Lightning, Gorham, N.H., July 22, 2016

Pretty terrific thunderstorm last night, but by the time it hit, I was ready for bed. I ended up shooting it through the window screen. A lot of otherwise passable frames were out of focus—It’s hard to find things to live-focus on at night—and I was also hindered by the fact that I was shooting through a window screen.

There’s a 40 percent chance of storms tonight. If one hits, I’ll try again, maybe go someplace more interesting than my damn window screen.


Paid a visit to the wind turbines above Berlin today.

A few photos as well:

I like turbines because they’re clean, they make electricity without making a mess, and because they’re beautiful. I don’t know enough about them to make a judgment about whether they cost more than they put out or hurt the environment in other ways, or what. But they’re beautiful enough that I’d probably be fine with them just as giant art installation pieces.

Doing some minimal Googling, I see that one of these turbines can generate enough power to run 240-400 homes. There were five up there, so basically that’s enough to run most if not all of Berlin.

Standing under the towers, I felt small and big at the same time. Small because I’m about fifty times shorter than one of them, but big because members of my species came up with these things and figured out the science and engineering of how to make them work. I loved how three turbine blades the size of 747’s swooped audibly at my head and then flung themselves back around, powered by a breeze that didn’t feel that strong. At no point did I feel like I needed to flinch or worry about the blades flying off or any of that. Truly a monument to ingenuity and aesthetics.

When we’re not killing each other, humans are great.


Went into Maine again today, and like last time, I’m not thrilled with the images I got. But then, I’m down to one wide angle lens (10-18mm wide angle). It’s forcing me to work on my Pretty Pictures. But I’m sorely missing my 100 mm macro, which was stolen in January. And I also miss my Sigma zoom, which served faithfully for a year and a half but couldn’t escape the fact that it was 1) garbage and 2) had the optics of a Coke bottle. Still, even though the auto focus never worked and every far-away image looked like it had the shimmering effects of a 1985 Night Ranger video, a lousy lens is better than no lens at all.

And we won’t talk about what happened to my Canon’s 18-55mm kit lens two weeks ago. Humiliating.

Time to replace the macro, and I’ll work on replacing the zoom with something decent.

Camp Botanist

Timothy grass after rain, Gorham, N.H.

Timothy grass holds a special place in my heart. One day at Outdoor Education in sixth grade, the other 11-year-olds and I were sitting through a talk on grasses of Colorado. (This was exciting as it sounds.) Anyway, the biologist held up various plant samples and asked us if we knew what they were. She first produced a long, bristly stalk, which without waiting or even raising my hand I identified as rye. My dad liked rye bread and I’d seen it on the packages, so that was easy.

The biologist then held up a fat stalk of wheat and asked about that. Wheat was easy. I didn’t want to answer two of these in a row. But when no one could identify it, I couldn’t stop myself. I raised my hand and said the answer. Then the lady held up a fuzzier stalk like the one up there in the photo and looked right at me. A challenge. A dare. In a flashback right out of Slumdog Millionaire, I remembered an encyclopedia photo I’d seen that summer of a tiny species of bird “so small it can balance on a stalk of timothy grass.” Sure enough, adorably, there was a little yellow bird, gripping the grass with his tiny little feet.

“Timothy grass,” I said to the biology lady, like a boss.

A boss of plants.

Anyway, long story short, the lady was impressed with my turf trifecta and told our teachers about it. When they handed out awards on the last day, I won Camp Botanist. (You haven’t heard about this? It was in all the papers.)

So it poured this afternoon in Gorham, a sudden thunderstorm that wasn’t in any of the forecasts. I went out shooting afterward and spotted some timothy still leaning over and weighted with rain. No tiny birds, though.



My adorable telescope, plus the camera adapter minus the camera, but including a bottle of A&W Cream Soda. So I am now a diabetic.


A few years ago, I spent about $100 to be able to mount my Canon DSLR to my telescope. I’ve since discovered that shooting anything other than the moon is pretty much impossible. Focusing on something that small (though bright) through a cheap telescope and 100 km of turbulent atmosphere is not something my camera likes to do. The object is never sharp enough to see in a photo. My telescope doesn’t track, either, so there goes photographing any deep sky stuff.

So, yeah, I’m pretty much stuck with the moon.1

Fortunately, the Canon comes with a video camera option. With Saturn lurking just over the southern horizon, I made this little clip:


1. Yeah, taking pictures of the moon is cool through a telescope, I guess. But the photos aren’t that great. They’re dark and grimy looking no matter what, and even if you’re live-view focusing, they’re never very sharp. You can do just as well with any decent zoom lens and some cropping. If you want to look at the moon, you’re better off just peeking through the eyepiece, where the view is much prettier for some reason—tack sharp and well lit.

Catching Up

It’s certainly been a while. Here are some photos ranging from mid April to just this week.


Early spring birch trees, Gorham, NH

I still can’t seem to get a handle on New Hampshire’s beauty. I was explaining to someone back home that the Granite State is beautiful, just not in ways that I always see or appreciate. But I can’t think of a better place to learn photography.

Oregon makes it almost too easy. No matter where you go, there’s a very pretty but kinda bland tree/mountain/hillside vista. Pleasant to look at, sure—and perfectly at home on the free insurance company calendar where it often ends up. But New Hampshire, with all of its sticks and bony outcrops, isn’t so easy. Especially this time of year, the views are stark and bereft of color. Here, you gotta work for it.

Happy Easter!

Special Guest ‘Star’

Constellation Leo, late March, Gorham, NH, with Jupiter a few degrees south. 30 second exposure, ISO 3200.

Leo is “my” constellation. Even though astrology is a bunch hooey and applesauce,  I’m glad to have Leo as “my”sign. The crouching lion is one of the few constellations that actually looks like the thing it represents.

I like Jupiter being there, too. The high clouds smeared its light a bit, making it actually look like the giant planet’s disk is visible. It’ll be interesting to track Jupiter over the next few weeks to see how it moves against the background stars.



The Hunter Retires

Orion, late March, Gorham, NH, 30 second exposure, ISO 3200.

Orion sets a little earlier every night and by April he’ll be gone until the fall. The seeing tonight wasn’t great, with a high, thin layer of clouds. The good news is, the slight smear gave objects a bit more size. Betelgeuse’s reddish hue is easily visible.

My favorite thing about Orion is that most of the bright stars in this photo will someday blow up. The one on the upper right, Bellatrix, won’t, but Betelgeuse, Saiph (lower left), and Rigel (lower right) will definitely go boom within a few million years. The three bright stars in Orion’s belt are all Class O stars, super hot and massive. They definitely aren’t long for this universe.

Back to It


Swing set, York Pond, Berlin, NH

I’ve been away from this for awhile, and now I have too many photos that haven’t seen the light of day.

So here is a swing set next to a frozen lake.


IMG_9829 (1)
Total lunar eclipse of Sept. 27, 2015, seen from Gorham, NH

I invited some kids from my school out to see the eclipse with me, which put me in teacher mode and not so much in photographer mode. I didn’t get the shots I could have gotten had I been a bit more focused on getting them. That’s probably fine. The world needs more teachers and fewer photographers, anyway.

On my Facebook page, I made a borderline snarky post about the “Supermoon” hype, which I’m thoroughly sick of. There have been at least 10 of these super-close full moons since I first heard of them. The moon doesn’t appear any larger to the naked eye, at least unless someone points it out. Now we had the “Supermoon eclipse.”

But I have to admit, the moon did look bigger, especially when it was low on the horizon. It had the horizon effect—which is an illusion—plus the supermoon thing, which isn’t. Both conspired to create a memorable moonrise this weekend.


Bee in flower, Pinkham Notch, NH
Bee in flower, Pinkham Notch, NH

Great Glen Trails has a lot of flowers planted around their visitors center. With winter coming, most of them are starting to look a little beat up. Most of them had some kind of insect crawling in our around them. But the bugs were glued to the blossoms. They weren’t flying at all. The ones that moved at all did so with a smooth, eerie slowness that didn’t necessary seem sad. It didn’t seem like anything.

It’s not looking good, but I’m rooting for the bugs just the same.


Schoolyard basketball court, Gorham, NH
Schoolyard basketball court, Gorham, NH

Albedo is a term I learned from astronomy. It refers to the percentage of light reflected off a surface. A theoretical perfect mirror would have an albedo of 1, as it would reflect 100 percent of the light that hits it. (There’s no perfect mirror; you always get a dimmer image in the reflection.) Conversely, I  would have figured this blacktop would have an albedo close to zero.

Apparently not: It turns out the albedo for “worn asphalt” is 0.12, or 12 percent. That’s much higher than I would have expected. Once I learned that, I began noticing that headlights reflect off of roads quite brightly, even during the day.

I guess the light is winning.

Labor Day

Photos from a Labor Day hike along Snyder Brook in Randolph.

The stream was thin in spots, as we haven’t had heavy rainfall in quite some time. The woods have quite a bit of life in them. Winter isn’t for a couple of months yet, but having come through one in the North Country already, it’s hard not to feel it looming in the distance.


Milky Way (Sagittarius) and path of Boeing 777-300 airliner behind elementary school, Gorham, NH.
Milky Way (Sagittarius) and path of Boeing 777-300 airliner behind elementary school, Gorham, NH.

I tried this shot last fall, my first at this school. My focusing then was terrible (and didn’t get much better for this one), but the biggest problem was the pair of lights in the vestibule. I just couldn’t find the switches to turn them off. For the 30 second exposure necessary to get the stars in the background, the lights overwhelmed just about everything.

With the beautiful weather of the past few weeks, I wanted this shot again. I asked one of the custodians where the light switch was, and he informed me that there aren’t any. He said I could unscrew the little jars covering the bulbs, then unscrew the bulbs themselves as long as I put them back when I was done. I asked, “Can I do that?” He shrugged and said, “Sure, you’re the principal.”

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.

Anyway, the red streak is the exposed lights on a Qatar Airways flight from JFK (about 300 miles south west of us) to Doha. The plane had taken off in the past hour and was just settling in for a 10-hour voyage to the Middle East. So we have the school, 30 feet away; the plane, 30,000 feet away; and a little farther back, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, 1.4×1017 feet away.

Give or take.


Ten minutes into the first interview I had with my current boss, he was telling me about the weather in Gorham. He carefully walked me through all twelve months and what they would deliver to the area in which I was seeking employment.

“And then in late August,” he said, his eyes suddenly becoming far away, “the light starts to change…” Right about then, I swear I heard a ghostly tinkling of distant chimes. This did not sound good.

He was right, of course. The light has changed. The sun is lower in the sky and already you can tell something is amiss. Fall is coming. Every hundredth or so tree on north-facing hillsides has a faint yellow cast. Afternoons are still warm, but this morning had a bit of a snap to it.

The coming of our second autumn is difficult to describe. It’s like that stinging aura you feel the night before you get the flu. But it’s pleasant. Of course, the winter that comes after is long and can be unpleasant. Whatever. You get what I’m trying to say.

To hell with it: I’ll just defer to my boss. The light has changed.


A few days into the last school year, our Life Skills teacher handed me her phone. Playing on the screen was a movie that I couldn’t believe was real. A cloud of hummingbirds was buzzing a bird feeder like electrons orbiting an atomic nucleus. The teacher had shot the movie through her kitchen window.

Today, she invited my wife and I over for lunch, and suggested I bring along my camera. For the next hour, we ate salads and watched the little birds feast at the feeder. Between bites I switched lenses and mostly failed to catch the little scamps in action. I shot almost 600 frames, and wound up with these four.

The challenge is not just in their speed, though that is a problem. They really don’t stop moving for more than a half-second or so, and are in and out of the focal plane before you can get a bead on them.

The real problem, though, is shooting fast enough to stop their wings, while also allowing enough light into the camera to make a decent image. I would have loved to have shot these images at 1/4000, but it was cloudy and even rained for part of the time. It was just too dark. And shooting with any speed at all meant cranking the ISO to 3200 sometimes, which made even the decent images a little too grainy.

Still, they are fascinating creatures. One thing I’d heard about but never seen was their aggressive behavior to each other. I guess if I had to get through the world eating liquid sugar all day, I’d be a little cranky, too.

Bethlehem Art Walk

Me at the beginning of the show, before hours of sitting through the slow slog of mercantilism crushed my spirit.

Just returned from the Bethlehem Art Sit Walk, where I had my first ever booth, from which I tried to sell photographs and fine photographic accessories.

For my first time, it was a good outing. The rain stayed away and I sold many cards, sets, and even one print, which I didn’t expect.

Dead Man’s Curve

NH Route 16, looking north, 30 second exposure.
NH Route 16, looking north, 30 second exposure.

Seriously. They call it that. It’s dodgy even in summer, but the view at the turnout (looking the other way) is pretty nifty.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31), NASA photo.
Andromeda Galaxy (M31), NASA photo.

Unfortunately, not only was it cloudy looking south, the trees have grown in so there’s not much to see for another couple of months when the foliage thins out.

I’m still trying to work on my wide angle focusing for shots like this. Stars are either in focus or they aren’t. I did so-so tonight. I like that a few late-night travelers were heading toward Gorham or points north, east, or west. I notice that one of the cars’ brake lights is flickering. Maybe all taillights do that, and it takes a long exposure to see the pattern that our eyes miss.

My favorite part of a north-facing summer sky shot is the Andromeda Galaxy, shown here above and a little to the right of the mountain peak. Stars in the frame are anywhere from, I don’t know, 20 to 1,000 light years away; after they trail off, there’s another 2.3 million light years of empty space before we run into Andromeda, itself about 150,000 light years across.

Below Average White Balance

Tree in field outside Bethel, Maine.
Tree in field outside Bethel, Maine.

I was shooting some little stuff at the dining room table last night, using my new 100mm Canon macro lens. I didn’t want the overhead light to turn everything yellow, so I adjusted my camera’s AWB settings for indoors. I forgot to change it back, which is unfortunate for what it did to an otherwise lovely photo opportunity. I saw this tree driving to Falmouth this afternoon and made a note to try and shoot it when I was driving back.

The bad AWB setting screwed with the color. It’s kind of interesting in an off-world way, but I would have much rather just captured the light that I saw. (I tried using Photoshop to fix it, but the video tutorial went over my head; I have no idea how people figure that thing out.)

Still, the macro has some really sweet capabilities. The narrow depth of field makes it hard to focus, of course, but I like how I can blur backgrounds now without cheating on the FocusPro app.

I really, really like my new lens.

“M-O-O-N” Spells Fake

(Really heavily and poorly) processed image, waning gibbous moon, Gorham, NH, may God have mercy on my soul
(Really heavily and poorly) processed image, waning gibbous moon, Gorham, NH, may God have mercy on my soul

So this is my first ever attempt to “process” an image of the sky, trying to reproduce what my eye actually saw tonight as the moon came up. The problem with capturing nighttime sky scenery with the moon in them is that the moon is pretty bright. It also happens to be brightest at night, when its light in a camera will wash out all of the surrounding detail.

For example, I had to shoot the clouds that “surrounded” the moon with the following settings, just to capture that dusky glow:

  • ISO 3200 (for dark stuff)
  • f/6.3 (the biggest aperture my zoom lens can have)
  • 1/25th of a second (relatively slow to let in as much of that faint light and detail)

The problem is, the moon at those settings looks like a miniature sun. Forget seeing any of the surface detail—dark maria, lighter highlands, and so on. My eye (and yours) can make that kind of automatic jump just fine. But to capture it in my camera I had to take a separate photo with the shutter speed at 1/1600th of a second. That’s 64 times faster than the first photo.

Then I went into Photoshop, which I have on my computer but rarely use. Photoshop is another skill set unto itself, and until I have the time or inclination to take a class in it, I stick with the basic Apple Photos app. As crappy as it is, I’m getting used to it, and it does everything I generally need.

Except cut and paste the moon.

So, here’s what happens when you combine two photos. I’m sure a Photoshop master could make this look more realistic, but for a first attempt, it’s not terrible. If nothing else, it makes one appreciate how effective our eyes and brains are at handling this for us. If they had Photoshop for deleting/improving memories or knowing where my keys are, I might check it out. But it’s nice to know I don’t need fancy technology to appreciate a pretty sky.

New Glass

Last night, Mrs. cpb made me open my birthday present two days early. She got me a 100mm Canon macro lens, which will allow me to take closeup photos of small objects without having to use my zoom lens. The zoom served me well, but that kind of focal length can lead to distortion and blurred images, especially if you can’t keep your hands completely still.

I knew an honest-to-God macro would improve my closeup stuff, but wow, was I unprepared for the difference. I have a lot to learn—the depth of field is about the diameter of a hydrogen atom—but even these crummy photos are light years better than the stuff I was taking before.