Saturday, 3 February 2018

Red Sun Blue Moon

If you look back in the recent blogs I am sure you will find me mentioning that we are heading into a solar minimum. When this occurs we have less opportunity to see the Aurora. The first photo was taken at the beginning of February, the second last year. In January 2018 we had 17 days when no sunspots were visible(50%), last year there was 104 spotless days (28%)

If you look at certain newspapers some suggest that we are entering a mini ice age and back in the 1600/1700's there was a period of 70 years without sunspots and this resulted in the River Thames freezing with mini icebergs  seen.

While we will see less Coronal Mass ejections as a result of less sunspots exploding, but there will still be splits in the sun core so the Solar wind which sparks off the Aurora will still occur. This cycle is over an 11 year period

The other notable even of January 2018 was the second Super moon in the month and this is called a Blue Moon. The last time that happened was 150 years ago on the 31 March 1866. A Super moon is 14% bigger and 30% brighter and this certainly was the case but only showed for about 5 mins before the cloud came in

In some parts of the world but not in the UK there was also a Lunar Eclipse or a Blood Moon as the moon turns Red

So if you are around in 2034 the moon will be even closer to earth when it can be seen at 221, 485 miles away.

Want to see more Aurora photos, then join us on Facebook  at Shetland Aurora Hunter- just send me a request to join

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Shetland Big Skies

Shetland has many attractions and one of these for me at least are the clouds. At this time of year the cloud formations are fantastic

These next 9 photos are down at Grutness looking east and this cloud looks like a giant iceberg

Looking west the clouds became even more spectacular and a short trip down to Jarlshof gave some good photo opportunities


                                           Incredible clouds looking south to Sumburgh head

                                                 It was worth waiting 1/2 hour until the clouds collided

Hopefully more Aurora photos soon with the conditions underfoot a lot better after heavy rain

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Moon Photography

The Moon is the most obvious target for astrophotographers, being the brightest and biggest object in our night sky

At its closest distance it is a mere 225, 700 miles away and at 252,000 at its furthest. Its great to capture the moon in its various phases. The photo above is around 3/4 full and shows off its craters to great effect

The one above photographed with a Nikon D7100 with a 800mm lens and the internal tele-converter giving a magnification of 1500mm as it has a cropped sensor

You can have the best equipment but if the atmospherics are unstable you will not get a sharp photo. This doesn't mean if it is still where you stand we are taking many 100's of miles up

                                      A typical photo with a 500m lens on a crop sensor camera

We have had a supermoon recently and people seem to get carried away with this, after all its only about 16% bigger. It does have a big effect on the tides and in Shetland it was very noticeable

Finally got an opportunity to capture a halo around the moon, this one was present for over an hour until the clouds moved in

For more information and photos why not join us on Facebook at Shetland Aurora Hunter - just send a request to join.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Composite Images part 1

Glad to say the Night Sky course I was delivering for Shetland Adult Education went very well,  I know some folk need extra support and I can understand why, you are learning two big subjects- Astrophotography and Astronomy

I am covering a wide variety of subjects, these include Aurora, Stars, Milky Way, Moon, Star trails, Time lapse, Meteors and other things you can see in the night sky & equipment.

The main things are correct focusing at night, this is a must and which most people struggled with before the course. In addition camera settings & dealing with noise with some processing in Lightroom.

The course is over 6 sessions but may be extended  from the next learning year. This extra content will include Stitching, composite photos and practical use of some free astrophotography software.

The weather in Shetland has not been suitable for any night photography, with lots of gales and a Hurricane + 36mph (109mph) winds the other week, although it was clear and I could actually see the Plough and Orion from the house despite nearly getting blown over. Now its snow and ice so difficult getting round, a couple of clear nights would be good

I was out the other night but no sooner than i set up than snow began to fall and it got worse. The aim was to take a photo of the Oil rig at Dales Voe i did get a few photos

Composite images

Taking two or more images and blending them together solves so many problems. As with most night sky photos you use the lens wide open so hardly any depth of field. You have to get back far enough to get the nearest object in focus, this will depends on which lens you use.

When taking a single star photo you always focus on the stars, this way taking two photos you focus on the foreground and then on the stars, which overall will give an overall sharp image and a bigger file as well, good for printing large.

Many people use Composite images, they either stack images, use HDR or merge two photos for other reasons. You may have tried to replace someone's head, or tried to create a fantasy image but i suppose the end result should be that they look real. Composite images tend to be very compelling.
You could blend impossible elements into your photo, pigs flying or recently Father Christmas etc

For night sky photos even NASA do it, they produced a great photo of the earth but when it comes down to it this was data acquired over a nine day period then combined.

The images on this page has been originally processed in Lightroom then combined in Elements 2018, but this is only an 8 bit images, in Photoshop you can do this as a 16 bit image. All the images on this page have been taken by me at some stage. As you can see i have used the same background on different landscape photos.

So then it comes down to ethics, never pass a Composite photo off as genuine

I hope you all had a great Christmas, join us on facebook at Shetland Aurora Hunter for more information and photos- just send me a request to join

So what do you think of Composite images, please let me know
More to come on the next post

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Early KP8

The weather forecast for Tuesday had not been good before 9pm so when photos started to appear on Shetland Aurora Hunter at 6pm we decided to head straight out.

We had planned to go to a different location but as time was ticking by we went across to Bigton and onto St Ninian's isle about 10 mins away.

You could already see the Aurora in the sky and it was covering more of the sky than usual. Setting up quickly the green  in the sky was spreading.

Activity started to begin with a curtain stretching across from St Ninian's isle to the east side of the  mainland.

Strong coloured pillars started to appear, along with brighter green in the curtain a sign of an active Aurora. You could easily see the green and the pillars with the naked eye, but the camera sensor always picks up more colour.

I rushed down to the beach from the top carpark just as green blobs started to appear, it was becoming one of the best Aurora's for a while.

No one else appeared so it seemed that most folk would be missing this peak activity. You have to react quickly, so within 1/2 hour since leaving home it was at its peak. This lasted about 10 more mins before activity reduced just as someone else arrived.

The height of the green was also reducing although still high compared to most nights. It was one of those nights that will stick in my memory for along time. Folk in other parts of Shetland were not that lucky with the weather as heavy cloud affected the west and north.

After about 1.5 hours the cloud started to roll in and activity reducing all the time. Back home stats confirmed a big one , a KP8 which ended up being visible down in the south of England. It peaked again after midnight but by then I was just dreaming all about the experience.

With nearly 1500 members it time to come and join Shetland Aurora Hunter on facebook, on the 16 November we will have been going just one year so thanks to everyone who has joined. Lots of good phones, camera settings and information available