizard

Death Valley 2014 PART ONE

I know I posted the images a few months ago after the trip but I haven’t gotten around to describing the experience in detail. I took notes along the way and committed much more to memory but I figure I need to write this all down before the hazards surrounding my current field of employment (watching paint dry) destroy those brain cells containing those memories.

 

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Rokinon 14mm is perfect for wide field astrophotography

Yes, its very good wide open. With a decent camera (as in low noise as ISO 6400) you can easily expose the Milky Way in 30 seconds. I’ve done plenty of that, I decided to see how good it was stopped down a bit and with a much longer exposure on an iOptron Skytracker.

 

14mm @ f5.6, ISO 3200 240 Seconds

 

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Thanksgiving weekend in Anza Borrego

Was fortunate enough to spend a couple of nights out by myself in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Didn’t really get much sleep, but that’s the point isn’t it?

A moonlit Sandstone Canyon
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More pictures from Death Valley

I have a lot more to go through but I figured I’d post these for now. I also have a bunch of journal entries I need to edit but I’d like to finish a few things up first. Here you go for now!

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Julian Starfest!

Spent the last new moon weekend of August at Julian Starfest, a fantastic event near the beautiful town of Julian in eastern San Diego County. Three perfectly clear nights and four comfortable days, absolutely wonderful to get out of the heat of lower elevations. I finally finished capturing data for my huge mosaic of Cepheus and now I’ve got a three day weekend to process it!

The drive out there was spectacular, some mid summer thunderstorms had been pounding the deserts and mountains and I caught the tail end of them as I was driving up highway 78 through Ramona and on to Julian. Saw a real bonefide double rainbow which in Southern California is pretty rare as it hardly rains, especially the last couple of years. What struck me was how brilliant the colors were all the way down to the ground.

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Arrived at the Menghini Winery around 7PM to a wet and muddy field with maybe 50 observers waiting to set up. Took a look at the Wundermap radar and it seemed that there would be no more rain for the night so I excited started unpacking the Toyota and began setting up. The night stayed clear but the seeing was pretty bad (no big deal since I was just going to be imaging at a focal length of 180mm) and the dew was horrible. I have a blow dryer for dew but no AC power to plug it in to and it uses a lot more power than I’m comfortable putting through my inverter. No matter, a periodic equipment wipe down was all I needed.

Went to bed in the back of the Toyota around 1 am but not before setting an alarm on my phone to wake me up every 2 hours to check on things. The night got much colder than I anticipated, what with the damp ground and moisture in the air. I had neglected to bring some of my normal cold weather gear as its the middle of summer in Southern California, who needs thermal pants? I did.

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Morning came. I had parked with the rear of the truck (where I was sleeping) facing east which resulted in a harsh dose of the one astronomical object that is hardest to avoid, the sun. I tried denying it for awhile, putting the sleeping bag over my head while trying to ignore the rapidly rising temperature. Eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that I was being baked alive in the sleeping bag. Alright, I’m awake. Stumbled out of the truck and started planning breakfast.

Whenever I do these multi day trips my biggest source of stress isn’t money, shelter, weather, navigation, fuel, local regulations, clothing, entertainment or forgetting crucial pieces of equipment. That stuff is easy, its static, matter of fact. Food is hard. I hate planning my meals, I hate having a predetermined amount of cooler space. I could care less what Dan two days from now wants to eat. I am too impulsive with food to even think about what I want for dinner. So planning for multiple days, even a week is a major annoyance. Sometimes I can just solve it by buying a couple of boxes of clif bars and tossing them in my backpack. Or at least I think I can solve it, on day three of eating cliff bars I get pretty cranky. Water is easy too, one gallon per day + four gallons for the truck in case I loose a radiator hose or something. But food? I’m out here working, not here to eat.

And thats what made Julian Starfest great. There are food vendors on site! There is the town of Julian a couple of miles up the hill! Markets, restaurants, gas station crap, its all there! All I put in the cooler was some energy drinks, beer and a six pack of hot dogs. How great is that?

I power my equipment in the field using a deep cycle marine battery hardwired into my trucks electrical system. The battery is recharged by the alternator which is really great, not having to worry about finding some AC power to steal is a big relief. But this necessitates me driving around for an hour or two to fully charge the battery back up. While the battery should easily last me two full nights I like to be on the safe side and top it off every day. Which means I get to drive around Mount Laguna, one of my favorite areas of San Diego County. Drove around Lake Cuyamaca which is pretty low at the moment (drought!) and stopped at a few overlooks on the side of the Sunrise Highway to get some photos of the Anza Borrego Desert down below. Witnessed quite a few cliff diving swallows in my general vicinity which was a pretty cool treat, I had never noticed them before.

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Lately I’ve been on a layered mountains (?) kick. Can’t help myself, not one bit.
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I just picked up a Rokinon 14mm Cine lens for the 6D, great lens for the price. Even though its the cine version I really love it for regular photography, the de-clicked aperture ring is a real treat when trying to get the perfect exposure. Almost no coma in the corners, great color rendition and while there is a bit of distortion its quite easy to correct in software. The real trick is trying to get the perfect angle, a small movement in any direction completely changes the whole feel of the image.

Camping on the Edge of Forever

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Grandview Campground, California. Milky Way rising over the Great Basin

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Some pics from a few wonderful nights here.

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Trip to the White Mountains

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Day 1 5/22/2014

Left Rancho Santa Margarita around 10 am after spending the previous night packing everything up. Ordered Pizza the night before as I figured I was going to be eating simple camp food the rest of the trip.
Didn’t hit any traffic, arrived in Victorville around 11:40 and fueled up. Jumped back on the 395 for a few hours, traffic was again light (a benefit of leaving on a Thursday). Hit a few rain showers on the way but it was pretty patchy, nothing that concerned me. Got to Big Pine aroud 3:00 pm, fueled up and then took the 168 to Death Valley Road. Next destination was supposed to be Eureka Dunes. The drive was a lonely one, only passed one other vehicle near the beginning. The paved road wasn’t in too bad of shape. Passed through a cool canyon with some interesting anticlines (I think thats the right term), a Joshua Tree forest in what I think is Papoose Flats and then the road spit me out into Eureka Valley. From here it was an unpaved 12 miles. Road was a little bit washboarded but nothing 40 mph couldn’t take care of. The general area of Eureka Dunes was coming into view when all of a sudden several lighting strikes broke out of the dark clouds above. I could see them hit the ground around the area I’d be staying at. I reached the end of this section of road and turned onto Eureka Dunes Road (I think). The washboard here was much much worse, similar to the road on the way to the Racetrack. Granted, this was only 10 miles vs the 30 mile road to the Racetrack, I didn’t want to get a flat by myself out here. A few more lightning strikes directly to the ground a few miles away from me convinced me to turn around and head 1.5 hours back to Big Pine. The storm seemed to follow me, a light rain on Death Valley Road turned into a torrent once I hit Big Pine. Hail started coming down, could barely see anything in front of me. I seeked cover in a Shell gas station parking lot and waited the storm out. Since I had reception I figured I’d call Kaela and update her on the situation.
Rain seemed to subside after 30 minutes and since I still had a bit of daylight I got back on the 168 but this time headed up to White Mountain. Very twisty steep road, down to one lane in a narrow rocky canyon section. I was alternating between 2nd and 1st gear the whole way up, this was a result of all the equipment I decided to bring. Arrived at Grandview Campground (8,400 ft elevation) and began unpacking the basics. Skies were still cloudy but looked like they may clear. I didn’t want to take a chance on my gear getting soaked so I just got the tent set up. As I was in the middle of preparing my home for the next five days it began snowing! Quite a contrast from last week in Southern California reaching temps of over 100 for five days in a row. Ground temp seemed to be too warm to support much snowfall so it melted right away. Snow eventually trickled down to a little flurry and I could see the sunset poking through the clouds. Drove up 2.5 miles to the Sierra Viewpoint where I actually got cell phone reception. That was great to know for the next few days as I like to check in with Kaela and make sure she knows I didn’t drive off a cliff.
Took a timelapse of a beautiful sunset over the Sierras from the viewpoint and headed back down. The sky had cleared up but things still felt very wet as if the clouds would roll in and it would start snowing again any minute. I opted not to set up my equipment, rather just two cameras for timelapse work. If it did begin to precipitate they would be much easier to cover up than two scopes, laptop, etc.
Next morning I awoke to below freezing temps. Got dressed, made a fire to cook some brats on and then headed further up white mountain for a bit more exploring. I checked out the Schulmann Grove but it was too tourist oriented for my taste so I headed further up the unpaved roads. Some some awesome landscapes, all dotted with the Ancient Bristlecone pine.
That night two engineers from JPL had come up for the much hyped Carmeloesdidis meteor shower and they joined me as we waited for the sky to clear. It didn’t. I was briefly able to show them Jupiter and Saturn in the XT8 but that was all the sky allowed. It wasn’t exactly cloudy, just a thick haze that completely destroyed the wonderful clarity this site boasts. Instead we discussed working at JPL which of course I found fascinating. Their names were Danny and Mike, roommates. One of them an electrical engineer, the other one mechanical. They worked on science packages for satellite missions. They also had only worked there a year but it was still interesting to hear them talk about. Like many professional astronomers and space-faring engineers I had met they knew little of the night sky and amateur astronomy but they were still up there so at least they had some curiosity.
The next day I went further up White Mountain, nearly all the way to the Barcroft Gate but deep snow hindered me. While the BF Goodrich All Terrain K/O tires are fantastic for dry off roading they are terrible in mud and snow and I didn’t want to get stuck. I spent several hours photographing some of the more desolate looking Bristlecone Pines. The landscape up there is very stark, I’ve seen pictures but it really looked like what I’d expect dry frozen tundra to look like. Just sand, light scrub and a few Bristlecones. The sky was bright too, being at 12,000 feet elevation sunglasses are 100% necessary.
After exploring for hours I eventually returned back to camp. Skies looked much better this night, just a few cumulus clouds. No haze, no looming thunderheads, just deep blue sky and a few puffy clouds that would disappear once the sunset.
I couldn’t believe how dark it gets up here. And I use the word dark not to mean how little I could see but I use it in the sense astronomers use it. The darker a site is, the more you can see. The zodiacal light was clearly visible, airglow flashed in the upper atmosphere above me. The milky way looked light a bright cloud rising from the east and the few clouds that were floating around where completely black. That is a very cool site to see, normally you expect clouds to be brighter than the surrounding sky but here its the opposite, just like ink blots wandering around.
From the east side of the campground you can look down into the beginning of the great basin that stretches all the way across Nevada and into Utah. This is a land where supposedly no water escapes and hardly any other water reaches. I’ll have to get out there some time.
The milky way rose over the great basin and it was clearly visible even right on the horizon. I have not been fortunate to experience that before, normally its hard to make out from the background muck until its maybe 20-30 degrees overhead. I stood at the edge of this overlook for an hour with the 6D and a tripod taking a timelapse and then a panoramic shot of the milky way rising over the mountains.

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Death Valley 2013

Got a week off of work in early November and decided to take the time to get out to Death Valley. I had initially planned on going up to the Sierra Nevadas earlier in the year but wasn’t able to get any time off, by the time I could it was far too cold. But you know what? I’m glad I got to see Death Valley, what an amazing place.

 

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Milky Way from Palomar Mountain

Decided to put the 8mm Peleng to work so I drove up Palomar Mountain around 2 in the morning to catch the summer milky way rising. Conditions were perfect… weather was nice, there was a fog below the mountains that was blocking all the LP and the moon had just set. So even though I had to work in the morning I decided to drive the 1.5 hours up to the top and go for it.

My new Canon T3 will not come to focus with the 8mm, I suspect this is because it is full spectrum modified and I need to adjust the sensor position. No matter, I still have my 350D. Roughly polar aligned the CG-4 and started taking a series of 300sec exposures.

Milky Way from Palomar Mountain

Snapped a few quick pictures of the summer milky way from the Palomar Mountain turnout. Unfortunately my deep cycle battery wasn’t working correctly so I didn’t have the ability to set up my telescope mount. Therefore, I have no tracking, therefore, star trails. There was a nice marine layer covering San Diego County, you can see the peaks of mountains and valleys poking above it. Great night. Pardon the noise, I was shooting at ISO3200 and forgot to take dark frames. I did get the chance to try out a 28mm Tokina lens I found at the swap meet for $20, so far so good.

Site: Palomar Mountain Turnout

This is a local spot for me, near the top of Palomar Mountain on the first 1/4 mile down East Grade Road. Over 5000 feet in elevation, the seeing here is usually excellent. Light pollution is getting pretty bad in the surrounding areas, but it’s not uncommon for a marine layer to shroud the cities below, preventing their light pollution from spilling up into the sky.

This spot is just a large turnout. No power, no facilities, just a turnout on the side of the road large enough so that there is no chance of any car hitting you and sending you over the edge.

GPS: 33° 18′ 38.96″ N 116° 51′ 44.29″ W

Google Maps

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Site: Tierra Del Sol

This is the site used by the San Diego Astronomy Association. It’s about an hour’s drive east of the city of San Diego in a very dark area just a few thousand feet from the Mexican border. As a contributing member of the SDAA I get access to the site whenever I want. It features electrical outlets everywhere, restrooms with warm water, a warming room complete with microwaves, refrigerator, coffee maker and a little library.  I usually set up on the public pads (in photos), but members can purchase their own private pad or observatory on the site.

For more information including weather conditions and driving directions visit SDAA’s TDS Page.

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Site: Vallecitos Stage Station in Anza Borrego

I really enjoyed this site. Went out on November 21st, 2009 (my birthday). Easily some of the darkest skies I’ve ever seen in Southern California. Mount Laguna was to the west of us, I could easily see the observatory with my scope during the day. It’s a regular campsite with bathrooms, water, fire pits and plenty of space. The SDAA will occasionally host public star parties here.

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