Russ has impressed us all with his beautiful astro photos. They get better and better as he gains more experience over the summer months (which is the best time to see the milky way) I took the opportunity to interview Russ and correlate his handy advice for any budding photographer wanting to branch out into the night.
I have always been interested in the night sky and I could spend hours looking up at all the stars and constellations. A clear night in the middle of nowhere with only your thoughts is a humbling experience.
To capture this through photography is something that inspires me and you can create some fantastic shots as each shot is different and it’s certainly a skill that needs refining.
Below is a quick start guide for anyone interested in taking up astro photography. What equipment I use, the problems I encountered and the improvements I have made throughout my journey. There are still areas I want to explore and the next step will take me into stars trails.
Hopefully this guide will help some of you to test your knowledge and expand on an area of photography that you may not have considered before.
Taken at Kimmeridge Bay.
The equipment I use.
For successful astro shots there are a few essential items that you need in your kit bag.
LOW LIGHT CAMERA – I use a Sony a7R (full frame) camera for my photography, but when I started I was working with a variety of different crop frame cameras. Full frame cameras generally let in more light with their larger sensors, so having a full frame sensor for your low light shots is always an advantage.
TRIPOD – a heavy-duty tripod is crucial to prevent any blur from the wind. It can make all the difference when taking a long exposure.
WALKING BOOTS – these are useful when you are trying to find the best spot for your photography.
A FRIEND – It does get lonely and boring when you’re waiting for the camera to finish taking your shot. You can’t look at your phone as you’ll get light exposure and it will be too dark to do a crossword. A friend will make your long nights a little more bearable.
SPARE BATTERY – Long exposures use up a lot of power. Also, flicking through your photos uses up battery life. If you’re there for the long haul, a spare battery is essential. I have 7 batteries in my kit!
Problems I encountered and making the most of them.
This can be a big problem for any of you budding astro photographers out there. Light pollution can come from a variety of sources. Houses, cars, boats, street lights, to name a few! Even when you think you have traveled far enough to escape the lights, large towns can generate a huge amount of light that reach for miles!
However, this can work to your advantage.
In my photo of Durdle Door a man had built a fire and was playing around with a torch below me. This all counts as light pollution, but I feel without these components the scene would not have come together as well. If you live in the city or are not able to travel far enough from the light pollution, use that opportunity to play around with what you have and experiment with the light to make your photography stand out from the crowd.
This shot was taken at Lulworth Cove. I find the lights from the boats really add to the overall effect of the image. The stars stand out, but your eye is drawn to the boat lights, which Alice thinks looks like alien beams ready to abduct you onto their space craft…..whatever works for you!
You may have read about our staff competition. I desperately wanted to get some astro shots for it. However, the competition ran from January to March. This was not the best time to look for a clear sky! It was either raining or incredibly cloudy blotting out the starry sky. (Not to mention, COLD!) I did achieve some interesting cloud movements at long exposures with a few stars peaking through. Something must have worked, as I came third in the staff competition!
To get the best astro photos you will need to travel to find the darkest places that has the least amount of light pollution. This can create problems in itself. A man wandering around in the middle of the night can look highly suspicious and I have been questioned and told to move on by a policeman who didn’t seem to believe I was taking photos! It is a slightly daunting prospect to walk around by yourself in the middle of no-where with no light to protect you from any potential ghosts. If possible take a friend with you. They will add extra protection and someone to talk to on those cold nights out in the stars.
And finally…. MAKE THE MOST OF IT.
Oooo, that’s an interesting star trail photo (especially for a first attempt!) I hear you say! Well thank you, but that’s not what happened here! This photo was created by accidentally knocking my tripod while the camera’s shutter was open. I was incredibly lucky to generate a photo that looks like the natural movement of the stars and its become one of my favourites. My point here is don’t despair if you make a mistake. It may work out to your advantage.
THE TECHNICAL SIDE
Here are a few photos I have taken and the settings I used to achieve them. Please feel free to experiment and have fun!
Taken at Lulworth Cove
Taken at Lulworth Cove
Taken at Knowlton Church – The light from the church is a candle I found and decided to light to create a warm glow that adds to the overall effect.