Extremes

“Me! Me! Take a photo of me!”

As a photographer, I often hear the opposite. “Don’t point that camera at me” (usually followed by a giggle and a pose). One exception is Rufus, who realises that the time I spend taking photos is time that is not spent throwing stones or sticks or reaching for the treat bag. But yesterday, as I was taking photos of the flowers in the garden, one bee decided it wanted to be part of the image. If you look in the top left corner of the image of the purple flowers, you’ll see it diving into shot. Later, it demanded modelling fees.

I was taking some more macro photos of the tiny world in my garden. Half the challenge is finding a suitable subject and another significant problem is wind. Stop sniggering at the back there, I mean natural wind that blows flowers and leaves around. It can prevent insects flying, disturb them and make focusing well nigh impossible. Focusing is critical with close ups, as the amount of the picture that is in focus is tiny and the slightest movement can create blur.

I was using extension tubes, which move the lens away from the body of the camera. The ultimate effect of this is to reduce the closest distance that the lens will focus on, making the thing you are photographing very large in the final image. At one point the front of the lens was less than an inch from the leaf I was trying to photograph. Although I was using a ring flash at this point, which gives an even light across the subject, my shadow and that of the camera was falling across the leaf and had already disturbed a small fly I had originally spotted on it.

Fast forward about 9 hours and the same camera, with a different lens, was pointed skywards in the hope of catching a Perseid meteor. These are the tiny fragmented remains of comet Swift-Tuttle, the tail of which we pass through this time every year. For a brief moment they flare as bright as the moon before burning up and finally settling on the earth as a fine dust. I’ve seen figures that suggest around 60 tons of meteorite material falls on the earth every day. Don’t quote me on that, though, as it’s from the Internet.

So from trying to focus on a leaf around 2cm from the lens, to trying to capture the flare of a meteor at an altitude of around 80km, it’s been a day of extremes.

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A great day

I just popped out on the off chance I might be able to spot Comet Panstarrs tonight. I had a clear sky, a rough idea of where to look and my binoculars. And there it was. Just peeping above the hedge to the north west.

I grabbed the camera and took a few hasty shots before it dipped below the trees and shrubs. In some of the photos, you can see the Andromeda galaxy, too.

I’ve had a lovely birthday today and this just ends it on the right note.

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How to find a comet

Comet Panstarrs is visible low in the north western sky just after sunset. You’ll need a pair of binoculars at the moment as the comet is barely brighter than the sky that surrounds it. Later in the month it will be visible later in the evening but it’s getting dimmer as it heads away from us. Find where the sun set and look to the right.

Yesterday, with a clear western sky promised, I drove down to Broadpool in Gower to try and get some photos of the comet. Alas, I was beaten by the cloud, which formed a dark band just where Panstarrs was due to be. Even the sunset wasn’t spectacular. I drove home disappointed.

This evening, I went back a bit earlier but the same cloud band seemed to be there again. At least the sunset was better and I got a few photos I was pleased with. Imagine my horror, then, to see dark horizontal smudges on all the photos! I’d cleaned the sensor before leaving and the wipe had left smudges. Panic! I’ve just spent half an hour cleaning, checking, re-cleaning and rechecking. At least they weren’t scratches!

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