In Search of Dark Skies by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to get out into an area without light pollution. When I look up into the night sky, I question if my memory of the Milky Way was only my childish imagination run completely wild.  There are only a few consolations and planets visible where I am now.  If it wasn't for the moon, I would forget to look up sometimes.  I first became interested in astronomy when my dad took me outside of town to see Halley's Comet.  I was only a toddler and it is probably one of my earliest memories.

Perseid Meteor Shower

After seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2004 during a New Moon and witnessing hundreds of meteorides, it has become an annual quest for dark skies.  This year had only a very small window between the sunset and moon rising for the meteor shower.  When the window is so short, it is often advised to look before dawn on dates when the moon is near full.  


I decided to head out towards the Lick Observatory near San Jose to get a good view. Taking photos of the sunset with my infrared camera proved to be beneficial.  I especially like the photo at the top of the post that shows the city lights of Silicon Valley with the illuminated sky.


HWY130 & Star Trails

I unfortunately did not pick the best location for taking astrophotography.  Although Highway 130 leading up the observatory may seem remote at first glance, there is actually a surprising number of people that were traveling on it last night.  There are plenty of wide spots along the highway to get great vista shots.  The light traffic poses a problem though long exposures and the possibility for lens flare.

In the photo to the right you can the tail lights of a car that drove by during my 10 minute exposure.  Even though the photo has its flaws (lens flare, noise, and light streaks) I do like that I was able to capture one meteoride blazing as it fell towards Earth.  Make a wish.


Liking the Lichen by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

I had a lazy day on the water this weekend. I went out to Lake McSwain with my parents on their boat.  It is one of the few reservoirs that are being kept full during the drought.  In comparison, the larger reservoir up river, Lake McClure, has drop over 100' of water revealing old structures that have been underwater for many years.  To get an idea of how much less volume that is, back in December it was estimated that the lake was only at 23% capacity.

It's Alive!

I think the most interesting thing (from an analytical view) that I photographed was some moss and lichen that was growing on a rock.  After slight processing, the moss and lichen were a very prominent blue indicating that it was indeed very much alive and reflecting quite a bit of IR.  

Oh my deer...

Other interesting comparisons is where you can see the grass by the water still glowing a bit blue in contrast with the dead grass further up the hill. Visually, all of the grass looked dead to me so it is cool to see that some of the grass by the water was still hanging in there.  I will have to take some normal visual spectrum photos for comparison in the future.  The deer photographed normally with no detectable differences, so fur reacts much differently than skin to IR.  

Hue-mor me

My little self-portrait of my feet ended up actually being an interesting photo as it shows that IR can see through nail polish.  I had not painted my toes for a couple weeks, so they are horribly chipped.  Other than the shine difference from the natural nail to the orange polish, there is no visual tone, color, or value difference.  I think I will experiment more with what paint and ink does in IR... I might need to find some people with tattoos.  Living in California, this should not be a hard quest at all.

Just for fun

I did a little alternative processing. For landscape photos that I'm not trying to analyze, I'm enjoying the look of switching the red and blue channels. The skies are so vibrant and you might say the land is just radiant ;)

Testing IR Camera Mod by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

With the help of UPS, my cameras found their way home from LifePixel.  Like most children who leave the nest, they came back different... but I'm still hopeful that it will be a good thing.  I now have a camera that is a dedicated to Near-infrared and the other one for the Ultra Violet spectrum.

UV Testing on Hold

Due to the cloudy weather in San Francisco, I was unable to test my UV camera this weekend. The ozone does a pretty good job of cutting down the UV light, and clouds make it even worse... well, worse for exposure times in UV photos- it's a great thing for all things living.  I was able to do a bit of testing with the UV mod earlier this week, but I'm finding that I'll need to get some additional lights.  There is really just not enough UV light bouncing around here on the ground for reasonable exposure times.

IR Test Run

As expected, the in-camera images look very red and yellow. The images are  nearly impossible to see any variations in properties and characteristics.  Thus, to enhance the look of Color Infrared, I have altered the white balance of the images.  The temperature is at 2000 and Tint is shifted towards green at varying levels to remove or reduce the red/pink look in the plants which reflect a lot of IR.

Alternative Processing

The more you shift the Tint towards green, the vegetation will look white.  However, if you sift the Tint so that the vegetation is bluish while also keeping the sky in the yellow-orange range, you can achieve the above look by using the Channel Mixer in Photoshop by switching the Red and Blue Channels.  This is not a method that I came up with, I read about how to do this on LifePixel's website.  

It's not all about looks

Other than looking cool, alternative processing actually has useful purposes for being able to pull more detail out of the information that the camera sensor is collecting.  Sometimes you need to look at the different channels individually or enhance them to stand out against the others to actually see everything.  The example that comes to mind right now is how we are able to use near-infrared to see underneath the surface of the skin to see if people are having a problem with blood circulation.  This can reveal serious health problems with the circulatory system.  It can also show evidence of repeated physical abuse that may not have left visible bruising.  Alternative processing with UV photography is also useful for being able to clearly see skin cancer.  

Test Findings

Ultimately, I plan to do different studies using people with IR and UV, but for now I'm going to bench test the equipment in different environments.  First major thing that I'm noticing is that the camera is now hyper sensitive to flare in the IR spectrum.  I enjoy a little flare in my photos from time to time, but I was not looking to go all J.J. Abrams with everything.  Normally, I just flag my lens with my hand in the rare times that I need to, but these photos reveal that it's going to be a whole lot more often with this mod.

Locations of the photos featured in this post:

  • Shoreline Lake in Mountain View, CA
  • Metson Lake in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
  • California Academy of Science in San Francisco, CA