During the recent full moon a couple of beautiful nights beckoned me to get out and photograph the moon rise. This happened to be a super moon which means it was closer to the Earth than usual during a full moon. It has not been this close on a full moon for the last 46 years so what does that mean for most people. Probably the most noticeable piece was the brightness. As long as the sky was mostly clear you could look out across the landscape and see it brightly lit up more than usual.
I went out on two different nights to enjoy this slightly larger and brighter moon. The first I was joined by one of my cousins also interested in capturing some photos of the moon. It was fun to try a few different ideas. In the picture above I knew of a leaning tree so I positioned myself to photograph it leaning towards the moon as if the gravitational force of the moon was pulling the tree. It turned out well I think.
With a brighter and slightly larger full moon the reflection off of the water made for a picturesque image. Calming to look at. It was relatively windy that night so the reflection takes on a different look. The light is more scattered making for a wider reflection.
One of the challenges I continue to work on is creating a moon burst with the camera. You’ve probably seen images that include a sun burst with rays spreading out across the horizon. I’m trying to create a similar picture using the moon. It’s a little more challenging because of the lower light available. The photo above gives you an idea and for the most part I like it. Getting the moon a bit sharper along with sharper rays would make this about perfect I think. Gives me something to work towards.
On my second night of photographing this full moon I was in place to see it rising above the trees. This is when I could really notice the larger size. At least I think it was noticeable but I haven’t watched the full moon rise in this particular spot before so there really isn’t anything to compare it to. Still it looks quite big across the horizon to me.
One of my attempts was to get geese or ducks flying in front of the moon. I was never prepared in time to get this as I was usually photographing the super moon and surrounding landscape when a flock came flying by and my camera settings weren’t quite right. By the time I changed them to capture these geese they had already made it by but after looking at the image in the computer it looked like these geese were pulling the moon. I thought that looked kind of fun so I decided to share it with you.
Recently I traveled to Southwestern Minnesota to Blue Mounds State Park with two goals for the weekend. First was to get out and enjoy an unseasonably warm weekend with daytime highs of 80 degrees. Second was to practice photography and enjoy taking pictures of whatever I thought would make a good picture with the Milky Way and sunsets/sunrises the top priorities. Since I was mostly interested in nature and wildlife I wanted someplace relatively quiet and this seemed to fit what I was looking for. Both of these goals were accomplished by camping in the park and spending most of my time there with a camera hiking around different areas of the park.
Throughout the weekend there I managed to take over 700 photographs. I wanted to narrow those down and see what I thought the top 1% of those pictures would be so here they are. My decisions would probably change depending on the day and how I’m viewing these pictures but as of this day these are my top 7 photographs from Blue Mounds State Park. All of these pictures are basically unedited other than what the camera does when it converts them to the jpeg format. Taking time to process many of these photographs may alter my top choices but I just wanted to judge my picture taking ability without the post processing.
This is the sunset shortly after arriving at Blue Mounds State Park. I chose this picture of the sunset because of the arrangement of the rocks in the foreground combined with the clouds in the sky and colors throughout. The rocks and clouds direct you to the setting sun (which you can’t actually see) which is the focal point of the overall photograph.
This was the scene near my campsite a few minutes after I woke up. The colors on the horizon transitioning to the darker night sky being reflected in the calm water below are why this photograph is included. There are a few cattails in the foreground barely visible adding to the overall depth of this photograph. It provides a sense of calm reflection to begin the day.
About a half an hour later this photograph was taken. Shortly before this I heard gun shots reminding me that the Minnesota duck opener had begun. I like the position of the rising sun and the colors in the sky being reflected in the water along with the ducks moving across the sky.
Thirty minutes later I took this photograph. It was chosen because of its simplicity and contrast. Blue water surrounding this little patch of grass with dew drops on each tip. This photograph taught me that timing is really important for some subjects. Had I taken this picture later in the morning or during the afternoon the lighting would not have been good to give me this nice reflection in the water.
Minutes later I took this photograph because of the soft, warm glow from the early morning sun on this bright pink flower which was growing on the shore near the water. I debated on whether or not this should be included in the final seven photos but ultimately chose it because of the contrast between this flower and the background in addition to its arrangement within the picture with only the top portion of the flower in focus.
This was a mid-morning photograph that I liked because of the soft wave of the field beginning to change color ahead of harvesting with the tree softened in the picture from the wind accented by the wind turbines on the horizon. Can’t you just feel the prairie breeze?
I just realized that six out of the seven top pics where taken on the same day. It was really a productive day that I must have been focused on what I was doing. Ending the day which began before dawn with photographing my main objective – the Milky Way. Even out in rural areas there is still plenty of light pollution making the night sky more challenging to photograph. Regardless I still enjoyed taking these pictures and like the results. There are pictures that show less light pollution but they are also less interesting to me. One of the things that amazed me when looking out at the Milky Way was how close to the horizon you can see it. I’ve always seen it high in the sky and never really noticed how much of the night sky it can cover. This picture is a good reminder to me of the Milky Way reaching for the horizon.
I’d like to read which of these are your favorite. Please leave me a comment and let me know.
After exploring several miles of Blue Mounds State Park during the morning I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go out in search of the milky way again this night. A nice campfire seemed like a better idea on this gorgeous day and besides, how much different would it be from the same area. As the afternoon progressed there was a nearby national wildlife area close by that I wanted to check out while visiting this area. After checking out the cascading creek I stopped near the top of this Touch the Sky Prairie and gazed out at the horizon. This might actually produce better results as it was several miles west of the nearest town so the light pollution should be less.
I decided to quickly return to my campsite to get some much needed nourishment before returning to the prairie and foregoing any campfire for the rest of the evening. A quick meal and then hurrying to catch another sunset before setting the cameras to stun. I mean setting them up to capture the night sky. This sunset wasn’t as spectacular but still provided a spiritual event that I was fortunate to witness. While waiting on the stars to shine once again I was working on a second camera that has provided some troubles recently to see if there was a good solution. It’s amazing how busy you can keep by running between two cameras photographing a nearby landscape. Especially when those two cameras are from different camera makers so trying to remember where each setting is kept for each one provided a nice brain teaser.
After a short time the stars began to poke through the evening sky challenging the cameras to capture them. This time there was definitely less light on the horizon so maybe this would be the spot to get the milky way added to my increasing collection of photographs. I began testing the camera to make sure the settings and focus where correct to get the best photographs I could and I was ready to begin another evening of astrophotography.
Soon I could see the milky way over head beginning to shine. It definitely looked more brilliant than the night before providing much anticipation of what was yet to appear. As darkness grew so did my excitement at the photographs I appeared to be getting. I know that the screen on the camera does not always show the true look of each photo but taking some time to zoom in on the camera display I had a feeling that things were going well.
Eventually I could see the milky way stretching from one end of the sky to the other. I know I have seen the milky way many times in my life but I had never really looked at it and studied it to see it grace so much of the star filled sky. It was definitely worth skipping a fire to try another night of picture taking. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more – the setting sun or looking up at all these little lights scattered all around me. Finally I accomplished what I had set out to do on this weekend.
How did I find this spot you’re wondering? It took a little bit of research. First I used my Stargazer program to locate the milky way and find out if it was high enough in the northern US skies to get good photographs. After determining this is a great time to photograph it if you can find clear southern skies I started to look for good places to go with less light pollution using DarkSiteFinder.com. Northern Minnesota has some of least amount of light pollution providing for some dark skies so that is where I wanted to go however I was limited by time so distance was an issue. After looking for state parks to camp at I discovered all of the reservable camp sites were booked due to fall color seekers I re-thought where I wanted to go. Being around a lot of people was not my interest for the weekend. Solitude was my desire. Searching state parks I discovered Blue Mounds State Park had very few campsites reserved indicating fewer visitors giving me the quiet I was seeking along with relatively high ground for the possibility of unobstructed photos. Several hours were spent looking for the right place and a couple of stressful days trying to decide if this was what I wanted to do or not. In the end sometimes you just have to pack up and go for a surprise adventure. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
The rest of my family went out of town for the weekend. So many things to do and a beautiful weekend to work on my list around the house. But that would be responsible and I know I would spend more time inside than I should and miss too much of this last weekend of summer-like weather (highs in the 80’s and sunny). Camping for the weekend seemed like the perfect way to spend a weekend by myself. I’ve really been itching to get some nice photos of the milky way and light pollution is a problem in many areas near me. After a little searching, I found a state park without the fall color seeking crowds and what appeared to be a perfect place to photograph the night sky as the land was higher than the surrounding area giving me miles of horizon towards the south, where the milky way touches the horizon, without much light pollution.
Friday afternoon arrived and so did this last summery weather so I took off from work early and hurried home to pack. Soon after I was on the road for the almost 4 hour drive to Blue Mounds State Park anxious to see the setting sun from this location and look for the milky way to take over the night sky. I arrived at the park just in time to register for my campsite and get to higher ground to prepare for the sun and the stars. It didn’t’ take long for the sun to display it’s breathtaking colors as it neared the horizon prompting me to begin clicking away with the camera. In a very short time I had shot 70 pictures in an attempt to record this beautiful fading display. A few more photos of the twilight and it was time to eat a few snacks I carried with and prepare for my main subject.
Finally the first stars of the night were visible as the sky continued to darken. I took a few pictures to check the settings on the camera and make sure they were correct for astrophotography. Thankfully I did because a couple of the settings needed adjustment with the most important one being focus. The camera was still on autofocus so I switched it to manual focus and adjusted it for infinity in order to photograph the stars as clearly as possible. After changing the settings I snapped a few more pictures and decided it was set up the way I wanted for the night.
Now that I was ready and just waiting for the darkness to grow I began to realize I was all alone out in this park with all kinds of wildlife. Yes, this is where your mind begins to play with you and make you wonder if this is a good idea and jump at unfamiliar sounds looking for some wild animal to come lunging at you. Searching through the list of animals in this area that would be active at night I realized the most likely animals in this area were coyotes and they were very unlikely to cause any problems. Forcing myself to relax I continued to look upward as the sky light up with its nighttime show. Soon I was once again swinging my camera back and forth on the tripod capturing different scenes as they appeared all around me. Eventually the milky way made an appearance above me and I knew it would be a matter of time until it glowed closer to the horizon.
As the night grew darker I soon realized that the milky way would show up right were the nearby town was preventing me from getting the shots I was desperately trying to get. On top of that it was homecoming so the football stadium lights shone bright. All of that time and effort and this was the best picture I could get of near the horizon. Not very impressive however you can still see it. I knew this would be a possibility but hoped for the best. I took the pictures I could and began to vacate my star gazing rock as this part of the park was closing soon. A few photos of the milky way overhead and I was off. Besides it was getting to be a long day and I still needed to set up my tent.
After setting up my tent and sleeping quarters I decided to catch a few photos from this location to cap off my evening of looking for stars. The trees overhead brought a different and interesting composition to all of these bright stars shining down.
After a number of pictures I decided to play with my flashlight and began to highlight the trees and see how that looked against all of these stars. It was kind of interesting and something I would have played with more except I had finished my evening beverage and decided it was time to catch a few hours of sleep as I wanted to get up at dawn and photograph the prairie waking up.
I did decide to try again the next night with a little better luck. To continue on click here…