Lunar eclipse

A few shots of Sunday’s lunar eclipse, in reverse order from totality back to the beginning of the eclipse about 90 minutes earlier. So happy we had clear skies!

Against all the odds, the clouds drifted away and we were left with clear skies for the eclipse. I was looking forward to trying out the new camera and after watching the Moon rise down at Boundary Bay, I headed home and set up the tripod and cameras (new and old) so that they were ready to use. We’re fortunate in that we have an open balcony with an unobstructed view of much of the sky which meant we didn’t have to venture out and hang around in the cold night to admire the eclipse.

In a thinly-disguised attempt at attracting eye-balls I posted my sequence of photos in reverse order, starting with mid-totality. I don’t think anyone was fooled 😉

We could make out the first suggestion of a shadow around 7:15 pm, which was clearly visible about twenty minutes later when I took the final picture in the sequence above. Another fifteen minutes later and the Earth’s shadow was casting a very clear arc across the face of the Moon (fifth photo).

By about 8:25 pm the Moon was reduced to a thin crescent (fourth photo) and by 8:40 pm – moments before totality began – the Moon was mostly eclipsed, turning a deep red with only a bright edge remaining lit by direct sunlight (third photo), almost like the diamond-ring effect of a solar eclipse.

Even after totality had begun, there was still a visible glow along the outer edge of the Moon (second photo) which lingered faintly even into the middle of the eclipse (first photo). After that I was too cold to continue taking photos and I convinced myself that the photos of the second half of the eclipse would probably look much like those from the first!

All in all I’m happy with the photos I took, though there are definitely some inconsistencies between the new mirrorless camera and the old SLR. For example, after totality began I couldn’t see the Moon on the screen of the mirrorless camera, but still had no trouble viewing it through the viewfinder of the SLR. Despite apparently identical settings, a 1-second exposure with the SLR showed the Moon clearly, while the same on the new camera showed barely anything. I’ll have to look into that more closely as that was a big surprise.

Most of all I’m just happy the skies were clear enough to see another lunar eclipse. I feel like we’ve been quite fortunate over the years here in Vancouver: this is the fifth we’ve seen for sure.

As the Oatmeal might say, THBBBBTTTT!

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The Chase

The Chase – an adult bald eagle chases a juvenile to get it to give up the morsel in its talons, with another juvenile looking to join in.

After last week’s eagle viewing I couldn’t resist returning on a sunnier day to play with the new camera again. And to see the eagles of course! Just as before, there were dozens of eagles perched and flying; and just as before, it was difficult to know which direction to look.

It was on our return to the car that we saw some eagles in flight heading our way. I sighted up through the viewfinder and followed the scene: an adult chasing a juvenile. What I couldn’t predict was that the juvenile would let go of whatever it was holding and then the adult and a second juvenile would dive in to try and snatch it mid-air.

I don’t know if either of the eagles caught it, but it made for a spectacular sight as the eagles tumbled and dove after it. Either way, I hope it was worth the effort for them!

I still haven’t really got the hang of using the new camera for wildlife photography, as is obvious to anyone who looks closely at the third and fourth photos as they are not even remotely in focus. As a result, I’ve come up with a plan to take both the SLR and the new camera on my next visit and use each in turn. Hopefully this will allow me to determine just how much my technique plays a role in the final images. Wish me luck!

Fleeting

Winter sunsets in the mountains are the best. Judge Howay, Robie Reid, and Meslilloet catch the last light of the day as seen from the First Peak of Mount Seymour.

It wasn’t our plan to be at the summit for sunset; we thought we would have time to make it back down to Brockton Point by then, but we were delayed by the traffic management on the road up to Mount Seymour. But once we realized that, we were quite happy to stay put and watch our first winter summit sunset in quite a few years. With the help of a first-quarter moon, and lights from the ski resort, we didn’t even need our headlamps to retrace our steps back to the car.

The best light lasts only about 20 minutes, and it’s hard to know where to direct your concentration. The most dramatic scenes are opposite the setting sun, the light changing from orange to red to pink before leaving the mountains to shine white against a pink sky. But there was still competition from the mist drifting across English Bay, the shadows of the downtown sky-scrapers cast onto the water of Coal Harbour, and the deep orange glow over Vancouver Island.

I had thought ahead to bring a tripod, just the Gorillapod this time, eager to try out the new ball-head and Arca Swiss quick-release plate on the top. Alas, I quickly realized that I should have brought the full-size tripod as the Gorillapod proved pretty useless; it was difficult to set to the right height, while the rounded feet skidded on the icy snow. Still, I managed to get a few decent photos and I’m especially pleased with the three above.

In order, the mountains on display are:

  1. Mount Judge Howay, a dramatic double-peaked mountain that can be seen from many local mountains;
  2. Mount Robie Reid, an imposing hulk of a mountain;
  3. Meslilloet Mountain, which harbours the closest glacier to Vancouver on its northern face.

The time between the first and third photo is only seven minutes – you really have to act fast at this time of day!

Catching this sunset has inspired me to repeat the experience. I have a few winter sunsets (and even sunrises, though that’s less likely) in mind that I’d like to catch. Some require hiking but one or two can be obtained at the roadside. I might try those first.

The view from our tent

Throwback Thursday to the view from our tent this past summer. It seems that if we weren’t counting mosquitoes, we were listening to raindrops. There’s a tree shadow as an interlude, a photo I took one morning to remind me of the same silhouette cast by the moon during the night. Brings back some great memories of peaceful nights, including perhaps the quietest night I’ve ever experienced when we were far from any creeks and there wasn’t even a breath of wind…

Some people seem to manage to set up their tent and get those Insta-famous shots of a gorgeous landscape as seen through the open doorway of the tent. We’ve camped in many beautiful places, but on only a few occasions have we felt that we could get a great photo just from looking out of the tent. In practice, we’ve found it difficult to get those kinds of shots; mostly it’s just not possible to set up your tent with such a good aspect.

A more typical tent view is that shown in the photos above (click through to see the selection). The first photo reveals that we’re not habitual early risers, instead often waiting until the sun has risen over a nearby ridge at which point the tent becomes an unbearable greenhouse in minutes. The play of light and shadow on the roof of the tent (complete with mosquitoes, of course), along with the intersection of the support poles were pleasing elements that caught my eye. When we do get a nice mountain view, as in the second, the light is rarely great, where, on this occasion, we were again besieged by insects after our blood.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a great fan of symmetry in photos. The third photo is a simple straightforward example, the tent neatly bisected by the centre ridge pole with a difference in light on either side. It’s not perfectly symmetric though; there are two more mosquitoes on the left than on the right…

The fourth photo is the alluded-to interlude. I remember opening my eyes around 1 am that night and noticing the lovely shadow cast on the tent by a tree lit up by the rising moon. For a moment I was tempted to try a long-exposure photo to capture it, but I’m not sure Maria would have appreciated it, and so I treasured the moment and closed my eyes again. To my delight I noticed that the morning sun cast the same shadow on the tent, making it easy for me to capture it, and preserve the memory from the night before.

By the beginning of September the mosquitoes had died off, and so, in order to continue my series of tent-view photos, I resorted to recording the rain drops beading on the fly. While the previous night had been probably the quietest ever night I’ve experienced, this particular night it had rained for many hours, tapering off at times before returning, sometimes as rain, but also sometimes as sleet or snow. I half expected to wake up and find snow all around, but that didn’t happen until I started preparing breakfast!

Of course, snow did settle around us a month later on our final backpacking trip of the year, and for once we had an almost photogenic view from our tent pad. We packed away our gear inside the tent, only making a hot drink when our bags were more or less ready, at which point we sat nursing our morning tea and coffee peering out at the misty, snowy view beyond. That done, all we had left to do was take down, shake out, and stuff away our sopping wet tent. It took two days to dry out at home…

Here’s to a year of tent views! Can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us 🙂

A moment in the sun

Sky Pilot attracts all the attention up at the Sea to Sky gondola, but the Copilot is a pretty fine mountain in its own right.

One of the reasons I opted to buy a new camera was that I had lost patience with the lenses and performance of our SLRs. On one of our earlier trips up to the Sea to Sky gondola, I tried to capture the beautiful light on both Sky Pilot and the Copilot (including a composition very similar to the one above) and I was dismayed to find that every single shot was out of focus. Not blurry, but straight up unfocussed, as in complete failure to focus. (Now admittedly, buying an entire new camera system may seem an overreaction when a new lens would probably do the trick, but that’s another discussion.)

So I was looking forward to trying out our new camera, and bringing home some nice, sharp, detailed photographs. Even better, the late afternoon light on the mountains was glorious. Thankfully, the camera seemed to do exactly as I had hoped (indeed, as it should!) and we have some photos of the Sky Pilot group that we really like.

When it came to posting on Instagram, I returned to this view of the Copilot, drawn by the parallel ridges lit up by the sunshine (especially the left-hand one with the line of trees). By comparison, the photos of Sky Pilot itself were a bit flat, a bit too face-on without any real paths to lead a viewer’s eye. Truth be told I was hoping for warmer light but I actually quite like the starkness of it, which I think helps isolate the snow from the sky, as well as highlight all the texture in the land. Finally, it works really well as a square crop, ideal for Instagram!

A plethora of eagles

A plethora of bald eagles today down near Boundary Bay. The light wasn’t great but I took a tonne of photos anyway. Of course, most didn’t work out but this sequence of an adult coming in to land isn’t too bad. The fifth photo is blurry but I’ve included it just because it was amazing to watch the eagles interact, squabbling and scuffling over perches and morsels. For such large birds they fly remarkably quietly and don’t seem to mind crashing through branches to chase off a rival. The last photo is one of my favourites: a juvenile perched in a tree barely 10 feet above me! I was surprised at how tolerant they seemed to be of all the people (and their many dogs too).

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A plethora of bald eagles today down near Boundary Bay. The light wasn't great but I took a tonne of photos anyway. Of course, most didn't work out but this sequence of an adult coming in to land isn't too bad. The fifth photo is blurry but I've included it just because it was amazing to watch the eagles interact, squabbling and scuffling over perches and morsels. For such large birds they fly remarkably quietly and don't seem to mind crashing through branches to chase off a rival. The last photo is one of my favourites: a juvenile perched in a tree barely 10 feet above me! I was surprised at how tolerant they seemed to be of all the people (and their many dogs too). #boundarybay #baldeagle #haliaeetusleucocephalus

A post shared by Andy Gibb (@_andy_gibb_) on

While I enjoy heading up to Squamish to watch them near Brackendale, I was inspired to go looking for eagles in the opposite direction by an Instagram friend’s post a few days ago. I’ve seen them up close on the dykes at Boundary Bay in the past and I thought it would be a good excuse to go try out the new camera and see how well it performs.

The answer is, well, it depends. Most of my photos were not sharp, some not even really in focus. But the light level was low and I’m still pretty new to the camera, so I’m giving it and myself the benefit of the doubt at this stage. Still, I’m not entirely convinced it comes close to the SLR in terms of focussing on what I want to be in focus but it may just be that I didn’t have the camera on its best settings. Photographing birds in flight is one of the hardest things to get right in photography and I certainly don’t have a great deal of experience.

I had plenty of eagles to choose from, perhaps too many as it was hard to know where best to stand or look with as many as 80-100 eagles either flying around or perched in nearby trees. Sometimes I just had to stand and watch.

Without doubt the sequence of four images of the adult eagle landing in a tree are my favourite, and they’ve turned out fairly well. For once I had enough time to identify and track an eagle as it approached the tree, firing off bursts of shots as it got closer. I was able to quickly learn enough about Canon’s raw processor (DxO PhotoLab still does not support the CR3 file format) to make some adjustments and set the white balance to my liking before uploading them. They’re not pin-sharp but they’re good enough for Instagram.

Getting the last image of the juvenile on a branch so close to me was an amazing experience. Eventually I even gave up taking photos at all and just watched as it picked away at the moss. We locked eyes a few times, which was quite an unnerving experience and made me glad I was not a vole or a fish.

Finally, I had to include one shot that came closest to capturing the aerobatic displays. On several occasions they flew barely 15-feet overhead, one such time while I was in the car! They felt so close! To see such large birds in motion and manoeuvring as tightly as they did was simply wonderful. Catching them in flight is something I would love to go back and try again on a sunnier day.