Spring on the way by Conor Cunningham

 Wild geese moving from the river to open fields where they can feed before heading northward

Wild geese moving from the river to open fields where they can feed before heading northward

With warmer days and rain instead of snow, spring is finally approaching. Avian migration has been delayed this year, with reports of some birds landing in Norway only to return to Denmark. This weekend saw a flock of wild bean geese land near Oslo and it looks as if they're fattening up before continuing northward.

A  day of birding this week gave me a view of 19 different species, of which seven were birds of prey.

 A (female?) Merlin

A (female?) Merlin

A brief venture into a local Oslo valley known as Maridalen didn't show too many signs of spring, but singing Chaffinches were heard which is a promising sign. Two highlights of the day were some Long-tailed Tits and and a Yellowhammer.

 A sodden, but rather chirpy Long-tailed Tit

A sodden, but rather chirpy Long-tailed Tit

 This rather bedraggled looking Yellowhammer was singing its wee heart out. Bring on Spring!

This rather bedraggled looking Yellowhammer was singing its wee heart out. Bring on Spring!

Captain Bumblebee by Conor Cunningham

Full frame bumblebee. Canon 5dmkii f/2.8 Canon 70-200mm f/2.8

A wee stroll around a lake called Østensjøvannet in Oslo saw a flurry of activity from our wee flying fluffy friends polinating and collecting nectar and honey from the late summer floors. Very difficult wee things to photograph without a macro lenses, especially at f/2.8, but, I needed all the light I could get in order to have a high shutter speed to catch these speedy critters. Hopefully Captain Bumblebee got herself home to Queenie safe and sound.

Easter Eggs by Conor Cunningham

Well, it's been a while since I've gotten my act together to post something here, so with spring on the way, perhaps I'll try and find energy anew and be somewhat more active here.

I dragged myself out of bed at 8am today, a public holiday in Norway to venture to a local lake by the name of Østensjøvannet on the east side of town. It's about this time of year that the local birds are getting together in efforts to make fertilised easter eggs.

The two birds above, Great Crested Grebes, are a pair and were doing their avian version of a song and a dance. It's been reported that they have started mating but today when she presented herself, your man above was somewhat lazy.

The Tufted Ducks were having a hoot flirting, but I think they're a bit behind the Great Crested Grebes in the consumating their marriage and seemed happy enough having a splash.

All in all, it was worth getting out of bed at what I consider to be the crack of dawn on a public holiday to see a some lovely birds. Come on Spring!

Mrs. Great Crested Grebe from the pair in the first picture

Galaxies by Conor Cunningham

NGC 253, The Sculptor Galaxy

I've been working on a project for a few weeks now, and the result of that project is above. It's a galaxy in the constellation of Sculptor which lies a "mere" 10 million light years away. 70 000 light years across, it was first discovered by astronomer and mathematician Caroline Herschel. She was the sister of astronomer William Herschel and was just as prolific when it came to discovering night time goodies in the sky.

I took this image using a large remotely operated telescope in Australia. For the geeks amongst you, the image is comprised of 11 x 300s Luminance frames and three each of 300s RGB frames.

It's been a lot of work to process this image to my liking, but I think all the trial and error has paid off with what I believe to be a good result and a lot learned about astronomical image processing.

If you live towards the equator, or better yet, in Australia, Southern Africa, Southern America or New Zealand, you can spot this galaxy in a pair of binoculars. If you're lucky enough to have a telescope I can highly recommend getting out there to have a look.

The position of NGC 253 when standing in Brisbane at approx 9:30pm on the 27th December. Image from Starry NIght 6.

Moon at Sunset by Conor Cunningham

Our lunar friend, rising in the east as I flew from Trondheim to Oslo

A work related errand saw me heading to Trondheim on a day trip a couple of days past, but unlike most work trips, this one afforded me a rather delightful site on my return flight. The weather had been tip top all day in Trondheim; sunny and about -1 Celcius, and as luck would have it, my flight was departing just as the moon rose.

As is at on the tarmac looking east, I could seen the top of the moon summit some of the local mountains. A quick think and I realised that this would make for a nice view as I was flying south and sitting in a window seat on the left of the plane. Quickly however, I realised that the only camera I had was my Samsung S5 mobile phone. Not the greatest of low light shooters, I tried to take a picture of moonie, only to quickly notice, as did my fellow passengers that I had left the flash on. Eejit. a few shots with the steadiest hand I could manage allowed me to get one or two usable shots.

One thing which is apparent in the photo, but isn't done justice by it, is the moon's light on the surface. It was a delightful sunset orange and it moved quickly across the surface, relative to my position on the plane. As you can see, the moon and its shadow are overexposed and there was no manual control on the camera, and hence, no way of saving the details.

I might be up there next week again, but I won't be so lucky to capture the moon during sunset then (bloody Earth, Moon orbital system!).

Treeless by Conor Cunningham

A Nuthatch on the stumpy trunk of Mr. Pigeon's tree.

The sods next door decided to cut down a tree which stood happily enough outside my kitchen window. There was a pigeon who lived in that tree who is now homeless, poor wee thing. He stuck around for a few days standing no a fence, but he's moved on; hopefully to greener pastures (literally).

There were also plenty of Chaffinches, Green Finches,Nuthatches, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Common House Sparrows who utilise the tree a great deal, but luckily enough they've stayed around, most likely only due to the food which I provide them.

A Blue Tit perched on another short haired tree.

The stump on which the birds are pictured here is Mr. Pigeon's old home. I hope he's happy wherever he's gone.

Tarantulas in Space by Conor Cunningham

NGC 2070, aka the Tarantula Nebula

It's been a while since I posted something spacey, so a couple of weekends ago whilst out with one of my astronomy clubs, I set about programming a remote telescope to take a picture of NGC 2070, otherwise know as the Tarantula nebula. To do this well, one needs a good telescope, a highly accurate tracking mount (to counter the Earth's rotation) and a nice camera. In this case the setup cost somewhere upwards of 80 000 USD and needless to say, I don't have that burning a hole in my pocket so I rent such a beast through iTelescope.net.

Enough of the rambling. The image comprises of 30 images, each five minutes of exposure. The camera is monochrome and 12 of the images are capturing 'white' light, six were capturing blue light, 3 for red light and 3 for green light.

The images are then stacked together to form master luminance, red, green and blue images, which are eventually all combined together into the relevant luminance and colour channels and then processed using advanced imaging techniques in software such as Pixinsight and Photoshop.

The Tarantula nebula is, as best I understand it, an area of star birth where gas and dust fall together under their gravity and eventually, fusion starts. It's about 160 000 light years away, but if it were as close as say Orion's Nebula, it would cast shadows on the night side of Earth! Bloody wow!

So after many hours of work, the above image was the result. I hope you like it!

Quick and Dirty Group Portrait with Flash by Conor Cunningham

Family and friends celebrating

Recently on a celebratory trip to France, the party gathered in the garden for a quick photo whilst waiting for the taxi. I had a flash in its hot shoe on my camera and a lovely sky behind the subjects. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to do a lot, but I will walk you through how to get such a shot.

Remember, this is just a quick snapshot. For a proper shoot, I recommend planning and proper exposure as best is possible before editing. My results were a far cry from proper exposure.

Expose for the sky

Get a nice exposure of the sky with your camera. You can do this with AV or TV mode. Remember however, if you're using flash, you'll want to be at 1/200th of a second, or if you have HSS (high speed sync) you can use that. Remember though, you'll lose light with from your flash with HSS.

Light your subject with flash

I put my flash on manual mode because I seemingly can't use automatic flashes (must remember to learn this one day) and fired some test shots to see how we were looking. Finally I ended up giving it all my flash had a full power.

Check the result

My historgram looked good, sky was exposed and I could see my subjects. In hindsight, I should have doubled my ISO to expose the subjects better and worry about the details of the sky in post processing, but I was on my third glass of bubbles. Let that be a lesson for you all.

In short, check the result with your camera screen and historgram to ensure you've got something to work with in post.

Post Processing

The original file, unprocessed

So, first things first, we need to expose the subjects more. Remember I said I should have doubled my ISO, well, let's do that (by increasing the overall exposure by 1 stop.

Exposure increased by 1 stop

I still think the exposure can go up, so I actually increased it by 1.43 stops in the final image. This exposes the subjects' faces properly, as that is the most important thing to expose correctly in this type of image.

Next I pushed the shadows as much as I could. Remember, this image isn't fine art but a snapshot of a birthday party. I pushed them to 83% and the garden and the background start to show themselves.

Shadows pushed

After this was done, it was a matter of adjusting the saturation and temperature to taste to get a nice warm evening feeling. Add a bit of contrast and we're getting somewhere.

Saturation and temperature modified to warm image

Next, I used a graduated filter on the sky to make it appear as I wanted and last, I added a bit of sharpness to bring out any extra detail I could find.

And that's that. Final image above and below.

Final Image