They say that you cannot soar with the eagles if you are up hooting with the owls all night. Well, that pretty much seems true; at least at this point. I did not get much birding in this last weekend. I was up late a lot of the week and all weekend. There's a comet in the neighborhood, and I wanted a photo of it.
They also that the average person will see 4 or 5 "great comets" in their lifetime. Roughly, one every 20 years. Give or take 10. A great comet is one that is visible from Earth without a telescope. There is no qualification given for northern or southern hemisphere. So, you may only have a chance at 2 or 3. It is mostly about luck. Comet Neowise C/2020 F3, as it is known, was only discovered last March. Turns out it is on a 6800 year loop; so, it has not been around for anyone to see for a bit. Maybe we will get more. Regardless, I figure this might be one of my better chances to photograph one. With all that aside, let's get to the comet pics.
But, first.... This week has been a testimony to a number of things. 1) You need to find dark skies 2) You need the right equipment if you are going to get decent results 3) Planning is really key. I spent a lot of time just winging it this past week. It only really paid off once. I wasted a lot of effort and opportunity. Know where you are going before you get there. Scout in the daylight and be setup by the time you want to shoot. Anything else is a recipe for failure. That, is the voice of experience.
The first night out, Monday, I drove a lot of Boone county before stumbling upon a farm in western Boone that more or less fit with what I was looking for and was photographable. I just wanted some place that looked like Indiana. I did not have the best equipment, but I tried to make the best of it.
Tuesday, I tried at a Morse Reservoir with a wide angle lens I have. Too wide. Too bright of a location. Hint: look near the clouds on the right.
Realizing that neither a 50mm f/3.5 lens nor a 12mm f/1.8 lens were going to yield the quality of shots I was looking for, I made the decision to get a longer, f/2.8 lens. I ordered one and had it a few days later. Wanting a "known" test of it, I returned to the farm from Monday.
Much better results. Excited, I spent time scouring Google maps and the web looking for some place to shoot the following night. I found a place near Attica to try. I figured that if it did not work out, I could just stumble across a place like I did on Monday. Well, it did not work out, and I was wrong. I pretty much wasted the night.
I got one photo where you can faintly see the ion trail. Other than that, I snapped a pic of the Milky Way core as it was peaking out over some clouds low on the southern horizon.
That brings us to Saturday night. I grabbed a second new lens I had recently purchased (I have been upgrading a couple things), and headed out; again, with no plan. They say that making a mistake means you are more likely to make a second one soon after. Well, I was proving them right. My thought was to start at Goose Pond and then look for a remote location to shoot from after that. I arrived at a very humid location, and there were clouds to the north. I saw the comet, but conditions were not favorable. As the nights have progressed, the comet has moved higher and grown fainter. It would have been hours before it got lower in the sky, and there is no telling what the clouds would have done in the meantime. With the comet out of the question to the north, I looked south. I had a decent view of the Milky Way and decided to head for a remote location nearby to shoot it. Out on Farmhouse Road, I felt like I had the place to myself. I spent an hour photographing the Milky Way from there. I am far from an expert at this, and I was shooting with new equipment. At the end of the night, I hit upon the right(-ish) settings and came out with a set of decent images.
You may be wondering why the camera is laying on the ground. I did not think about the fact that the lens does not have a foot on it and no way to attach it to my tripod head. I had to lay it on the ground on a beanbag to get any kind of shot. Live and learn... they say that, too.
For the record, I did have a couple Great Horned Owl sightings on the nights I was out. One swooped down and landed in a field not far from me. I just made out the silhouette, and, frankly, it scared the heck out of me. It retreated and made loud scary calls from a distant treeline. The second flew down from a telephone pole over the top of the car while driving some back roads.
Thanks for reading,