Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Left Brain Challenge

The Right Brain is considered the creative, artistic side.

The Left Brain is the calculating, scientific half.

Those who know me know that it's only in this part of my life — say for the last 15 or 20 years — that I've indulged my creative spirit and done my best to discard and ignore the old technical part. Without success, I might add. I moved over to Mac from PC, for example which is a source of never-ending frustration because I can't dive into the code like I used to. Not that I really want to, I just want to be a "user" and let others solve the technical issues. Which doesn't always work, but that's another story.

I 'play' guitar and keyboard (in quotes because I'm really a hacker) but I can't remember how to read music much, despite years of training in my youth. I 'paint' and 'sketch', also in quotes because I suck. I write: no quotes there, I do that, but the only way I'll finish my novel is if I have another 20 or 30 years ahead of me! And of course I photograph and digitally manipulate images.

I used to shoot guns and ride motorcycles but always with the left brain engaged, respect for the mechanics. No, I've really had enough of the cogitative life.

So WHY IN HEAVEN did I decide to get a star tracker? It's one of the most complicated contraptions I've tried since Rube Goldberg was a kitten.

Here's my camera mounted on an iOptron Skytracker Pro. The thing on top is my iPhone which runs TriggerTrap software to operate the camera shutter. I could use a remote, but hey, this is more complicated!

What does it do? Inside the red thing is a motor that turns the camera mount at the same speed as the earth rotates, ideally in the exact opposite direction, so the stars stay put in the frame. Note: if you're a "flat-earther" you can skip to the next article because this won't make sense to you. The camera is mounted on a ball head so you can point it where you want, and that's sitting on a counterweighted arm — which technically isn't needed with a wide angle lens, but I was trying to learn how to set it up.

Since everything rotates around the North Pole, you have to align the thing with the Pole which is close to (but not exactly on) the star Polaris.The thing on the right with the rubber band on it is a Polar Scope (the rubber band is to keep the lens caps from falling off), a little telescope you use to align the thing. Without boring you to death with detail, that's the hardest part: you roughly point it North, tilt it to the correct angle for your latitude (there's an app for that), look through the scope by bending over at an impossible angle and you should see Polaris. I saw A STAR, I think it might have been Polaris... then you use some clumsy controls to put it in the right place in the scope. Sure. When it's -2°C, windy, and the stupid ball head control gets in the way. Oh yeah, and you have to make sure the tripod is perfectly level (with a bubble level). Once it's aligned take care not to move anything or you have to start all over again. That's harder than you think.

OK, why? Well if you shoot the milky way, for instance, a typical exposure would be say 15 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 3200. If you know anything about digital photography, the high ISO generates lots of 'noise' which interferes with a sharp, clean image. Any longer, and the moving stars will leave tracks instead of being round dots (if you're in focus. Another issue...). So to get the ISO down, you need to keep the shutter open longer, hence the tracker to keep everything still in the picture. My go-to exposure would be 4 minutes at f/4, ISO 400, not too far off, I think.

With all of that said, I went out on Wednesday night to give it a try. The moon was too bright, there were clouds coming in, but I got a couple of shots.

This is a 4 minute shot with the tracker on. As I said, it wasn't perfect, but not a bad first attempt. You can see that the foreground is fuzzy because the camera was moving the whole time, but the stars were (reasonably) sharp. 

This is a shot with the tracker turned off.  You can see how much the stars moved during the exposure but the earth stood still. I turned on the inside light in the car for a bit at the beginning of the shot.

So what you do is blend those pictures together in Photoshop, then fiddle with it for an hour and this is what you get. Pretty cool, eh? 

Here's another one, facing ENE but I forgot to shoot a foreground shot so it's fuzzy. 

I'm looking forward to getting out on another clear (but WARMER!) night to try again, maybe with the Milky Way this time! Exercising those computational muscles on the left side of my brain!


Planning is well underway. I only have a few days left to book, I'd really like to find something around Greenspond for the end of July, but may have to settle for the Bay Roberts area (not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'd love the chance to roam around Greenspond for a few days). No available accommodations there that I've been able to find.

I booked the ferries: July 4th outbound, August 18th inbound. That gives me a couple of days on the Western shore on either end of the trip. I'm still open for people (photography or artist types) to share part of the time with me. 

If you want to see my Newfoundland pictures from 2017 and 2018, go to my Portfolio page, here:

House Sale

I had an offer a couple of days ago, but it didn't work out. Still available, great location and house and price, perfect for someone from Toronto looking to move out of town or even to use as a cottage as a stepping stone to moving up here. 

Here's the listing site from my agent:

Algonquin Park visit(s)

I was up in the park twice. Last week, Amin and I went for a drive up — we had a great day but didn't see much, other than the Pine Martens. We did run into a few friends, the "Susans" and we met Dave Nicholson who had never seen a Marten, so we sent him to "the spot" where he saw one for the first time.  

I grabbed this Canada Jay picture there, and turned it into a sketch:

Then Ron called and said, "let's go to Algonquin Park". "Sure, what time?" and I met them up there Saturday morning. He brought Rob Klein and Lil Schneidman with him, Lil is the outgoing president of the Richmond Hill Camera Club. We'd met before but with my memory for faces and names... sorry Lil!

That didn't go exactly as planned. As I was driving east on Highway 60 out of Dwight, a deer decided to remodel the front of my car. The insurance is covering everything but the deductible and I'm off in search of a body shop tomorrow.

Here's the deer. Not going far with a broken back half. I shot the picture while waiting for the police. The nice officer dispatched it with his Glock: I volunteered to do it but for some reason he wouldn't lend me the gun... We left it for the wolves and other critters in the bush. 

This is one of the shots I did for the insurance company. A lot of plastic to be replaced, a little sheet metal, and maybe a little internal damage to the A/C Condenser. We'll see. The plastic did its job, no damage to the frame or anything, I think. Subarus are tough! 

When I finally got to the Park, I met up with them and shot some pictures. Almost all were with the 200-400mm 'bazooka'. It's soooo sharp but it's soooo heavy... except as noted below. Enjoy.

The obligatory Pine Marten shots. See what I mean about sharp? This one is cropped quite tightly, too. 

I hate Grackles. They empty my feeders in half a day, chase all the other birds away and their call is annoying and noisy. But they do have pretty iridescent  feathers!

A common Redpoll 

A digital sketch of Turtle Rock up on Opeongo Road. More complicated than it looks because it was a composite of 12 separate images shot with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and edited in Topaz Studio. 

 Here's Lil, using a similar technique.

We stopped at the ice cave on Hwy 60 on the way back. Careful footing to get up to it, here's Lil trying not to fall.

And this is a merged-HDR pano shot from the entrance to the cave. With a little help from Topaz! 9 shots HDR merged in Lightroom, done with the 24-120 lens.

'til next time!

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