August 25, 2019

February, 2019

Just as the month of February is kind of short, so is this blog...largely because I didn't take many photos in February!

We hung out in Desert Hot Springs, CA for the month of February, waiting on test results, waiting for doctors appointments, trying to be patient and spending a lot of time in the warm pools of Sam's Family Spa!  

We did splurge a little bit with a room at the Palm Springs Hotel!  Mike tried to make me think it was for me, but I noticed he timed it just in time for the Super Bowl!  (I didn't mind...I spent nearly the whole game in the clawfoot tub!)  It's a cute, boutique hotel with a great history and a fun mid-century modern vibe...and a pool, of course. 

We ate three times at La Bonitas in downtown Palm Springs...yummiest Mexican food and the freshest guacamole ever!  We also wandered downtown on several occasions, did a driving tour of some of the cool neighborhoods and the area surrounding Palm Springs...basically just hung out in the desert, enjoying the fact that it was February and we weren't shoveling snow!

While seeing doctors and having scans and bloodwork and such nonsense done two of our cute granddaughters suggested to me that I "bring along a stuffed animal the next time you have to go to the doctors, 'cause that's what we do and it makes us feel better."  Insert "awwwww" emoji here!  When I told them that I didn't have any stuffed animals to hold at my next doctors appointment they went to work with their own plan (it involved mom, of course, taking them to the store and then to the UPS store...thanks, Ashley!).  A few days later...

Harper has had a "Lambie" since she was born...and Remi, an "Ellie"...and now I have my own!

While hanging out in Desert Hot Springs we did do a little bit of cleaning...and shopping...  A few new pieces of decor brightened my mood and our sunny home!

What really brightened my mood was this pool...  I didn't really like the hot pools as much as Mike, but we each spent plenty of time reading and lounging under the palm trees.  It was a pretty rough month!

Night sky photography!

This was a 7 image, long exposure, panoramic,
shot at one of the Moulton Barns in the GTNP in June
that Mike then stitched together in Lightroom.  (I told you, he is experienced!)
Another photographer happened to be shooting at the same time
and he was using a bank of LED lights to light up the barn a bit.
ISO 3200, 17mm, f2.8, 25 seconds (7 shots, stitched)

Last January we had planned a night photography meetup/shoot at Joshua Tree National Park on a dark skies weekend (a New Moon).  We were pretty bummed that, because of the National Park shutdown, it didn't happen.  But since then, we have been asked several times if we have any tips on how to shoot a night sky.  We do!  Mike is very experienced in shooting the night sky...the Milky Way, stars and star well as long exposure, where some of the same variables occur.  (He took this beautiful photo in the Grand Teton National Park a few years ago.)

The basics, your equipment, the things you'll need/want -

  • a camera you can shoot in RAW and also in manual mode, preferably one that can shoot at high ISO's (3200-6400 range)
  • a good, sturdy tripod (you can certainly try to secure your camera on a sturdy table or other surface but you likely won't be able to shoot up at the stars very well!)
  • a fast lens...meaning, it is capable of shooting a large/wide aperture of f2.8 or larger (and a nice wide angle lens captures more of the sky, we like those in the 14-24mm range)

Plan ahead -

  • Choose a night when there is no or little moonlight.  That's an easy one, just look at a moon table to find a New Moon.  (It's possible to shoot a night sky when there is a moon, if you aren't shooting in the direction of the moon, it's just that the stars will appear dimmer.)
  • Remember, you need a cloudless, for that, cross your fingers and toes!
  • You also need a sky with little or no light go out to the boondocks!  Some areas are now considered Dark Sky cities...meaning they don't have neon lights or street lights creating a ton of light pollution. 
So, now you have your cool camera with a great lens and nice tripod...and you've picked a night with no bright moon in the sky, in an area with minimal light pollution...  While you pray for no clouds, scout your might be looking for a great foreground or just a simple horizon.  Ansel Adams used the word "previsualization"...and this is particularly important with a night sky shoot as you likely won't be able to see what you are shooting towards on a dark night!  

This Joshua Tree is a good example of that previsualization.  We wandered around for a bit in JTNP, during the evening, looking specifically for an isolated, nicely shaped Joshua Tree with a minimally intrusive horizon line.  (We also had to be sure not to shoot when cars went by as there were several small roads in this area.)  

We also experimented with light painting in this picture. 
I stood off to the side (in the dark, dark where creepy things live!)
and when Mike said go
I flashed a flashlight on the tree
for just a second of his 25 second exposure.
ISO 3200, 17mm, f2.8, 25 seconds

Once you've chosen your location, you will have some time while you're waiting for the sun to set and the sky to completely darken!  Enjoy the sunset!  Have a snack!  Take beautiful photos!  Take a nap! 

This is an example of the "blue hour"'s not exactly light and not yet dark. 
Waiting for a nice dark sky doesn't have to be time wasted!  

One of the hardest things about shooting in the dark is FOCUS!  There are lots of techniques you can use to help you with focus, but our favorite, perhaps the easiest, is this...


What you are looking for is the focal point on your lens that is close to infinity...and every lens is slightly different.  When you find that spot on your lens, mark it, with a piece of tape or with a marker...that is the spot that you will set as your focus when you are in the dark and it should give you nice crisp stars.  (In theory!  Honestly, the first time we did this it didn't work...and then it did...and then it didn't!  It's a little bit of a guessing game as every lens is slightly different, every atmospheric condition is different it seems, but it should work!)

Another way to find your focus at night is to put your camera on live view, if you have it...and zoom (not with your lens, but on live view) to find a bright star or a planet and manually (because your focus has to be set to manual) focus on it!

Okay, so now you are in your spot, ready to go...  With your camera secured onto your tripod and your lens out to a nice wide angle, pointed in the direction of the image you previsualized, take a few quick snaps with a super high ISO before you begin with your long exposures to figure out the tweaks in your composition.  What do I mean by that?  Well, at this point you aren't worried about perfect exposures, you are looking strictly at the horizon line straight, if you want it that way?  Is the tree or shack or trailer where you want it to be in the photo?  This is your opportunity to move the camera or move the tripod in order to compose the photo you've imagined.  Take a photo and look at it in the back of your camera, then adjust accordingly.  It might be that you have to pick up your tripod and move ten feet back and to the left...this is the time to do that.

Suggested camera settings for night photography -

  • MANUAL focus, turn the dial to your preset mark or use live view
  • RAW, or high JPEG
  • remove all filters, even the UV filter 
  • White balance can be set to Auto or you can set it manually to 3650-3900 Kelvin
  • turn off long exposure noise reduction (if you have it)
  • turn off image stabilization or vibration reduction (if you have it)
  • if you have a curtain that covers your eyepiece, close it (incidental light)
  • APERTURE WIDE OPEN, the largest aperture you have (2.8 or higher is preferable)
  • ISO set to 6400, to begin with, adjust down accordingly
  • focal length as wide as you have 
  • exposure time set between 15-30 seconds, depending on your focal length 
I know all of this is "depending" and "adjusting accordingly" and "if you have it"...but this is where night photography is tricky, because it is not an exact science!  There are so many variables, including your camera equipment, including how dark it really is...and, are you shooting the Milky that my stomach rumbling or was that a bear and was that a big hairy spider crawling up my leg?  (I just wanted to see if you were paying attention!)

Here are several examples, including the metadata for each so that you can begin to see the patterns emerge.

This was shot at ISO 6400, with a 17mm focal length, the aperture was set at f2.8, for 25 seconds.

ISO 6400, 19mm, f2.8, 25 seconds
The lights you see on El Cap are climbers spending the night!

ISO 5000, 17mm, f2.8, 25 seconds

ISO 640, 24mm, f2.8, 15 seconds
This one was shot with a half moon behind Mike, lighting up the mountain.
You can see how much that moonlight changes the settings required!

ISO 6400, 17mm, f2.8, 20 seconds
This one was shot at Quartzsite with some ambient light/noise pollution
coming from somewhere north, Parker Dam area maybe, or other RV'ers. 
We had tiny little Luci lights inside the trailer, pointed down
and Mike flipped on and off the Christmas lights for about one second. 
If we had kept the string of lights on for the whole 20 seconds
it would've just blown out (over-exposed) the whole trailer!
ISO 5000, 17mm, f2.8, 25 seconds

If you wanna get really crazy...

ISO 6400, 17mm, f2.8, 20 25 second intervals
This was my very first attempt at star trails! 
(Beginner's luck!)

This kind of image is called Star Trails.  It is a series of images, taken with a built-in Interval Timer, stacked (layered) in a program, we used, called StarStaX.  Crazy, huh!

For this sequence, I located the North Star and composed my image with it just off center so that I could capture the rotation of the stars around it...then, I set my camera up, took a few test shots...and set the Interval Timer on my camera to take one picture every 25 seconds for an hour.  (Remember, the images are 20 second exposures so I had to give my camera a moment to breathe in between!)  Then, I took one image with the lights on and the rest of the images were dark!  I was seriously so excited when we emerged from our darkened trailer to collect our cameras and I flipped through the images like a kid with a flip book!  So fun!

In summary, night photography is not an exact science because there are so many variables, is kind of magical to create photos from the dark!  If you have any questions, leave us a comment, email us or DM us on Instagram @4000Rivets!

The Milky Way over our favorite rock!


We left Mesa Spirit (the Thousand Trails park in the Phoenix area that we like), all three of our trailers (Marion and Mark & Kelly and ourselves), to spend some time boondocking in Quartzsite, Arizona.  Quartzsite hosts a huge RV show every January/February and we wanted to check it out a bit ahead of the really big crowds.

We found a nice area just north of town for all of us to set up camp and we spent some time wandering through all the tents and craziness that is Quartzsite!  If you've been, you know!

An Arizona sunset.

Boondocking in Quartzsite

We enjoyed some amazing sunset skies and the night skies were even better!  Mike and I practiced our night photography (which we were going to do in JTNP with a meetup, but the parks were closed due to the government shut-down)...and I learned a new trick!  Star trails! 

My first attempt at star trails!  Crazy cool!
Another family member came down to join us, Mark & Kelly's daughter, Kate, and her husband, Scott!  We loved having a family compound in this crazy setting!

We also met several other RV'ers as they were passing through the area, including getting to see our original Gracie again!!!  We had traded Gracie in in Scottsdale last March and several months afterward we got a message on Instagram from Chris (IG @4x4touring), Gracie's new owner, needing some help with the solar setup!  Chris was passing through Quartzsite and looked us up!  So great to meet him and see that Gracie is living a good life on the road!

We met Randy & Ellen (IG - nellehas.thesailor.and.drifter) for snacks and drinks, Will & Brittany (IG - TrailerTrashin) came through the area with their cool vintage Airstream, Art & Ashley (IG - ateamlife) had us over to their sweet fifth wheel for yummy snacks and we briefly got to meet Jen & Jesse (IG - ontherogueus).  It's a great place to congregate as people generally stay a bit as there is lots of room!

We drove up north to check out the balloon festival in Lake Havasu...and that was a lot of fun!

Another addition to our gang!  Our niece and her hubby arrived!

The balloon festival was great...but that smile is even better!

We parted ways with half of our group and we traveled down to Joshua Tree National Park for a bit.  It's such a unique place to explore...the landscape is like nothing else I've ever seen...boulders upon boulders upon boulders...

It rained a bit in the desert, which was lovely!  It doesn't take much rain to make all the desert plants come to life!

A rainy desert outside of Joshua Tree National Park.

The Cholla garden in JTNP!  

This is Mark & Kelly, (Kelly is Mike's sister) they are @mkboatlander on Instagram! 

Our boondocking neighbors!

Cleaning day!

We found it!!!!  It took us two days to figure out how to find this amazing heart rock, but we did it!
And I kinda wanna take it home!


Awwww....I love him.

The Ryan Ranch...we are still awaiting our inheritance share of this land!!!

Our boondocking spot outside of JTNP

A full lunar eclipse!

Maybe it was the lunar eclipse or maybe it was finding that gigantic heart rock, but this is where our schedules went off the rails...  We were supposed to be headed to the CA coast...and then to southern CA, Borrego Springs, etc...and then to the deserts of southern AZ, all with our traveling partners, Mark and Kelly.  But, over the past couple of days I had been experiencing odd sensations in my feet and "bike saddle area" (as it was delicately termed by the first doctor I met!) and after a quick Google search warned that it could be spinal compression, I paid a visit to the ER in Palm Springs, the closest city to where we were boondocking.  This was the beginning of a several month process in trying to diagnose what was causing these and other worsening symptoms.

Beautiful, stormy skies greeted us in Desert Hot Springs, where we relocated.

Crazy beautiful skies!

The next couple of months, well, we just tried to make the best of a crappy situation, traveling when we could, being near doctors when we needed to...

We spent over a month at Sam's Family Spa in Desert Hot Springs.  It put us in close proximity to one of the neurologists I was seeing, but it also has the loveliest pool and hot spas which I loved to float in!  We reconnected with friends, Michael & Susan (@silversabbatical) and enjoyed seeing them again!

Everything you do, you should do with a big heart...but they wouldn't let me take this one home!

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