Category Archives: Uncategorized

Catching the Moon Simplified

Freedom Gazes at the Moon [5_055475-7deB]

Freedom – the statue at the summit of the Nation’s Capitol – Gazes at the rising Moon

One of our popular webinars is Night Photography 111: “Catching the Moon (and the sun)”. The next webinar is April 2, 2014, by the way. Long before the many tools that now exist to help solve for moon+landmark alignments I began working on a tool I call the MoonChase Tool. As snazzy tools came into being like Stephen Trainor’s Photographer’s Ephemeris, SunMoonCalc, MoonSeeker, and many more, I neglected the MoonChase Tool and focused more attention on the Advanced Stacker PLUS. In fact, after Google discontinued the V2 map interface upon which MoonChase was built the tool languished for about a year and a half. I also stopped teaching how to use it in the NP111 Webinars. But, I kept finding that all existing tools just didn’t do what I needed, so I resurrected the MoonChase tool. I ported it to the newest Google Maps API (V3), and I then added some of the features I had on my wish list.  I’m really proud of what the tool can do now. And I have some fiendishly clever plans for the future of the tool, time permitting, of course. Operationally the MoonChase Tool is simple. The hardest part is coming up with the location where you want to stand and the landmark you want to face. If you know that there is a sightline to a landmark in the distance you can fire up MoonChaseTool and in 3 steps know when to go to get the moon or sun behind your landmark!  That’s right. You paste, paste, click and click. Or drag, drag and click. We cover how to cook up good locations in the Webinar. How do you get your hands on this tool? We’ll tell you! If you’ve attended a NP111 webinar with us, or purchased the video and notes you already HAVE access through the “private page” (you did save the password, right?).  You’ll find the link to the MoonChase Tool on the private page.  Or sign up for our webinar which includes the notes and video AND access to the MoonChase Tool – and you don’t have to wait for the webinar, we send you all the links when you sign up (see below). The tool isn’t especially pretty, we admit that.  But it is pretty EASY to use and it works even from your iPad or tablet as long as you have internet access.

3 Steps to Moon (or sun) catching

3 Steps to Moon (or sun) catching. And there is more: you can check the view with Google Street View, and even check the weather with the weather button.

After clicking “Moon” you get the report thanks to Jeff Conrad’s SunMoonCalc tool. Be careful to be sure it selects the time correctly. Below it’s off by an hour due to Daylight savings time.

LickFromSJC

Moonrise over Lick Observatory from near SJC Airport… all opportunities from this location for the next 4 years!

 

What Problems Does the MoonChase Tool Solve?

The tool was designed to do the trigonometry for you. Did you know there is trigonometry involved?  Don’t worry, you don’t have to know trigonometry or math.  Nor do you have to know about spherical coordinates, azimuths, altitudes or the three different kinds of twilight.  All you have to know is where you want to stand, and what you want to be in your picture. Drag the markers around on the map and click one of the Solve buttons. OR use the tool in concert with The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

What Do I Need to Know to Do?

It’s very helpful to be able to do the following things: grab GPS coordinates from Google Maps and/or Photographers Ephemeris.  We teach how to grab GPS coordinates in the course. You’ll also want to know how to find heights of your favorite landmarks. Google comes in really handy for finding heights of buildings!  One more thing you’ll want to verify is whether you can See the landmark from the place you want to stand. Again, we describe 4 different ways you can do that in the webinar. The rest is dragging and clicking!

How Long Will it Take?

If you already have the coordinates, it will take perhaps thirty seconds – or not even that long.

I WANT THAT! How Do I Get It?

Easy: Sign up for the webinar and you’ll get immediate access to the private page plus the videos and notes. If you’ve already taken the webinar, go to the private page and you’ll find the link in the Resources section.  Or as a prior purchaser, just sit tight as we’ll be sending the new materials out to all prior purchasers over the next 3 weeks.

Webinar: NP111 Catching the Moon and the Sun
Not Scheduled but usually 7:00 PM PDT (7 MDT / 8 CDT / 9 EDT) for 2 hours
Captured [C_044450-2tc] In this 110 minute Webinar, you will be introduced to several free (and almost free) tools that you can use to plan a moon (or sun) shot - including a tool written by Steven and made available only to attendees. Have you wanted to capture the moon "right where you want it" but weren't sure how? If you know you could resort to photo editing and fake it but you'd rather get the real deal then this class is for you. Steven will demonstrate how to determine when and where to go to capture an image like the Moon over Lick Observatory or the moon at the Transamerica Building or the sun shining through a portal in the Pacific Ocean (below). This is a Webinar so you can conveniently attend from your computer at work or home anywhere in the world. This course includes notes, access to a private page with details - including landmark events Steven has already solved for you, an online viewable recorded webinar with unlimited online viewing that you can watch NOW before the webinar is held. One indispensable tool covered in detail is the Photographer's Ephemeris by Stephen Trainor.

What You'll Learn

Steven will show
  1. How to Plan a moon or solar "contact" shot.
  2. How smartphone based tools may help - or sabotage - your attempts to get an alignment
  3. How to use the moon to illuminate your foreground,
  4. How the presence of the moon affects photos of the night sky,
  5. How to find information about interesting celestial events,
  6. How to find compelling locations for "alignment" images, and
  7. What camera settings you need to get it all exposed just right.
Photon Worshippers **Winner Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2010 - People and Space **
Remember that this event INCLUDEs online videos, notes, and access to a special tool that Steven uses to solve lunar and solar contact shots.
New Dome [5_009671]

The moon rises behind Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, San Jose, California

What’s In a Website?

I thought I’d take a moment or two, because I’m often asked, about how I’ve set up a website and what pitfalls I face.  This is NOT meant to be a primer on how to set up a website.  And to be frank, unless you’re willing to pay me, I am NOT offering to assist you with the process, sorry – but hey, this advice is free!

Here is the basic outline of what is needed:

  • Buy the domain(s) you want.
  • Arrange for your site to be hosted
  • Pick a tool/product/system for keeping the website running.
  • Add the features you want – including plugins
  • Backup the site
  • Do regular maintenance
  • Be vigilant about spam and security
  • Handle the occasional disaster, misdeed, or dead-end.

I purchased all of my dozen or so domain names from GoDaddy.com. GoDaddy’s salacious advertising turns my stomach. Their abrasive founder, Bob Parson, is widely – and probably fairly – excoriated for his antics.  But until recently I’ll have to say GoDaddy has been cheap and efficient with good support.  How they could afford to spend 20 minutes on the phone with me when I had only purchased $20 worth of product is perplexing.  I’ve used other “registrars” to get domain names. None I found were as inexpensive or efficient. Indeed there is no point in spending more on a domain name than you have to, so don’t.

What’s In a (Domain) Name

A domain name is nothing more than a handle that can be used to “find you” on the internet. Aim for a domain that is:

  1. Memorable
  2. Unique and easy to say and spell (If you get the domain sqakizamazula nobody is going to find you by name if they manage to remember it!)
  3. Not too similar to other domains (what about misspellings? You might want to get those, too)
  4. Amenable to keeping your private information private
  5. Inexpensive  – no need to pay more than about $15 a year for a domain name.
  6. Appropriate for what you’ll use it for?  (If you’re not on TV it doesn’t make sense to get a .TV domain)

When you buy a domain name, you’re required to give personal contact information. Not surprisingly there are many spammy/scammy businesses that grab that information to automate calling and emailing you… so you will want a “private registration” – that is a service that keeps your information secure – at additional cost, of course. Some domains, however, like all .US domains do not allow private registration.  And because “StarCircleAcademy” is a bit long and not always properly remembered, I made sure to also grab StarTrailAcademy, StarTrailsAcademy, and StarCirclesAcademy.com.  You can point many names at the same place.

One BIG benefit to having your own domain is that all the email addresses for that domain are yours! Oh, and as long as you keep that domain, you’ll never have to worry about changing your email address.  Even if I move to Timbuktu – which is NOT planned – I can still be Steven(at)StarTrailsAcademy.com  or SuperHandsomeFellow(at)StarTrailAcademy.com

Not all domain providers bundle in email for free, so beware.

What is a Host?

I host (store) my files on a GoDaddy.com server, however a series of recent misfortunes has me looking at HostGator.com as a better alternative. There are many choices for hosting. I won’t describe them all, but here they are roughly ordered by cost – lowest to highest:  economy-shared, performance-shared, private address shared, private resources, and dedicated.  In the last category basically what one is paying for is a machine that is used exclusively by you. Performance of any shared solution may range from sluggish to extremely sluggish.  And there is a HUGE downside to being on a shared machine.  A shared machine basically means it houses lots of websites, not just yours. You share bandwidth, hardware, and an Internet Address. The downside is that there are many tools that find websites that have malware on them and “Blacklist” those sites. This happened to me recently. Apparently a compromised website running on the same server as mine (with the same IP address) ticked off the Consolidate Block List and all hundred or so websites on the server were effectively inaccessible.

GoDaddy’s solution to this problem was… Gee, that’s too bad. If you want to pay us for a private address or move to a dedicated machine at an extra $6 monthly cost we can do that for you. It will only take 24 to 72 hours.  It actually took 3.  Unfortunately one of the tools I want to use on my website requires an intricate, and painfully laborious series of steps to configure it.  HostGator charges about the same for hosting and has all the support set to go.

What Tool?

A website can be created in many ways. Early on I used tools like Microsoft FrontPage (later became Expressions) and Dreamweaver to create websites.  You get a lot of control using tools like that, but you pay a high manual overhead to keep things up to date – and you better know something about HTML and JavaScript or you’ll have a dull site. After a while interactive online site builders became available. None of the ones I’d seen look interesting or unique.  There is a huge amount of complexity involved in creating and maintaining a “swanky site”. After the manual tools, and the online site builders there arose an armada of Content Management Systems (CMS). Joomla, BBoard, and so on. But I elected WordPress because: A. It’s free (mostly), B. It’s widely supported on hosts, C. It’s flexible enough and configurable enough, D. It’s pretty easy to use – unless you want to do fancy things.

Getting the Features

As I noted, WordPress has lots and lots of free and almost free customizations you can add. Some are really nifty. Some, like the scads of useless iPhone Apps will disappear soon after you test drive them.  My most recent addition is the “WordPress eStore”.  I had looked at many things including ZenCart and others. Honestly, though I wanted something less painful to set up and manage.  Unfortunately setting up WP eStore has taken me more than a week of twiddling to get close to what I want… but it’s still not there.  Other things I’ve added in (and many that I’ve customize) include the Meetup Events (see the margin in the right), a Gallery of Flickr images, maps and much more.  All of these required effort, and in most cases you really do need to understand HTML well enough to fix/correct/update.

Fight The Spam

I get three kinds of comment spam: blocked, sneaky, and low-brow. Several WordPress plugins block the majority of the automated junk. For example 1,105 bits of blocked spam have accrued in my queue in less than a month. As my site popularity grows, so do the automated comment spam attempts. About once or twice a week a spam item makes it through the filters. I have turned on WordPress comment moderation so that I must approve all comments.  So far I’ve described the auto-rejected spam (blocked), the sneaky spam I have to mark as SPAM and the last type is from well-meaning people who sometimes post four or five comments that basically say nothing at all or things that are self-contradictory – not you, of course!  Hey, I welcome your comment if it helps people understand, but if you just want to be argumentative or hawk your photos get your own site!  Sorry, was that harsh?

The Disasters

Things break. Sometimes they break in mild ways – like a single article that I could no longer open until I completed some upgrades. Sometimes the breakage is spectacular like the whole site going offline – or forgetting my password, or putting an embarrassing typographical mistake in my articles.  Or configuring a plugin incorrectly…   Backups and maintenance are meant to overcome these issues, but of course they pop up at the worst of times… like when WordPress DEMANDED that I upgrade it in the hours before I got on a plane to a place where I’d have no internet for two weeks!

To make matters worse, I had just published in a private location the details for an upcoming Field Expedition and blasted out the link in an email.  As luck would have it the flight had on-board WiFi so I could spend some $ and fix the problem instead of catching up on my sleep. As worse luck would have it, the on-board WiFi was broken 🙁

In a Nutshell

Setting up and maintaining a website is not for the faint of heart or the technology illiterate. It can be a huge time waster.  On the other hand had I not done it, well you wouldn’t be here, would you?!

If after all this you’re thinking that with a little of my help you’d like to set up your own site, please re-read the first paragraph. 😉

 

 

 

Top Ten Reasons to Do Night Photography

I presented this list the Palo Alto Camera Club recently. Much thanks to them for being a wonderful audience and for the opportunity for Harold Davis and me to speak.

Docked [C_050127+]

10. Night photography takes time so you get a free lesson in patience.

9. You can’t use the meter so you really DO have to learn how to take photos.

8. Lots of challenges to overcome = excitement for geeks and engineers (and some normal people, too).

7. You can refer to yourself as the CRAFTER of LIGHT (if you want).

6. The camera sees all: including colors at night.

5. Automation makes night photography almost easy.

4. An excuse to upgrade: I’ve GOTTA get better high ISO performance!

3. You have PROOF that you were behaving when you were out all night!

2. You don’t have to give up your day job to do night photography.

1. Is there a more fun way to meet people in the dark?