William Pond Park

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Illuminating the Morning

 

The Canada Goose is a year round resident of Sacramento, and seemingly everywhere else. The Common Goldeneye is only a winter resident; a snowbird if you will. They, the ever present mallard, gulls, mergansers, herons, coots and egrets grace the landscape of William Pond Park, on the American River Parkway, in Sacramento County.

Canada Geese at Attention

Canada Geese at Attention

I have a favorite ‘go-to” spot at the park – a spot where the American River widens and is dotted with small islands. The cool winter temperatures cause fog. The winter sun rises, providing a golden hue to the fog shrouded grasses and trees. I love being there before sunrise to watch the light unfold. Though the geological forces shaping the river valley progress too slowly for me to comprehend, weather conditions, light and the actions of the critters make every visit different.

I trust these images will convey a sense of what I get to experience while I am there.  Please click on the pictures to get a larger view of the image.

Common Goldeneye on a Foggy Morning

 

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Sunset, Moonrise

Sierra Foothills—Sunset over the Foothills, Perspective 1

Sierra Foothills—Sunset over the Foothills, Perspective 1 Click to see larger image.

Sierra Foothills—Moonrise over the Foothills, Perspective 2

Sierra Foothills—Moonrise over the Foothills, Perspective 2 Click to see larger image.

Sunday January 4, was a special night. It was the night when the moon rose in its northernmost position.   Additionally, sunset and moonrise occurred a few minutes apart. So, the sun gave an orange glow to the moon.

A few months ago, I decided I was going to do a series of images to show the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I would do several images, at different times of day, and different times of the year, to show how the foothills change while retaining their beauty over the course of the year. The oaks and tall grass provide the quintessential look I associate with the foothills – a look that is ingrained in my mind from the westerns I watched as a kid. I can almost see Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers or the Cisco Kid riding down the range.

I visited one of my spots with the intent to shoot the moonrise. I’ve been there for several moonrises but the position of the moon, as it rose, left me wanting a better shot. This evening, the moon was in the position I wanted, it had a beautiful orange glow and, as an added bonus, high thin cirrus clouds to provide a colorful corona. A special night indeed!

As the moon rose, the sunset over my shoulder lit the sky a brilliant orange which cast the trees in silhouette. A lone, old, oak on a hillside stood in grandeur against the orange sky.

I hope you enjoy these images.  Please read my blog: How I Shot This Moonrise for tips on how to make similar images.

Regards

Larry

How I Shot This Moonrise

Sierra Foothills—Moonrise over the Foothills, Perspective 2

Sierra Foothills—Moonrise over the Foothills, Perspective 2 Click to see larger image.

Original Raw Image of Foreground.  Note that moon looks like a bright white blob.

Original Raw Image of Foreground. Note that moon looks like a bright white blob.

Original Raw Image of Moon.  Note that foreground is too dark to see.

Original Raw Image of Moon. Note that foreground is too dark to see.

A moonrise can be very difficult to shoot, especially if you want the mood to reflect the transition from twilight to darkness but still want the moon to look realistic. The range of light the camera sees is much more limited than what our eyes can see. So, left to its own devices the camera will give you a nice moon and a foreground too dark to see or a foreground that you can see and a bright white blob where the moon should be. I like to see the foreground and see the man in the moon. I like to have the moon the right color too.

This shot was taken on January 4, 2015, at the rise of a nearly full moon. Sunrise and sunset were nearly at the same time. And that is a key point. The dynamic range, i.e. the difference in the brightness of the moon and the brightness of the background, is smallest when the moon is full and is rising just as the sun sets. You often get the nice gold or red color in the moon at that time also. On this night, I also was lucky to have high, thin cirrus clouds to give me a nice corona around the moon.

The second point to realize is that it is nearly impossible to a moon rise like this with a single shot and not get a lot of noise when you boost the shadows or exposure in post processing. So, I rely on multiple shots and HDR. There has been a lot of backlash against HDR because it is often overdone. HDR’s problem is the carpenter, not the hammer. The next point is to realize that the moon moves. Well, the earth rotates but it makes the moon appear to move. In his book Night Photography, Lance Keimig says it moves its apparent diameter every 2 minutes. So, if you make your exposure too long, you get a streak instead of a moon.

So, what did I do?

Step 1 is planning. I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a web and mobile app, to get the date and time of moon phases, times for sunrise, moonrise, etc. for any spot on earth. It even provides the direction from which the sun or moon will rise and set at the spot where I plan to shoot. I’ve also been to my spot on numerous occasions so I can visualize where moon rise will be and plan my composition.

Step 2 is setting up the composition. Since I’ve been to my spot, I have a composition in mind before I go. When I get to my spot, I find my composition. Having used the Photographer’s Ephemeris, I have a good idea where the moon will rise and that, of course, is a key point of the composition. Once I have decided upon my composition, I insure that focus and depth of field are correct. I typically set and lock my focus to the prominent foreground subject and use a strong depth of field – F16 or so. Others have said that you should focus on infinity or on the moon but, since the foreground is very important, I usually focus there. I find a little loss of sharpness in the moon isn’t as objectionable as softness in the foreground.  By the way, you need to be sure your camera is locked on a tripod and it is preferable to use a cable release.

Step 3 is exposing the shot. The correct exposure will, of course depend upon a number of factors – darkness, weather conditions, haze, etc. But, you can expect to use a timed exposure. So you need to consider several factors: noise, apparent movement of the moon and getting 2 good shots – a reasonably well exposed foreground and another of a well exposed moon. There is no magic formula for this. I usually take test exposures to judge how quickly the light falls off and to gauge how far I need to adjust the exposure when moving between the foreground and moon shots. On my old DSLR, that involved taking the shot and looking at the shot and its histogram. The Fuji XT-1 lets me see the exposure and histogram in real time so it’s a lot easier and faster. For this scene, I exposed the foreground for 5 seconds at ISO 800. Immediately upon completing the image, I changed the exposure to 1/8 of a second to get a well exposed moon.  It’s important to move quickly because the moon is moving and you want them in as close to the same spot in the image as possible for post processing.

Step 4 is post processing. I use Adobe Lightroom for my post processor and I use Photomatrix Pro for my HDR work. HDR usually takes three images to get an acceptable result. But, I only have 2. So, I create a virtual copy of the foreground and adjust its exposure to fall in about 2 stops brighter than the original foreground image. (Note: I will often take a shot of the foreground before the sun sets to use as my third image. But in this case, the range of exposures was too great and the composite just didn’t look right.) I select the original foreground image, the exposure adjusted copy and the original image of the moon and export them to Photomatrix for creating the HDR image. Photomatrix provides numerous preset options; I chose the one that most closely approximates my vision and then tweak it to get my desired result then import it back into Lightroom.

Reassuring Light

California’s central valley is a major winter layover spot on the Pacific Flyway; one of the prime routes for migratory birds. Geese, waterfowl and shorebirds alike make their winter home in the flooded rice patties and grain fields which farmers allow to go fallow for the winter. Some years back, farmers considered these birds a pest and set about destroying them. In one of the grand success stories, farmers, conservationists, and the state and federal government set aside several plots as wildlife refuges for the birds. Farmers can use noise canons and other non-destructive means to chase the birds from their property while the refuges provide the birds a safe place to stay. Bird watchers, duck hunters, photographers and others have benefited.

I visited the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week. The day was overcast. I knew birds would be present. I wasn’t hopeful that it would be a great day to photograph them. But, on this day, nature provided ephemeral shafts of sunlight through breaks in the otherwise impenetrable layer of dark gray, stratus, clouds. The shafts highlighted the sky and the ponds, while casting the trees and birds in silhouette. It created a mood that captured the essence of a winter afternoon: the sun providing reassurance to the birds and trees resting and waiting for life to start anew. It was a great day after all.