DIY Solar Filters for the Great American Eclipse

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DIY Solar Filters for the Great American Eclipse

With the Great American Eclipse on Aug 21 only a few weeks away, I decided to put together some solar filters.  With the high travel costs to get to the eclipse from Southern California, I saved some money through purchasing the solar filter sheets instead of the pre-made filters.  To facilitate a fast detachment during totality, compared to a screw on filter, I made some cardboard holders that fit into my Lee filter holder.

Solar Filter Sheet from Thousand Oaks Optical: $15 vs the $150 Lee solar filter.

Step 1: Get a filter sheet

Step 2: Measure (100mm square) or trace out the shape for the stiff backing material. I used part of an old box.

Step 2: Measure (100mm square) or trace out the shape for the stiff backing material. I used part of an old box.

Step 3: Cut a hole for the filter, for the size I used the filter holder as a template and an knife to make the opening, cutting on scrap cardboard so as to not damage the table.

Step 3: Cut a hole for the filter, for the size I used the filter holder as a template and an knife to make the opening, cutting on scrap cardboard so as to not damage the table.

Step 4: Cut another cardboard sheet for the other side, I used a thinner material so it fit snugly in the Lee filter holder.

Step 4: Cut another cardboard sheet for the other side, I used a thinner material so it fit snugly in the Lee filter holder.

Step 5: Tape together

Step 5: Tape together

Step 6: Enjoy the eclipse!

Step 6: Enjoy the eclipse!

2014 Partial Eclipse

2014 Partial Eclipse

2012 Partial Eclipse of the Eastern Sierra's.

2012 Partial Eclipse of the Eastern Sierra's.

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Skyfire Services LLC Announcement

We’re very happy to announce that we’ve formed a new jointly owned company, Skyfire Services LLC, with Stephen from The Photographer's Ephemeris to take Skyfire forward.

Until now, The Photographer's Ephemeris had licensed the right to market and distribute Skyfire. While that worked well, we both felt that we’d be in a better position to do more with Skyfire if we joined forces and created a new company. 

It’s taken a while to get there for a whole bunch of reasons (some business, some personal), but we’re happy to announce that the new company is now up and running.

Our first task is to release a beta of Skyfire for Android. While we ran a beta of Skyfire within TPE for Android last year, this will be a new standalone app from the new company. You’ll be able to subscribe in the new app, and the plan is to make the functionality available in TPE for Android as well, so you can choose which app you prefer to view it in.

We’ll be putting out a call for testers as soon as the beta is finalized via the Skyfire Mailing list (scroll down the page to sign up).

We’re excited to be able to move forward with Skyfire and at last start reaching other platforms, new territories and new features.

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NASA Aurora Forecasts

I thought this was pretty cool.  NASA is forecasting Aurora's and displaying the results as a time lapse map overlay.  The colored areas represent the aurora forecasts and the dots are user reports with blue and green as sightings and red as no sightings. It's really great to see so many people participating in science and enjoying the night sky!

This video shows the auroral oval, as modeled using OVATION Prime (2013), along with citizen science reports collected by the Aurorasaurus project for the St. Patrick's Day storm over March 17-19, 2015. The red swath indicates a higher probability that an aurora could be seen from that area.

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The Best Places for Winter Sunsets

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The Best Places for Winter Sunsets

With 2016 here many photographers are out hunting for amazing images as part of their new years resolutions. Skyfire would like to help by showing where the best sunsets and sunrises could be through analysis of last winters.  To do this we took all our observations from January, February, and March of last year to analyze where the best light occurred, and then assembled it into a weighted average based on the rating. The end result is a monthly average showing the sunrise and sunset hot spots!

Really lots of activity across the central and Western United States for sunrises in January, especially Colorado. And this trend is definitely holding strong this year with a high number of great sunrises in SoCal the past few weeks.  (color along the boarders is predominantly artifacting).

Wyoming and Idaho are the winners for best average sunsets last January. You can actually see the effect of the California drought here in the cloud patterns, with more coverage up North over the Cascades and nearly none in SoCal.

Sunrises were clustered around the central states, especially Wyoming again.  With great light and beautiful mountains looks like the perfect place to spend the winter.

Sunsets in February look nice over the Rockies and in the central states.  Looks like on average I will be disappointed in California, though it is an El Nino year so could be nicer than last year for the West coast.

For sunrises in March it looks like New Mexico and Montana are the places to be with things livening up a bit in the Sierra's and Florida.

Sunsets in March were great over the Rockies in Colorado and the deserts of New Mexico, North Dakota is also showing good sustained light edging into the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota. Florida is looking nicer in the afternoons compared to the mornings which is indicative of thunderstorm formations.

 

Thank you for taking the time to check this out, we really love data and hope it helps you get some great images this winter!

 

Skyfire is available on the iOS app store via The Photographer's Ephemeris, click here to learn more!

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NASA wants to help you take pictures of Jupiter...from orbit!

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NASA wants to help you take pictures of Jupiter...from orbit!

Here at Skyfire we love clouds, and the undisputed king of clouds in the Solar System is Jupiter! Now NASA is giving us Earthbound photographers a chance to partake in targeting, taking, and editing the photographs they'll be sending back from Jupiter when their mission reaches the planet on July 4, 2016. NASA is asking for help from the public to decide what features and areas to photograph with their specialized camera, JunoCam, and there will also be later opportunities to help process the images into color photographs. As for the technology, JunoCam is specifically designed to handle the rotations of the camera (which are twice per minute) while returning high-resolution images without blur. NASA describes it as a panorama of sorts with each column of pixels being exposed in sequence and tuned to the spacecraft’s rotation. In fact, JunoCam has already had a test-run photographing the Earth in 2013!

Jupiter's Great Red Spot-  NASA

Jupiter's Great Red Spot-  NASA

This is an incredible opportunity - not just because of the camera technology that will allow these high-resolution space photos, but also because it is a chance for members of the public to become involved and contribute to the mission. While at Jupiter, JunoCam will pass the planet every two weeks, capturing approximately one dozen images each time. Although the camera will get as close as 3,100 miles above Jupiter, there will be other points between each 14 day period where NASA will rely on images and information provided from the ground as the camera will be too far away to see details for mission planning.

Jupiter taken by Cassini Spacecraft - NASA

Jupiter taken by Cassini Spacecraft - NASA

In addition to photographing Jupiter's trademark characteristics, and both its North and South poles (for the first time ever!), NASA wants to capture images of other interesting features and that's where you come in! Of course key features such as Jupiter's bands, spots, and clouds are already on NASA's shot list, so what they are really looking for is input on less well-known characteristics of the planet which might have caught your attention while planet gazing through your telescope. If you have photos taken from the ground and have a recommendation for a feature that should be given photographic priority, be sure to let the team at NASA know by getting involved here.

And now if you'll excuse us, we're off to look through our telescopes and brainstorm ideas for JunoCam.


Andrea & Matt

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Skyfire Rating System

Skyfire ratings are all based on statistics. The method it uses calculates where the light has the best chance of being great based on the inputs it's given and the rules we have defined in the code.  It is designed to show higher ratings when the clouds are forecast to be in good configurations for great light and to show lower ratings when skies are fully overcast and are not expecting any color during sunset.

 

The results are overlaid onto maps to provide guidance on the best locations. It is important to know that the rating at a location is for the clouds directly overhead. So use this to plan your shoot; if you know an area in the distance will be lighting up and you can see it from your location, you should be ok.  

 

Rating of 1

A rating of 1 means that it's likely going to be a grey and overcast sunset. Perhaps time to break out that neutral density filter and try some long exposures or focus on B&W pictures, or use city lights as a nice contrast at blue hour.

 

Rating of 2

A rating of 2 means that there are no clouds forecast, so it's going to be a blue sky evening.  On these days you can focus on the golden hour light right after sunrise and before sunset.  It will be full of rich warm tones and provide long dark shadows.  Then after the sun goes down the Earth Shadow and Band of Venus can provide for some excellent color near the horizon. This is the band of scattered sunlight in the atmosphere with the darkness underneath the shadow of the Earth blocking the light. 

Rating of 50%

A rating of 50% is a "could go either way" sort of situation. We will continue to add clarity and refine the model so that this won't be necessary long term.

Rating of 60%

This is where the fun starts to happen, photography wise. At ratings of 60% and up the chance of great light starts getting progressively better. 

Rating of 80%

The sky is starting to look even better, with better conditions for more spectacular light. I would definitely be out shooting. 

Rating of 90%

This is when the sky is showing great potential based on the models. A lot of these events are along the edges of storms where it can be clear along the horizon and cloudy overhead. This situation can lead to some of the best and most colorful sunsets typically known as "gap light".  

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Weather Forecasting for Photographers ebook

If you love weather and want to learn more about what goes into predicting good sunrises and sunsets, check out the eBook Weather Forecasting for Photographers by Stan Rose. Not only is Stan an amazing and accomplished photographer, but his background as an expert meteorologist working for the National Weather Service has allowed him to write the most comprehensive book on weather and photography I have ever seen.  130 pages of pure gold, check it out!


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Skyfire Ratings Explained

This is an archived post, and does not reflect the current rating system.

 

 

The ratings, explained: How to interpret the SkyFire image

With the current SkyFire beta, we’re running the algorithms and releasing the daily prediction to an exclusive group of testers. This way, everybody wins: you get a sunset prediction, and we get valuable feedback on where the algorithm needs to be tweaked! There are a lot of things that go into the prediction, so your feedback is absolutely crucial. When emailing us feedback, please include the location (as precise as possible), date, a description of the sunset, YOUR rating of the sky on a scale from 1-10, and an image to accompany your description – this allows us to ‘measure’ the quality of your sunset on a uniform scale.

 

Our rating scale is as follows with example images:

For the beta release, as the app itself has not been coded yet, you will receive your daily prediction via email. When you open the attachment, you will find a map formatted like this:

What you are looking at is a contour map of sunset ratings by location. Think of it like a topographical map, where reds are the mountains and blues are the flatlands. As the scale on the right edge illustrates, the red “mountains” are the good stuff. If you find yourself in a brightly colored region, you may be in luck; SkyFire is predicting a great sunset in your area! Check out the sky around sunset, and make sure to let us know if the prediction was correct. 

Lastly, please remember that this IS a beta prediction – while we are making every effort to be as accurate as possible, we are in the beta phase because we anticipate the algorithms may need some tweaking. For this reason, we don’t necessarily recommend planning your day around a 9 or 10 prediction for your area… and if the map gives your area a 10, but you look out the window half an hour before sunset and all the clouds have moved away, don’t blame us. Just let us know so we can make the appropriate tweaks. With your help, we will get there!

Rating: 9  It's hard to complain about a sky like this, but its not quite the full 360 degree fireworks show of a 10.

Rating: 6  Softer color and the clouds are patchy but still pleasing to look at.

Rating: 2  No clouds so hope for alpenglow, sunbursts, or earth shadow to bring color to the image. If there is something going on, it's not where you are.


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