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Struck by Fire
I was in the garden, I remember,  pulling weeds and looking for aphids, when I happened to look up from my work to see this — apparition — hanging over the treetops like an impromptu party decoration, curly clouds lit up in a vibrant crimson. 1989-08-23adj I’d never seen a cloud like this, seemingly on fire in the bright sunset, and I ran inside the house to grab my camera.
I’d been bitten.
I’m celebrating Skyboy Photos’ Anniversary this August 23, twenty-five years after that first photograph, and after becoming hooked on the magical and unpredictable beauty of the sky,  the two hundred miles of atmosphere that we live beneath, and the weather that it produces.
In the ensuing years I’ve seen many wondrous sights and glorious vistas that I certainly would have missed if I hadn’t started paying attention. And I don’t even have to travel! I’ve found that if you just stay put and pay attention, eventually something interesting, beautiful, strange, or all three, will happen overhead. 1994-06-25 = 21.00 = nwadj
That first photo was taken with what was called, in the olden days, film.  We’ve had digital cameras for so long now, that I almost don’t remember what it was like having to take a picture and then wait three days to see if it came out. And not being able to do much about it, if it didn’t. I also remember spending money, lots of money.
Lens Kwik Photo of  Kansas City did all of my processing work. As I walked in the door with yet another three rolls of 36-exposure film, all used up on skies, skies, skies, Jean the owner looked up from her photo printing machine and said dryly, “Well, hello there, Sky Boy!”
The name has stuck.
Blue Skies and Black
My love affair with the sky actually goes back even further than that. Somewhat more than twenty-five years ago, when I was a lad of about eight years, I remember lying on my back on the brick patio outside our house. I was going for an Astronomy merit badge in Boy Scouts, and one of the assignments placed me there on the ground, looking up at the nighttime sky, I don’t remember exactly why.
I could see the Milky Way, and planets, and millions and billions upon zillioF33-bgns of stars, twinkling confetti floating in the nighttime sky . Lying there on the bricks, seeing nothing but the sky in my view, I had a sudden exhilarating sensation of near-vertigo,  as if I were lying on a mere six-foot pebble of rock, an asteroid floating and  spinning through space, travelling dizzyingly past all those stars and worlds and nebulae and galaxies that I could see from our suburban Pittsburgh home.
I got a telescope soon after, and begin to watch the night sky with it. Then I grew up, and other things happened, and some long time later, I was reminded by a friend about my boyhood fascination. I thought it might be fun to get a telescope again and try watching the night sky. B3-bgMy deep-sky photography has been one of the outcomes of this renewed interest, and it feels like this completes some kind of circle, I don’t know what. Perhaps in the way that I see that nature presenting herself to us in her infinite different ways, beautiful in every manifestation, and more interesting and gratifying the more you look, in every realm and scale.
Looking Up
You can visit my website at Skyboy Photos to see photographs, film and digital, of some of the memorable moments I have witnessed over the last twenty-five years. available as handmade Greeting Cards and Photographic Prints.
But more importantly, I hope you remember the next time you may happen to go outdoors, or if you are already outdoors, and focused (as indeed you should be) on the task at hand and the next thing you need to be doing in your day, or whomever you’re talking with or whatever you may be reading — well, I hope you happen, like I did, to glance up for just a moment. And when you do, I hope you are surprised by the unexpected, and delighted by the sheer wonder of the sky.

By day,

Weather rules us

By night we glimpse neighbors

The sky is our window and our


             — David Bayard

Weather Station on Legs

June 28, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

What if you wanted to know what the weather was going to be like in the near future, but didn’t have a cell phone? Or the internet? Or a television or a radio or newspaper?
IMG_9045 adj
I’ll show you how to turn  yourself into a working  portable weather station! Your body is equipped  to gather all the data to make your own weather forecast.
You’ll need to know five pieces of information: Temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction, and wind speed.

  • Temperature: Activate you on-board your temperature sensor. Using your skin, and standing out of the sun, you can come pretty close to guessing the temperature of the air. Practice makes perfect, so check how warm or cool you feel against the actual air temperature and learn to calibrate your sensors.  After a while you can tell the difference between 80 degrees and 85 degrees, say, and that’s close enough for our purposes.
  • Humidity: You can use the same outer organ to judge the humidity, too. Your body cools itself by evaporation of sweat through the skin. When humidity is low, this works great, but as the air gets wetter,  the sweat won’t evaporate and you feel that “sticky” feeling.  How humid you feel is also tied in with how warm you feel, since humid air tricks your body into feeling warmer than it is. Again, you can learn to judge pretty closely by checking your senses against the actual humidity.
  • Air Pressure: Sorry, you body has very poor pressure sensors. Air pressure changes too slowly for our bodies to notice.  But if you know that high pressure makes clouds dissipate and low pressure encourages them to form, you can estimate the pressure using your visual sensors (peepers) and looking to see if it’s clear or cloudy.  Clear skies equal high pressure, cloudy is low, and partly cloudy is somewhere in between. That’s close enough for our purposes. What’s important about air pressure is not so much where it is right now, but how it is changing: falling, rising, or staying the same. We’ll figure that out using the wind direction.
  • Wind Direction: The wind direction might be the most important piece of info. It tells you where the weather is coming from and whether high or low pressure is approaching. You can feel the wind on your skin, and probably sense the direction it’s coming from, but  if the wind is too calm to tell, moisten a finger and hold it up to the air. The side facing the wind will feel cooler.  By the way, wind direction always refers to the direction FROM which the wind is blowing, i.e., a north wind blows from north to south.
  • Wind Speed: This one’s easy.  You can generally feel how strong the wind is on your skin, hear the wind in the trees, see flags and banners blowing. Again, it’s enough to know the general strength of the wind, and you can learn to predict this pretty closely. One note: The air layer from the ground up to about 200 feet travels more slowly than the air above, as it is slowed down by friction as it flows past forests and buildings and landscape features.

Okay, so now we know, perhaps, that it’s about eighty degrees, with high humidity, low pressure and a strong south wind. How do we do our forecast?
This sketch shows how high pressure “bubbles” of air the size of continents go marching their way across the landscape. In the northern hemisphere they all flow from west to east, and in addition they spin with relation to the ground. That’s because the ground is essentially turning its way out from under the air as the earth rotates. The wind never catches up, so as the heavy high pressure air falls downward and outward from the High, it also spins, flowing clockwise around the High (counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere).
In between the mountains of high pressure, valleys of low pressure form. The air is rising, not falling, in the low pressure areas, as the air rotates in toward the center, spinning counterclockwise.
That’s the basic picture of weather in the mid-latitudes, with these Highs and Lows continually flowing west to east all the time. (The tropics are another story.) Highs bring clear skies and fair weather, and Lows can bring clouds, storms and cyclones. By figuring out where the Highs and Lows are right now, we can guess what’s coming our way in the next hours and days.
So, once you’ve found the wind direction, stand with your back to the wind. Turn about 45 degrees to your right, and you will have your back to the wind high overhead, which flows in a different direction than wind near the ground (remember, it moves slower,  so it also spins less).
You’re now facing “downstream” of the wind at high altitude. Raise your arms, and your right arm will be now be pointing to the High pressure system. Your left arm points to the Low pressure.
Now you can place yourself on the weather map. What’s to the west? Since Highs and Lows move generally from west to east, whatever it is to your west will be coming in your direction.
The anatomy of weather systems is more complex than I can cover here,  but a good way to familiarize yourself with them is by watching Weather Channel and other published weather maps, then comparing your local weather experience with your position on the weather pressure map.
IMG3The familiar red and blue lines of fronts,  the highs and lows, the way that storms form and move across the land,  will start to make sense after a while.
But in our case, what we know is that a low pressure system is drifting towards us to our north. The winds are high, so there’s a big difference between High and Low pressure to push the wind.  The means the low might be very low. Since the air’s coming from the south, that means warmer temperatures are coming, but bad weather might be coming too. The humidity is high, so there’s plenty of moisture to make storms. I think it might be a day to stay indoors.
Maybe I’ll put on the Weather Channel !


May 11, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Clouds are great fun to watch.
Sitting under a tree, high on a hill, you gaze up to the sky for a few moments and you daydream. The rest of your life falls away as you watch the clouds slowly, imperceptibly roll across the heavens . Then you sigh again, take a sip of lemonade, and  pick up your book  to read for a while.
When you look up again, barely ten minutes later, the sky is totally different. Some clouds are gone and new ones have taken their place.  A whole new cloud deck is rolling in. How did the sky manage that sleight-of-hand? You look again and watch, and yes, just as before, the clouds are barely moving. Almost motionless. How did they do that so fast?

But when you play the sky’s endless movie at fast-forward,  a whole different story emerges!
The cumulus clouds which had seemed to be simply floating by like cotton balls are seen to be forming and dissolving at the same time, continually flowing through forms, coming and going in random disorder, appearing and disappearing throughout their short lives.
And you can see how the clouds pull themselves up by their own bootstraps: once an area of cloud starts condensing, the condensing moisture releases heat, which warms the air. The air rises. That pulls in more moist air to replace it. That air condenses, warms, rises, pulls in more moisture…the cloud feeds on its own growth in a positive feedback loop, like a microphone held too close to a speaker.
Clouds is Water

Sunlight and Rain
Sunlight and Rain

There is a classification system for clouds, but it’s only moderately helpful in deciphering cloud mysteries. There are too many types of clouds. There are clouds that fit in more than one category, or fit in between categories. Some defy categorization.
But what all clouds have in common is water.  Think of what your cool lemonade glass did once the waiter laid it on your table. The outside of the glass condenses water just like cold air condenses water out of warm, moist air. Then it’s just a matter of how many infinite ways warm moist air can be introduced to colder air, and in what shapes and fashions and situations.
To Make a Cloud
Of all the planets, only Earth (that we know of) has abundant water in all three of its possible phases: solid ice, liquid water, and gas vapor. Mars is too cold, Venus is too hot, but on our world, temperatures are just right. And the sun’s heat makes sure water is changing from one phase to another all the time.
Vapor in the air condenses into droplets that float and we call it a cloud. Droplets bump together and collect to form bigger droplets that sink to earth. We call it anything from a gentle filmy mist to a thundering downpour. Droplets freeze and fall as snow, sleet or hail.
Midwestern Ice Storm
Midwestern Ice Storm

Or vapor directly freezes to frost or rime ice on everything it touches. Or it falls as liquid  rain and freezes instantly when it lands,  pulling down mighty oaks by sheer weight.
Finally, water which has collected in lakes, oceans, soil, and living things (like us), evaporates back into gas, and we have sweltering humidity, dew and fog, and clouds. Moisture has come full circle, and is reunited with the deep blue sky.
Glaciation (Freezing Raindrops)
Glaciation (Freezing Raindrops)

Some of the most dramatic and fascinating displays of weather in the sky are the result of water changing from one phase to another. Nature seems to delight in creating different ways for things to mix and interact. Even a single type of event, like a snowflake or a cloud, is never repeated in exactly the same way twice.
Boundaries, borders and edges
The most interesting things in the sky occur at the boundaries between other things. The point of contact between two continent-sized air masses is where weather occurs. The boundary between earth and sky is the scene for fog, frost and dew, when we get to literally live in the clouds for a while. The boundaries between cold air, warm air, wet air, dry air, dirty, clean, moving or still, high or low, neutral or electrically charged air — all these boundaries produce their own special spectacles.

The border between day and night produces spectacular displays only possible with the low, red light from the sun on the horizon. The low light of dawn and twilight also punches up the contrast of clouds, outlines and defines their shapes more sharply than during the day. Sometimes two, three, four or even more cloud decks are all doing different things at the same time.
Three Cloud Decks at once
Three Cloud Decks at once

But the best way to learn about clouds is to live with them. Watch them. Go back up on the hill and spend some time watching. It’s really great fun!

Weather Imps

April 24, 2014 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We were driving across the scrubby and barren central valley on the way to Fresno, me and some of my California family. We’d been talking about the weather. My family all knew I liked the weather, and the sky, and the combination of those two things. I talked about it all the time.  Just as I’d  been doing for the last ten minutes, regaling them with stories about the changeable weather and unpredictable crazy clouds in the skies above my familiar Midwestern home, how every hour,  every minute, seemed to bring a new and different kind of weather, and how exciting it was to watch for what was going to happen next — because I knew it would! — and be surprised and awestruck when it invariably did.
So when cousin Bonnie interrupted to ask, “Well, David, what about right now?” I looked out the window at the clear cloudless central California skies, and realized I wasn’t in Kansas any more. Or Missouri. For all I knew, these inland California skies of theirs had seen no clouds in a hundred years. Maybe I was wrong about the ever-interesting sky. Maybe this was the only weather my family ever saw.
But I stuck my head out the window anyway, looking all around for some sort of miracle.  Then unexpectedly, there it was.

Circumzenithal Arc
Circumzenithal Arc

“Rainbow!” I shouted. “Directly overhead!”
They didn’t believe me, of course. But sure enough, directly overhead was a curved arc of prismatic color forming a faint semicircle above the mid-morning sun. The sky which had seemed crystal clear actually had a thin layer of ice-crystal cirrus clouds spread across it, thin enough to be invisible to the eye, everywhere except right above us.
The rest of the passengers were as astonished as I was, and my statements about the sky were proved true, and we all agreed that the weather must be delightfully unpredictable no matter where you were in the world.
These little weather imps, impromptu colored flags and circles and signs in the sky, often appear in thin cirrus clouds and may last for part of an hour, sometimes only for a few scant moments. Maybe that’s why we see them so seldom. They seem to appear in otherwise featureless, uninteresting skies, like playful little imps, as if to make sure we’re on our toes.
What we saw that day wasn’t a rainbow, but if I’d shouted “circumzenithal arc!” it probably wouldn’t have gotten people’s attention. The circumzenithal arc that we saw is part of a group of optical phenomenon caused by light cascading through ice crystal clouds, breaking the sunlight into colors as it passes through the crystals’ tiny prisms, each crystal shape playing a different type of trick with the sunlight. Unlike rainbows,  these prismatic displays are formed by light passing through the crystals,  not reflecting through liquid raindrops.  Where rainbows are seen opposite the sun,  optical phenomenon generally occur near the sun.
Perhelic Circle of Optical Phenomenon
Perhelic Circle of Optical Phenomenon

There are many different crystal shapes, and sometimes more than one way for refraction to occur through any one shape. Most of the possible prismatic effects appear in a circle around the sun. The Parhelic Circle includes all the different effects of crystal shape and sunlight refraction. I managed to catch this photo in 1997, an unusual display where nearly the whole parhelic circle appeared, with a circular halo, an upper arc, and two sun dogs on either side. The location of clouds within this circle, and the type of ice crystal shape in the cloud (or mix of shapes), means we usually see only one or two of these possibilities at any one time.

Some ice crystals are shaped like #2 pencils, long thin six-sided lozenges, which tumble through the air in all directions as they fall. Halos are one result of light passing through these shapes.
One of my other favorites is the “sun dog”. The two bright spots on either side of the sun in the parhelic circle are examples. They often appear in partly overcast skies as the sun drops towards the horizon at dusk, sometimes one, sometimes both.
Sun Dog
Sun Dog

The ice crystal that creates sun dogs is shaped like a flat six-sided dinner plate. The light is refracted from one of the six sides to another, so it is only visible when the plate is aligned in that direction. As these plates fall through the air, they tend to lay horizontally rather than tumbling end over end, and thus the refracted light is strongest in the horizontal direction. Appearing 22 degrees right or left of the real sun, sometimes only one of these “mock suns” is visible, but if you see one,  be sure to check the other side of the sun for the other.  Often one or both sun dogs occur embedded within a larger halo.
Alternate radius Haloes
Alternate radius Haloes

But the optical events represented in the parhelic circle are just some of the many varied and unusual appearances I’ve had the fortune to see. Some of them I have yet to find an official name for. Unpredictable situations of sun, cloud, temperature and ice crystal shape produce an infinite variety of displays.

They don’t stop at night, either, for the full moon can also produce halos, sun dogs and iridescence, often rivaling the sun’s effects in brightness.
Halo with a partial Upper Arc
Halo with a partial Upper Arc

Though they usually appear in light cirrus clouds, that’s not always the case,  and this colorful sky-embedded art does seem to hold a showing when you least expect it, with no announcement ahead of time.
So whether the weather you watch is in California or Kansas City or anywhere else in the world, keep an eye out for these playful weather imps. There might be one over your head right now just begging to be noticed. Go outside and look!
Sun Dog in a wisp of Cirrus Cloud
Sun Dog in a wisp of Cirrus Cloud


Here are some of my Skyboy Photos images which include Optical Phenomenon:
Iridescent Sky
Sun Dog
Shimmering Iridescence

That Bloody Moon

April 20, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

The “blood moon”, they call it. Stumbling out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, I remembered why I had set the alarm and ran to the porch, searching for the bloody moon. Patchy clouds were drifting hurriedly across the sky, but there was no sign of the moon. My sleepy brain wondered for just a minute if it hadn’t already set, if I hadn’t overslept. The sky was dark.
But then it popped out from behind a cloud, and I felt suddenly disoriented. Something was very wrong. She hung halfway up the sky, a dull terra cotta dinner plate hanging on star-patterned wallpaper, not at all like a moon. Even nearby stars outshone her.
Lunar Eclipse 2014-04-15I could see why early man became so frightened when the moon put on her blood-red robes and tried to fade into the blackness. Groggy as I was, I could imagine that she was angry with me, ready to leave my sky forever if I didn’t shape up and start worshiping her.
But she was just joking, evidently, for about twenty minutes later,  a spark of hot light flared from the moon’s rim. The spirit of the Sun began to slowly march across the disc of the moon, chasing away all the evil demons and restoring the world. Or so it seemed.
I crawled back into the warm bed and dreamed of gods and goddesses and times of old.

Partial Eclipse from February 2008
Partial Eclipse from February 2008

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Rising!

February 18, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Emotions Above
The sky has its moods, just as we do, and it displays those moods with a range that is infinite in its variety.  It moves through hot and cold, dry and wet,  wild and calm, bland and dazzling, expansive and close, soothing and scary, and everything in between,  creating a whole new world with each and every moment. And never the same way twice.
DCF 1.0Its moods affect our own, perhaps more than any other part of our natural environment.  It is ever-present, surrounding us as we move  beneath it and go about our daily lives. We feel its air flow by us, and we call it wind.
We breathe it in and out of our bodies, if we are to continue living.  If we were fish, the sky would be our ocean.
Maybe that’s why  Chicken Little was so frightened of the sky falling.
Imagine the sea that gives us life suddenly draining away into nothingness, leaving us gasping in the vacuum of space. No wonder we pay so much attention!  Even the nightly news carries a special segment devoted to the sky: the weather report. The  moods of the Earth’s atmosphere are just that important in our lives.
Chicken Little was worrying with no need, as we all know from the story. There’s little chance of the sky falling, or draining away, or suddenly disappearing. But that doesn’t matter.  The sky, and the weather coursing through it, good and “bad”,  affect our feelings probably more than any of us realize.  It can affect us as it did Chicken Little, leave us running in terror and confusion for some kind of shelter before the march of an oncoming storm; or it can make our eyes and our mouths open wide in stupefied wonder at one of its majestic spectacles.  Sometimes it can do both in the space of fifteen minutes.
You don’t need a weatherman to know
Most of us have a window in our bedroom which gives a glimpse of the sky the moment we awaken. Does that affect our moods? Well, I know it does mine, and I didn’t realize how much until I once closed the blinds for a couple of days. All of a sudden I didn’t know what to expect, and it was a little unsettling. How should I feel about the day? I missed the setting of the mood,  and the whole day was off from there.
Overcast close skies aren’t necessarily gloomy and depressing, and clear sunny skies not necessarily cheery.  Every sky has it’s own contribution to the mood of our days, it’s own special colors, shapes and textures moving through light and shadow, and evoking its own unique feelings. Every sky is familiar, similar to every other sky we’ve ever seen, but always and ever brand new .  Like the thoughtfully assembled backdrop for a compelling stage play, it gives meaning  by supporting and furthering everything that already is going on in our lives.
C-01 Eternal 4x5
The vastness of the dome of sky is never more obvious than when we can see the individual layers of sky filled up with clouds.  Sunrises and sunsets are wonderful partly because of their colors, but also because the low light throws throws the clouds into relief,  making the three-dimensional structure of the sky more apparent to the eye.  Far from making us feel small and insignificant,  if we realize we too are included in this spectacle, it can lift us up with it, as if we and sky were one, and both of us happily dancing in the stratosphere. We have a vast room in which to grow.
Those in the heart of the busy, congested city, can take a virtual trip to the uncluttered countryside, just by climbing up on the roof to witness all the space up above us and be captivated by the ongoing drama of the Earth’s daily weather.
It’s all in the mind, you know
I used to experience dark, overcast, rainy days as gloomy. I could feel my mood sink when morning skies were heavy, and the time spent on such a day was wasted, just waiting for good weather to return. When the weathermen lamented the rain and apologized for forecasting foul weather, I believed him.
DCF 1.0
But a trip to Alaska  in the wilds around Juneau changed my perspective. After a few weeks in the dark, overcast, rainy weather that persists there for weeks on end, I began to appreciate the close, intimate feel of the land, the beauty of mist and fog mixed with rain that became like a blanket of privacy over everything, intimate, soothing, protective. When I returned to Kansas City I missed that feeling, and actually looked forward to the days when such awful weather would come our way.
Storms and violent events frighten us. Fog makes us feel safe, protected, enveloped in warm love.  Lightning and thunder stir our blood, make us ready for adventure. Monotonous overcast skies, featureless and dull, can instead be like repeating a mantra, calming the soul and direct our attention to our inner selves.
A spring thaw after a long, raw and sore winter melts our frozen hearts, and shoots life into our spirit in expectation of the quickening of spring.
Autumn colors of butterscotch, caramel and apple form a palette that readies our bodies for the long soft sleep ahead. Crisp, bittersweet, delicious fall is a harvest of wisdom that sets all of summer’s learnings into our bones.
Winter’s solace is sleep, and dreams, and the sowing of the seed in the earth, where it can rest in self-contemplation, waiting for itself to flourish.
Summer’s heat of creativity and adventure gives us room and time to explore our world,  and skies form the warm canopy over our fun activities.
But no matter the mood of the skies,  they influence our own moods in ways we’re probably not aware of, from subtle to obvious, from mundane to sometimes quite surprising.
So watching the sky is a great way to acknowledge the backdrop of your life — and to discover and enhance your own mood as well.
And images of the sky are a great way to share the best of those feelings with those you love.

Shooting Heaven and Nature

February 9, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Photographing the sky is probably the laziest type of nature  photography there is. You don’t need to travel to far-off places, book an expensive safari, have adventures or even leave the house. And locating the subject  is pretty easy: the sky is usually right overhead.
The catch? Waiting for something to happen that might be photo worthy can take a long time.
2 Shooting-Heaven-and-Nature-
Most of the time the sky is just, well, the sky. We think of it as featureless and uniform because it so often is. Every cloud looks like every other cloud, or so we think. We take it for granted, and pretty soon stop looking up altogether.
That’s why it pays to pay attention every so often.That’s where the surprises come in.
With the possible exception of sunrise and sunsets, photo-worthy moments of cloud and weather don’t always announce themselves ahead of time. They can happen at any time, and can last for hours or perhaps only a minute or two.  And when they do happen, I have found, it is usually at the most inconvenient times!
Shooting the Heavens
Of course, having a spectacular weather event and a camera does no good if you can’t see the sky. Finding a spot with a view can be hard, especially in cities. I have discovered a few open lots and high spots within a couple  blocks of my Kansas City home that afford a view of sky, at least in one direction or another, and another dozen spots around town, just in case I am out driving. Perhaps there are some spots near where you live that encourage sky gazing.
2 Shooting-Heaven-and-Nature-2
However, you don’t need a spectacular view to get a spectacular picture.  And the presence of trees or houses in the photo can actually give a sense of scale to the image, making the majesty of the sky more evident against the smaller details of the landscape. If you can’t find a better view than right where you’re standing, shoot first and ask questions later!
There are no rules, as far as I know, but the first one would have to be: always carry a camera. These days, if you have a phone, you have a camera, and today’s cellphone cameras can take fairly good picturesBut a camera that gives you a little bit more control over the settings can be helpful. Here are some of the fancy things you can do.
Focus is usually the easiest part: the whole sky is focused at infinity, by definition, so you could just focus your camera manually to infinity.  But using the auto-focus can be easier and more accurate. Be careful, though: uniform, featureless areas of sky or cloud will drive the auto-focus mechanism bonkers.  (Sorry for the techno-speak.) In that case, focus on areas of sharp contrast or detail in the clouds, or toward a distant landscape,  then keep the focus set as you move to shoot the actual subject. Shooting at the highest f/stop (with the smallest aperture) that you can get away with will also increase the sharpness of the image.
Metering photos
On most bright sunny or cloudy days,  you’ll need to “fool” the light meter by intentionally taking a picture that is darker that the camera thinks is correct, by as much as two or even three f/stops (or smaller shutter speed). I don’t know why this is, but most cameras bleach out sky and cloud at the regular settings. Darker tones seem to bring out the fine contrast in very bright subjects.
At night, of course, the opposite problem presents itself: not enough light. Use a tripod if you need to,  or just hold the camera steady for long exposures one. Digital cameras are much more forgiving of low light conditions, and you can always increase sensitivity on the camera without the photo becoming overly grainy. Exposures more than about a half-second will show cloud movement, depending how fast clouds are moving, so it is sometimes worth it.
Telephoto or zoom lenses are helpful in getting small or faraway events, but look for a telephoto that has a wide view when open, as well.  Even then, it may take four or five pictures to encompass a spectacular sunset or a storm front as wide as Wyoming. So, take the pictures! Hold the camera relatively level as you sweep side-to-side snapping a shot every second. Then go home and download a free software program (or your camera’s software) to “stitch” the photos into a panorama.
Crazy Weather
Sun dogs, arcs, iridescence and halos can be challenging to capture because they usually occur close to the sun. You can used a tree or signpost or just your fingers to block the sun’s disc, but try photographing without them, too, because most digital cameras can capture the detail without the sun washing out the entire picture. Aim the camera directly at the sun if you can, to minimize lens flare and reflections.
Photos of the land and the sky together, of course, give you two natures for the price of one. When the land is present, you get a true sense of the scale and majesty of the sky.  But usually, when you take a picture of the sky, the land appears black in the image. When you “shoot” for the landscape, the sky is to bright to see any detail.
The trick to capturing both, is to “bracket”, or take a series of photos at different exposures, from too dark to too bright. In the darkest, the sky will be perfectly exposed, and in the lightest, the land. You can then combine the two halves to display the best features of both, using digital imaging programs on the computer or that came with your digital camera.
There is no lazier, simpler and more accessible way to explore nature than to just lie back and gaze in wonder at the vast ocean of sky.  To be able to capture images from the gazing, well, that’s stealing fire from heaven!

Watching the Sky

January 29, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

I’ve loved the sky ever since I was a kid. But that doesn’t mean I ever took very much notice of it.
Sure, I’d be surprised and awed by the sudden appearance of a magnificent sunrise or sunset once in a while.  Dramatic storm clouds would grab my attention, but only till the storm passed.
Most of the time, I’d be focused on what was in front of my nose, or between my nose and the ground, without noticing what was happening overhead. Who cares? Most of the things I’m doing and people I’m seeing and places I’m going, are down here.
Sometimes at the end of the day I would realize that I couldn’t remember whether it had been cloudy or clear — even if I’d been outdoors most of the day!
All of that changed on the afternoon of August 23, 1989, at 7:32 pm, somewhere in my back yard.  I was pulling weeds in the garden, checking for bugs and tidying up the landscape.   I noticed a crimson light coming across the flowers and happened to glance up. There, hanging on the treetops by the neighbor’s fence, was the most fiery red banner of billowy cloud I had ever seen, unfurling itself across the sky in slow,  silent, and mesmerizing dance.
The sky had been crystal clear ten minutes earlier! (As far as I remembered.) My mouth dropped open, as I recall, and I ran into the house to get my camera, then climbed up on the roof to get a photograph.
After that awakening, I started to pay a little more attention to the sky, hoping to catch some more of these elusive displays. I wasn’t disappointed. I discovered the sky was more interesting than I had realized, and that things were happening all all the time,  apparently just waiting for someone to notice.
Not just sunlit clouds coming out of nowhere, but strange iridescent clouds, halos, rainbows, and sun dogs, spectacular shapes and colors and moving layers of different clouds,  odd coincidences of light, air, rain, sun, spark, wind and storm that confound description.  Weird upside-down clouds that seem to be falling down to the earth. Gust fronts and roll clouds and wind eddies and lightning out of clear blue skies. The embryos of majestic thunderstorms in the most innocuous puffy summer clouds.
I found myself amazed that I had never noticed any of this things before.
Roll Cloud in the Setting Sun
I began to carry a camera everywhere I went. I quickly learned that when a sky show takes place, it doesn’t announce itself ahead of time, and it usually happens when you’re doing other things. I also learned that I don’t really need to go out and chase the weather; I just stay in one place and, by paying attention to the sky, allow the weather to come to me.
Living in Kansas City, Missouri probably doesn’t hurt. A local proverb is,  “If you don’t like the weather here,  just wait five minutes!” But on the other hand, I have encountered just as many amazing and spectacular sky happenings everywhere else I have traveled, all over the world.
And it all was pretty easy. All I had to do is to remember to pay attention!