Two weeks ago, I reflected with you on the mysticism of two of my favorite authors: John Muir and Pope Francis. Since then, I've been trying to practice what I preach. Whether it be an evening walk along a lake or a late night chasing a comet, I've been attentively observing the glory of God through the Book of Nature.
So, what I have learned through this practice? Well, not much really. What is so edifying about the Book of Nature is that when I "read it" or "pray with it," the process doesn't teach me something "new," but reminds of timeless truths that have slipped from my sacred memory. Things like the importance to taking time away from work, stress, concern, and the frustration I feel with Covid-19. It reminds me of the importance of contemplative silence, attentiveness to my surroundings, and simply being instead of constantly trying to become something or do something. And it reminds me of the most powerful title given to God I encountered in seminary: Pure Simplicity. This title is a gentle reminder that God is not complex or confusing. Rather, I'm the one who complicates God by imposing my wants, desires, and agenda upon the Divine. The Book of Nature reminds me that when I am quiet, clear minded, and open, the simplicity and constancy of God's love is palpable and near. When I embrace my fallen human nature, God becomes a distant "it" that is confusing, complex, and a contradiction. It is humbling to be reminded that I am the contradiction, not God.
Spiritual Exercise: Read the Book of Nature today, whether it be by looking into the stars at night, comet Neowise in the morning (or evening come this Saturday), or gazing upon the flowers of the field. Let the simplicity of God invade and quiet your heart through the Book of Nature. Read it well and find your chapter in its sacred writ.
As an addendum, many people have been asking me camera questions these days, especially with comet Neowise presenting so beautifully. I'll do a video on this topic in the future, but for now, here are some images I took with a brief explanation of how I captured them. Hopefully this will help you take your camera out and try to capture the Book of Nature for yourself!
Summer is often called "Milky Way Season." To capture this type of image, you will need a camera that allows you to manually control three aspects of image taking: Your shutter speed (how long you expose the camera sensor to light), your lens aperture (how much light you let into the lens - you should use a lens rated at an f/2.8. 4.0 is the darkest you can get away with for good stars), and your ISO (The level of sensitivity the sensor has when process the light you capture). Again, I will make a video in the future to explain this, but this image was taken with my Fujifilm x-t2 and a Laowa 9mm lens. My camera has a "mid sized" sensor (there are three primary sensors for photography, full frame - big, aps-c - mid sized, and micro four-thirds - the smallest.. until you get to cellphones). Most people who own cameras have a "mid sized" sensor. Why is it important to know what kind of sensor your camera has? You need to know so you can figure out how much light you can let into your camera before the stars begin to trail.
Here's a mathematical equation most astrophotographers use to gather as much light as possible before they experience star trialing.
The rule of 500: You take 500 and divide it by the size of your camera lens in millimeters (Laowa 9mm lens). 500/9 = 55.5555... If I were using a full frame sensor, that means I could leave my shutter open for 55 seconds before I see star trailing. However, an aps-c sensor crops the image in comparison to a full frame sensor (which is why aps-c sensors are often called crop sensors). Therefore, I need to multiply the millimeters of my lens by a factor of 1.5. 9x1.5 = 13.5. 500/13.5 = 37.037037... This mean my camera shutter can stay open for 37 seconds before star trailing begins with this lens. Therefore, full frame cameras have a clear advantage because they can gather more light than a crop sensor camera. If you have micro four-thirds, the crop factor is x2. Now, before you run off and drop a couple thousand dollars on a full frame camera, I've come to find that, as good as modern cameras are with low light photography, I usually only open the aperture of my camera for between 15-25 seconds - well within the safety zone for either type of sensor. So, if you are trying to find a camera on a budget that works well with stars, focus more on getting a digital camera from a reputable company that has been made in the last few years that has at least an 18 megapixel to 30 megapixel sensor. Ironically, cameras with high megapixel sensors like 50mp or higher often don't perform as well with astrophotography (unless you get into medium format - Completely different beast - And very expensive). More on that in the future. To help brighten the image, I set the ISO to between 800-6400 depending on how dark the sky is and how much light pollution I'm dealing with. Again, more on that in my future video! (Some prefer the rule of 300... Same method, just insert 300 instead of 500.)
Another aspect of Milky Way photography is editing - If you want to have images like you see above, you don't get them straight out of your camera. You will need to get some type of editing software. Again, something I'll explain in my future video!
I was blown away when I saw comet Neowise for the first time. These type of comets that tail so beautifully are truly once in a life time events. The image above was take with a 150mm lens, ISO 1600, and I opened the aperture for 1.5 seconds. I then took 10 images of the comet and stacked them in a free software program called Sequator. Again I did some editing, but this comet jumped out of the sky so much, it didn't need much work!
All of this said, I have seen impressive cellphone images of this comet too! If you can mount your phone on a tripod, set the aperture to 1 second and point it at the comet. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you capture!
My last thought for today: Get out and capture the Book of Nature! A trap that's easy to fall into with photography is, ironically, the same trap I can fall into with prayer: Do I spend more time studying how to do photography or do I get out and do photography? Applying this to prayer - Do I spend more time reading about different types of prayer or do I simply pray? In short, get out, experience the Book of Nature, and after doing so, capture a chapter of that book to remind you of the moment. It wouldn't surprise me if you start to see a depth to your pictures you haven't seen before. Depth that isn't just getting better at composing an image, but depth that speaks to how God touched you and has touched me through the oft forgotten text of the Book of Nature.
Happy Monday everyone!