27 Jan Astrophotography on Exmoor
Winter is well and truly upon us. Along with many exciting productions Firethought is currently undertaking Exmoor National Park Authority’s Dark Skies project is certainly a favorite with incredible opportunities and challenges.
“Is shooting the stars as simple as pointing me camera up to the sky and shooting?”
Not exactly. By all means you can capture the stars on a camera however there are many environmental variables to take into consideration and overcome.
Tripod. You need a Tripod.
You will get the best results if you use a tripod. There is no getting around this. The only situation where you can get away with shooting at the skies is when shooting Venus, The Moon or the brightest body in our solar system The Sun.
After 15 minutes of darkness your eyes will be able to see the cosmos above in all it’s glory.. When exposed to a bright light your eyes will adapt and you will have you wait a while to desensitise. A way to reduce to shifts in lighting conditions is to use a red light. Some headtorches come with a reb bulb to reduce the light’s effects on sight at night. The fluorescent brightness of phone screens also has an effect on sight so it’s best to be conservative when using them whilst stargazing.
20 second rule
As we all know the Earth Rotates at the rate of 1 rotation every 24hrs. This means that stars appear to move across the sky as the Earth Rotates, for a photographer hoping to capture the universe in all it’s glory this means that if the shutter is open for over 20 seconds star will lose their definition and begin to “trail”. This of course can be used for artistic effect however this may not be the case for others. All to their own.
Unless you set your camera’s light sensitivity (ISO) to an absolutely ridiculous amount 25,000 ISO for example you will find it really hard to get a clear image of the stars and the Milky Way, you may however get away with closer planetary objects such as the Moon and Venus. Throughout this project I have tended to variate between shooting with 800 ISO to 1600 depending on how much the lens can be opened up . High f.stop.
The result of doing this ruins your images saturating any detail with specks of noise and other artifacts.
I would always recommend shooting with a Prime (Lens without a Zoom function) with a really large aperture setting (below f.4.0). This way you can assure as much light as possible reaches the sensor. If you have a bridge camera (Fixed Lens) then the trade off is a longer exposure.
Be prepared, The one thing that caught me out on many occasion wasn’t usually technical but simply misjudging the weather forcast. Exmoor is a microclimate that can sometimes whip up surprising results to be prepared for bitter cold or howling winds (especially on exposed sections (such as Dunkery). Take a coat, a flask, a flashlight and some snacks.
What do I do with White Balance?
I usually set it to Flash however I know others who set it to Daylight. It can all be fixed in a post production program shuch as Adobe Lightroom or GIMP
Things that have helped:
www.clearoutside.com – A great astronomers weather forcast.
http://cantonbecker.com/astronomy-calendar/ – Add this to your calendar and keep up to date with astrological events.
https://stargazerslounge.com/ – A oracle of Astrological knowledge and a brilliant community.
http://www.stellarium.org/ – Brilliant open source planetarium application
https://www.google.com/sky/ – Googles offering. Has a great companion app for iOS and Android.
Philip’s Star Chart: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Philips-Star-Chart/dp/0540084166
Philip’s Planisphere: https://www.amazon.com/Philips-Planisphere-Latitude-42-USA/dp/B0017PIOP0
And of course Seb Jay’s Exmoor Dark Skies Book: https://www.amazon.com/Exmoor-Dark-Skies-Universe-Starlight/dp/0857100912/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1485551579&sr=1-1&keywords=seb+jay+exmoor+dark+skies
I hope all this helps and have fun stargazing on Exmoor.
If you have any questions tweet: @firethought or leave a comment.