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Sea Turtles

I've always had a thing for Sea Turtles.

I suspect that if you were to ask most scuba divers or snorkelers, they would share my affection...and why wouldn't they? Turtles are amazing to watch underwater: They're graceful, playful, and depending on the individual, are often willing to let you approach and swim alongside them. This interaction can really be a treat and hopefully they'll stick around for a while. Sadly, their numbers are decreasing, the result of habitat destruction (nesting grounds in particular,) boat propellers, and the consumption of both their meat and eggs.

Sea Turtles are air-breathing reptiles and there are 7 species left: Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Flatback, Loggerhead, Kemp Ridley and Olive Ridley. The Green Sea Turtle, which I have by far taken the most images of can grow to reach lengths of 5 feet and live as long as 80 years. They've been around for a long time,  sharing space with the dinosaurs 150 million years ago.

In Hawaii, the Green Sea Turtle is called Honu, and is locally viewed as a symbol of good luck. I can't disagree with this assessment: It was nearly 25 years ago that I photographed my first Green Sea Turtle off the shores of Oahu. I was a terribly inexperienced photographer shooting with a borrowed Nikonos film camera. Nonetheless, I captured the first image I ever sold (the silhouette, lower right above) which would springboard me towards a long career shooting animals under the water.    

I've decided to run a small promotion, good on turtle images only. Visit my online art store or simply choose the SHOP ART link at the top of this page. Use the discount code "turtle" at checkout and receive 25% off any turtle image on fine art paper, canvas or metal through October 7, 2016. 

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Jalbert Productions Art Store is Up and Running!

I've been working on this for a while and I'm happy to announce that the Jalbert Productions Art online store is up and running. It's been a busy year for me in the fine art business..something I hadn't really anticipated. Since this wasn't really my area, I found it difficult to display (or sell for that matter) my images in a way that was simple for buyers. It took some work (not to mention a lot of mistakes and the help of some folks far smarter than I am) but I think we got it right. The site can be reached directly at http://jalbertproductionsart.artstorefronts.com/ or by clicking SHOP ART on the top menu of this page. The store is extremely easy to navigate from viewing to purchasing and is grouped by galleries including Beaches & Shorelines, Underwater, Italy, Landscapes, Waterfalls, and Madison.

There are a number of mediums and sizes to choose from (metal, canvas, and various papers) and the site even has a "wall preview" in which you can choose different types of rooms and wall color to see how the piece will fit in your space.

Pass it along! If you stop by the site and join the mailing list on the home page you'll get a coupon code for 20% off your first order (the offer will be good through December 31, 2016.) Take a look when you get the time...I'd love to get your feedback. The holidays are rapidly approaching...why not treat your favorite Wisconsinite, travel enthusiast or scuba diver to a piece of art? More images are coming soon so check back or contact me if there's something you'd like to see that isn't there.

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The Florida Keys 2016

This has been quite a year filled with incredibly rewarding projects including corporate art sales, architecture shoots, advertising work, a refurbished website (take a look around if you haven't already), an upcoming online art store, and the biggest (physically speaking) piece I've ever created: A 26-foot long display for the University of Wisconsin.

And I haven't written a single blog about any of it.

I'll blame this on Facebook, an environment that I hesitantly joined last year. It gave me an easy way to showcase my work and it's been useful but I need to get back to this blog for a number of reasons. And what better way than a piece on one of my favorite places: The Florida Keys.

Those of you who live in the Keys understand its rich history: Hurricanes, Hemingway, and one of the most "daring" road building projects ever attempted.

Then and Now: The long Key Bridge connecting Long Key and Conch Key. The bridge originally shouldered the Overseas Railroad from 1907 to 1935 before being used for highway traffic. The current bridge is used for foot traffic and the new US 1 runs parallel to the east.

Then and Now: The long Key Bridge connecting Long Key and Conch Key. The bridge originally shouldered the Overseas Railroad from 1907 to 1935 before being used for highway traffic. The current bridge is used for foot traffic and the new US 1 runs parallel to the east.

Many segments of the historic Overseas Railroad bridges are still in place and have become a familiar part of the landscape.

Many segments of the historic Overseas Railroad bridges are still in place and have become a familiar part of the landscape.

I could have spent the entire week with my lens focused on the region's historic elements, but I was staying in the upper keys for another reason: The Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.  Established in 1975, the sanctuary provides protection to the continent’s only coral reef. Later, in 1989, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act was passed, designating 2800 square nautical miles of coastal waters from the Dry Tortugas all the way to the Everglades as a marine Sanctuary. Strict regulations, put in place to preserve this fragile underwater environment, prohibit the collecting or damaging of any coral. I've been coming here since the early 1990s when I brought groups from our dive shop to explore the reefs aboard the Sea Dwellers boat. We've all gotten a lot older, as evidenced not only by the sheer quantity of reading glasses laying around the Sea Dwellers shop, but by my need to borrow a pair. Nonetheless, the waters surrounding the island chain have changed little and once on the boat, it felt as it always had.

Great Barracuda beneath a coral head on Molasses Reef. 

Great Barracuda beneath a coral head on Molasses Reef. 

For those of us in the Midwest who endure snow removal, ice covered roads, and the unwanted guest of late who goes by the rather daunting name of "Polar Vortex", booking a trip to southern Florida in the late summer (when the weather here is beautiful) seems a bit counter intuitive. If your purpose is to shoot underwater however, it really is a great time. The water is warm, seas are generally calmer, and visibility is good. And on this particular trip, the sea life was not only present, it was extremely cooperative.

With a new underwater camera housing, rebuilt strobes,  and a different camera than I typically shoot with (I could write an entire blog titled "camera's I've flooded and housings I've ruined"...) I headed beneath the waves at Molasses Reef. Diving without a group provided me with perhaps the single greatest photographic luxury: Time. I scoped things out a bit away from the others then I simply waited. It's a strategy that paid off.

When the Reef Sharks came in, they came in fast. Accompanied by their entourage of Jacks, they swam around for me for a bit, seemingly indifferent to my presence or the bright flash of my strobes. I photographed them for nearly twenty minutes before working my way back to the boat. With 15 minutes before needing to surface, I bumped into another pair of animals that typically are skittish around divers: Reef Squid. Again, I sat with them for a few minutes until they acclimated to sharing space with me before I started shooting. Capturing highly reflective, translucent animals isn't easy and I needed to make a lot of strobe adjustments (both position and power) to get it right. But I had time and that made all the difference. I wanted two particular images: The first was an underexposed, dark background where I relied on my strobe light to bring out the colors of the squid. The second was a photo that showed the animal's translucent qualities.

And of course there's always a turtle (well, almost always a turtle) and the next day I spent most of an entire dive with this one. I'm not sure how I got so lucky on this trip, but when I came across him, I got the same feeling I'd gotten with the sharks and the squid: He couldn't have cared less that I was swimming with him. Perfect...let's get a few pictures shall we? I followed him for 45 minutes as he looked for sponges to eat, firing off my camera the entire way.

Anyone who has been diving on a healthy reef knows that while these animals are all spectacular and sought after photographically, the entire environment is beautiful. I've become very particular about what I shoot but if you could see just beyond these images you'd be treated to a magical landscape of "riotous color" (to borrow a quote from famous author and avid scuba diver Michael Crichton) that is bustling with life. Even when you don't find the shots you're looking for, simply being on the reef can feel like a privilege.

Warm thanks to Rob Haff and the Sea Dwellers gang for always making me feel so at home when I visit. Key Largo is a very special place to me and I look forward to returning.

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Water and Light: Exploring Florida's Gulf Coast

Twenty years ago, if I had a camera in my hand it was (with very few exceptions) being used to capture a tropical scene, either beneath the water or along its margins. I was young, new to photography, arguably shortsighted, and positively obsessed with the ocean. If Jimmy Buffet didn't sing about it or Cousteau didn't document it, I had very little interest in shooting it. Admittedly, the bulk of these photographs weren't very good and ended up in a film box packed away deep in the basement, but I sure had a good time taking them.

As I aged, I begrudgingly expanded my subject matter and techniques, learning about off-camera lighting, more advanced filtering, camera and optical mechanics, high dynamic range sequencing, and digital editing. I finally began venturing inland...way inland: to cities, farms, churches, and even studios: the driest of environments where the risk of flooding an underwater strobe was absent and the pay was better. Yet there was a draw to the ocean that was hard to shake and I returned whenever possible. In a counter-intuitive twist, all of that time spent shooting and training away from the sea led to an arsenal of methods that ultimately helped me to walk away from a coastal or underwater shoot with images destined for publication or licensing rather than a box in the basement. The interaction of light with water will always be my greatest photographic love and I consider myself lucky whenever I get the chance to chase after it.

In October of 2015 I made a trip to Florida's gulf coast to shoot a couple of commissioned photos, expand my portfolio of shoreline images, and to see if I could track down a manatee or two willing to have its picture taken. I knew the last of these tasks would prove to be the most problematic. Manatees are extremely sensitive to water temperature and venture up river to find warmth in the spring fed waters near Kings Bay during the winter months when the gulf cools. This migration typically begins in November but there are always a few that hang around and I was hoping to find one.

With four days to myself, I tried to plan out the best use of my time, shooting coastal images in the softer light of dusk, crawling into Kings Bay to look for manatees in the mornings, and scoping locations during the hard sun of midday. I also made the drive north to visit some of Florida's underground springs including Devil's Den, a water filled cavern that over the years has given up fossils of numerous extinct animals from the Pleistocene (an epoch dating between approximately 1.8 million years ago through about 11,000 years ago) as well as human remains from more than 7,000 years ago. The cavern at Devil's Den looks like a scene right out of Raiders of the Lost Ark with a glass-smooth, turquoise blue pool illuminated from a hole in the cave's ceiling. The water, like that of other springs in the area is a constant 72 degrees and crystal clear.

The submerged pool at Devil's Den.

The submerged pool at Devil's Den.

I have long since forgotten the number of times I've visited Florida however most of these trips were to the southeast portion of the state and the keys where I could easily reach the vibrant coral reef that can't be found along the gulf coast. Whatever the western coast of Florida lacks underwater however, it makes up for with its stunning coastline and seemingly endless sugar-white sand beaches. There are hundreds of miles of shoreline to explore and I found myself wishing I had more time to do so. There were just too many choices: Popular beaches like Clearwater and St. Petes, coastal islands like Anna Maria and Fort De Soto, sprawling keys like Longboat and Siesta...they went on and on...and I was still half a state away from Marco Island and the 10,000 Islands chain. Yet I wasn't able to venture that far for one simple reason: I needed to travel north every morning to Crystal River...I wanted manatee images.

After three days of shooting, I was feeling good about about the coastal scenes I'd captured but getting a shot of a manatee was proving to be more than a bit disappointing. There were several issues I was contending with and by Thursday I was ready to give up. Finding one in the first place wasn't easy this time of year and once we finally did, a group of excited snorkelers stormed into the water to see, breaking one of my strobe arms and stirring up the mucky bottom along the way. Dredging activities in the area reduced water visibility to less than two feet so when I finally came face to face with a mother and her calf, the water was so cloudy, getting a good image was maddeningly impossible. After two days of similar experiences, I'd decided to cut my losses...a decision that made it about three hours before crumbling. I really hated to return home without giving it one more try so Friday I reconfigured my camera and returned to the bay...and this time I got lucky.

I'd slipped into a canal and was looking under a dock when I first saw her. She was probably in the 1500-pound range and was noisily chomping away on sea grass. Manatees can consume more than 10% of their body weight daily and she seemed intent on reaching that goal. With new U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations prohibiting scuba diving after the animals or even flash photography, there was only one way I'd get any decent photos: She'd have to come to me. And that's exactly what happened. We swam together for almost half an hour and as we did I fired away while she surfaced, rolled onto her back and nuzzled my mask. After three frustrating days I'd found my perfect model.

Manatees live a life that makes me a bit envious, dividing their time between eating, resting, and traveling. Their numbers have been steadily increasing, largely due to the hat trick of laws in place to protect them including the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. They're an animal worth protecting and with a bit of luck, they'll make it off the endangered species list sooner than later.

Water and light....and everything in between...what could be better?

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The Aldo Leopold Nature Center Blue Marble Campaign

I was recently hired by the exceptional team at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center to provide images for their Blue Marble Campaign. They've been hard at work installing the region’s first ever Elumenati Omnifocus Projection System in their Immersion Theater and needed both images of the theater system itself and interaction photos for promotion.

So what is an Elumenati Omnifocus Projection System exactly? I didn't know either until I made my first on-site visit. The center's promotional piece describes it as follows:

"This one-of-a kind panoramic astronomy and earth science theater software was developed by the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and will take audiences on interactive, virtual journeys across vast scales of time and space, provoking questions regarding the nature of the universe and human’s role in protecting our fragile planet’s place in it. This will also be overlaid with cutting-edge infrared technology and customized content, creating an interactive immersive experience like nothing else!"

Picture a circular room wrapped by a screen. For perspective, consider that HD video is projected at a 16:9 aspect ratio. This particular system projects at a 40:9 aspect ratio. It virtually wraps around you when you stand in the theater. Multiple projectors are tucked into the ceiling and the content is controlled by a touchscreen podium at the back of the room. It's like something out of Star Trek...and it is seriously cool. It also happens to be an incredibly difficult scene to photograph.

There were two clear challenges with this shoot, the first was the room's dimensions, the second was the lighting. I wanted to show the entire room and briefly considered shooting a series of images and stitching them together but that would have made the room look too flat...too 2-dimensional. I opted to use a 15mm fisheye lens which gave me just enough coverage (within inches) to get the entire room in the frame. The distortion was severe, but I could correct for it when I processed the images. The second challenge was exposing the theater in such a way that both the projection on the screen and the hardware would be visible. This is of course impossible with a single shot, especially in a darkened room so I opted for a High Dynamic Range (HDR) sequence. This technique involves shooting multiple exposures of the same scene and "tone mapping" them together. I shot 5 images, underexposing 2 to capture the projected images on the screen, over exposing 2 to get the hardware and room detail, and finally, 1 that was properly exposed according to the light meter. Below is what they looked like right out of the camera. Note how the lens distorted the room and how, from an exposure standpoint, a single image simply wouldn't have worked. To get the projected image of the Earth, sun and stars meant the room and the projection equipment was far too dark. Conversely, to expose the scene in such a way as to illustrate the projectors and the room would result in a washed out image on the screen. By combining all of the below images I could bring out the shadowed floor, the projectors and the screen image.

The five unprocessed images used to create the final product. Note the drastic distortion before processing and the different exposures of each.

The five unprocessed images used to create the final product. Note the drastic distortion before processing and the different exposures of each.

 I was hoping to recreate the feel of actually being in this room...the feeling of being on the bridge of a star ship looking out into space. After correcting for the optical distorion of the fish eye lens, tweaking the tone mapping, and doing quite a bit of cleaning, I was very happy with the result.

Final product: Projected image, podium, and ceiling hardware all exposed properly and entire room in the frame with lens distortion corrected for.

Final product: Projected image, podium, and ceiling hardware all exposed properly and entire room in the frame with lens distortion corrected for.

We also needed to create a compelling image that showed someone interacting with the theater. I knew just the photo I wanted...it was inspired not by any great artistic vision on my part, but rather by the system itself and how, just minutes after first seeing it in action, I could clearly picture my son Luc silhouetted by the earth, looking up at it in whimsically. And sure enough, once in the the room, that's precisely what he did.

For anyone who hasn't paid a visit to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, you should consider it. The center boasts a number of impressive interactive displays as well as some great children's programs and beautiful outdoor grounds and trails. And if you go, don't forget to stop into the immersion theater. You'll be glad you did.

 

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Super Blood Moon 2015

Last Sunday night was a rarity: Not because the moon was full; Not because its path trended close to Earth, making it appear nearly 15% larger than normal; Not because an eclipse bent the sun's light around the Earth, turning the moon a deep magenta color. No...the real rarity Sunday night was that while I was out shooting all of this, the clouds (which seem to delight in plaguing me every time I try to photograph a celestial scene) were nowhere to be found. They must not have gotten the memo instructing them to flow in and obscure my view whenever I aim a camera towards the sky.

The Setup: Canon 1DX for stills, Canon 5D MKII for time lapse.

The Setup: Canon 1DX for stills, Canon 5D MKII for time lapse.

Shooting a picture of the moon itself isn't a particularly difficult endeavor. A long (telephoto) lens is a must, otherwise the moon, which looks so spectacular to the naked eye, will appear as a mere dot of light in the sky...a disappointing result experienced by the droves of people I saw shooting it with their smart phones. A tripod is a good idea as well, helping to steady the camera and avoid blurring the image from camera shake. Finally if at all possible, manually setting the camera's exposure is the surest path to a moon image with detail. Cameras set to automatic exposure average everything in the frame which will often cause a boost in exposure level to compensate for the dark sky, in turn blowing out the moon to little more than a bright white orb.

I had two goals last Sunday: (1) Get a picture of the moon in context, that is to say, an image that gives it a sense of location (my mind of course went right to the capital building), and (2) Try for a time lapse piece showing the transition from full moon, to eclipsed to red.

It became apparent pretty quickly that a time lapse piece wasn't going to work out. Using a long lens meant limited space in the frame and during the time it took for the eclipse to go through all of its phases, it simply moved too far....way too far. I started my sequence with the moon in the lower left corner of my frame at 8:11 pm. By 8:38 pm, it had already moved through the entire frame and exited the other side. I knew it was a bust, so I concentrated on still images. I'd set up at the top of Wisconsin Avenue where it meets Langdon at the newly rebuilt Edgewater Hotel. A crowd of people had gathered to watch the phenomenon and the atmosphere was positively festive. I talked to others, showed them the images on my view screen, coached a young photography student through exposing the scene correctly, and handed out business cards to those who were anxious to see the finished product. The night had the feel of Mallory Square during a Key West sunset.

As the moon began to shift to a reddish orange color, I had an all too familiar realization: I was in the wrong spot to get the shot I needed. The telephoto lens created a very narrow scene and to get the capital and the moon in the same shot wasn't going to work from my position. I quickly gathered up the cameras, raced to my car and miraculously found a parking spot right next to the capital square. From here I could get the moon as well as the "Golden Lady" statue atop the capital dome. To accomplish this, I needed to aim my camera upwards, focused on the moon. The resulting composition gave the illusion of the moon being much lower in the sky than it actually was.

The shot had its own set of challenges, exposure in particular. A proper exposure for the moon was far different than that needed to get the illuminated white capital dome. This was easily solved by shooting a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. I set my camera to shoot 9 images: four over-exposed, four under-exposed, and one that the camera's light meter assumed was right on. By doing this, I could tone map them together, bringing out the darker moon and avoiding a dome that was blown out. The result is the image above.

This was an exciting shoot for one very simple reason: It won't happen again until 2033. The next time I have a shot at this, my three year old son Luc will be 21 and I will be comfortably into my sixties. It makes you think....If you're a photographer, get out and shoot these things and if you're not, make the time to watch it. I must have talked to a dozen people that night who remembered what they were doing when they saw the last blood moon. It's a conversation I hope to be having during the next one in eighteen years.

What an amazing night.

 

 

 

 

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Lougee Lake, Minnesota, 2015

Crow Wing County (as well as the entire central portion of Minnesota) is a region defined by lakes. The state's "10,000 Lakes" license plate motto may at first glance seem an exaggeration conjured up by the tourism department but in fact, the number is a bit low. Officially, there are nearly 12,000 lakes in the state...an astonishing quantity and one that has led to numerous lakes with the same name. There are seven Lake Augustas, seven Bass Lakes, and just as many Birch Lakes, to name a few. The landscape is absolutely peppered with lakes and last week, we had the chance to visit a particularly beautiful one. Tucked behind the convex southeastern shoreline of Pelican Lake (the Crow Wing County Pelican Lake to be more specific, as there are five other Pelican Lakes in Minnesota) lies Lougee Lake, a 217 acre, sand-bottomed water body that is just shy of 60 feet deep. While I was tempted to explore beneath the waterline with my camera, my shooting time would be limited and our late August visit and southern view from the Studebaker house were perfect for what would likely be my last good shot at a Milky Way time lapse piece for the year. All I needed was a clear sky. Unfortunately it stormed for the first two days of our visit and didn't let up until Wednesday evening, obscuring any view of the stars but giving me the chance to shoot a sequence of the storm clouds as they sped southwest.

Thursday morning we awoke to a cloudless sky which the meteorologists predicted would stick around for another couple of days. The morning was cool but that didn't stop Luc from donning his coat and exploring the beach and nearby woods. As the day warmed, there was volleyball, boating, fishing, swimming and what can only be described (by me anyway) as death-defying acrobatics on the trampoline by the kids, who expertly manned my GoPro and got some great point-of-view video footage that would have surely landed me in the hospital if I'd attempted it myself.

With the sun falling behind the trees to the west and the loons calling out from the lake, a campfire was built for a fish boil. It was shaping up to be the perfect northwoods evening but my mind was elsewhere: In about three hours the Milky Way would be shifting across the southern horizon and I really wanted to capture it. Finally, the sky darkened and I once again found myself on a beach with my camera hoping I'd get it right. The crescent moon was following the sun below the western horizon and the stars began making their appearance. I opened up my 24mm lens to F/1.4 and began shooting at 25 second intervals, adjusting the shutter speed as it got darker. By 11:30, I had nothing more to do but wait. I had a drink by the fire with Jon then called it a night. I went inside to get some sleep, my camera still firing away into the night.

The night sky is a busy place when viewed on a time lapse piece: shooting stars, planes, and clouds that you otherwise wouldn't notice suddenly crowd the scene. And the Milky Way of course, which didn't disappoint, smearing its way across the southern sky before exiting my frame, stage-left. Processing the piece was a bit tricky...with the camera set so sensitive to light, even the subtle glow of the houses on the other side of the lake lit the night sky. The clouds, which seem to follow me wherever I go to to shoot star scenes, did in fact show up, but not until the Milky Way had taken a bow. The sequence is comprised of 715 individual images processed in Adobe Light Room, Light Room Time Lapse, and Photoshop.

A very warm thanks to the Studebakers for opening their house to us last week and to everyone else for making the stay so enjoyable. A special thanks to the kids, all of whom acted well beyond their ages in taking such great care of Luc, even when there were more exciting things to do than color with a three year old. Lougee Lake 2016 is already on my mind...and maybe some underwater photography. I've been home only two days and I miss it already.

 

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2015 Perseid Meteor Shower Time Lapse

It's always something when shooting time lapse...always.

As I sat at my computer yesterday, everything looked to be converging beautifully: The forecast called for clear skies, the nearly new moon wouldn't rise until after 4:00 the following morning, assuring a dark shooting environment and most exciting of all, the Earth was passing through the orbital path of the Swift-Tuttle Comet, whose debris field would pummel the atmosphere later that night resulting in the Perseid meteor shower. I even had a rural shoot location along the shore of Crystal Lake near Wautoma, Wisconsin, far away from the light polluted skies above Madison. I spent much of the day preparing for what I felt certain would be the best clip I'd ever shot. I'd sit down to write this entry, then triumphantly upload my dazzling video of the cosmic light show I'd so brilliantly captured and top it off with some compelling Carl Sagan quote about stardust or the solar system.

But this is time lapse, and there's always something. There was indeed a convergence last night...of unwelcome clouds and some rather poor choices on my part. 

When I arrived at Crystal Lake I was met by our friend Ann who, together with the Davis and Riley families own the lakeside home where I would be shooting. The house is perched high above the lake on a wooded, sandy terrace. Down slope a pier extends out into the lake, which is where I decided to set up my camera. The problem with my choice was that the only unobstructed view of the sky I could get was east - southeast. The meteor shower was going to be "easy to see," the meteorologists had assured viewers earlier that day, by simply "looking to the northern sky."  It would seem that I had overlooked a pretty important requirement for this shoot: I wasn't facing the right way. Nonetheless, with a wide 24mm lens I could aim high and was confident that I'd capture enough of the northeastern sky to get some comets. And that's precisely what I should have done.

Two things happened around 9:30 last night: The linear form of the Milky Way began to materialize in the southern sky, and I learned that my 3 year-old's knack for being easily distracted and veering off task must come from me. It was the Milky Way after all, far too tempting to resist. The comets would surely venture into the southern sky. I decided (based on absolutely no astronomy knowledge or training) that they would. I promptly rotated my tripod head directly to the south...180 degrees from where I should have been shooting.

With everything logistically in place (or out of place depending on how you looked at it) I had to turn my attention to the technical challenges of the shoot. I shot with a Canon 24mm f/1.4L II lens, which I opened to f/1.6. Before beginning to shoot, I pressed the depth of field button then rotated the lens, detaching it. By doing this, it became a fixed aperture lens, insuring that I would avoid flicker- the distracting staccato effect that can turn a great time lapse clip into a mediocre one, or worse. There was an additional problem to contend with during a shoot this long:  Dew drops condensing on the glass. Last year I shot for three hours in the Nicolet National Forest only to discover that the lens had completely fogged over early in the sequence. Not this time. Enter battery powered fans, Gaffer’s tape, and hand warmers.

The setup: Battery powered fan to repel insects and hand warmers wrapped in neoprene to warm the lens and avoid dew condensation.

The setup: Battery powered fan to repel insects and hand warmers wrapped in neoprene to warm the lens and avoid dew condensation.

Dew is basically water that condenses on objects that are cooler than the Dew Point temperature. Tonight the Dew Point was around 60 degrees which meant if the temperature dropped close to that (cooling my lens glass in the process) water would form on it. I needed to keep my glass warm. There are a number of ways to do this, but I chose the cheapest (and arguably least attractive) method: I used Gaffer’s tape to attach a series of hand warmers to the outside of the lens then wrapped the whole concoction in a piece of neoprene I’d cut from one of my old wetsuits. These warmers are cheap and last up to 7 hours. I also set up a battery powered fan below my camera-a method that has proven effective for keeping insects away from the lens.

With fan whirling, the settings locked in, and viewfinder covered, I began the sequence. I shot at f/1.6, ISO 3200, with a 20 second exposure time. Because I wanted to use some of the images as stills, I followed the “500 Rule” of star photography: Take 500 and divide it by the focal length of the lens I was using, in this case, 24mm. I divided 500 by 24 which gets me a number just shy of 21. If my shutter was open for more than 21 seconds, the stars would begin showing up as trails, an effect I didn't want. I used a 30 second interval:  2 shots per minute; 120 shots per hour. Since the result of this whole endeavor will be an HD video clip played back at approximately 30 frames per second, every hour I shoot, I’ll get about 4 seconds of video. That's a lot of time and planning to get 20-25 second clip.

Once the camera was going, there was no point in staying with it so I wandered around the property a bit, shooting a few stills with another camera, sat with Ann for a long overdue catch-up session, and even grabbed a 45 minute nap. I periodically walked back to the lake edge to make sure the camera was still firing and I began to notice a disturbing lack of stars in the southern sky. I knew that my camera would pick up stars that I couldn't see, but the northern sky (which I should have been shooting in the first place) was positively crowded with them, brilliantly lit and remarkably defined. The southern sky on the other hand, had an odd yellowish tint that meant something I dreaded: a low bank of clouds had streamed in and was reflecting the tungsten light from the cabin porch lights below, masking the stars in the process. I had chosen exactly the wrong direction to shoot, a sickening realization four hours into the shot on a sleepless night.

But this is time lapse, and there's always something...and sometimes it's interesting. The clouds, which I'd feared would completely obscure the stars and the Milky Way, only did so partially as they raced past, adding a level of depth to the piece. And even hidden behind the clouds, the Great Rift of the Milky Way (the dark seam of dust clouds that run its length) was visible. A few stray meteors did in fact find their way into my scene. I made a lot of mistakes last night, but I still ended up liking the sequence. The next moonless Perseid meteor shower will be in August 2018, so I have plenty of time to make a plan and convince myself to stick to it.

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Gangster Island 2015

Gangster Island 2015

Gangster Island 2015

From Diapers in the Gear Bag blog, 2012

"For those of us afflicted with chronic wanderlust, daydreaming about far away places occupies more of our daily thoughts than we probably care to admit. I often find myself thinking back (nostalgically I should add) to the days when I traveled hard: Weeks spent traversing the high plains of South Africa's Karoo; hitching a late night ride aboard a fruit boat bound for Belize's Turneffe Atolls; scuba diving in the frigid waters of Alaska's Kenai Fjords...I miss those days. And yet now, looking back, I realize my vision was a bit far­sighted, foolishly equating a greater distance from home with a more rewarding destination. This led to some pretty hefty gaps in my travel resume that I cared little about at the time, but now find myself regretting. While I will never regret photographing dolphins off the coast of Honduras, I have never really seen the American West...or the northeast coast during autumn...or been on a respectable mountain ski trip. It's a valuable lesson I hope to pass on to my son: Travel far when you can...and when you can't? Just travel someplace closer. There's an awful lot to see in your own country, in our own state, even in your own city.

Recently, we took just such a trip (four hours by car) to a location that, among other things, boasts the greatest name of anyplace I've ever been: Gangster Island. Tucked into the southwest corner of North Twin Lake near Phelps in northern Wisconsin, Gangster Island (so named for its ownership for a time by Al Capone's personal doctor) is a stunning, ten acre, maple and birch covered islet where the Shaffner family built their 3800 square foot plank and stone house in the early 1900s..."

Gangster Island 2015

Last night, we wearily pulled into our driveway after returning from our third visit to Gangster Island. The bunkhouse has changed little, the tall pines are still home to bald eagles, the lake tempts as it did before, and our travel companions remain some of the most gracious, accommodating people we've ever met. The kids have aged three years since our first visit which  (whether a pre-teen or a toddler) means astonishing changes. For Luc, who first came to this place at five months old, this trip is a special one for a very simple reason: He will likely remember it. We're in the memory building business now, and that carries some weight.

Armed with pretty minimal photo equipment (GoPro Hero 3, Canon 1DX, Tripod and intervalometer) I shot as much as I could but not as much as I wanted...a pretty common theme these days when the tug of spending time with family and friends trumps the desire to sit for hours looking through a viewfinder. Nonetheless we all had some fun combining the two, especially Sunday afternoon when the kids (and a few of the adults) decided to head for the deeper water of North Twin Lake and take turns jumping, twisting, flipping, and diving off the roof of the pontoon boat while I jumped with them or filmed from the water below. While not fully processed yet, the videos were fun to look through and I will post them soon. A special thanks to Jason who risked further water-logging his sinuses to get me some great footage diving from the boat, GoPro in hand.

While Luc busily played boat captain, ran around in the woods with Dane and threw nearly every pine cone on the island into the water, the others canoed, paddle boarded (with the dogs who weren't about to be left behind,) swam, fished and spent time by the fire catching up with one another and treating themselves to some much deserved relaxation.

The weather, while cool, cooperated and provided us with temperatures in low 70s. Although the cloud cover put a damper on my hopes to shoot a time lapse of the stars and Milky Way, it did make for an interesting sky at dusk filled with swirling clouds and a gold-smeared lake surface. The cumulus clouds seemed to endlessly flow in from the northwest Monday and I slipped away from my packing responsibilities for just long enough to set up the camera and shoot them at two second intervals.


More time lapse sequences and GoPro videos to come. Until then, thank you to everyone who made this trip such a success. We can't wait to travel with you again.

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Gateway Arch, St. Louis Time Lapse

Even when conditions are perfect for a time lapse shoot, there are a number of things that can go wrong and over the last couple of years, I've managed to find most of them. The notebook I carry with me in my Think Tank camera bag has become a catalog of mistakes, usually made while I was distracted or in a hurry to assemble equipment and make calculations before the scene I'd come to capture changed. Shooting time lapse requires...well...time. These sequences can take hours to shoot and if you arrive on location and conditions aren't right for what you hope to accomplish, you're better off packing up and waiting for another day unless you happen to have the luxury of unlimited time and nothing to fill it with.

Tuesday night was one of these times. The temperature in St. Louis had soared to a muggy 100 degrees. This led to a problem I was lucky to catch: the glass in my lens, cooled from being in the AC all afternoon, immediately fogged when I removed it from my bag and continued to do so until it finally warmed up. The clouds were minimal (something that doesn't lead to a very compelling sequence and that leaves the bright sun un-difused and nearly impossible to photograph towards) and because I wanted to shoot across the Mississippi River, I needed to be situated in East St. Louis. The bank on the east side of the river is heavily industrialized and not the kind of place I wanted to be by myself after dark with an expensive camera...or without an expensive camera for that matter. This meant shooting from a high deck at Malcolm Martin Memorial Park which gave me a great view of the arch....and a string of distracting power lines right in the middle of my scene.

The final piece that just about sent me packing was learning that the arch would not be lit on Tuesday until much later in the night...I had no intentions of hanging out alone by the river in East St. Louis until midnight. The lighting of the arch was really what I'd hoped to catch. Everything was pointing to a waste of my time and had I not struck up a conversation with another photographer from Kentucky, I probably would have left.

As I expected, the bulk of the sequence is pretty unexciting but there were a few surprises...one of the things I absolutely love about time lapse. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a series of clouds made their appearance, turning the western sky into a swirling yellow-orange caldron for a few minutes before suddenly vanishing. I could also see what is an arguably obvious thing: boats and barges travel faster down-river than up-river against the current. The sequence is comprised of 850 individual images.

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Shake the Lake 2015 Time Lapse

Shake the Lake 2015, Madison, Wisconsin

Shake the Lake 2015, Madison, Wisconsin

A warm thank you to the Decker family (as well as their dog Max) for graciously allowing me to set up atop their boathouse tonight and shoot the 2015 Shake the Lake fireworks display. The following time lapse piece took about two and a half hours to shoot and is comprised of more than 700 images. For anyone who didn't have the chance to see the amazing show, here's your chance...and it will only take a little over twenty seconds. It's worth watching at full screen just to see the mass exodus of boats after the show's completion.

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Mississippi River HDR shoot, Quad Cities

Had the chance to try out the new Canon 1DX Tuesday night along the bank of the Mississippi River. I shot seven exposures and tone mapped them using Photomatix Pro 5 to create this HDR image of the Centennial Bridge connecting Rock Island, Illinois to Davenport, Iowa.

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