Shooting Stars at Lick Observatory

On the last day of my cousin Andrew’s wedding weekend he and his new wife Saara invited all of the friends and family out to Lick Observatory for a Sunday evening of desserts and star gazing.  The drive up to Lick was almost as exciting as the place itself.  We wandered over three windy mountain roads to get to the semi-secluded Mt Hamilton. The Observatories large domes make it a beautiful sight. The view from the top is breathtaking.

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Of course everyone wanted their picture taken in front of the sunset.

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After the wedding party had finished with all of their pictures, docents from the observatory treated us to an entertaining lecture on James Lick, the wealthy entrepreneur who funded the creation of the observatory back in 1888.  Lick was a colorful character who explored the world, buying and selling goods, and made his fortune in California real estate. As Lick aged he had a considerable amount of money to decide what to do with, and having no family, his two main ideas were to build a giant pyramid in downtown San Francisco in his own honor or to have a Statue of Liberty size statue made of himself in the harbor. Luckily the science community was able to convince him to instead fund this lovely observatory.

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One of the greatest treats of the evening was sitting in the room with the Great Lick Refractor.  This telescope is 57 feet long, and 4 feet wide.  When completed it was the largest in the world, and today is still the second. While honestly to me, the images were not that exciting, sitting in a room with that giant machine was.  Operated by a man spinning a ships wheel halfway up the telescope the telescope spins and so does the whole dome to match.  The men shout back and forth coordinates and directions to each other over the mechanical noise of everything moving. Meanwhile you walk your way up a metal ladder in the dark to a thin observation walkway, where you can see the whole thing taking place beneath you.

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Operating in the dark I think ads a bit of magic to all of it. They only use red lights like you’re inside a submarine or something. Also my mom and I decided that the thing sticking out of the side is obviously a laser.

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We were treated to a viewing of the Ring Nebula through the refractor, and then a nice close-up view of Saturn at the other end of the observatory looking through the 40-inch reflector. In addition to the big telescopes the docents also had some smaller but more modern telescopes set up outside. Many people took turns asking for specific constellations. Not knowing a lot about stars I asked some basic questions about our galaxy and really learned a lot from the people there helping.

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Fred was in heaven finally being somewhere without any light pollution, so that he could get photos of the Milky Way. I think he enjoyed taking those wide angle photos than seeing the stars close up through the telescopes.

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We wrapped up the evening with a sing-a-long inside the great dome. The acoustics were amazing. It gave me that perfect mix of warm feelings and an inspiration to continue to learn and better myself that always comes from time with my family. Love you guys!

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We’re in Houston Magazine this month

Well, Gimme Shelter isn’t actually in the magazine, but I’m flattered that one of my long-exposure photos is featured in the CLICK section of the April issue of Modern Luxury Houston. Even if you’re not a Houstonian, you can still check it out on pages 22 and 23 of the digital edition.

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Thursday, April 9, I’ll also be on 88.7 FM KUHF Houston Public Radio from 5-6 p.m. representing Technip and matching donations during the Spring Fund Drive as part of our commitment to transparent reporting, sustainable development and community outreach.

And while I’m just promoting random stuff, I thought I’d mention that the crew of Gimme Shelter provides freelance copywriting, design, photo, video and translation services to fund our adventures. If you’re in need of any of those things, visit our photo site at www.fredfacker.com and like our Facebook business page Facker Media Services.

Playing with light

If you haven’t figured it out from the blog, I’ll just go ahead and admit it now … I’m not normal.

Over the weekend our boat neighbors gifted Mary a string of LED lights that she thought might be neat to install under the counters in Gimme Shelter. The lights made it home with us, and they were just sitting there in the living room, so I HAD to play with them.

Mary didn’t even seem surprised when she called me to dinner and found me in the living room wrapped in the lights dancing around in front of my camera. However, I was surprised when she volunteered to be wrapped in the lights, so I could continue experimentation with long exposure light painting.

After about a dozen tries with 8-second exposures and an off-camera flash, we were able to create a dress (or at least an artistic facsimile of a dress) from light.

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To create this effect, Mary had the string of lights wrapped around her torso and waist with about four feet of light dangling from her waist to the floor. She would strike a pose and hold it, and I would start the exposure. After hitting the button on the camera, I would pop an off-camera flash, which would expose her face and arms. As soon as the flash had gone off, she would bend over and wave the 4′ of dangling LED rope in front of her to create the “skirt”. We found that if she didn’t bend over, her face and arms would continue to expose in the upper part of the frame causing blurs and ghosting.

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It’s always satisfying to learn a new technique and create something unique. Of course, I was still in long exposure mode this morning when I rolled into the office, so I snapped this 24 second exposure of the sunrise out of the window before grabbing some coffee and jumping on my conference call. Yes, it looks pretty much exactly like the last long exposure I did out of my office window, but hey, it’s still cool.

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