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Fresh images contain their own excitement. Each contains the seeds of future greatness, the possibility of being favored by time. Novelty itself is an experience, and this blog is my own seasoning rack, a chance to give some early exposure to images and collections that one day might stand the test of time.  Like the latest musical recording or new babies, things may not always work the way we hoped.  But at the moment of conception, these seemed exciting enough to seek comment and response to.  Please comment, share and enjoy!

- Steve Lefkovits

Soul of the Universe

August 27, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The Soul of the Universe - August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, seen from Driggs, Idaho. Composite HDR image that reveals extensive solar corona.The Soul of the Universe4,000 years ago, Emperor Chung K’ang of China (allegedly) beheaded his court astronomers - Hsi and Ho - for failing to predict a solar eclipse on October 22, 2134 BC.<br/><br/>It seems a bit harsh, but I understand. Count me among the people who think eclipses are literally the most awe-inducing, resonant experience in the world.<br/><br/>For monarchs and emperors and dynastic leaders who led by convincing others of their divinity, eclipses were often seen as signs of the relative favor of the gods with how the ruler was doing. Kings feared the occlusion for the same reason it is so powerful for us today - there’s no need or desire to have a commercial or religious intermediary take credit for the event. Everyone under the path of totality has the same human experience of feeling and seeing a magnificent hole in the sky.<br/><br/>The August 21, 2017 solar eclipse was the most amazing spiritual experience that I’ve ever had. When the moon clicked into alignment blocking the energy of the sun, it was as if a ripple in space-time opened, and the universe was open to and connected us. As my new friend Rick LaBelle more artfully said on his blog liviniddriggs.com, “it was like seeing the soul of the universe... I found myself howling and then crying, and could hear a few others doing the same from surrounding peaks in the hills. Totality was two-minutes, which felt like ten-seconds, and left an impression that will last a lifetime. I now understand why people chase Eclipses.” <br/><br/>Science is still discovering the forces of nature. Perhaps some day, humans will know how and why we feel some type of resonating eclipse energy on a primordial level, below consciousness or thought.<br/><br/>The math, astrophysics, stories, history and travel of eclipses are trivialities - compared to the sense of complete connection that we can access at no cost, without equipment, technical knowledge or intermediary. In my notes of the day I wrote down “complete fulfillment like when a baby comes out”, “wonder”, “awe”, “resonant” and “unification with the universe.” <br/><br/>So please count me in for the next one. I hope to see you in Patagonia in December of 2020. 4,000 years ago, Emperor Chung K’ang of China (allegedly) beheaded his court astronomers - Hsi and Ho - for failing to predict a solar eclipse on October 22, 2134 BC.

It seems a bit harsh, but I understand. Count me among the people who think eclipses are literally the most awe-inducing, resonant experience in the world.

For monarchs and emperors and dynastic leaders who led by convincing others of their divinity, eclipses were often seen as signs of the relative favor of the gods with how the ruler was doing. Kings feared the occlusion for the same reason it is so powerful for us today - there’s no need or desire to have a commercial or religious intermediary take credit for the event. Everyone under the path of totality has the same human experience of feeling and seeing a magnificent hole in the sky.

The August 21, 2017 solar eclipse was the most amazing spiritual experience that I’ve ever had. When the moon clicked into alignment blocking the energy of the sun, it was as if a ripple in space-time opened, and the universe was open to and connected us. As my new friend Rick LaBelle more artfully said on his blog liviniddriggs.com, “it was like seeing the soul of the universe... I found myself howling and then crying, and could hear a few others doing the same from surrounding peaks in the hills. Totality was two-minutes, which felt like ten-seconds, and left an impression that will last a lifetime. I now understand why people chase Eclipses.”  

Science is still discovering the forces of nature. Perhaps some day, humans will know how and why we feel some type of resonating eclipse energy on a primordial level, below consciousness or thought.

The math, astrophysics, stories, history and travel of eclipses are trivialities - compared to the sense of complete connection that we can access at no cost, without equipment, technical knowledge or intermediary. In my notes of the day I wrote down “complete fulfillment like when a baby comes out”, “wonder”, “awe”, “resonant” and “unification with the universe.”

So please count me in for the next one. I hope to see you in Patagonia in December of 2020.


Owl in the Woods

May 28, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Owl in the WoodsOwl in the WoodsBack in the woods, away from the road, a mother owl retreated to a silent hunt. From her first perch, she flew towards me, stopping to roost just 20 yards away. Alone in each other’s company, we made electric eye contact. I held my breath. Like the orca, the wolf and the humpback before her, she touched something unexpected deep in my soul. She exuded will and intent and awareness. And on her home ground, her size, speed and weaponry created leverage in the emotional exchange. I was her guest in the hunting hollow, thrilled to have permission to witness an intimate hour at dusk. Owl in the Woods - Back in the woods, away from the road, a mother owl retreated to a silent hunt. From her first perch, she flew towards me, stopping to roost just 20 yards away. Alone in each other’s company, we made electric eye contact. I held my breath. Like the orca, the wolf and the humpback before her, she touched something unexpected deep in my soul. She exuded will and intent and awareness. And on her home ground, her size, speed and weaponry created leverage in the emotional exchange. I was her guest in the hunting hollow, thrilled to have permission to witness an intimate hour at dusk.

More recent great horned owl images below.

Morning Perched OwlMorning Perched OwlThe glory and possibilities of morning reflected in the eyes of a perched great horned owl.

Point Reyes National Seashore

May 19, 2017
Owl on Scimitar BranchOwl on Scimitar BranchGreat horned owl at deep dusk in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

April 21, 2017
Owl PortraitOwl PortraitGreat horned owl resting near its nest in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

May 2, 2017


Hummingbirds on the Nest

April 03, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The first day of life for any animal is quite amazing. Thank you Patrick and Kim for sharing the first day for these hummingbirds with me. Glorious to watch the mother feed nearly continuously and deliver nectar to their little beaks. It’s hard to overstate the thrill of watching quietly for the return of the mother. She may vocalize a clicking noise, or simply continue her hunt for easy prey as she returns.

Darting in all directions, the chicks wake to their mother’s approach. She cases the nest and ducks behind protective leaves. Perched, she starts the regurgitation process. And then suddenly jams her beak into the receiving snout of a little chick. Maybe a little slurry of food is visible. The chick rises to try to grab more. She turns to the other and repeats.

In under a minute she’s transferred calories and moisture and flies off. Another 20-40 minutes of watchful waiting to see what happens differently the next time. So good.

Day-Old Hummingbird FeedingDay-Old Hummingbird FeedingDay-old hummingbird chick in the nest being fed by its mother.

Berkeley, CA
March 26, 2017
Hummingbird Feeding-2664Hummingbird Feeding-2664
Day-Old Hummingbird FeedingDay-Old Hummingbird FeedingDay-old hummingbird chick in the nest being fed by its mother.

Berkeley, CA
March 26, 2017
Day-Old Hummingbird FeedingDay-Old Hummingbird FeedingDay-old hummingbird chick in the nest being fed by its mother.

Berkeley, CA
March 26, 2017
     

 


Night Sky Photography Resources

January 29, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Night Sky Photography Resources

Recent advances in digital imaging make it possible to image the night sky in ways and with quality that was not imaginable during the film days. A quick list of resources for the night sky photographer.

Technical articles on making true-color images of the night sky

Roger N. Clark’s technical series has no peer. http://clarkvision.com/articles/nightscapes/. There are 32 or 33 articles here currently, each several pages in length and densely researched and demonstrated. Highly recommended, plan to spend some time going through them. Donate to support his fantastic work. This is the best resource that I've come across and it debunks a number of popular web sites and chat rooms. You can also go through his voluminous support and commentary on DPReview.com for a deeper dive into the practical applications of his teachings and responses to questions.

Night sky conditions sites

Finding dark sky areas in the US:

Gear

First, note Roger’s authoritative list of recommended gear. http://clarkvision.com/articles/astrophotography-recommended-gear/. For Canon users, my experience supports his note about the Canon 24mm f/1.4 Mark II lens:

“NOTE: the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens has a lot of aberrations when used wide open. I recommend the Sigma 24 f/1.4 over this lens. The Sigma 24 f/1.4 produces better stars at f/1.4 than does Canon 24mm f/1.4L II at f/2. But if you already have this lens, by all means use it. You may need to crop the images some. It should be better on a crop sensor camera. But if you are in the market for a new 24 f/1.4, I recommend the Sigma over the canon lens.”

  • Polar equatorial mount - I rely on the portable Astrotrac mount to offset the rotation of the earth. I have the predecessor to the current model shown here.  It is available in the US at the largest camera retailers. http://astrotrac.com/products/astrotrac-tt320x-ag.html

Note that the mount will require either a “wedge” like Astrotrac sells or a geared tripod head to mount it to your tripod. This is so that it can be tilted to align with Polaris. And then you will need a ball head to place on the mount to hold the camera.

Many photographers like the Vixen Polarie mount, which performs the same function of allowing longer streak-free images of stars than a stationary camera

  • Headlamp - A headlamp that has a red mode that will preserve your night vision is a must. And the red lamp is a great tool for subtle light painting on red rocks in the Southwest of the United States. I use a model from Princeton Tec that is available at REI. https://www.rei.com/product/889913/princeton-tec-vizz-headlamp
  • Interval Timer Cable Release - needed especially by Canon shooters that want to program shooting multiple long exposures. Canon’s in-camera interval timers don’t support Bulb mode.

Mobile Apps

  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris - sunrise, sunset, astronomical twilight, moon phase
  • Starmap - shows position of the Milky Way for a given place and time, and which portion of it will be visible and its orientation.

Software
There is almost too much specialized astro software to list. A few valuable tools for the astro hobbyist are:

Starstax, which blends stationary images taken using an interval timer into star trails. Freeware - http://www.markus-enzweiler.de/software/software.html

Time Lapse Assembler - makes quick movies from a series of tif or jpeg files from your time lapse series. Donationware - http://www.dayofthenewdan.com/projects/time-lapse-assembler-1/

Stellarium - night sky visualization for laptop/desktop


Vortex of Nature, 60 Minutes from Silicon Valley

January 07, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

More like 90 minutes from Silicon Valley, Point Reyes National Seashore is an active stew of abundant life. The relatively intact and complex eco-system presents visitors with a wondrous physical and emotional experience. Going to a beach feels good. Going to an entire natural world is energizing to the core. Being immersed in the wild engages the senses and heals the soul.

Grooming BobcatGrooming BobcatA big, healthy bobcat grooming on a cold, windy afternoon in Point Reyes National Seashore.

In a day, we saw - thanks to our guide Daniel Dietrich - bobcat, coyote, hawks, a bald eagle, kestrels, northern harriers, and owls. A smorgasbord of apex predators in one safari.

January 6, 2017.

We worship wealth. Here in Northern California, everyone is wealthy because of the endowment of nature set aside by those who came before us. Within driving distance of 4 million people lies a complex eco-system with entire food chains visibly at work. Point Reyes provides:

  • A vortex of nature that you can take the bus to. 
  • Solace and emotional, spiritual re-connection to  the excitement of living. 
  • Perspective in the meditation of watching a successful bobcat or coyote hunt. 
  • Peace and health from walking among healthy things that remind us of our nature as living beings.

People save up all year long to have a week or two in an unspoiled natural place. Wealthy Europeans and Asians stream through the American West to feel untrammeled nature. Our guests marvel at Yellowstone and Yosemite. They flood down California’s Highway 1 to spend a single day along an undeveloped coastline and the clean ocean at its edge. Average Americans can immerse themselves in this nature at no cost. (But because it’s free and always there, we won’t appreciate it until it’s threatened or gone.)

feeding kestrel on a post.Feeding KestrelThis kestrel hopped off the post, grabbed a bird and hopped back on and started eating. Unbelievabluy efficient raptor. Point Reyes National Seashore, January 6, 2017

Even if you’ll never save enough to travel to Africa, you can claim some of the safari experience by walking the meadows and dunes of Point Reyes. Clean air, healthy animals and a working food chain. A real wild experience - a cauldron of energy and renewal - within commuting distance of the tech capital of California. Amazing.

Resources:

Places to stay: Point Reyes Lodging Association - ptreyes.com.

Nature safari guide: Daniel Dietrich, Point Reyes Safaris - pointreyessafaris.com or303-929-8443.

Point Reyes National Seashore: https://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm

Ferruginous HawkFerruginous HawkFerruginous hawk at Point Reyes National Seashore.

January 6, 2017.

Murmur of the CrowdMurmur of the CrowdStarling murmuration. Point Reyes National Seashore. January 6, 2017.

Red Sky at DawnRed Sky at DawnSailor's forewarned by a red sky over Point Reyes, a day before the arrival of a monster rain storm off of the Pacific Ocean. Point Reyes National Seashore, January 6, 2017.

Northern harrier flying head-on over Pt. Reyes National Seashore.Northern Harrier on the HuntNorthern Harrier on the hunt. Point Reyes National Seashore. January 6, 2017