July 23, 2020 at 8:53 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Time-lapse) (, , , , )

I had been seeing some amazing photos of Comet NEOWISE the past couple of weeks but due to light pollution I could not see it from my home. So I took another road trip to the Eastern Sierras. First stop was one of my favorites: Alabama Hills in Lone Pine. The above photo was taken on Day 3. Unfortunately when I zoomed in the focus slipped and since it’s too dark to use auto focus or even manual focus, one needs to finesse the infinity symbol on the lens. It is definitely my best as far as composition and lighting, which was from a passing car. ISO 25,600, f4, 10 sec

Same view, with another section of the rock formations illuminated by headlights. I will include photo details. These were all taken with the Nikon D750 full frame sensor camera, 24-120mm Nikon lens. The blue ones were taken with white balance at tungsten setting. ISO 25,600, f4, 8 sec

Day One (Sat. July 18) with foreground illuminated by my red headlamp. It’s early in the evening (around 9:30 p.m.) but dark enough to see the comet’s tail. ISO 10,000, f4, 1.6 sec.

I was in the Arches Trail parking lot and thought all those folks were there to watch the comet. Nope. I guess it’s a “thing” to walk to the arch at night. Many were there to illuminate the arch with artificial lights and photograph it with the Milky Way, which was to the south.  f4, 6 sec

Milky Way with Jupiter and Saturn. ISO 10,000, f4, 10 sec

International Space Station flyby. I didn’t realize what it was until I had finished the images. It is much brighter than a jetliner and has no blinking lights. ISO 6400, f4, 6 sec. The next two images show it moving eastward. You can check with a NASA website to see when and where you can see it in your area. There’s no cell service in the hills, even though it is a hop, skip and jump from “downtown” Lone Pine, so don’t plan on using Google while you’re there.

Same exposure.

f6.3, ISO 6400, 15 sec. I was trying out different settings to find the “sweet spot.”

This was using the sunlight white balance, which tends to make the scene rusty colored. You can see the arch illuminated by photographers in the lower right. ISO 25,600, f4,10sec.

The comet “set” around 11 p.m. nose-down. The long exposure reveals the split tail. I have night blindness and can’t see faint stars or auroras well, but I could definitely see this comet with the naked eye after my eyes acclimated to the dark. Using a red headlamp to adjust camera exposures keeps the night vision intact. ISO 25,600, f4,10 sec. Most images show jetliner streaks. A few streaks might even be meteors.

This one shows the illuminated arch.

When I was at the Alabama Hills in early June, I was lucky to have found a campsite with gorgeous rock formations, which were illuminated by the full moon. Stars and the Big Dipper were still visible even then. Now there is no moon, and it takes passing headlights to add interest in the rock details. 120mm, ISO 25,600, f4, 10 sec.

Day 2 was at Mono Lake. A photographer I met at Alabama Hills said he’d been skunked at Mono Lake two nights in a row due to clouds. I could see the thick clouds weren’t clearing quickly and didn’t want to walk down to the tufa formations and wait, wait, wait for nothing. I found a wonderfully open spot on forest land above the lake. This was the only decent image I got during the few minutes the comet was visible. I spent the rest of the night making time-lapse images, which I will work on this week.

Day 3 also threatened to be a wash-out at Mono Lake, and even though I had planned to do some hiking in that area, my gut told me to return to Alabama Hills. Glad I did. Because it was now Monday night, there were plenty of primitive campsites to choose from. (No potties). I didn’t realize it, but my site overlooked the Arches Trail parking lot. The comet and a jetliner trail are both visible. ISO 2000, f4, 10 sec, 9:22 p.m.

Darn it! The clouds covered the comet for quite awhile.

The nose was emerging.

In the clear! The two images I began this post with were among the last I took here. I’m going to post my favorite again. I only wish it had been properly focused. I guess that means I’ll have to try Topaz or something that promises to sharpen images like this, hopefully without the noise that comes with high ISO exposures.

Even though the comet was closest to earth last night, I stepped out in my front yard to see it. The Big Dipper was visible, but the comet was washed out by lights of Paso Robles. It’s just a small city, but the lights were too bright. Stay tuned for the time lapses when I get them done!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Contact:  cindy at


  1. Patti Henshaw said,

    nice photos and smart that you went to eastern Sierra. Now I wish I had gone to Anza Borrego. Last night went up Modjeska grade road and found a good location and it all looked great for viewing but the Marine layer rolled in at 9:00 and so the big dipper disappeared just as we started looking for the comet.

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      It will still be around – go to the desert! It looks great from Joshua Tree NP too.

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