Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 4, Part 4, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico at Night
Robbie and I had a nice, but hot, afternoon exploring Old San Juan. It was great walking through the colorful old buildings. And blue cobblestones, how great is that! Going up and down the hills in the heat was not so fun but Old San Juan was amazing! We went back to the ship to cool off and relax a bit. Our all aboard time wasn’t until 11:00pm. There was still plenty of time to continue exploring Old San Juan. I wore Robbie out with the hills and the heat and 1111 steps! Robbie was going to stay onboard the ship. I wanted to take advantage of the extended time in port to take some night photos of Old San Juan. I brought my travel tripod along just for tonight. I was so excited to get started that I walked off of the ship without my mask! I’m surprised that they didn’t say something when they scanned me off of the ship. Pretty much everyone in town had been wearing masks when we were in town earlier. I didn’t want to go back to the ship though, there was a Walgreens across the street from the ship. I went in to buy a mask, there were 10 or more people in line to checkout! I went down the street to a souvenir shop, I now own an Old San Juan mask.
I wanted to try and get a few photos at twilight so there would still be some color in the sky. That didn’t go quite as planned, twilight was short lived and the narrow streets hid the sky. I did get two images with twilight sky.
When I photograph a place like this, I like to wonder around and just follow my nose. I usually end up finding some interesting things. I found myself in Plaza de Armas, the original town square. The centerpiece is a fountain, the fountain was now the base for the town Christmas tree. City Hall is along one side of the plaza.
After Plaza de Armas, I ended up back at Umbrella Street. The Christmas lights were lit where the umbrellas usually hang. The Governors Mansion is at the end of the street. Earlier when we went by here the street was closed. It was open now for Navidad de Puerto Rico. There was music playing and they were projecting a light show onto the mansion. The street was narrow and there were a lot of people, so I didn’t venture down the street.
I continued walking and I saw a woman walking a dog down a narrow street. I was hoping to get a bit closer but she kept moving away from me. It was an interesting street so I kept going.
This brought me to the old city wall along the entrance to the harbor. I was just in time to see one of the other cruise ships leaving the port. I did a quick time check to make sure it wasn’t my ship! There is always a little fear of the ship leaving without you.
I knew where I was now, Robbie and I came down this hill earlier. Casa Blanca was at the top of the hill. I decided to walk up the hill. It ended up being a pretty interesting street.
I came to a wide walkway with steps, it was sort of like a courtyard/pathway. We came down these steps earlier as well. It looked pretty cool at night.
I continued walking and found some interesting places. I found the famous Puerto Rican flag door by Rosenda Alvarez that I had read about. It was originally the traditional red white and blue. In 2016 she repainted it black and white to reflect the gloomy political climate during that time. Although I had the flag door pinned on my map, I never looked at my map. I just stumbled on to it. I didn’t know anything about the Ricardo Alegria door. Ricardo was a cultural anthropologist and archeologist. He was responsible for the renovation and restoration of Old San Juan. I think they could have given him a better door, maybe a nice wall.
Then I found this beautiful cobblestone street with the Puerto Rican flag in lights! There was also a section of the blue cobblestones.
The flag in lights was like a beacon that I had to follow. I walked down the cobblestone street and found an amazing carousel. I didn’t know about any of these things. If I had been looking for some specific thing, rather than just wondering around, I probably would not halve found most of these things.
The carousel lead me to another Puerto Rican flag. I just stayed in this intersection for a while photographing the people walking around.
I ended up back at the cruise port and the Nieuw Amsterdam, it was still there, phewww! I wondered around the dock taking a few photos of the ship before boarding. I set up to take a photo of the ship with the ornamental pillars and a woman laid down and started doing some arm exercises. So I took her picture too.
I had lots of fun photographing Old San Juan at night. I was able to do two of my favorite things. Wonder around an old town with cobblestone streets and colorful buildings and night photography. Hopefully I was able to get a few good images to boot.
Predawn Atlas V Launch of the Lucy Space Probe
What a beautiful Star-filled night for a predawn Space Coast Rocket Launch! United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket carrying the Lucy Space Probe. Lucy will be exploring the Trojan Asteroid Belt in Jupiter’s orbit. After the launch the wind blew the rocket’s contrail into a cool smoke-ring in the sky.
Click on photo to see larger. You will miss all of the stars if you don’t.
After photographing the rocket launch, at Space View Park in Titusville Florida, I stuck around with a few other photographers and a few others that were just waiting for the sun to rise. It was a beautiful light show, a pod of dolphins went swimming buy as well. It was worth the wait!
Click on photo to see larger.
SpaceX SXM-8 Night Launch
Another awesome Space Coast night launch! SpaceX launched a Sirius XM Radio satellite into orbit. The SXM-8 was sent to replace SXM-7, launched last year. SXM-7, also launched by SpaceX, was successfully placed into orbit but was D.O.A. and was unable to be revived. SpaceX successfully placed SXM-8 into orbit. It will be several days until the health of SXM-8 will be known.
Usually when I do a streak photo of a night launch, I like to get the arc. As a rocket launches, it ascends into the sky. When it reaches altitude it levels off and continues to fly. Due to the curvature of the earth, from the ground, it almost looks like the rocket is coming back down. During a long exposure night photo, you are actually photographing the light from the rocket engines. This makes a streak in the sky, due to the curvature of the earth the streak makes an arc in the sky.
Now, to work out the exposure. A typical rocket takes 3-3.5 minutes to reach orbit. I usually use 3 minutes for my shutter speed for testing my exposure. In real time I will hold the shutter open until I can no longer see the rocket. To work out the f-stop, I do a series of test exposures at different f-stops. The amount of lighting on the foreground will determine the proper f-stop. When the foreground is exposed properly with a 3 minute shutter speed, that’s the correct f-stop. In this case it was f-16.
This launch had two issues. The first was trajectory, the rocket was flying due east. From Titusville it was flying directly away from the camera. So no arc, it would look like it was just going straight up. The second issue was cloud cover. Shortly after launch the rocket was going to go behind the clouds. Once again no arc, no matter what direction it was flying. Normally I use the widest angle lens I have, my 24-70mm at 24mm. Knowing the rocket was going to go behind the clouds shortly after launch, I zoomed in to compress the scene. This sort of, solved both issues to make a pleasing image. Also because the rocket was going behind the clouds, it wouldn’t be visible for the full 3 minutes. To make the exposure correct I still needed to keep the shutter open for the full 3 minutes. In this case I actually opened the shutter 1 minute before liftoff.
I photographed this launch from the newly renovated Rotary Riverside Park along US 1 in Titusville. The park had been destroyed by a hurricane a few years ago. It had just been reopened a few days earlier.
Titusville After Dark
I was in downtown Titusville to photograph a night rocket launch. The rocket launch was scrubbed. So I started roaming around town taking photos. I really like this old Hotpoint sign. I have photographed it several times over the years. The woman’s clothing boutique that is now located in the old appliance store was named for the sign. It is called Hotpoint Boutique. I was happy that they restored and kept the old sign.
January 2018 Super Blue Moon
There was a unique thing that happened in January of 2018. The moon presented us with a “quadfecta” of events. First, this moon cycle was a super moon. (The moon was at its closest point to the earth) Second, there was a lunar eclipse. Third, the eclipse caused a blood moon. (It looked red during the eclipse) And fourth, this was the second full moon in January, making it a blue moon. (Not really blue, just means it doesn’t happen very often) Thus giving us a super blood blue lunar eclipse moon, phew!
OK, so the super lunar eclipse blood moon was early in the morning just before sunrise. I took a peek outside to see if I could see the eclipse. Besides being early, it was really low in the sky. It was low enough to be behind the other houses in the neighborhood. So I didn’t see the super lunar eclipse blood moon part. I did, however, get to see the full blue moon part later that evening.
I started early to take in the sunset. I met up with Chris Wiley from the Titusville Pro-Am photographers group. Our goal was to get the full moon rising through the Max Brewer Bridge. Unfortunately, there was a thick cloud bank along the horizon, so we could not see the moon through the bridge, disappointing. The moon eventually did appear once it made its way above the bridge. The thing about photographing the moon is that it’s so bright. You don’t really think about the moon being bright because it comes out at night. The moon, with the exception of the sun, is the brightest thing there is. The higher in the sky it gets the brighter it gets; this makes it very difficult to photograph. That’s why we wanted to photograph it below the bridge when it wasn’t quite as bright. Plus it would look pretty awesome through the bridge. Anyway, that didn’t work out. I was not happy with any of the photographs of the bridge and the moon. I did manage to get a few other decent images before the moon rise. I was pretty happy later though when a stray cloud covered the moon above the bridge for a short time. Wait for something to happen and it probably will.
I was looking at some examples of photographs that were taken at night, using the full moon as the light source. This looked like something that I needed to try. So after many moons of bad weather and bad timing, I finally got a chance to try this technique. You don’t need to have a totally full moon, it can be a few days before or after. You need to check a moon phase chart to see when moon rise will be. Hopefully it will be at a decent hour and not after midnight or later. This particular moon rise was at a good time, right about sunset. Using the moonlight is a lot like using the sunlight. If it is low in the sky, you will get some nice shadows. If it is high in the sky, you will get a more even light, but it’s not as harsh as photographing at noon.
Coincidentally, there was an 11pm rocket launch set for the March full moon. This is great! I can photograph the launch and also try out this moonlight photography thing.
The rocket launch was beautiful! Night launches always are beautiful. This was an Atlas V rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station. The full moon was a big help illuminating the foreground of this image. I like how you can see everyone on the dock with a lit up cellphone. You can see a few stars, but the light from the moon dims all but the brightest.
I had a bit of time to kill before the launch, so I took this photo of the bridge. After the launch, I crossed the bridge to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. This is where I took my midnight landscapes. By this time, the moon was getting pretty high in the sky. It was a very clear night just a few sparse clouds in the distant horizon. A few more clouds would make a very interesting sky, but you take what you get. After you find a nice place to photograph (you will need to scout the area ahead of time) take your time setting up. Your eyes need to adjust to the moonlight. Once they do, you will be amazed at how bright it really is. I was able to work with the camera and walk around without any additional light. Using a flashlight would ruin your night vision and actually make it harder to see. Just be careful that you don’t trip over any alligators.
I was experimenting quite a bit with ISO settings. I settled on ISO 1250 for these images. I will need to do a bit more experimenting to give a solid recommendation. I used f8 and a 6 second shutter speed. I was underexposing a bit. This being my first attempt I did not want to risk overexposing. I think I could have increased the exposure by one stop and still been OK. I had to work the shadows a bit in post. I was able to get more stars in the wider angle image. It looks more like a night photo, the tighter image looks more like it was taken at dusk. The glow on the horizon is not from sunset; it’s the glow of the Titusville city lights. Again the moonlight is overpowering a lot of the stars. If you want a lot of stars you need to photograph on the new moon. You will get the stars, but you will lose the color in the sky and detail in the foreground. You need to keep shutter speed under about 10 seconds to keep the stars from elongating. There is a huge chart to figure this out depending on camera and lens combo, look for the 500 rule.
These photos were taken at midnight, not midday. It’s amazing the colors you can see at night. It’s very eerie being in the marsh at night. The only sounds you hear are the sounds of nature. Wondering what that was that just made a splash in the water? This only adds to the experience.
I came upon this group of sleeping wood storks and spoonbills. I was very careful not to wake them. Every once in a while I could hear one of them ruffling its feathers, but they never moved.
Completing the loop through the salt marsh I couldn’t resist taking another photo of the bridge before heading home. I will need to try this technique a few more times and do some fine tuning. I had a great time photographing my midnight landscapes.
Night Time Photography Workshop
I recently conducted a night time photography workshop at the 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I did three workshops on three different nights. On the first night we were treated to a spectacular sunset! On the second night, the sunset was not as spectacular, but we got some spectacular night photos of the Max Brewer Memorial Bridge over the Indian River Lagoon. The third night was the coldest windiest night ever! The waves on the river were crashing over the seawalls. We also, despite the weather, got some great night time bridge photos. I want to thank all of my participants for coming out and braving the weather with me. It was great fun for me, I hope you all had fun as well.
Click on photo to see bigger.
The Blue Hour
You have probably heard of the golden hour. It’s the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The light has a warm gold cast to it. It’s one of my favorite times of the day, and not just for photographing. I just really like that time of day. The time just before sunrise and just after sunset is known as the blue hour. The sky turns a beautiful blue color. A lot of photographers will pack up after the sunsets and disappears below the horizon. If you have a little patience and hang around for a while, your images will have an amazing blue sky. You need to plan ahead, find a good location and work fast. Speaking of time, you don’t have much. Despite the name, the effect will last as little as 10min. and as much as 40min. Even then, it’s still not time to pack up your gear. There are still some great images to capture. This is what we will be discussing at my night time photography workshop at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I hope to see you there!