I barely used my camera in April. I took one photo with it and it was a test shot of my office window. My first time taking the camera out was May 9th when we had to go into town to do some shopping.
Not many people were wearing masks then, but social distancing was happening. The city was still mostly shut down and there weren’t that many people about.
It was a sign of the times that an advertisement for a movie released in mid-March was still showing on a bus at the start of May. The country had ground to a halt.
Masks become mandatory today in shops and public transport. The next phase of unlocking the economy has been put on hold. Pubs were supposed to open on August 10th but that won’t be happening.
On Thursday night I went out with my son to photograph Comet NEOWISE. This is a comet that was only discovered a few months ago on March 27 by NASA’s NEOWISE telescope.
Comet nuclei are cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the sun. They can range in size from a few miles to tens of miles wide, and the nucleus of NEOWISE measures about 3 miles across. When these comets approach the sun, their frozen bodies start to sublimate, and they spew dust and gasses in a tail that can span millions of miles.
Comet NEOWISE made its harrowing close approach to the sun, known as its perihelion, on July 3, and it is now zooming past the Earth on its way back out of the solar system. NEOWISE will make its closest approach (64 million miles) to Earth on July 22, but the best viewing window is happening right now until July 19.
There were a few clouds in the sky, but with the sun setting very late we went out around eleven thirty.
We didn’t have far to go, heading to a local field looking north where I knew the comet would be. The Stellarium mobile app helped me figure out where to look as it’s more north-west than simply north. Look towards where the sun is setting, or has set, and you’ll find it.
At first I took a wide angle photo of the sky as I couldn’t see the comet at all. Once my eyes grew accustomed to the dark I could just about see the comet if I didn’t look directly at it. I can imagine in darker skies it probably would have looked even brighter!
I took a few more photos of this scene but as the night sky got darker I realised I needed a point of interest to draw the eye in. The electricity pole in the field served that purpose well.
As the minutes ticked by I was reminded that focusing in the dark is extremely hard. I recalled that someone mentioned pre-focusing at infinity in daylight hours and marking the place on the lens. I remembered outings with my photography club where someone would shine a light on themselves to help focus. If I had a flashlight I would have gladly used it to focus on that pole. I have so many out of focus photos of that pole and the comet!
It was midnight and I promised my son I’d take “just a few more photos” before we headed off. I had no idea now if the pole was in focus. Zooming the lens adjusted the focus so I had to refocus. We tried shining the lights from our phones on the pole but it barely made a difference. The grass was long and wet with dew so I didn’t want either of us to go trudging through it to shine a light on it. I think I got reasonably lucky with the last shot!
The comet will be back in 6,800 years. I wonder if any of these photos will survive until then?
I’m glad you got to the end of the post. Here’s my top tips for capturing the meteor or just for taking photos of the sky at night:
- Open up the aperture as wide as possible. My zoom lens only went to f/6.3 🙁
- Bump up the ISO as the light fails to keep the exposure time short. You’ll capture stars too which is a nice bonus. I went to ISO 4000.
- A longer exposure records the motion of the Earth. The comet will start to streak and get bigger which you don’t want. I found < 10 seconds, or around 6 seconds best.
- Make sure you have some foreground interest. Bring a flashlight to shine on that object to help focus when it’s impossible to manual focus as it’s too dark. Bring someone along to shine a light on the scene to help focus.
- I forgot this on the night, but bump the ISO to it’s max to help you focus manually on your foreground interest. Reduce the ISO to shoot.
- During daylight hours manually focus on something at infinity. Mark on the lens where that is. It’ll make it simple to focus there when it’s too dark to focus. Similarly, if you know where you’re shooting, focus where your subject will be on the night, and mark the focus.
- You don’t need a 300mm or 400mm telephoto lens to shoot the comet. The most interesting photos of it are wide(ish) angle. I should have tried shooting with my nifty 50.
Flowers, candles and tributes to Daphne Caruana Galizia left at the foot of the Great Siege Monument, opposite the Law Courts in Valletta.
Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated on October 16th, 2017 when a bomb exploded in her car close to her home. She was an investigative journalist in Malta who, “revealed controversially sensitive information and allegations relating to a number of Maltese politicians and the Panama Papers scandal.” Her investigative work was continued in the Daphne Project.
Her memorial at the foot of the Great Siege Monument was being removed every night and supporters replaced it in the morning but recently that has changed and, as of January this year, it had remained intact for a month. Later, in March a court ruled that the removal of the monument violated protesters’ right to freedom of expression.
Unsettling nightly routine in #Malta. City cleaners remove all flowers, photos & candles in front of the court in Valletta dedicated to murdered journalist #DaphneCaruanaGalizia. The worker explains: „instructions from above“. His authority leads to Justice Minister @OwenBonnici. pic.twitter.com/zOYBuFKmTP
— Thomas Datt (@datt_thomas) December 12, 2019
Even after her death, there remains an appearance of government hostility towards Ms Caruana Galizia. People outraged by her assassination, who were determined to keep her memory alive and campaign for the masterminds to be brought to justice, began placing flowers, candles and written messages as an informal memorial at the symbolic site of the ‘Great Siege Monument’ opposite the court of justice. Dr Bonnici, in his capacity as minister for culture, ordered that the memorial be removed every night, and closed the monument for three months for restoration work (compare that to the 11 days it took to restore the Arc de Triomphe in Paris after it was extensively vandalised during ‘gilets jaunes’ demonstrations). One is left with the impression that the government would prefer that Ms Caruana Galizia be erased from the public memory.
Clannad, the Irish band that is this year celebrating 50 years together began the year with a Farewell Tour. They played in the Opera House in Cork in early March when I saw them and they were great. I didn’t know much of their music beyond the obvious themes to Robin Hood or the Harry’s Game but I’m a fan since!
Hopefully they will be able to continue their tour but as of now, from a snapshot of their site from March 28th they have rescheduled shows up to the end of May. I’d say it’s likely they’ll have to postpone even more of those shows unfortunately.
Porto, Portugal, November 2019. Long before SARS-CoV-2 hit Europe. Street photography feels like a forbidden art now that we are all at home and we’re not allowed on the streets in any numbers.
* You obviously should not walk around with a locker like this. STAY AT HOME!
This was my fourth time seeing Flash Harry perform, and third time in the Cork Opera House and they brought the house down as they always do. The first half was sedate with a good mix of well known and more obscure Queen songs. I loved their rendition of ’39. After a brief interlude where we were told cups of tea were consumed, and not some illicit drug the band took it up a notch with great versions of Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Gaga, I Want to Break Free and many other hits!
The band are touring Ireland this year with lots of gigs announced. If they play near you go see them! You’re guaranteed a great night!
For more, check out my Flash Harry archive of photos.
For the photographers in the audience. All the photos were shot with a Sony A7III, and and adapted Tamron 28-300 “super zoom” which unfortunately doesn’t focus that well. As a result I used back-button-focus since the performers were mostly standing in the same general area, and I wasn’t moving from my seat so it worked well!
Lanzarote Airport sits right by the coast. There’s a beach at one end of the runway where you can get great photos of the landing planes.
I wonder what the pilots think of the onlookers watching at this dangerous stage of a flight?
The Ferris Wheel on Grand Parade. Christmas 2019. It’s gone now, I presume.