Saturday, 21 February 2015

`P' -Persistence

Never give in, you can plan as much as you like, have the patience of a saint but you also need to be persistent.

 Lat Friday (20 2 15) the weather had been changeable all day but bring in some great clouds. I was planning to get out at teatime to photograph the conjunction between Mars, Venus and a crescent moon. Around 6.30 GMT was the given time.
 looking west from our house at 5.30 pm it did not look good, heavy black cloud gathered over the hill and the odd shower came over. I could have easily given up thinking it just wasn't going to be my day. However knowing that the west can sometimes be completely different to the east, i set off just after 5.30 and arrived at Bigton on the west at 5.50 pm

 It still didn't look good, a quick shower came over and the black clouds still lingered over St Ninian Isle but then the sky brightened and just before 6 pm the moon showed , then the very bright Venus and by 6.05 Mars put in a show

 This all lasted about 10 mins giving me just enough time to get a few photos. At first I put the tripod up but it was just too windy , no where to shelter from this westerly wind. So I moved onto a bean bag placed on the car window and started to fire away. I set the camera to manual and decreased the exposure , at ISO 500 i managed to get 1 second at f/5.6

 The wind picked up battering the car but every now and again it slowed and i rattled a few more photos off. The light was changing and the clouds rolled back in so after 10  mins that was that and again the rain came just as well as i had put the camera in the bag

 Its easy to think that I would have seen nothing, looking at the weather conditions in Sandwick on the east. The weather forecast was poor as well but i have come to just taking a chance and not giving up even though the odds are against getting any photos.

 Just be prepared to go at short notice and be ready for a break in the clouds, the location at Bigton looking over St Ninians Isle has been good for a couple of things recently and the view from the top of the hill is superb
The next time Venus and Mars come together will be 5 October 2017

Thursday, 19 February 2015

`P' for Patience

Most people live a hectic life and want everything right now. This doesn't help when you need Patience. This is vital for astrophotography  and I am sure that if they could buy it many would. I was told many times not to work with children or pets but i did,  photographing both on a regular basis for many years. This built up my patience and I am glad for that, in addition photographing and watching wildlife does the same.

So you are all ready to go out, equipment checked and you are all wrapped up and as soon as you step outside its either cloudy or too windy, a regular occurrence in Shetland. Well it will have to wait until another night or you could go out and wait until the cloud clears, but you could be waiting ages that's when you need to be patient.
                                                                                                     Windy days

One factor that you  have failed to take into account is the fact that either you or someone close has just bought some new equipment and therefore put a curse on the weather this usually lasts a month. So anytime around Christmas is normally out unless you live in a remote spot and all your family and friends have forgot your Christmas presents.

Unlike many other aspects of daytime photography it takes along time to set things up, especially if you are using guiding equipment, that is making sure that your camera is moving at the same rate as the earth's orbit. Otherwise you are restricted to using the 500 Rule (see past blog). This may take as long as 10 mins, by which you may well have taken 10 daytime photos.

The time setting up is not wasted as your eyes will need to adjust to the dark ,normally around 10 mins. The other thing that gives you patience is full confidence in your camera equipment, some cameras are better than other for taking photos of the night sky. Its interesting that Nikon is about to launch the first DSLR camera, the Nikon D810A specifically designed for astrophotography . This is a full frame 36 million pixel camera, but it has been adapted and has a dedicated filter to pass H- alpha wavelengths its not going to be cheap with the estimate cost at $3800 without a lens. It may be worth checking out the Sony A7 which also has a great reputation for night sky photography.
Nikon D810A DSLR Camera (Body Only)
Not that i can afford either of these so make the best of what you have and take it to the extreme , the more you know about your camera the more confidence you have and therefore, hopefully more patience as you will know how things what and what to do if things go wrong.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

the 3 P's

Planning, patience and persistence these are essential to any night sky photography session.

Whether you have all the equipment for night sky photography or the time this is totally irrelevant unless you have clear skies. I always check as many local forecasts as possible and even then they are sometimes incorrect, many times they indicate thick cloud but when I have looked out its clear.

Living less than 1 mile from the coast the wind tends to blow cloud over quickly which helps . I also try to plan a certain number of days a month, no one can be ready to go out ever night so it is limited straight away. (see blog about possible number of days viewing per year)

                          Photographing the moon is best when its not a full moon as it shows the craters better

Getting the equipment ready in the event of a clear night moonless sky is a must. Battery life is limited by cold weather so always have a spare (Fully charged) , spare memory cards and if possible a couple of cameras with wide angle lens and a medium telephoto already in place. Time is so important so you don't want to spend any unnecessary time doing things that could have been done before the night.

Clothing is just as important as the equipment, you don't want to be cold, and don't forget a torch (red light) especially when there is no moon this is the best time for most things except when you are photographing the moon of course. Make sure the petrol tank is full and that you know where you are going and all the little details of the area.

Knowing the landscape is important.  Which way you will be photographing, North, South East or West and whats in the foreground and behind is very important to create the best photo you can, so going out to check out locations in the light is necessary. Its great to get some interesting foreground in a wide angle shot.

Look at other peoples photos and read as much as possible as this type of photography is a bit of a steep learning curve. There will be plenty of time to do this on cloudy or windy nights

I only take photos without a telescope, i made that decision sometime ago and invested in an Astro-trac rather than a scope, I have yet to use this in Shetland as it has been too windy, so even trying to photograph with a scope would also been unproductive.

Do you know your way around the stars, if not then this can be a big learning curve as well that is if you don't have a phone or I Pad type where you can use an app - I use Stellarium mobile edition in which you can point it at the sky and it tells you what you are looking at. Do try and learn a few stars, it becomes easier with time, a little at a time helps.

Nights seem to fly past without offering any opportunities to get out and becomes a bit frustrating especially when a big aurora is predicted. This is when the next P becomes  important. this will be discussed in the next blog.