Meteors and other camping phenomena

Hello everyone! How are you? Cobalt and I went camping last weekend! On Saturday afternoon, we and our friends M and E (and their dog Bear) and K (and her dog Josie) piled into two cars with tons of camping supplies and hit the road to go camping in Umatilla National Forest!

So I like car camping because you don’t have to carry all of your stuff on your back and you have plenty of room for all the fun camera supplies you want. I had an extra bag full of a tripod, a variety of lenses, and my trusty DSLR because I was hoping to photograph the Perseid meteor shower.

While I gave myself a crazy photo challenge of trying to catch meteors streaking across a random spot in the sky, I think that camping offers a fun environment to try night time photography. It’s usually way darker out there since one point of camping is to get away from the city. And wow you can see so many stars (unless the moon is out…)! Plus it’s just fun to play with light when it’s dark. So I thought I’d talk a little about that, show off some crazy night sky pictures, and then we’ll top it all off with some fun hike pictures from the next day. Sound good?

Great. Let’s get started. So for those of you have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that Cobalt and I love taking weird photos at night. There are some creepy ones like this one of him sneaking up on me. There’s a romantic one of us with the Big Dipper. Plus there are some weird ones like this one with the moon making weird patterns in the sky.

The thing I like about night time photography is that you have to be creative about what kind of light your camera sees. So sometimes I use the flash followed by ambient light. Sometimes I use just ambient light. And sometimes I use ambient light to convey motion. That is the most fun.

Check out my crazy star pictures from this weekend. Both of them have a pretty long exposure — I left the shutter open for a long time to try to capture a meteor in action. Look at how the stars are swirling around. Cooool.

Holy light streaks, Batman! Also maybe that’s a meteor in the top right hand corner? I played around a little with the settings in Lightroom here but maybe it’s too black and white? Check out the next photo for comparison.
We started the picture and then walked away for ~10 minutes while we got ready for bed. The stars moved sooooo much! Also maybe I caught two meteors on the right? It’s hard to tell. :-/

I ended up getting pretty frustrated with this whole process because the remote control I usually use with my camera to start and stop loooooong exposures was on the fritz. I think it needs a new battery. Also we kept seeing AMAZING meteors in the opposite direction from where my camera was pointing. Oh well… that is life. Plus, it’s important to remember to actually experience life too. Not just stare at it through a camera lens.

P.S. Do you see all those weird specks of light all over my pictures? Pretty sure it was still smokier than we thought out there. :p

While the night sky was perfect for star watching, we woke up Sunday morning to rain. Not big fat drops but just enough to make for a wet, cold morning. After hot oatmeal and coffee, five damp humans — and two soggy pups — shuffled up the trail for a 5 mile hike. I decided to leave the DSLR in the car though because I didn’t want to get it wet. So the iPhone got to take pictures instead.

Check out this fun panorama with Cobalt and M. I think they need to start making music together because it looks like an album cover to me. What do you think? Something indie, most likely.

I think their band would be called “Elk Snacks.” Thoughts?

If I had brought my DSLR, I think I would have liked to do some jumping pictures like I have in this blog post about the Maroon Bells. Those are always fun to do but they require some playing around with settings that makes them best suited for a DSLR instead.

I like to test the limits of my iPhone camera anyway though so here is my attempt to photograph this wet bee that was clinging to a flower. I got the camera close enough to the bee that you can make out her spiky fur while the background is a blur.

Fuzzy…..

Finally, I got one of my favorite hiking photos: Cobalt with the trail in front of him. I take this type of photo a lot. I like it because it shows off some scenery but then Cobalt’s there to put it all in perspective and make it interesting. Plus he’s always so determined on hikes. Here he’s wearing my amazing shark backpack. Also, isn’t this trail gorgeous? We’ve really been missing our trees over here.

That’s all for now. Who’s excited about the eclipse in LESS THAN A WEEK!?!?! What percentage totality is it where you live?

Even the moon is red

Hi guys. Potassium here. We’re going to take a break from the gorgeous food photos and take a peek at (Potassium’s favorite photography subject) the moon!

So we are getting a lot of smoke in here in Washington right now. There are a bunch of major wildfires burning in British Columbia, Canada. And because of the way the winds are blowing, all their smoke is coming here. If you are interested, here is a super helpful infographic from the Seattle Times that explains all the wind craziness.

Plus we have had an epic heatwave (in the 100s on this side of the state and in the 90s to the west). So basically, we now know how it feels to be a smoked ham (or cheddar, if you prefer cheese to ham like I do).

Annnnnyway, all the smoke in the air has made for some eerie days.

It seriously looks like a post-apocalyptic world out there. Who’s read The Road? Am I right?

But then when the moon comes up, it’s such a shocking shade of orange. Practicing for Halloween are we? I played around with settings on my DSLR to take a range of pumpkin-colored moon pictures, like the one featured at the top of this post.

Speaking of celestial objects, who’s getting excited about the eclipse? What percentage of totality will you have in your city? Is anyone driving anywhere?

That’s all for now. If you’re living in a smoke-covered zone, try not to go outside too much!

Inspired by food

Helloooo everyone! Long time no talk. We have a bunch to catch up on but today I want to talk about food.

So last week my friend Jem and I met up in Minneapolis to attend a food photography workshop by Lindsay from Pinch of Yum. I’d been following Lindsay for a while and I secretly wanted to attend one of her workshops but I never had the time. This time though, Jem and I jumped on an opportunity to go as “buddies” where we shared a table and set up. We were both pretty nervous since we are trained scientists/science communicators and not professional food bloggers (yet…). But it turned out to be so much fun. Now I am feeling inspired to work on my photography skills again, which is awesome because that’s why I made this blog all those years ago.

Come on, Potassium, enough chatter. Let’s talk about food:

First up: All the food was real. We ate almost everything after we photographed it and it was all delicious. Yum.

Now onto learning how to photograph food! So in addition to Jem and me, there were 11 other women at the workshop. Lindsay organized the workshop into 4 sessions over two days. The first session was a quick how-to lesson for DSLRs and then we got to practice shooting fresh fruits and veggies. Yum. Jem and I chose some radishes and I quickly became obsessed with their tangly roots.

This one made it to Twitter and Instagram but I like it so I’m posting it here too. So red…

In the second session, we learned about lighting. I think this session was super helpful for me because I never really think about lighting and camera angles when I’m shooting, other than “OK. The sun making weird shadows on my subject. I should maybe move.” Or “Crap, I’m photographing people in a lab and there’s absolutely no natural lighting going on here…. uhhh…” After this session, we practiced with tasty cobbler and melty ice cream. Then after our practice, we got to eat our creations. :D

The next day, we practiced our lighting skills again with some tasty breakfast (which also subsequently got eaten). My breakfast is featured at the top of this post.

After breakfast, we started our next session: composition. I loved this session because I think I learned something about myself here: There is no one “perfect” way to compose a photograph. It’s an entirely creative process. You pick what works best for your personal style and the message you want to send or story you want to tell. It may seem simple and/or kind of duh but it was magic for me. I feel like I get frustrated with photography and other creative endeavors (writing, etc.) because my stuff doesn’t match whatever weird standard I think it should match. But now I think that it doesn’t have to. The only thing that matters is that it looks the way I want it to and that it matches me, my personality, and my message (which is usually one of making things accessible in case you haven’t figured that out). MIND. BLOWN.

Anyway, as I was processing that new information, we got to practice our composition with pancakes and a billion possible toppings. Jem and I were really interested in getting motion into our pictures: showing syrup running down the side of the stack or toasted coconut flakes snowing down from above. It was definitely more challenging than we thought it would be but that’s okay. There’s plenty of time to practice. :)

Go syrup, go! Some of you may have seen this on Facebook or Instagram but it wanted to make an appearance on the blog as well.

The final session was to introduce us to Adobe Lightroom, which is one of the Adobe products I hadn’t played with yet. Omg. It is endlessly fun. It’s a different way of thinking about photos compared to Photoshop and it seems equally as powerful as Photoshop (but in different ways). Time for tons of photo playing.

So besides my mind-blowing revelation in the workshop, there were a few other things that stuck out to me that I’d like to mention here. At the beginning, Lindsay asked each of us to write down a few objectives for what we wanted to get out of the workshop. Then she checked in with us periodically to make sure we were hitting our objectives. This activity ensured that everyone had a personalized experience. Also, each session was taught with a small lecture, a demo, and then practice time so that everyone could have a chance to learn however she learned best. Finally, there were so many props for food staging and toppings to try. It was a great safe haven to let your creativity fly! I came home loving my DSLR again and ready to try to take more food pictures on my own.

Below is my first attempt: a matcha green tea latte in a mug that we got for our wedding (they were a set: this one is the Potassium mug and then we also have a blue Cobalt mug <3). I’ve been obsessed with learning how to make my own matcha lattes for the past few months and then this one was so pretty in the Potassium mug. I wanted to show it off. Enjoy!

Mmmm… matcha…

Whew. That concludes Potassium’s epic food photography workshop recap. Stay tuned. More photos coming your way soon (potentially even more food photos).

Now it’s your turn: what is something you have done recently that made you feel inspired and excited? Or what is something you’d like to do? Also it’s summer! Is it hot where you are? We’ve been melting in 100 degree weather up here in… Washington (state)? Yeah… we have a lot to catch up on, don’t we? Until next time!

A lunar grin

Hi team! How’s it going on this lovely first Friday of March? I’ve been super busy as usual with this program. Some of my recent activities include: eating peanut M&M’s on the air for my internship, photographing a science rally for Science, and combatting a vicious cold! Now we only have two weeks left in this quarter and everything is going nuts (like my M&M’s!). All four of our huge assignments this quarter are due back to back to back to back and then back to back to back to back again with revisions. Yikes!

But even with all of this craziness going on, I couldn’t help noticing the moon these past few nights. In case you were wondering, yes I’m still obsessed with the moon. Two nights ago, I caught it chilling with Venus when Cobalt and I went to run some errands. Then last night, I saw it grinning through our back door as I was getting ready for bed. “Oh I see what you’re doing there, moon,” I told it. Then I ran to get my camera. But by the time I came back, the moon was already hiding behind one of the apartment buildings in our complex. “Don’t think you’ve won,” I told its faint glow, all I could see from behind the building. “We’ll meet again tomorrow night…” So tonight I sat on the couch scritching a sleepy Tarantula and doing homework, just waiting for the sun to go down. Finally the moon appeared, smile and all. A HA! Caught ya, moon!

Bee my valentine?

Hi friends!

I don’t have much time to chat today but I wanted to leave you with this fat bee! Last weekend was the first time we’d seen the sun in a while (Holy rain/flooding, Batman!) and Cobalt and I took full advantage of it by going to Carmel-by-the-sea with our friend Mercury and our other friend C! We did this epic hike at Point Lobos to explore the beautiful forest and beaches near Carmel. The trails were very muddy (more like small creeks instead of trails) but it was all worth it for beautiful views of the coast. I found a bunch of fun anemones and crabs hanging out in tide pools too! But today’s picture is a cute bee that I found on the trail. These huge bees were hanging out with some bright yellow flowers, bending them every which way when the fat bees landed. I was amused and had to stop to do a quick photoshoot of bee/flower interaction.

Enjoy!

Ahhhh how has it been two months again?! Oh I know… first the holidays happened and then school started up again! AHHHHHH! This quarter is equally as crazy as the first in some ways but also quite different in others. We only have two classes instead of four and we’re writing a few really long pieces instead of a bunch of tiny ones so the pace is quite different. One really fun part of this quarter is that I am working for Big Picture Science, which is a fun sciencey podcast based out of the SETI institute. You should check it out if you are interested!

Back to homework for me…….. :(

One rainy Yosemite adventure

This past weekend, Cobalt and I embarked on an epic day trip to Yosemite National Park. Over the past year, we’ve been to five other national parks and monuments and we thought we could sneak one more in before 2016 ends. Plus my family and I used to go to Yosemite National Park every summer when I was growing up and I was itching to get back.

Having spent at least a week in Yosemite when I went with my family, I had to do some careful planning for our short day trip. It helped that a lot of the stuff that I enjoyed seeing in the summer (Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, etc.) is not open in the winter so I had a shorter list of things to choose from.

It’s about a 3.5 hour drive from here so we left at 7:30 a.m. to make sure we would have time to spend in the park. Our first stop: Yosemite Valley. It’s often super overcrowded in the summer but there’s a good reason for it. It’s simply spectacular to be surrounded on all sides by huge slabs of rock, rushing water, and impressive waterfalls. Cobalt is not one for crowds so I figured that by going to the valley in December, he’d still get to see the awesomeness without being surrounded by people. It was kind of a dreary day — rainy and cold — but there were still quite a few people in the valley. We headed to the Happy Isles trail head to go see Vernal Falls. You can’t drive to the trail head so we had to park the car and hike in. We got a little lost of our way to the trail head and wandered around the Happy Isles for a bit but it paid off because we saw a deer family! Here is a picture of the buck. I think this might be the best deer picture I have ever taken. Enjoy:

I love how regal he looks…

We eventually found the trail head and wandered up the short trail to the footbridge below Vernal Falls. It’s a nice trail, with amazing views of the river crashing around below and waterfalls sneaking down the walls of the valley. In the summer, I enjoy hiking past the footbridge via the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls but it is closed in the winter (mist = ice = slippery!) and we had a lot of other stuff to see! So we headed back down the trail to the car where we had a quick lunch before heading back to see the rest of the valley.

The rain was starting to come down harder by this point but that didn’t stop our fellow tourists from having fun on the valley floor. We had to stop to take pictures of the Yosemite Falls because I loved seeing the people playing in the snow through the mist. There was so much going on! People were taking Christmas pictures in Santa hats or throwing snowballs at each other. Some people were even getting out sleds to slide around the icy snow.

The upper Yosemite fall sits above the mist on the valley floor.

After touring the rest of the valley mostly by car, we set off towards Wawona, which is on the southern edge of the park. To get there, you head up out of the Valley through a long tunnel. Right before you leave the valley, there is a “Tunnel View” parking area where you can get one last glimpse of the entire valley. It was a family tradition to stop and take a picture so Cobalt and I stopped and asked a family to take our picture.

The mist covered up the valley minutes after this picture was taken.

It was pouring and starting to get dark by the time we reached Wawona but I had one required stop left. My family used to stay in Wawona when we visited Yosemite and we loved hiking the Chilnualna Falls trail. It’s about a 10 minute hike to the lower fall so we parked at the trail head and ran up the trail. It was incredible! We usually go in August, which is when the water is at a pretty low point but the fall was just gushing this weekend. Forget the rain, Cobalt and I got majorly misted as we scuttled down toward the fall. It was so great to see an old family favorite again. Can’t wait to come back here with my whole family one day (hopefully soon!).

Let’s get some humans in that photo.

How are you? What are you up to? This week, I have to report at the American Geophysical Union’s national conference. Should be fun but also scary!

Whale you needn’t

A few weeks ago, Cobalt and I went whale watching with my classmate, whom we will call Mercury on this blog, in the Monterey Bay, courtesy of Sanctuary Cruises.

It was definitely an adventure. First of all, we were supposed to go watch whales on Saturday but we drove all the way out there and they canceled the trip because it was too windy. We made a quick call to get on the Sunday whale adventure and then then we went to brunch with the Sanctuary Cruises boat captain and naturalist. The food was delicious and we had a really neat conversation.

On Sunday, we tried again. The winds had died down so we headed out to the bay in search of whales. Although the Monterey Bay pretty much always has some sort of whale-related activity going on, we went at sort of an awkward time. The humpbacks that spend their spring, summer, and fall feeding in the bay were on their way south for the winter and the gray whales that pass through the bay in early winter were just starting to arrive. We hoped to see some straggler humpbacks or earlybird gray whales and we were not disappointed (as my picture at the top hints).

Not long after getting into the bay, we saw humpback spouts! They were huge. Humpbacks take a few breaths of air before diving deep into the ocean for about 5 minutes. Then they surface and start the whole process over again. Our whale-watching trip turned into a waiting game. When the whales were up, we took a bunch of pictures, hoping to get shots of the spouts or the tails (like the one at the top). Then the whales would dive and we sat around, letting the waves rock the boat back and forth (note: not a great feeling) until the whales decided to surface again.

Once when we found the whales, they were surrounded by hundreds of long-beaked common dolphins. Seriously, the ocean was suddenly churning with dolphins everywhere. They swam toward us and played around the boat. So fun and such a new version of photography.

Photographing dolphins is one of those “shoot first, look later” types of experiences. Just set up your camera to have a pretty fast shutter speed, make sure it is on continuous shooting mode, and then go. Click click click click click click click click. The more pictures you take, the more likely you had a shot of a dolphin above the water. I think I took at least 1,000 pictures while on the boat (a feat normally reserved for weddings). Something else I struggled with: Do I use the zoom lens zoomed in or not? Zooming in meant that I got a fairly high resolution picture of a dolphin but it also decreased the likelihood of actually having a dolphin swim in the field of view when I took the picture. I kind of did a combination: zoom in… no dolphins… zoom out… ALL THE DOLPHINS…zoom in…

Baby dolphin! :D

Mercury and Cobalt tried other approaches. Cobalt recorded videos, both with our GoPro and with his cell phone, and Mercury had a point and shoot camera and her iPhone. I think they both got some pretty nice shots/videos at the end of the day. Basically I think the lesson here is take a lot of pictures/really long videos with whatever device you have and plan to do some editing later. :)

Taking pictures of humpbacks was a bit easier because there were only two of them and they hung out together. As soon as we saw the spouts, we knew to point our cameras in their direction and take a bunch of pictures in a row with the hope that they would flip their tails at us when they headed back down into the water. At one point, both whales dove together and gave us a beautiful view of the two tails diving in sync and I am pretty sure almost everyone on the boat missed the shot (whyyyyyyy) because we were just recovering after the dolphin extravaganza and hadn’t quite gotten back into humpback mode. There was a collective sigh of amazement/exasperation as the tails disappeared beneath the water together.

All in all it was a fun adventure, though after multiple attempts at taking pictures of humpbacks, drifting aimlessly for 5-10 minutes, then taking more pictures of humpbacks, etc, we all started to get a little seasick. But it was still a rewarding experience and I can’t wait to go out in the spring when maybe we can see some other whales (and maybe orcas?!?!??).

Here are some more fun pictures below:

Hey! How’d this bird get in here?! Though it’s kind of a cool shot… The birds were having a field day with the dolphins. I think they were hoping to get a snack of whatever the dolphins were eating.
The benefit of having a fast shutter speed: even if you miss the dolphin (see the stripes underwater at the bottom right?), you still get cool splash photos.
We saw a lot of sea lions out there too but I liked this picture the best. I just love the sea lion in the water next to the buoy: “Uh guys? Is there room on there for one more?”

One last note about the pictures: if you’re going to go whale watching, don’t spend the whole time behind your camera of choice. Look up every once in a while and really notice how neat these animals are. It’s a pretty cool experience. :)

On the school front: whew. I can’t believe it’s been 10 weeks since I wrote in here. It feels like it’s been a year. This is one intense program. I learned a lot about writing through my classes and my newspaper internship. I also learned a lot about photography at the internship. I even learned how to use Canon DSLRs! I still prefer my Nikon, mainly because my fingers know exactly what to do to change all my settings.

If you’re interested in seeing what I was working on for the past 10 weeks, feel free to check out my writing portfolio. There are a few assignments that are still to come but whew. I did a lot! :)

I know I say this in almost every post but I really miss this blog and I really miss photography when I get too stressed out to go exploring. I’m really going to try to make more time for pictures during the next quarter. I’ll try to post more on here too, maybe with less words when I’m especially stressed.

What have you been up to?