Wondering in Darkness

Wondering in Darkness

I have been interested in astronomy for as long as I can remember. I grew up reading Science Fiction and my interest in SF led to an interest in science. My favorite writer was Isaac Asimov, and I devoured his science and history books as readily as his fiction. I was never a serious astronomer. I have owned various telescopes over the years, but never a real instrument. I would occasionally make my way to a star party and look through other peoples telescopes, but I’ve never had a telescope good enough for astrophotography. When I was younger, the bar for serious amateur astrophotography was fairly high, at least relative to my income. You needed a decent telescope, with a drive to track the movement of the stars, and you needed decent camera equipment. There was always something else that seemed more important to spend my money on. But I still tried to get out to the dark whenever I could to see real stars.

If you are not interested in stargazing, you might not realize that most people do not live where they can see any but the brightest stars. The problem is called light pollution, and it is a real obstacle in many areas. Artificial light reflecting from the clouds and dust in the air drowns out most of the stars. Many people go years without ever seeing the milky way. Some people have never seen it, and have no idea what they are missing. There is even an organization dedicated to preserving the dark places. The International Dark-Sky Association.

Over the years, I found other hobbies that took my time and money. Living in Fort Worth I seldom found the opportunity to get out to the dark places. One weekend in June 2015, when Ren was out of town, I found myself missing the stars. A quick search online showed that there was a park about three hours away with particularly dark skies. Copper Breaks State Park. I was fortunate that many of the darkest places to see the stars are in Texas. If I had lived east of the Mississippi, it would have been much harder to find real darkness.

I grabbed my binoculars and my tent and hit the road. Copper Breaks is an International Dark Sky Park. That means it is rated as being an excellent place to see the skies as they should be seen. There are darker places, but this was the darkest I had ever seen, and the Moon would set about an hour after sunset. This is important because the moonlight will drown out the stars as well.

I spent an amazing evening under the stars, it was glorious. I was in heaven and I realized that I never wanted to go that long again without this. Even more amazing was that I just happened to arrive at the peak of the firefly mating season, and Copper Breaks had more fireflies than I had ever imagined seeing. It was truly magical. The entire valley was filled with them.

 

I tried in vain to get a picture of the stars and the valley with the camera on my cell phone, but that camera was not capable of what I was asking from it.

When Ren came home I told her that I wanted a real camera. Ren and I try to support one another when we feel strongly about something. She called up a friend of ours who was a photographer and asked if he could help get me started, and he asked me over and loaned me his backup camera, a Nikon D70S, a few lenses, and a tripod. Things had changed a lot since I was younger. The technical bar to getting good star photos was much lower. Camera technology had improved considerably. Even that older camera was capable of getting decent results.

 

Dinosaurs are also cool
I started watching every YouTube video I could find about photography. I set out to learn the camera, and was quickly obsessed. The next new moon, I found a place that wasn’t quite as dark, but was much closer, and headed out for my first astronomy shoot at Tucker Lake just outside of Strawn Texas. About 90 miles from the house. Those first shots were not amazing, I was still learning, but I was getting out beneath the stars, and I was learning something new.

 

One of my First Star Photos
Photography is now a huge part of my life. Astrophotography is only a small part of that, not because I love it any less, but the necessary conditions do not come together very often. It needs to be near the new moon, I need to have the time and money to get somewhere dark, and need not to have to get up and go to work the next morning, so it needs to be a weekend, and then I have to hope that the sky is not cloudy. It’s a lot of work. I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much if it were easy.

I have since improved my gear, though I still shoot with a relatively modest camera, the Sony A6000. If we ever stop traveling long enough to save up some money, (snort!), I’ll invest in a better lens, but I get pictures I am proud of with my current equipment, and getting to amazing places seems a better use of my resources than collecting camera gear. One of these days I’ll get a telescope, but for now, I’m content.

 

Safe Travels
Scott

Just Because I Have An Eye

Just Because I Have An Eye

Scott is really the photographer between the two of us. He geeks out over the cameras and their settings, while I am just trying to understand it all. I am told I have a great eye, but I just can’t seem to the get the excitement that he has. This can be rather frustrating for him, I fear. At one point we were at a Texas State Park called Mineral Wells State Park just outside of Mineral Wells, Texas. He was taking photos of the dam while all I could see was the tall grass against that turquoise water. When we compare shots, he had some of the prettiest dam shots and all I got was this grass photo. I think it is one of my favorites that I have taken.


Fort Worth’s Sundance Square taken by Ren
I tend to take photos of shapes, reflections, and down below shots. There is something about the dark shadows against the bright sky that just thrills me. Scott seems to prefer landscapes, but those tend to bore my eye and I don’t take photos while he is snapping away. I can, however, tell him which shots he should take. It doesn’t annoy him though because he uses that information to take some pretty amazing shots. He wanted to walk the Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth and I kept getting distracted by the patio cover where we sat. It seems the photo came out rather well.


Fort Griffin State Historic Site Campground’s Mill Creek Access photo taken by Ren
We visited a place that was once a fort to protect the Texas Settlers from Comanche and Apache attacks. Fort Griffin was occupied from 1860 to 1881 to assist Texas Settlers from Comanche and Apache attacks. They are a historic site today with many ruins that make amazing backdrops for photography. Scott has taken some amazing photos of the ruins agains a dark, very stary sky. While these photos are beautiful, it was the steeps down to the Mill Creek access from our campsite that caught my attention. There is something about the lush green against the red clay dirt here that just took me away to another time.


Street Sign at the Veterans Park Southern Tip taken by Ren
Tulsa is, for now, our home. We are trying to learn as much as we can about as much of it as possible to help us appreciate the place we are living in. It’s just what we do every place we move to. There are so many wonderful parks in this city, we decided to see what type of photos we could get. As always, Scott was taking these amazing shots of the skyline, the statues, and the landscape. Me? I was taking obscure shots of tree limbs, flags and street signs agains the beautiful, golden-hour sunrise. This is one of those shots that just capture my imagination. Were they thinking this would someday be the perfect photo opportunity when they named these streets? Who knows, but I took the opportunity and have a great photo; if I can say so myself.


Selfie time! Me at Fort Griffin State Historic Site
I have to admit, I love taking selfies! I know some people think it is narcissistic, but I just love seeing the changes time has on me. There is just something about documenting what I am doing or who I am on that day and time. I am trying to learn to take better photos, even if this means selfies, so I am always thinking about the type of light and what the surrounding will look like. This is a good thing, really. It makes me more aware so I am paying attention to detail.

I don’t take many photos with an actual camera, but when I do I try to do the best I can. The photography is more Scott’s hobby, but to make it more enjoyable for him I join in. I can always tell a difference when we work together on a set of photos because he is happier and always appreciative for my input making his photos better. If that makes any sense.

Thank you all so much for taking a few moments to view my photos. I don’t share my own photos often, but you all have been so encouraging I felt they would be appreciated.
Ren