I am honored and excited to announce that one of my images from Big Sur of Kona (my boxer) and I was selected as the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day! This is my 7th image to be receive the NASA APOD designation and definitely one of my favorite photos.
I was road tripping from San Diego to San Francisco with Kona and excited to make my first trip to Pfieffer Beach, home of the Keyhole Arch. My original hope was to just photograph the Milky Way over the arch with the Moon setting off to the right.
I hadn't been there long, but Pfeiffer Beach was not disappointing. The sky was absolutely incredible! I even managed to catch an incredibly bright meteor streaking right next to the Milky Way. The waves weren't too big, but I would occasionally have to readjust as they were washing pretty far up the beach. Overall, it was a great night of shooting near the ocean. Getting to spend it hanging out with Kona was making it even better. He comes with me as often as possible, but he doesn't always come on my shoots at the beach. He's used to spending time in the desert or the mountains at night, but if we're at the beach, it means he's going in! But, he was staying right with me as I was shooting the Milky Way and things were going incredibly well.
Then it happened.
As I was taking photos of the arch, I noticed a slight glow in the water off to my right. I had just caught it out of the corner of my eye, but I was excited.
As the next wave crashed, I saw the glow again and I knew it was bioluminesence!
It wasn't really near my current composition so Kona and I would need to move further down the beach. I grabbed my bag and kept my camera on my tripod as we ran down the beach. We were both excited, but probably for different reasons.
Below: A glow near the arch - It wasn't very strong at this point and seemed to be more active further down the beach. From this perspective, it was showing up in only a handful of photos.
A very excited Kona and I made our way further down the beach and searched for a composition. Facing the direction we were heading was beautiful, but didn't feel very compelling photo. I searched around for a bit and ended up taking three photos in total facing that direction. It didn't feel like I was going to find much. The other direction had a great rock formation and the setting Milky Way glowing in the sky, and with the right timing, bioluminescence.
The waves still weren't much of a concern, but they would occasionally work their way pretty far up the beach. I was a decent bit down the beach and on an angle, so the keyhole arch looked totally different from where I was shooting. Still interesting, but not enough to anchor the entire image by itself. I found a larger rock in the beach and decided placing that in the foreground would help balance things out. From here, I took a few test shots to see how things would look.
The blue glow from the waves was amazing, but it was crashing a bit further out. Although the waves were still stretching pretty far up the beach. I tried to get as close as possible and even shorten my exposure time from 13 seconds down to 8 seconds. The photo on the left is how the scene was looking when the shot worked out. On the right, is what a long exposure looks like when you grab your camera in the middle of it and run away from a wave.
Even with the larger rock to help anchor the foreground, I really wanted something else. I knew it was going to be a lot to ask, but I wanted to get a photo of Kona and I standing there in front of this incredibly beautiful scene.
Normally taking a photo together means we both would have to stand perfectly still for the duration of the exposure. In this case, we would have to stand perfectly still just like before, but we would also need to do it during the right wave. Not every wave glows blue and even when it does, it may not be in the right place for the photo.
I tried finding the right spot to sit or stand for the photo to look best. Since the beach was so dark and I couldn't get the camera very low, it was a bit more difficult to find a location where we wouldn't get too lost in the shadows.
I tried finding a spot for us to sit, but it never really felt right.
Kona was doing great and was pretty focused until we briefly saw a flashlight at the other end of the beach. They never made it all the way down, but as you can see below, I picked up their flashlight in one of the exposures and it still kept Kona's attention for a few exposures after that.
Also, notice that only the middle photo was prominently showing the blue glow. So, we had a stray flashlight, random waves to watch out for and an unpredictable wave that we needed to line up. Not a big deal, right?
I was using a remote shutter release on my camera so it would continuously take photos of us. With so many things needing to line up, I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I was so proud of how well Kona was doing near the ocean and didn't want to push him. So, we took a few seconds to relax and we tried to stand still again.
A few exposures later and the perfect wave hit. I was doing my best to stand still and keep encouraging Kona. I was doing my best to listen for the sound of my camera shutter so I knew when it would be okay to move while keeping a count in my head. I was pretty sure the hit near the start of the exposure and then the wave rolled up within inches of our feet. I was so nervous Kona wouldn't be able to resist splashing and couldn't blame him if he did. But...he didn't. Before I even looked at the camera, I knew we got it! We ran back to the camera and confirmed. Success! After this, I ran back with Kona to the edge of the waves and splashed around. Something I knew he had wanted to do all night and he had certainly earned it. I was so proud of him and so excited about the photo.
Here's the technical info for this photo:
Sony A7RII - Sigma 14mm f1.8 ART
13 seconds | ISO3200 | f1.8
Edited on my Dell XPS 9570 in Adobe Photoshop
This is a photo I could never dream of capturing. Although I took it near the end of last Summer, I didn't want to immediately share it. It just felt too special to me personally.
The first time I shared this photo publicly was during my TEDx talk in April. Since taking the photo, I've been working on a special project called Dark Skies and Dog Parks. It's all about my adventures with Kona. We've traveled across the country together multiple times, gone hiking in the high desert, watched SpaceX rocket launches, and shared so many other amazing nights out under the stars.
You can check out a bit of those moments along with technical info and behind the scenes photos in a post via the link below.
Each day Astrophysicist and Staff Scientist Dr. Jerry T. Bonell and Astronomer and Astrophysicist Dr. Robert J. Nemiroff select a new image or photograph to be featured on the NASA APOD site and provide a brief explanation as well. I would like to extend a very big thank you to them for the continued hard work they put in to the site.
You can view my previously selected NASA APOD images here:
January 8th, 2012 - Lighthouse and Meteor
February 23, 2012 - A Zodiacal Skyscape
March 7th, 2014 - A View from the Zone
July 7th, 2015 - The Milky Way from a Malibu Sea Cave
December 16th, 2017 - A Wintry Shower
October 13th, 2018 - Stargazers on the Beach