One Small Step!

According to the folks at the George Observatory, the Gueymard Research Telescope was first commissioned in 1969 about the same time as Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon. I can imagine those young astronomy students at Louisiana State University turning the 36″ Tinsley Reflector towards the moon to catch a glimpse of history. Here’s an image as it might have been seen in the local Baton Rouge newspaper.

In the Good Old Days

In the Good Old Days
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4 L at 17mm, f/16, 1.5 sec at ISO 100 on SanDisk digital film.

I processed the RAW file in Adobe Lightroom 2 using the “Antique Light” preset to give it that old newspaper look. It’s incredible how this software can make even totally blown-out highlights look good. Three cheers for Adobe!

Saturdays at the George!

Last Saturday afternoon I had the opportunity to photograph the 36″ Gueymard Research Telescope (among others) at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s George Observatory. The 36″ telescope is one of the largest in the nation open to the public on a regular basis and it’s an impressive sight to behold!

Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography 
Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L with a circular polarizer at 17mm, f/11, 1/2 sec at ISO 100 on SanDisk Digital Film.

Photographing a telescope this large with only the light from the open dome doors was a challenge to say the least. The telescope array itself was painted a highly reflective white with a beautiful blue armature but the dome interior was painted a dark gray to absorb any scattered light. I’m sure this helps the astronomers with their work but the extremes of contrast drive the camera’s light meter crazy and I had to revert to “manual” mode and bracket up and down to get an acceptable exposure.

Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L with a circular polarizer at 20mm, f/16, 1 sec at ISO 100 on SanDisk Digital Film.

What made things worse was that the observation deck I was shooting from was metal (the floor could be raised and lowered to match the telescope) and the vibrations from moving around made getting a tack sharp image almost impossible, even with a tripod. Added to this was the fact that the entire dome was only 36 feet across meaning that all of my shots had to be taken from within 10 feet from the telescope. I tried bouncing a flash but the dark gray walls soaked up the light like a sponge. I dialed down the flash and added a diffuser to add some fill light but the reflection off the white and blue of the telescope looked entirely too stark.

Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L with a circular polarizer at 32mm, f/16, 6 sec at ISO 100 on SanDisk Digital Film.

There I stood with one of the observatory’s volunteers, almost out of ideas when I thought to myself “What the hell would Joe McNally do in a situation like this?” So I pushed my luck a little and asked if the dome could be rotated so that the telescope faced away from the opening (hopefully giving me some indirect sunlight to work with). I’m sure the volunteer thought I was out of my mind trying to position a telescope to point away from the dome’s opening, but he went right ahead and did it anyway.

This is what I call a “blinding flash of the obvious”. You know what I’m talking about. You’re completely out of ideas, starting to feel damn stupid and embarrassed as hell. So you try anything just hoping to get lucky. Well it worked! Now I had some really warm (late afternoon), diffuse sunlight coming in. Hitting the telescope and armature like I’d lit the place with a giant softbox. So I shot like a maniac for the next 30 minutes before the sun dropped below the tree-line surrounding the observatory.

I’ve got to say that I couldn’t have gotten these shots without the kindness, patience and assistance from the Observatory’s volunteer staff including Joe Mills, Mary Lockwood, Tony Wiese, Judy Dye and especially Carl Sexton. These folks give up their Saturday evenings throughout the year so that the public can have the chance to “see the heavens” as they do. Many of these folks have been doing this every Saturday for the past ten years!

I’d also like to thank Barbara Wilson, the observatory’s Astronomer and Erin Blatzer, the Assistant PR Director for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, for giving me the opportunity to photograph these incredible telescopes. And for the chance to meet with such a passionate group of amateur astronomers and volunteers!

If you’d like to see all the images I’ve taken at the observatory you can find them on the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Flicker Group or on their Press Room. I’ll be posting the better picks directly from Adobe Lightroom 2 using a Flicker Export plug-in.

Looking Skyward

This one’s just to whet your appetite!

I spent several hours with a great bunch of folks at the George Observatory last Saturday evening. This is the first in a series of images taken of the telescopes housed in the large dome you may have seen in my Stairway to Heaven post a few weeks back.

George Observatory Large Telescope

George Observatory’s 36″ Tinsley Reflector Telescope
Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L at 17mm, f/11, 1/10th at ISO 100 with an exposure bias of -1.0ev to keep much of the telescope and dome in silhouette. Shot on a tripod in one of the most uncomfortable compound-angles you can obtain with a ball head. My compliments to the folks at Really Right Stuff !

Special Thanks to the Houston Museum of Natural Science!

I’d just like to say thanks publicly to Erin Blatzer and all the folks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for posting three of my images on their Flicker Group and soon on their Internet Press Room. If you’re not familiar with HMNS you really should drop by the museum on Hermann Drive in Houston. If you’re ever out in Sugar Land or the Richmond / Rosenberg area on a lazy Saturday evening, you should pack up the kids and head down to the George Observatory for their “Saturdays at the George” program. You can also read about other things happening at the museum’s blog called BeyondBones or on their FaceBook site.

I’ll be adding new images in the coming weeks and months as I continue to PhotoWalk the museum’s exhibits, special events and other locations using my camera as a guide! If you’re a local photo enthusiast or even a pro shooter living in the area and interested in PhotoWalking, send me an email at jeffrey.t.lynch@[nospam]comcast.net. I’m looking to organize several area PhotoWalks in the late summer and early fall and anyone with a good pair of legs, a steady hand and a keen eye for light is welcome!

Stairway to Heaven

Just south of Sugar Land, TX about 20 miles as the crow flies, you’ll find the Brazos Bend State Park and the George Observatory. Nestled in just under 5000 acres of river bottomlands, the park boasts an abundance of wildlife including white-tail deer, coyotes, waterfowl and some of the biggest alligators this side of the Mississippi. All together a great spot to take some shots!

The observatory is run by the Houston Museum of Natural Science and is home to three domed telescopes. The largest is the 36-inch research telescope, one of the largest telescopes in the nation open to the public on a regular basis. The observatory also has a new 11-inch refracting telescope in another dome. The George Observatory is open to the public on Saturday evenings.

Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L with circular polarizer at 17mm, f/13, 1/250th on SanDisk Digital Film. Cropped and rotated in Aperture 2.1 on a MacBook. It almost seems to be floating in mid-air, doesn’t it?

Here’s another view. This time more conventionally framed.

Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L with circular polarizer at 17mm, f/11, 1/320th on SanDisk Digital Film. Cropped and enhanced in Aperture 2.1 on a MacBook.

And another image of the top of the entire dome. Now if we could just get those doors open!

Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 17-40mm f/4L with circular polarizer at 17mm, f/13, 1/250th on SanDisk Digital Film. Cropped and enhanced in Aperture 2.1 on a MacBook.