Ah, August. I’m melting.

I’m back from vacation and have almost managed to survive the first week back at work. It wasn’t even a full week, it was four days — but that didn’t stop it from feeling like forever. A week of vacation isn’t enough!

This was my second year going to the Maine Astronomy Retreat. I still haven’t reviewed all of my photos, but I do have some Moon shots and Milky Way shots that are nice. I was surprised at how relatively easy it is to get a photo of the galaxy or Moon, but how difficult it is to get them in focus. You’d think that taking pictures of stars you’d just set the camera to infinity, right? Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.

It’s become obvious that I need some kind of focusing aid for astrophotography. No matter if I look through the eyepiece or at the live view display on my camera (a Sony alpha 7), the stars are just so dark and tiny that I can’t see anything well enough to set the focus. I basically have to take a picture and review it and keep twiddling the focusing ring until I get something. But even that is difficult; I can’t see the focusing ring without a light, I can’t tell by touch how far I’m moving it, and it’s very hard to move the focusing ring in tiny increments. Plus, the Earth spins pretty darn quickly, and any exposure that’s too long results in streaks known as star trails (which in my case look like Good ‘n Plenty-shaped lozenges).

Since I’ve been approved as a Shutterstock contributor, I’ve uploaded about seven photos. If my star photos are good they might end up there, otherwise, I’ll post a few in the next blog post. And, on to the weekend. Seems like a good time to avoid the heat and humidity and hole up in the A/C and look at photos. Stay cool, readers!

F-stops and All That

I’ve been wanting to get back into photography for quite awhile, but between work and work and more work I’ve been so creatively drained that’s it’s been a major chore even to finish reading a novel, for crying out loud. Well, no more. I signed up with Shutterstock to do some stock photography work. That was something I considered years ago, but the business model required so much time that I wasn’t able to meet the Big Guys’ specifications (travel, submit hundreds of photos at a time, etc.).

The business model has changed a lot in the last few years, and now there’s something called microstock photography. You don’t have to be a full-time photographer or submit hundreds of images — but of course, you still need to submit good work. By giving myself a “job” I will spend more time with my photography. I haven’t uploaded any images yet as I’m still filling out some paperwork and I need time to go through my portfolio and decide what will make good stock photography. Since I have some background in editorial work I have a bit of an idea what to expect, and I hope that works for me.

Approaching photography with the idea of purposely shooting stock means that I will also spend some time coming up with compositions. I don’t expect to do portraits or events; landscapes, buildings, and things that don’t move are more to my liking. I spent a season at a ski resort in New Hampshire taking photos of skiers and snowboarders, and it was pretty hard to get everyone posed without having them slide down the mountain while I was fiddling around with aperture settings!

So, I’m off to read up about stock photography (and get sidetracked reading about new camera gear and camera bags). I’ll be going to the Maine Astronomy Retreat at the end of July, and I’m hoping to have some more Milky Way photos that maybe I can turn into works of art or at least earn enough to buy myself a cup of coffee. So, I’m off to charge my camera batteries and scout out things around the house that would be interesting subjects for some still life compositions.

Bug Bites

It’s summer, and that means bug bites. Since I work indoors and rarely venture beyond the front porch to pick up the mail I usually don’t have to worry about more than a mosquito bite or two. But I just came back from a week’s vacation in Maine and I’m covered with red welts all over my legs and hands.

Don’t go looking for photos of things on the Internet if you aren’t prepared to see a lot of gross things you’d rather not imagine crawling on your skin, let alone sucking your blood or eating your skin cells. Gee, I’m glad to learn that chiggers aren’t buried in my skin (OMG!) but I really could have done without the portrait of the nasty little things. However, I’ve learned that putting nail polish on bug bites does relieve the itch. It’s kind of gross now, because I’m covered with nail polish and it peels off after a while just like your skin peels from sunburn. But at least I’m not scratching my skin raw.

This week I’m trying to get resettled into the work routine after a relaxing week off. I’m also drafting some encyclopedia articles for the forthcoming Technical Innovation in American History: An Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. And I have some photographs of the Milky Way that I took at the Maine Astronomy Retreat so I need to look through them and sort the duds from the … ahem … stellar ones.

Bad Weather Photography

I wanted to take a photo of these dark clouds because they looked very dramatic. It wasn't until after I made the shot that I realized there is a small funnel cloud just to the right of center.

I wanted to take a photo of these dark clouds because they looked very dramatic. It wasn’t until after I made the shot that I realized there is a small funnel cloud just to the right of center.

It’s been a tremendously busy spring for me, both at work and for my freelance writing, among other things. In May I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in West Friendship, Maryland. I crochet, do a bit of weaving, and am learning to knit. Buying yarn becomes an obsession, as anyone will tell you! In any case, while at the festival I picked up a postcard for the Maine Astronomy Retreat and we’re going. I have a new Sony alpha 7 mirrorless DSLR and I can’t wait to try it out on astrophotography.

So, right after I signed up for the astronomy retreat, guess what? I was contacted to write an article about Carl Sagan for the forthcoming Salem Press Critical Survey of American Literature. Talk about synchronicity! And I also have a batch of technology articles to write for ABC-Clio’s Technical Innovation in American History: An Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, including ones on electricity/electronics topics and Yerkes Observatory. Yay! And yes, I’m nerding out. Time to put my high-school vocational electronics knowledge to work.

I have other writing projects in the queue as well, including a short story that will appear in an upcoming anthology of tales about black dog stories, three other short stories in progress, my novel, and a nonfiction book project. Whew. No wonder I have insomnia.

Water running down the car windshield made some interesting patterns.

Water running down the car windshield made some interesting patterns.

If my life has been a whirlwind, it’s no wonder that I managed to capture a photo of what appears to be a funnel cloud. Last week I was on my way to my music lesson (ukulele and recorder) when I stopped for coffee and a snack. It was hot and sunny when I went into the store, but as soon as I was back outside it clouded over and I could feel the temperature dropping. I turned around and saw these fantastic clouds, so I tried to capture them with my phone camera (yes, I should have taken the new Sony with me!). Looks like a small funnel cloud tried to form, but fortunately it wisped away into nothing.

I drove over to the music academy before the rain started and sat with my coffee. The pelting rain made some interesting patterns on the car windshield, so I tried to capture that, too. It’s not a terrific photo, but I like the moodiness and it’s good for inspiration. Bad weather can be a photographic gem; it just means that I need to be out and about more often. And yes, there was a rainbow:

Rainbow over Columbia, Maryland.

Rainbow over Columbia, Maryland.