Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flint Hills Milky Way Night

I recently took advantage of forecasted clear skies to visit the Flint Hills area of Kansas in hopes of getting a shot of our Milky Way Galaxy. The conditions were particularly favorable because we were approaching a new moon, which was scheduled to set late afternoon. The absence of moon light would improve the conditions by ensuring a darker sky to view the stars. The Milky Way sets and rises just like the moon. This time of year it rises in the south east. One way to assist locating the central region of the Milky Way is to locate the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. This constellation represents Sagittarius, the half human half horse centaur. Greek legend states that he changed himself into a horse to escape his jealous wife. Amazing what a man will do because of a woman. Anyway, I digress. The Greeks had a heck of an imagination because I can’t figure how they attribute certain star configurations to these mythological forms. I read that some now suggest the main stars in this constellation actually appear to form the outline of a tea pot. I like this simple description without the legend stuff. When you finally know what to look for it is as easy as seeing the Big Dipper, almost. Anyway, the galactic center of the Milky Way is just beyond Sagittarius, and this evening I found it at about 160 degree azimuth at about a 30 degree elevation. In a dark sky you may see what seems like a faint fuzzy light stretching across the sky. This fuzzy or cloudy looking band is actually billions of stars that make up the disk of the Milky Way Galaxy.
A friend my son insisted recently there are no more than a couple of hundred stars in the sky. He has apparently never ventured out of the city at night. There are around 3,000 stars we can see at a given time in the night sky with our naked eyes. And, there are up to 300 billion stars in our galaxy, according to recent estimates (I didn’t count).
During this excursion I took a number of images and in some tried to introduce foreground elements, trees or fences, or some other object to add context. I could not really find what I thought worked for me though. In some cases the other elements seemed to distract from the main emphasis, the Milky Way. In the end the image seen here is the one that worked for me because of the simple form of the hills. They added context and visual weight without distracting from the main subject.
In order to get the exposure I needed I set the ISO to 3200 and exposures were between 30 and 45 seconds. The lens focal length for this shot was 16mm at f2.8. I had to focus on some distant object for infinity, which was difficult at times due to the darkness. The long exposure and high ISO setting would naturally introduce some noise so I had to ensure the noise reduction features were set on the camera. This actually doubled the time each exposure required because of the noise reduction process. In post processing, I adjusted curves and levels to further bring out the structure of the Milky Way.
This is a view you certainly won't see in night sky of the city.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Singleton's Seafood Shack

On my visits back to see family in Jacksonville, Florida, I never miss an opportunity for lunch at Singleton’s Seafood Shack.  Located near the mouth of the St. John’s River in the village of Mayport, Florida, this restaurant’s name aptly describes its character. As you inter the dingy, creaky “shack” there is a small counter of fresh seafood for purchase and I usually check to see if they have their fresh oysters on display.  Then I proceed across the sagging plywood floor directly to the bar to enjoy one of their ice cold beers while I wait for my lunch order.  My meal at Singletons will always consist of at least one, maybe two, dozen raw oysters on the half shell, with maybe an order of gator tail or calamari for good measure.

During my most recent visit, I wanted to capture a few images of this unique restaurant that was opened in 1969 by Capt. Ray Singleton and his wife.   Decades before he began building scale model shrimp boats and came to display them in a cement block annex of the restaurant.  Although Ray Singleton died in 1996, the restaurant is still owned and run by other members of the family, and the models remain on display. 

Display on front of restuarant

Anchor on restuarant facade

Shrimp boat detail

Local resident 

Commercial fishing boats moored behind the "Shack"
While taking pictures of the restaurant and its surroundings, a gentleman approached me and wanted to engage in conversation.  He looked like he was a local, probably in his late 50’s, and I quickly realized he was deaf and he communicated with a combination of sign, gestures, and oral sounds.  He was telling me about the shrimp boat models and also referred to another model of a light house, which either he had done or that he had at his home.  He pulled out his driver’s license to show that he was a Singleton, I believe maybe a son of Ray’s.  After a few minutes he said good bye and went on his way.  He was clearly proud of his family’s restaurant and I only wish I would have thought to ask permission to take a few pictures of him to go with the other images I captured at Singleton’s.
Mural on side of restuarant housing shrimp boat models
Mural on restuarant annex

Capt. Ray Singleton's shrimp boats models 

Back addition  to the restuarant and moored commercial vessels

Singleton’s Seafood Shack is a unique spot and one I will always place on my schedule when in the Jacksonville area.