Welcome to the blog for Thomas Parry Photography. My purpose is to inform the public about photographic projects I have recently completed as well as those in progress and planned for the future. I will periodically post articles about different aspects of photographing nature, people and places. As I work with new hardware and software tools, I will pass along lessons learned that may aid other photographers. I will periodically write reviews about photographic equipment with which I have experience and books I read that may be helpful to others. I hope you enjoy reading my blog and return frequently. I invite your thoughts, good ideas, opinions and feedback.
| 09 December, 2013 06:41
Thomas S. Parry, Field Contributor, Nature Photographer Magazine
The following article was published in its entirety in the Winter 2013 electronic edition of Nature Photographer Magazine. You may visit the Nature Photographer Magazine website at www.naturephotographermag.com for more information on the issue and/or to download a copy of either the app edition for iPad or the PDF version.
For nearly seven hours on Tuesday, June 5th (or Wednesday, June 6th if you were in the eastern hemisphere), much of the world's attention focused on a rare and beautiful astronomical event as our nearest planetary neighbor Venus passed directly between the Earth and the Sun. Known as a planetary transit, such an occurrence is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon. While the actual diameter of Venus is more than three times that of the Moon, Venus appears much smaller, and moves more slowly across the face of the Sun, because it is much farther from the Earth.
Composite of eight images of the transit showing the movement of Venus across the sun's disk during a five-hour span of time beginning with the moment of first contact (upper-left image) at 3:09 PM PDT yo near sunset (lower-right image at approximately 8:10 PM PDT.
Above: Sunset view of transit of Venus at approximately 8:20 PM PDT in the Monterey, California area as the sun dips below the horizon. This was the last view of the transit before sunset on the U.S. West Coast.
This extraordinary event was the last time most of us will ever see this happen in our lifetimes as it won't happen again for another 105 years until the year 2117. If Venus and the Earth orbited the sun in exactly the same plane as the sun, transits would happen frequently. The orbit of Venus, however, is inclined to the orbit of earth so when Venus passes between the Sun and the Earth every 1.6 years, Venus usually is a little bit above or a little bit below the Sun and is not visible in the Sun’s glare. Earlier transits of Venus helped astronomers determine the Earth-Sun distance, estimate the scale of our solar system and measure the speed of light.
Transits of Venus have an unusual but highly predictable pattern of frequency. They occur in eight-year pairings every 105 to 121 years. The last transit occurred in 2004 but prior to that it was over 121 years earlier in the year 1882. It will be 105 years before the next pair of transits occurs, separated by eight years. Then the pattern of 121, 8, 105, and 8 year intervals will again repeat. Since the invention of the telescope, transit of Venus pairs occurred four times to include 1631 and 1639, 1761 and 1769, 1874 and 1882, and 2004 and 2012.
Having never witnessed a transit of Venus (the transit of 2004 was not visible in North America) and knowing I would never see another one in my lifetime, I was very excited to experience and document this event. Fortunately, the California central coast where I live was graced with beautiful clear skies and optimal viewing conditions. I set up my telescope for viewing and my camera gear to photograph the transit. The Sun’s disk displayed several impressive sunspot arrays.
Starting time for the transit was 3:09 PM PDT. I watched through my telescope as Venus took its first tiny bite out of the Sun at first contact. Over the next few minutes, Venus gradually moved further onto the Sun’s disk and became completely visible silhouetted against the limb of the Sun at the time of second contact at 3:29 PM PDT. From that point on, Venus floated slowly and majestically across the face of the Sun reaching the point of mid-transit at 6:29 PM PDT. The Sun set at 8:15 PM PDT before the transit ended so I was not able to see or photograph third and fourth contact but I was able to capture some sunset images revealing the silhouette of Venus as the Sun approached the horizon.
Like the annular eclipse of the Sun a little over two weeks ago, witnessing this transit gave me a very real sense of the scale of our solar system and the dynamics of celestial motion. It also provided a sense of perspective of how small in size we are on a cosmic scale as we journey through space on this small blue planet we call Earth yet how significant we are in the eyes of a divine creator who manifests to us the majesty of his handiwork through this and countless other events each day.
Included with this article are some images I made of the transit. All images were made using a Canon EOS 40D DLSR equipped with a Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM telephoto lens set to 400 mm and operating at an effective focal length of 640 mm. A special glass solar filter was used for all but the sunset images.
First contact 3:09 PM PDT. Venus takes the first tiny bite out of the sun at the top of the image.
Second contact 3:29 PM PDT. The full disk of Venus is visible against the sun.
Venus' position approximately two hours into the transit.
Mid-transit position of Venus at 6:29 PM PDT.
Sunset view of transit of Venus at approximately 8:15 PM PDT Monterey, California area as the sun dips below the horizon.
Additional Information and Links
For additional information about the 2012 transit of Venus to include images and outstanding videos, please visit:
| 08 December, 2013 13:56
In the early evening of May 20, 2012, a magnificent and rare annular (also known as ring of fire) solar eclipse appeared over northern California skies and cast the region in momentary shadow as the new moon rapidly passed between the Earth and the sun. This was the first annular eclipse visible from the United States since May 10, 1994 - 18 years ago. The eclipse actually began shortly after sunrise May 21 over southeast China and passed over northern Taiwan and southern Japan. Moving at more than 1,000 miles per hour, the moon’s shadow followed a centerline path that traversed the North Pacific Ocean and when it reached the International Date Line, the local date for those of us to witness the eclipse in the United States was May 20. After making landfall on the California-Oregon border in the late afternoon hours, the moon’s shadow quickly passed over Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona, a corner of Colorado, New Mexico and finally ended at sunset in the Texas panhandle.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly between the Earth and sun. If the moon is close enough to the Earth at the time of eclipse, observers on the eclipse centerline will witness a spectacular total eclipse revealing the corona and solar flares. Day will literally turn into night! If the moon is at a more distant point in its orbit, as it was on this day, it is not sufficiently large to completely blot out the sun. As a result, at maximum eclipse, a thin ring (annulus) of blinding light remains when viewed from the centerline. Hence the designation: ring of fire. An annular eclipse appears as a partial eclipse over a region thousands of miles wide but will display a full annulus only for a few minutes within a swath approximately 75 miles wide along each side of the centerline.
Although I have been an avid amateur astronomer since my childhood and have seen numerous partial eclipses over my lifetime, I had never witnessed a full annular eclipse. Inasmuch as this one was coming to my own backyard, I decided this was not an event I would miss. It would provide my first opportunity to not only witness the eclipse from start to finish with my own eyes, but also to photograph each phase in detail. After significant Internet research and consideration of several locations within the centerline path for observing the eclipse, I decided on the Chico Community Observatory in Chico, California as the best compromise between driving distance and time from my home in Monterey, positioning myself well enough within the centerline of maximum annularity to get the full annular effect, and having the best assurance of clear skies for the duration of the eclipse.
Along with my camera gear, extra CF cards and batteries, I took with me an 80mm refractor I had made many years ago. Mounted to a tripod and fitted with the appropriate glass solar filter, this small telescope provided stunning, close-up views of the eclipse. After four hours and 265 miles of driving, I arrived at the Chico Community Observatory about two hours ahead of eclipse time anticipating a large number of people would be showing up. I also wanted to make sure my photographic equipment was set up well in advance and, because I would be shooting the eclipse through special solar filters, wanted to take a series of test shots to get the right exposure settings. When I arrived, a good number of amateur astronomers and photographers were already set up and ready to go. Others continued to arrive and set up all over the observatory grounds right up until the eclipse began. During preparations for the eclipse, several observers and photographers (including myself) were interviewed on camera by a news crew from the CBS affiliate station in Sacramento about the eclipse and what we would be doing to document it. The interviews were part of a special news report about the eclipse and activities taking place at the Chico Community Observatory that afternoon. The story aired on the Sunday, May 20th evening newscast in Sacramento and may be viewed online here.
Once I had completed my preparations and was satisfied everything was ready to go, I took time to make acquaintance with some of my fellow observers/photographers and enjoyed viewing the sun through their telescopes. Observers brought everything from low-tech homemade pinhole light boxes to sophisticated high-tech imaging systems to view the eclipse. A highlight for me was to observe the sun through several instruments configured with special sub-angstrom Hydrogen-Alpha filters enabling breathtaking views of solar flares and prominences. Presence of these prominences and flares gave clear indication of a very active sun on eclipse day.
As time for first contact approached at 5:13 PM PDT, I watched intently through my telescope as the moon took its first tiny bite out of the sun exactly on schedule. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, the moon moved steadily across the face of the sun concealing sunspot clusters and subtly reducing the ambient light. The assembled throng of observers was spellbound as second contact approached at 6:28 PM PDT. Just at the moment the moon moved fully in front of the sun, the twin cusps of the deep crescent sun rapidly connected together in a brilliant arc of light revealing the magnificent ring of fire! What amazed me was how fast it all happened! It was during these four minutes of maximum annularity that there was a precipitous drop in ambient light intensity as the deepest shadow cast on the earth passed over our area. There was also a detectable drop in air temperature. Mid-eclipse and maximum annularity came at 6:30 PM PDT. Two minutes after maximum annularity came third contact at 6:32 PM PDT as the edge of the moon reconnected with the limb of the sun creating once again a deep crescent. As the moon continued its retreat off the sun over the next hour and five minutes, the ambient light gradually grew brighter, the air temperature rose, and the many observers who came to witness maximum annularity packed up and left. Determined to witness the entire event to the finish, I stayed, observed and photographed until fourth contact at 7:37 PM PDT when the moon moved completely off the sun.
For me, seeing and photographing this eclipse was worth every effort made to prepare and make the long drive from Monterey to Chico and back in the same day. I express my heartfelt thanks to the staff of the Chico Community Observatory for hosting such a large crowd of people in such a beautiful location to see such a rare and spectacular natural event. Although eclipses happen somewhere around the world every year, they are hard for most of us to get to, which makes them a truly rare and special experience. The events of this day will be indelibly etched upon my memory for as long as I live. It was a living manifestation of the harmony, order and dynamic motion of the universe of which we are all a part.
This map illustrates the centerline path of the annular eclipse from its commencement at sunrise in southern China on May 21, its route across the Pacific Ocean passing over the International Date Line and making landfall May 20 on the California-Oregon border, and finally moving across Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwest Colorado, New Mexico and ending at sunset over the Texas panhandle.
This map illustrates the centerline path of maximum annularity for Northern California. The closer one was to the actual eclipse centerline, the more centered the moon appeared when completely over the sun. Because my point of observation was Chico, California, I was closer to the southern end of the centerline, which is why the annulus is not a perfect circle in my images. Geographic coordinates for Chico Community Observatory are 39° 46′ 16.22″ N latitude, 121° 46′ 57.88″ W longitude.
Eclipse maps courtesy of Fred Espenak - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. For more information on solar and lunar eclipses, see Fred Espenak's Eclipse website: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html
Symmetry of the Spheres. This is a full-color condensed composite of the annular solar eclipse. For this view, the eclipse moves from the upper left through annularity and continues to the lower right. I emphasized in this image the phases immediately preceding, including and following maximum annularity. Images were taken with a Canon EOS 40D DSLR equipped with a Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM lens set to 400mm with en effective extended focal length of 640mm and fitted with a special white light solar filter enabling direct views of the photosphere. Images were captured at the Chico Community Observatory in Chico, CA on May 20, 2012 between 6:20 PM PDT and 6:42 PM PDT.
This is a black and white composite made from eighteen single images showing the major phases of the annular solar eclipse. The sequence begins from the upper left image showing the full sun just prior to first contact followed by the moon's first contact and then reveals the progression of the moon as it advances across the sun to full coverage showing the beautiful ring of fire. The moon then rapidly retreats to fourth contact when it finally moves off the sun. Images toward the end capture light cloud cover as the sun descends toward the western horizon. All images were taken with a Canon EOS 40D DSLR equipped with a Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM lens set to 400mm with en effective extended focal length of 640mm and fitted with a special white light solar filter enabling direct views of the photosphere. Images were captured at the Chico Community Observatory in Chico, CA on May 20, 2012 beginning at 5:12 PM and ending at 7:37 PM Pacific Daylight Time.
This picture shows a large sunspot array as the moon retreats from the sun following maximum annularity.
Relevant Links on the May 20th Annular Eclipse
NASA eclipse website:
Time lapse image of the eclipse:
The Atlantic image gallery:
CBS Sacramento news report:
ABC News report:
Chico Community Observatory site:
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Calendar Of Posts
- Slot Canyons: Nature’s Abstract Sculpture Studio (Part II of II)
- Brown Pelicans
- The 2012 Transit of Venus
- A Walk on the High Line
- Publication of "Three Days In Manhattan"
- Year of the Snake: The 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration in San Francisco
- Showcase of Nature Photography: Second 2012 Special E-Edition of Nature Photographer Magazine Now Available
- The Hugo Hotel: A Housing Crisis Turned into Public Art
- Publication of The Timeless Faces of China
- Timeless Faces of China is an Honest Portrayal of Chinese Society
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- Visions of Budapest 
- Current Projects 
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- The Timeless Faces of China 
- Three Days in Manhattan 
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