Starry starry nights Part 1

November 19, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

The latest edition of Outdoor Photography magazine features what it calls 'nightscapes' on its front cover.  I wasn't familiar with the term but all was soon revealed: "Nightscape photography is the combination of astrophotography and landscape photography." I was intrigued.  We have just recently moved to the country and I had already noticed how much darker the nights are in our new location, especially after over 40 years of life in the suburbs of Belfast. I read on: "Imagine a relatively rarely seen and enchanting landscape that changes every second; that's what nightscapes are all about."  I was hooked!

It just so happened that it was a relatively clear night.  Gallows Hill sits just opposite our house.  Would it be possible to capture the stars on Gallows Hill?  Very helpfully, Luis Argerich, the author of the article, went on to detail how I might do just that.  I wasn't convinced but I didn't have anything to lose trying.  After all I could just set my tripod at my front gate!  

This was the result.

The clouds were rolling in but I was now excited about the possibility of doing more.

A few days later a cloudless and calm night presented itself.  I headed off a short distance in the car to where I knew trees lined a road that saw very little traffic at that time of night.  It was tricky setting up a tripod, trying to compose and then setting focus, all in the dark.  It was more miss than hit.  But the sky was magnificent.  I don't think I had ever seen the Milky Way so clearly.

This WAS exciting!  But now a potential shot had lodged itself in my mind.  The trees on Gallows Hill.  What would it be like to capture them against a starry sky?  

A few days passed before another clear night.  The temperature had fallen away to zero by the time we headed to the hill.  For a while the sky did not play ball: clouds kept filling that one small portion of the sky that was essential to the shot.  Other angles were tried but did not work.  As extremities grew numb so the temptation increased to head for warmth.  And then the sky cleared.The Witnesses Gallows Hill

For the record, this was shot at 16mm (full frame) at ISO 1600 at an aperture of f/4 using a Nikkor 16-35mm on a D800e.  Once again it was rather hit and miss, although this time we had remembered to bring torches (and to switch them off during each exposure).  Despite living in the country there is still light pollution - in this case the lights from Clough Mills and some neighbouring farms.  There was also a problem with the lenses misting up as the night grew cooler - having a lens cloth is essential. I shot in RAW as advised and processed later in Lightroom 4, paying particular attention to the white balance and contrast.  

During long exposures like this the earth rotates enough for star trails to begin.  These can be seen at 100% magnification. I wonder what the trees would look like with proper star trails?  That's for another night!


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