Lessons Learned, and Oh Look, Saturn!!

500mm shot of Saturn - My first I've been shooting pretty consistently for a little while now.  Some of those images end up here, some just go to Facebook, and others still just remain sitting quietly on my hard drive, hoping to see light another day.  I don't know if it's true of all photographers, but out of a session's work, I typically only like a handful enough to want to display, the rest I'm not thrilled with and if space were an issue, I'd delete.  More on that later.

I've been using a place called Mono Cliffs a few times lately as my location to shoot the night sky.  It's fairly dark, fairly remote, but still not too far from home.  There is still a lot of city lights so it is far from pristine, but it beats sitting at home and getting nothing.

To the left is one of my more thrilling accomplishments.  It doesn't look like much, but this is the planet Saturn which is roughly 1.2 billion km from the Earth, captured on the 500mm lens of my Canon T2i.  The past few times I have been out, with the help of a handy iPhone app, I knew that one of the dots among the millions overhead was Saturn, so I took some shots in hopes of taking a recognizable picture.

I can't describe in words how much luck is involved.  A clear sky, away from the horizon, a moonless night, a dark location and managing to get the focus right are just some of the issues.  Speaking of focus, that's a funny beast.  Just breathing on the focus wheel too hard (you can't use auto focus) could blow the shot out.  This picture is at 200%.  When you're setting up, the best you can do is focus until what you see looks like a sharp dot in the sky.  Then click it, and then have a look, zooming in to max, adjust focus just a fraction, and try again.  But it's so very rewarding when all of those tumblers line up.

With that accomplishment described, I now come back to my first paragraph.  Storing the photos that I either like or love.  Do you remember the topic?  The lessons learned?  Here we go.

No matter how confident you are in your computer, you need to back up anything you value.  At least once.

The past couple of days I'd been having issues with my computer.  It boots off a solid state "C" drive, so Windows loads lightning fast, as does Photoshop and a few other apps I use.  The other hard drive is your typical drive, and is where I store my work.  Like I said, most of my pics are fairly mediocre, but a few I truly value.

This morning when I turned on my computer, I was greeted with a flash, a bang and a hint of burning in the air.  Not a good sign.  I unplugged it, went to the basement and flipped the breaker and prepared to bring the computer to the shop.

Video cards can be replaced, as can memory, motherboards, and power supplies, but not hard drives.  Correction, not the stuff on them.

A couple of hours after dropping it off at the store, I got the call.  Motherboard, CPU, RAM, Power Supply and Cooler are all history.  I won't even mention the price tag to replace them because it's irrelevant.  It has to be done.  But they are confident that both hard drives survived.

As the tech started entering my days purchases into the computer, I strolled on over to the backup hard drive section and picked out a nice unit and added it to the bill.  I'll pick up a second one at some point just to be extra sure I'm not in the same position again.

Do your backups folks.  Think about the time you spend in good places, bad places, hot places and cold places and then think about it all being for nothing when you lose it all.

Remember that title again? "Lessons Learned"? The other lesson is, when you're out shooting, make sure you take in what you're seeing because if all you walk away with is a picture, but no memory of the experience, you really do have nothing.



dipper After watching the weather forecast pretty much all day, it went from being a clear night, to partly cloudy.  As the day was already VERY overcast, it was going to be a gamble on when the sky would turn to only "a few clouds".  And this of course can still mean that there is a haze.

At 11pm I made the decision that I would take a chance and make the nearly 3 hour drive.  Every hour or so, I would pull over and take a good look up and make a decision to turn around or continue on.  Each time I continued on.

At 20km away, I was once again blown away by the beautiful starry night and my excitement peaked. I hurried on to my destination, eager to begin taking pictures, but as I pulled into the beautiful dark parking area, there were no stars to be seen anywhere.  I figured I must have gotten ahead of the cloud clearing so I wrapped myself up in a sleeping bag, reclined my seat and waited.  It was unexpectedly warm, a very nice surprise.  But as 2am turned to 3, and then 330, I decided it was time to give up waiting.  The wind may be blowing in the wrong direction, so I gave up.

About halfway back to the highway I took a gander upwards and saw the sky was pretty clear.  Not spectacular, but enough that I had to get out and salvage *something* out of what was going to be 6 hours of driving, and arriving home as the sun was soon to rise.  All I was able to get was this.  The ole Big Dipper.

As I snapped away at a few other things in an attempt to get some deep space, I was jolted back to reality by the sound of a wolf way off in the distance.  Moments later it was answered by a second, and then a third closer one.  And then a fourth even closer, and finally a fifth that was clearly very close.  At this point, I didn't even put the lens cap on.  I threw open the trunk, hurriedly placed my tripod, still with camera turned on inside and hopped in the car and rolled up the windows.  As my door was closing, I could hear at least a couple of them attacking something that howled aggressively.  I don't know who won that round as I got the hell out of Dodge and began my trip home.

Click the image above a couple of times for a larger version.