Friday, 28 February 2014


At last some dry weather with clear skies. On Tuesday it cleared late on but I was out giving a talk on Shetland so wouldn't have  been able to do any night photography. On Wednesday night we had already made plans so it was down to Thursday and luckily it was a good clear night but very cold, down to -4 degrees.

When i arrived up at Ringinglow near Sheffield it was just light so I set up asap and thought I was in a quiet spot until around 50 cyclists past in 3 groups, followed by a few cars which lit up the area I was working in. So not a dark site but as I have mentioned before we don't have any true dark site around here

Orion nebula (Red spot)

On Thursday I was lucky enough to see the aurora which was a surprise as i had not received any notification. Seeing the photos the next morning from Shetland you can understand why Sheffield had a glimpse for around 30 seconds. The photos coming out of Shetland were incredible with some fantastic reds and greens, wish we had been there. The aurora activity is only ever 12 years or so with 2014 being the best one, although some activity can be seen at other times.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Double time anyone ?

When you start night photography you will come to see that any time spent photographing is very precious. You are the mercy of the weather and unlike many aspects of photography you cannot plan ahead. Take a look at my calculation and see whether this is about right for you.

365 days a year
- 2 (6 months too light) = 182.5 days
- 10 days a month x 6 months due to full moon and poor weather = 60 days
182.5 - 60 days =  122.5
- 4 days a week (Other commitments ) x 4 weeks x 6 months =  96 days
122.5 - 96 = 26.5 days  per year
4.41 days per month if you are lucky

Talking with many astronomers in and around Sheffield , they usually consider that they only manage about 10-12 sessions a year.(this may be optimal view conditions, you can never tell what the atmospheric conditions are going to be like, well up in the sky ) Therefore I might have over calculated, if you take January and February this year you will have already lost around 7/8 days due to the very wet, cloudy and windy conditions.

So to maximize my chances on good viewing nights i have decided to start to use two cameras on tripods (just picked up an excellent Monfrotto pro tripod for £50) rock solid with a good head. Then I can take two sky objects at the same time. Often one camera will be tied up taking a long exposure so it will keep me busy.

Also the other objective is to move permanently to Shetland therefore increasing my night viewing times. It goes darker earlier and in winter sunrises very late. One problem will be the very windy conditions so the locations will have to be chosen carefully, at least the number of dark sites will increase dramatically. Around Sheffield it is virtually impossible to find one.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

I know why !

What can you do, the weather has been so bad for weeks and I know why. I mentioned in a previous blog that i was getting some new equipment at Christmas which always results in  bad weather, it happens every time. So although I did manage to get out very early one morning evenings have been a problem. Just one so far when I met up with Peter who traveled down from Bridlington and we met up at a place close to Doncaster to save time.
                                                                                                   Light Pollution

The original site was a no go as when we arrive we saw an open gate with a padlock so we didn't want to get locked in. We then moved over the M18 to a farm track, not ideal due to the light pollution. We did however drop lucky with the weather. The forecast indicated clear skies from 6 pm, these didn't arrive until 6.45 pm but as we had to move locations this was spot on for us. It then clouded in around 9.15 pm as expected.
Also as we were near to Doncaster airport (Robin Hood) planes were coming and going all the night.Its very difficult to find a dark site around here, hopefully you will have better luck. We made do with the problems and set to work, Peter hadn't done night sky photography before so the first thing was to get the focus right. This proved difficult as you need to be able to see the focus point in the little glass panel, especially infinity. Most people set the lens to infinity without realising that its different on each lens. If you look at the infinity symbol, the figure 8 laid on its side, I have the Tokina 11-16 which is in focus to the right hand side of this while my Nikon 18-200 mm is to the left.. Peter had problems because his Canon lenses didn't have any little glass panel in which to check the focus.

Although you cannot auto focus at night there are different ways round this. The most obvious is to pre focus during the day, look at where infinity is on your lens and make a note, some people put a sticker on the lens to mark this. Another way is to find a bright object, such as the moon and use live view to focus, both will work but you need to keep rechecking the lens throughout the night. for any movement.
                                                                                                  The Moon and Jupiter

Just looked at the weather forecast again and its cloudy and rain for the next 10 days, this is one of the draw backs living in the UK, but when you do get out it makes it very special.