Sometimes it’s just fun to see where things can go with a photograph. This is one of my most sucessful images turned into a jigsaw then blown apart using the 3D tools available within Photoshop to reveal the gem of the photograph, within a globe, and with a photograph of the Milky Way I took behind. I had to photograph my own hand and then isolate it to create the illusion of the hand holding the globe. Why, well why not? For those curious, this is the engine house used in the opening titles to Poldark.
Whilst I was visiting Bude recently, I had to deliver some pictures that are being featured in an exhibition in Taunton, Somerset. This journey took me from north Cornwall to south Devon, on into somerset and rather than return the same way I’d come, I decided to drive north to the north Devon Coast.
In 1976, here in the UK, we had the most extraordinary summer. Weeks of Mediterranean type weather. I was lucky enough, as an 11 year old boy, to spend that summer staying with a great uncle in North Devon. Everyday we visited the beach. Saunton Sands was the destination of choice and this was somewhere I really wanted to revisit.
Unfortunately, the weather was certainly not that of the summer of ’76 however, it was great to see people enjoying the beach regardless.
I was visiting with my good friends Hanne and Klausbernd in North Norfolk again last week. I met Hanne and Klausbernd through our respective blogs and it was such a pleasure to see them again. The weather was superb, the end of August. It was evident that Autumn was nipping at the heals of summer first thing in the morning but during the day, we enjoyed glorious warm sunshine and I did something I thought I would never do in the UK again, I went into the sea. The North Sea at that!.
I struggled down to the water’s edge on my two crutches, dipped my toe in and was surprised to find the water was really OK so I went in further. As a wave crashed in, surging water, that suddenly seemed a whole lot colder that it had initially, up over my belly, that was it so I thought I’d have a swim.
Of course swim is a fairly loose term when you’ve two crutches strapped to your arms but I floundered about a bit for a while. The waves were quite large so it was a bit of a struggle but I was managing OK when I saw two people pointing at me. I figured at first they were a bit concerned about the guy with the crutches getting washed about by the surf but then I became aware of something in my peripheral vision. A dark shape. I turned to face whatever this was in the water and came face to face with the most beautiful seal with the blackest, deepest eyes.
We bobbed there in the water for the longest time, just blinking at each other. He ducked under the water, swam around me a few times but always bobbed back up again to face me. I honestly believe this seal was concerned for my welfare and when he was sure I was OK. He swam away. It was one of those very rare encounters with a wild creature when you know you’ve connected. It was incredibly moving and I will never forget it. These sea mammals are super intelligent and seem to possess something that sadly far too many human beings lack, empathy.
These photographs were taken on my previous visit to Norfolk. Norfolk with its creeks and salt marshes, broads and of course the ocean, is all about boats and I love boats.. :-)
Cromer is a small seaside town on the North Norfolk coast. I visited Cromer whilst staying with fellow bloggers Hanne and Klausbernd in Cley next the Sea. Cromer is very popular with families looking for a stay at home, good old fashioned seaside holiday.
There are records of a pier at Cromer dating back to 1391 although then it was more of a jetty. In 1582 Queen Elizabeth I granted rights to the inhabitants of Cromer to export wheat, Barley and Malt with the proceeds to go toward the maintenance and well being of the Pier and the new town of Cromer. In 1822 a 210ft pier was built of cast iron but this structure only lasted 24 years before it was destroyed in a storm. The current pier at Cromer was completed in 1902 and opened to the public. Today the pier has a theatre, bars and restaurants and is a popular place for an old fashioned promenade.
I have just had the tremendous pleasure of meeting and staying with a couple of blogging friends in Cley next the Sea in North Norfolk. Many of you will know Hanne and Klausbernd from their blog, The World According to Dina. We’ve had a fabulous week of hospitality, photography and great conversations over some lovely meals in this very beautiful area of the country.
North Norfolk is somewhere I visited as a teenager and haven’t been back since. I’m so glad to have had the chance to visit now. I’ll be posting a little bit from Norfolk over the next couple of weeks but for now, here’s a taster. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Dina and Klausbernd and to encourage other bloggers to meet when they can. For me it’s always been such a positive and rewarding experience and this was no exception. I will now be catching up with all your blogs over the next week so bear with me.. :-)
My blogging birthday is coming up so I’ll save my round-up of the year until then. For now I’d just like to wish all those who follow my blog, comment visit and who make my blog what it is, a very happy, prosperous new year.
I’m ending the year on a bit of a high as I made National Geographic Photo of the day on the last day of the year, couldn’t be better than that really. You can see my photo on the National Geograhpic website here.
It’s a photo that will be familiar to some of you, Iceland has been good to me this year. I posted the picture on my National Geographic ‘Your Shot’ page and thought no more of it. It generated quite a bit of interest however, was favourited by a couple of NG’s editors and chosen for the National Geographic Daily Dozen. A few weeks later, I received an email from one of the Editors asking me to write a bit more about the photograph as they’d like to make the photograph ‘Photograph of the Day’ on the last day of the year. Here it is again..
The following photograph was taken a couple of days ago at Tewkesbury Mill. The flooding in certain parts of the country in the last few weeks has been horrendous and my heart goes out to all those who’ve suffered loss. It can’t be denied that this temporary ‘water world’, in parts, can be very beautiful though..
The picture below is of Corfe Castle in Dorset, all lit up for the Christmas season. The castle is in ruins not so much because of its age but rather it was on the wrong side during the English Civil War. While much of Dorset was under Parlimentarian control, the castle, owned by Sir John Bankes, attorney general to Charles I and of course a Royalist, was held by Bankes’ men whilst he was away in London with Charles. Bankes’ wife, Lady Mary Bankes remained at the castle with her children.
Parliamentarian forces planned to infiltrate the castle’s garrison by joining a hunting party from the garrison on a May Day hunt, however they were unsuccessful. The Parliamentarians gave orders that anyone joining the garrison would have their house burned and that no supplies were to reach the castle. Initially defended by just five people, Lady Bankes was able to get food through and swell the garrison to 80. The Parliamentarian forces numbered between 500 and 600 and began a more thorough siege; it went on for six weeks until Lady Bankes was relieved by Royalist forces. During the siege the defenders suffered two casualties while there were at least 100 deaths among the besieging forces.
The Parliamentarians were in the ascendency so that by 1645 Corfe Castle was one of a few remaining strongholds in southern England that remained under royal control. Consequently it was besieged by a force under the command of a Colonel Bingham. One of the garrison’s officers, Colonel Pitman, colluded with Bingham. Pitman proposed that he should go to Somerset and bring back a hundred men as reinforcements, however the troops he returned with were Parliamentarians in disguise. Once inside, they waited until the besieging force attacked before making a move, so that the defenders were attacked from without and within at the same time. Corfe Castle was captured and Lady Bankes and the garrison were allowed to leave. In March that year, Parliament voted to slight (demolish) the castle, which involved bombarding the castle with a great deal of ordnance giving no chance that it might be a stronghold in any future conflict.
This is a much photographed landmark in the Dorset countryside as I’m sure you can imagine. The National Trust now floodlight the castle during the week before Christmas so this seemed a fitting image for this post. I had to provide my own floodlighting for the mile marker (which looks rather unfortunately like a gravestone) and surrounding foreground. I used a torch to ‘paint’ the area during the long exposure. A very useful technique.
The marker has advised travellers for hundreds of years that it is just a half mile to the village of Corfe. This information would seem a little superfluous as the village and castle can be clearly seen and it really is a big chunk of stone to have to haul up a hill. I can only assume this area was at one time, densely forested.
The slightly hazy appearance of the floodlighting around the castle’s main tower is due to smoke from traditional braziers used to give light and atmosphere for visitors at this time of year.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the Christmas season. Whether you celebrate or not, enjoy the holiday! :-)
Please click on the image for a clearer sharper view..
I mentioned the Jurassic Coast and the fact that Dorset is famous for fossils in my last post. The picture below shows some fossils that were found on the beach at Lyme Regis last week. I’m grateful to a very good friend with a much sharper eye than me for finding them and, being a bit of an expert on fossils and geology in general for explaining what these are.
These are complete ammonites (not just impressions in rock) that would have been happily swimming in the ocean 150 million years ago or more. I find that quite difficult to get my head around but there it is, fossilised shellfish as well as some vertebrae from a squid-like creature the name of which I’ve forgotten. One of the ammonites you can see is encrusted with iron pyrite, otherwise known as fools gold. How nice it would have been if it were the real McCoy.. :-)
I’m really enjoying a break before Christmas in Dorset, only a couple of counties east of Cornwall but so very different. I’m here with Poppy, her BB with Lottie the white German Shepherd. It’s great to be exploring a very different coastline. Dorset is of course famous for it’s Jurassic coast and the numerous fossils that can be found here.
Mary Anning found the first Icthyosaur skeleton at the age of 12 and became quite a celebrity. Despite having no education, she became quite the expert on fossils. Fossils were the family business in Lyme Regis, sold as curios to the wealthy middle and upper classes. Lyme Regis had become a very fashionable holiday location in the late 18th and early 19th Century. This was, to a large extent a consequence of the French Revolution which had made travel to Europe (the preferred destination for people with a bit of cash prior to this time) a little problematic to say the least.
The fossils found here generated a huge amount of interest not least because at the time, the majority in England still believed in creationism and the discovery of the fossilised skeletons of these strange creatures raised lots of doubts about the age of the Earth (a tad more than 2000 years old clearly) and the origin and nature of life on the planet.
The following pictures were taken despite the very grey and largely wet conditions we’re experiencing here in Dorset but then, it is December.. :-)
The picture below shows the back of the fisherman’s college which forms part of the Cobb, the name for the sea wall at Lyme, made famous by Meryl Streep, standing at the end, waiting for her French lieutenant..
If you want a map with lots of detail, great if you enjoy hiking, cycling or just enjoy a nice gentle stroll, the map of choice in the UK is Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (OS) is the national mapping agency for Great Britain and is one of the world’s largest producers of maps. Since the first of April 2015 it has operated as Ordnance Survey Ltd, a government-owned company that is 100% publicly owned.
The agency’s name indicates its original military purpose, mapping Scotland in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745. There was also a more general and nationwide need for maps in light of the potential threat of invasion during the Napoleonic Wars, reflected in the inclusion of the War Department’s broad arrow in the agency’s logo up until 2015.
Ordnance Survey mapping is usually classified as either “large-scale” (in other words, more detailed) or “small-scale”. The Survey’s large-scale mapping comprises maps at six inches to the mile or more (1:10,560, superseded by 1:10,000 in the 1950s) and was available as sheets until the 1980s, when it was digitised. Small-scale mapping comprises maps at less than six inches to the mile, such as the popular one inch to the mile “leisure” maps and their metric successors. These are still available in traditional sheet form.
This year Ordnance Survey decided to update their cover photos and I’m really pleased to say that one of my photographs will now adorn Map 204, Truro and Falmouth, part of the very popular 1:50,000 Landranger series. The picture was taken of Fowey from across the Fowey River on a footpath known as Hall Walk. You take the Bodinnick Ferry from Fowey and a little way up the road, the foot path begins on your right.
I’ve done a bit of cut and pasting to show how the map will look (roughly). The photograph was taken on one of the most glorious June Mornings I can remember. It was just a perfect day and to have that day immortalised (well nearly) on the cover of a map covering my area of Cornwall, that makes me happy. This is a walk that I couldn’t manage today so it’s extra special and it’ll be very nice keepsake to have. The new maps will be available from February next year. I hope many visitors to the area will enjoy days similar to that one, although it has to be said, over the last few years these days, weather wise have been rare.. :-)
It was a lovely day yesterday so I took a trip to Golitha Wood through which the River Fowey runs. The river rises at Fowey Well (originally Cornish: Fenten Fowi, meaning spring of the river Fowey) about 1-mile (1.6 km) north-west of Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor, not far from one of its tributaries rising at Dozmary Pool and Colliford Lake. The river passes Lanhydrock House, Restormel Castle and Lostwithiel, then broadens at Milltown before joining the English Channel at Fowey.
My last post was about Chepstow Castle. This post is about another couple of castles, one English and one Welsh. Goodrich Castle is an English castle whilst Rhaglan, like Chepstow, is a Welsh castle. All three of these castles sit on the border between the two countries and one can begin to get a inkling that there may have been a great deal of conflict between the two nations in the medieval period and later sadly.
Goodrich Castle is a now ruinous Norman medieval castle situated to the north of the village of Goodrich in Herefordshire, England, controlling a key location between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye. It was praised by William Wordsworth as the “noblest ruin in Herefordshire” and is considered by historian Adrian Pettifer to be the “most splendid in the county, and one of the best examples of English military architecture”.
Goodrich Castle was probably built by Godric of Mappestone after the Norman invasion of England, initially as an earth and wooden fortification. In the middle of the 12th century the original castle was replaced with a stone keep, and was then expanded significantly during the late 13th century into a concentric structure combining luxurious living quarters with extensive defences. The success of Goodrich’s design influenced many other constructions across England over the following years. It became the seat of the powerful Talbot family before falling out of favour as a residence in late Tudor times.
Held first by Parliamentary and then Royalist forces in the English Civil War of the 1640s, Goodrich was finally successfully besieged by Colonel John Birch in 1646 with the help of the huge “Roaring Meg” mortar, resulting in the subsequent slighting of the castle and its descent into ruin. At the end of the 18th century, however, Goodrich became a noted picturesque ruin and the subject of many paintings and poems; events at the castle provided the inspiration for Wordsworth’s famous 1798 poem “We are Seven”. By the 20th century the site was a well-known tourist location, now owned by English Heritage and open to the public.
Raglan Castle is a late medieval castle located just north of the village of Raglan in the county of Monmouthshire in south-east Wales and is probably, bar Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland that I visited a while back, my favourite castle of all that I have visited in recent weeks. Rhaglan Castle, like the village of Rhaglan has two names, one English – Raglan and one Welsh – Rhaglan. This seem just a tad bizarre to me so as the castle is in Wales, I’ve gone with the Welsh spelling and included the h. To see all the signage associated with Rhaglan displaying both spellings seems completely bonkers to me but there you are.
I really liked Rhaglan and like all the heritage sites I have visited in England, Scotland and Wales recently, it is immaculately maintained and preserved. Construction of the castle started about 150 years later than most castles of this type. Very much a Johnny come Lately and as a result, has some very modern features not found in other castles of this type. Huge bay windows is one example.
The modern castle dates from between the 15th and early 17th centuries, when the successive ruling families of the Herberts and the Somersets created a luxurious, fortified castle, complete with a large hexagonal keep, known as the Great Tower or the Yellow Tower of Gwent. Surrounded by parkland, water gardens and terraces, the castle was considered by contemporaries to be the equal of any other in England or Wales.
During the English Civil War the castle was held on behalf of Charles I and was taken by Parliamentary forces in 1646. In the aftermath, the castle was slighted, or deliberately put beyond military use; after the restoration of Charles II, the Somersets declined to restore the castle. Parts of the castle were then carried off and used to build local houses and this accounts for the castle missing huge chunks of stone. The castle then became a romantic ruin, and is now a modern tourist attraction protected and superbly maintained by Welsh Heritage.
I’ve been wanting to photograph a pier for some time. We don’t have any in Cornwall. The nearest are in south Devon, the next county over and north Somerset, the next county over again. I had to be in Bath today and this took me conveniently close to the north Somerset pier at Clevedon.
Clevedon is one of the oldest piers in England. Building commenced in 1867 and was completed in 1869. The pier is 312 m (1,024 ft) long and consists of eight spans supported by steel rails covered by wooden decking, with a pavilion on the pier-head. The pier served as an embarkation point for paddle steamer excursions for almost exactly 100 years. Two of the spans collapsed during stress testing in 1970 and demolition was proposed, but local fund-raising and heritage grants allowed the pier to be dismantled for restoration and reassembled. It reopened in 1989, and ten years later was awarded the Pier of the Year from the National Piers Society, as well as a Civic Trust Award. The pier now, once again, offers a landing stage for steamers and is a popular attraction for tourists and anglers. There is more restoration work going on at the moment so I didn’t venture onto the pier. Access appeared a little awkward to say the least.. I will save that for another time.. :-)
My thoughts and deepest sympathy go to the families of those who lost their lives in the latest terrorist atrocity in Paris. As mature, liberal democracies in the West, we stand, for the most part, for freedom and tolerance. People may face discrimination but they do not live in fear because of what they believe, what they might say, or who they are. If we lose sight of this tolerance, the terrorists win. I don’t know the answers, I just try to focus on the beauty I find all around me and wonder why…
Happy Birthday Cornwall Photographic
I used a title very similar to the title of this blog 3 years ago today when I wrote my first ever blog post. I did so at the suggestion and encouragement of a good friend and fellow blogger Marina. As it’s turned out, my hopes expressed in that first post have been realised. I have now written 377 posts and counting. I never imagined for one moment when I started this blog that anyone would actually look at it, but on one day alone last year I had 1,481 views, over 105,000 views in total now.
I bought myself a DSLR camera for Christmas 2012, the blog came along in the new year as a place I could post the pictures I had started to take. Up until this point, I’d taken nothing but snaps at family gatherings and on annual holidays with a basic point and shoot. I’d been interested in photography in my early teens. My parents gave me a Zenit SLR. No auto settings of course and I learned the principles of exposure using a hand-held light meter. But, my initial interest in photography gave way to bikes and cars and the usual stuff. Determined to find something I could do despite my illness, I’d decided to take up photography again, reigniting that early interest. Both the photography and the blog have been a godsend.
I knew that I was embarking on a journey with my new DSLR hence the blog’s title. I didn’t realise at that time however, what an amazing journey it would be.
I’ve posted a lot of pictures in the last three years. Some I’m very proud of, more than a few not so much to say the least but good, bad or indifferent, they are all an important part of the story and the journey.
This last year has been incredible. From my first tentative steps with a DSLR three years ago, I’ve been shortlisted in a couple of major international photography competitions. I became a Licentiate and then an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. I’ve been published in magazines, the latest being the February edition of Classic Boat, my images have been used in national and global advertising campaigns and one of my photographs has just been selected to join 99 others (chosen from more than 3.500 entries) to tour the country in a Royal Photographic Society Exhibition this year. I’m really not sure any of this would have happened without the support and encouragement of the WordPress blogging community. Having somewhere I could share what I was trying to do and to get such positive feedback, I have no doubt is what’s kept me moving forward.
I’ve made some very good friends here in the last three years and hope to make many more in the coming years. I would like to thank everyone who has looked at, followed and commented on my blog. This is, as I’ve said, a wonderful community of supportive, encouraging people. I’m now looking forward to many more posts as the journey continues..
These are a few of my favourite photographs from the past 3 years, some because I like the pictures, others for their associations. This is the beauty of photography, we capture a moment and we have it to hold for ever..
Click on any of the images for a sharper, clearer view. This will open a slide show :-)
Lerryn is a beautiful little village that sits on the River Lerryn, a tributary of the River Fowey. I was passing through one morning having been up all night photographing the Milky Way. I was tired but as I crossed the little bridge and saw the misty calm on the river, I had to turn around and get my camera set up once more. Click on the image for a clearer sharper view.. :-)
There’s nothing quite like the light at dawn as the sun peeps over the horizon. That lovely soft glow can’t be beaten and is the result of the angle of the sun being so low. This is why the light in the autumn is so much softer, the sun is much lower in the sky. Anyway, here’s St Michael’s Mount, just off the coast of Cornwall at Marazion.
You can just see the causeway on the left, outlined in white water. Another half an hour and it’d have been possible to walk across to the castle. I hope you enjoy the picture as much as I enjoyed taking it. Click on the image for a clearer sharper view..
I found myself at Wheal Coats again this week. A severe gale was blowing making it very difficult to stand. It was the tail end of a hurricane I believe. With my tripod blowing over before I’d had chance to attach my camera you should get some idea of just how windy it was.
However, I did manage to take a couple of pictures. I will now ask the question often asked in photography blogs, black and white or colour? I’ve taken this shot before at 24mm. The black and white version won first in a Nikon photography competition so I am drawn to the black and white image but I’m also very drawn to the greens and blues in the colour version. I do like the way the wider angle lens has given this version of the picture a greater sense of space.
I guess I don’t have to choose, you don’t have to choose either, I hope you can enjoy both pictures but I would be interested in your opinion just the same. Click on the images for a clearer sharper view.. :-)
I’d just like to say thank you to Michelle from WordPress who contacted me last week to say that I am now, and I’m very proud to say this, a WordPress recommended photography blog. Since receiving this news, I’ve gained a lot of new followers so I’d like to welcome you all to Cornwall Photographic and hope that you enjoy my posts.
These photographs were taken at a smashing little beach called Porthcothnan on the north coast of Cornwall. Up until last winter, just around the cliff on the left, there was a huge rock that had a hole worn through it forming an arch, a bit like the one at Durdle Door in Dorset. One could get to it at low tide only. Sadly, it was smashed to pieces in the severe storms of last winter. Lets hope we don’t have a repeat of all that this winter. This rock arch was one of those features that I kept telling myself, I must check the tides and go down and take some pictures. I missed my chance and it’s now lost forever. Definitely a lesson to be learned in there somewhere. Click on the images for a sharper, clearer view.. :-)
I recently bought a Lumix LF1. It’s a super little camera for £150. I like the fact that it has a viewfinder so in sunny weather, I can still frame a shot and I like the fact that if fits in my shirt pocket. I like that it shoots RAW and I can have full manual control which with a little point and shoot, can make all the difference between getting a shot or not. These little cameras in my experience do tend to blow out skies when the conditions are a little dull as they were this afternoon so I took over.
The main reasons I bought this little camera though is that I can always have it on me and when I see a shot, out and about, it can be just about anywhere, I can press the shutter and if it’s a shot I like, as with this one, I can return with my D800 and tripod when the conditions are just right..
This shot won’t win any prizes, the quality isn’t quite there on full zoom but I’m really quite pleased with this and I’m really looking forward to returning. A bit more colour in those leaves and perhaps a sunset.. Hmm.. I like that idea.. :-)
I visited Trebarwith Strand a couple of weeks ago. It was blowing a gale, the sun was shining and the sea was rough. Lots of people were watching the spectacle, taking pictures with phones. Up on the rocks, a couple of youngsters were really not giving the sea ’nuff respect’ to use the colloquial expression.
Standing so close to the edge with a rising tide, these two were lucky to get a warning. The next wave may well have swept them into the sea..
Please give the sea the respect it deserves, always! Far too many people drown each year around the coast of Cornwall.
52mm f/16 1/125 sec. ISO-100
One of my new favourite places, Holywell Bay near Newquay in Cornwall. With a National Trust car park providing convenient parking, sand dunes, cliffs, rocky islands and the most amazing surf, this is a beach definitely worth a visit. More to follow. Click on the image for a sharper, clearer view.. :-)
There is now just one day left in which to vote for the best ‘People’ photograph in the latest Digital Lightroom photography Competition. Photographer David Penprase judged the initial round and gave us 12 shorlisted photographs. It is now down to a public vote as to which photograph wins the competition. It’d be great if you could take a moment to look at the pictures and vote for the one that you think deserves to win. Appreciate it, thank you.. http://thedigitallightroom.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-polls-are-open-5/
The pictures below were taken at Perranporth and Porthcothnan, Cornwall :-)
There is no doubt that I will keep returning to this beach time after time. Chapel Porth has got to be one of my favourite places to be. The beach only appears during spring tides that coincide with the full moon. During spring tides, the difference between the highest and the lowest tide is at its greatest. Neap tides, where there is little change between high tide and low tide, coincide with the new moon. Between new moon and full moon, the height of the tide at its lowest and highest, changes a little each day. Tide tables come in very handy when planning shoots, along with the weather forecast of course.
The day these photographs were taken, the tide was at its lowest at around 11.30 in the morning and on a beautiful September day, the shots I got weren’t the shots I was hoping for but I was quite pleased with these nonetheless. Waiting patiently for the moment the tide dropped low enough to be able to get onto this part of the beach, I was there before anybody else.
I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them. It’s a long time since I had a paddle in the ocean usually preferring the Wellington boot to taking my shoes and socks off and rolling up my trouser legs but on this day, I couldn’t resist.. Click on the pictures for a clearer sharper view :-)
This tutorial covers the basic steps necessary to capture images like the one above. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is shaped, as the late Sir Patrick Moore, (a BBC, well actually, national institution described it, a man who presented a late night astronomy programme for 55 years) like two fried eggs back to back. We live about halfway across the white. It’s about 25,000 light years to the centre of the galaxy and about 25,000 light years to the edge. With light travelling at 186,000 miles per second, getting your head around how far light can travel in an hour, let alone a year and then multiplying that by 25,000 to get to either the edge or the centre of the galaxy from where we are situated, it really is quite mind-boggling.
The size, the complexity, the multitude of stars and planets, standing on a beach or a cliff top with a camera pointed at the night sky, looking towards the edge of the galaxy that stretches like a huge arch above our heads, one really can feel very small and insignificant indeed. I had a little chuckle to myself, remembering ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ where in the opening chapter, Earth was demolished to make way for an intergalactic highway. With all attempts to contact us having been ignored, so wrapped up in the idea that we are the only ones, the highway was going ahead unchallenged and that was it, Earth was no more and the intergalactic bulldozers trundled on remorselessly.
Find a nice dark Sky
The first step is finding a dark sky without light pollution. This is becoming increasingly difficult as towns and cities spread. I’ve been using a website called Blue Marble to find areas local to me that should be dark, or at least dark enough to capture these images. I have a certain advantage in being able to find a nice flat relatively dark horizon looking out to sea but even then, darkness can not be guaranteed. The orange glow in the image above comes from a trawler or tanker. In the picture below the glow from Falmouth, and a few more towns around the coast plus what I think are navigation lights from a fishing trawler that was coming and going across the horizon clearly impact on the image but not disastrously so. The orange glow from the sodium lighting used the world over will wash out the further stars from your Milky Way image so really, get as far away as possible from towns and cities.
Locating the Milky Way
Once you’ve found yourself a nice dark area of countryside, you need to find the Milky Way. The best advice I can offer here is to look for what could be a ribbon of clouds across the sky on a clear night. The billions of stars that make up the Milky Way can appear just like that but if you look more closely at the cloud you’ll see that it’s made up of stars. To be more exact, the Milky Way extends from the constellation Scorpius (Scorpio) to the constellation Cygnas, (the swan) particularly the area closest to Sagittarius. There are a myriad number of apps available for smart phones that will help you locate what we’re talking about if you’re still nonplussed or if light pollution is obscuring the best of the Milky Way. Here in the UK at the moment the Milky Way can be seen directly overhead extending north-east to south-west at around midnight. Summer is a good time to see the Milky Way. In winter the sun is in the constellation Sagittarius introducing cosmic light pollution. The moon can also be a culprit so it’s best to view during the Lunar cycle when the moon is absent or new.
Right, you’ve found a dark sky and you’ve located the Milky Way, what you now need is a sturdy tripod. With exposure times extending to 30 seconds, you cannot hold your camera still for that time. That said, don’t let not having a tripod hold you back. If you don’t have a tripod you could lay your camera on its back and set the self-timer. Setting the self-timer allows for the shutter to fire without jogging the camera.
To get the widest field of view, to get more of the Milky Way into your photograph, wide angled lenses are best. A typical kit lens would be 18-55mm. 18mm is a good starting point. If you can go wider, all the better. Faster lenses are better. By that I mean lenses that allow you to open the aperture to around f1.4, 2.8 or 3.5. This is simply because the wider the aperture, the more light you can collect on your sensor in the time the shutter is open.
We’re on the move as a planet, when you start taking pictures of the stars with long exposures, you’re going to get star trails if that exposure time is too long. To photograph the Milky Way we want to slow the shutter as much as possible before the star trails become too apparent. For this we use the 500 rule. Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens to arrive at a maximum exposure time before star trails appear. Wider angle lenses are better as they are going to give you a longer shutter speed allowing more star light to be collected by your sensor. I’ve been using a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8.
Set your aperture to its widest. As I’ve mentioned, ideally this will be between f1.4 and 3.5. If your lens doesn’t open that wide, it’ll be harder to get an image but not impossible. With a wide aperture however comes a narrow depth of field so you need to be quite precise in your focusing.
To get enough light on your image sensor, you’re going to have to make it more sensitive to light. This means upping the ISO to anything between ISO 1600 and ISO 6400. The higher the ISO, the more noise will be introduced into the image. I’ve experimented with higher ISO’s and shorter shutter speeds. Really it’s a trade-off. You’ll need to find the best shutter speed/ISO combination that works best for you. I have found with my Nikon D800e that even at ISO 6400 the noise factor isn’t any more troublesome than at ISO 1600. Hence, I’ve been able to set faster shutter speeds to get ultimately a sharper image of the stars. Faster shutter speeds mean less star blur. Despite the introduction of noise at such high ISOs, I’ve printed these images at A3 and they look really good.
Focusing on the Milky Way
You need to set your lens to infinity to get the Milky Way in focus. This is difficult to do on a dark night with no moon to provide a focus point for auto-focus to operate. You’re not going to see anything looking through your viewfinder, the camera is blind. If you have an infinity mark on your lens be wary of just setting to that mark. In my experience setting the lens at the infinity mark will not give you the sharpest picture. It should, and I’m not entirely sure why it doesn’t on a lens costing £1500 but there you are. Perhaps someone could explain that one to me. Anyway, what you really need to do is focus on a distant object while it’s still light enough for your auto-focus to operate. Once you’ve focused, switch the lens to manual and leave the focus ring alone.
This is all well and good but if you want to add foreground interest to your image, given a very wide aperture, if your stars are in focus, your foreground will not be. I have experimented with setting the lens at the hyperfocal distance which, according to the depth of field calculators (numerous ones available for smartphones), at f2.8 on a full frame camera, focusing on a point just 0.83m should give you a sharp image from half a meter in front of the camera to infinity. Sounds too good to be true and it is. This method gives you a very sharp foreground and the stars are OK but they will not be as sharp as they could be. The solution is to focus one image at infinity, and another at the hyperfocal distance and merge the images in Photoshop. If you shine a torch at the hyperfocal distance for whatever f-number you’re using (lots of depth of field apps available for smartphone) for foreground, (ideally f/8 or f/11 with a very long exposure), auto-focus will pick up the point. Once you’ve done that however, you’ve lost your infinity focus and no longer have the option to refocus to infinity because it’s dark. My solution has been to take very careful note of where the focus ring is set when auto-focussing on a distant object. I’ve then been able to return the lens to that point when I’m ready to shoot the stars once more. It’s a bit woolly and if your lens doesn’t have a focus distance scale on it, it’s difficult to do. Some trial and error is going to be required to find what works best for you, your camera and your lens.
That’s it, all you need to start capturing pictures of the Milky Way. Once you have your images and are back at home in front of the computer with a nice cup of tea, you’ll need to process them. I use Photoshop to process my images. Regardless of the software you use to process your pictures, the first thing you are likely going to want to adjust is the white (or colour in Photoshop) balance to remove any colour cast. You can then set about increasing contrast to bring out the detail. There are many tools available to help you get the best of your images these include Topaz Labs ‘Adjust’ and one of my favourites, Topaz DeNoise. If you don’t have Photoshop, it’s available as a full working trial via the Adobe website as are Topaz Lab’s plugins. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the processing of these images as there a million and one ways to go about it but the two most important areas to concentrate on are the white/colour balance and contrast and I’ve mentioned.
Have fun. I hope you find this useful.
I had a trip out for lunch today to the Lugger Inn in Polruan. Polruan sits at the mouth of the River Fowey and a small ferryboat links Fowey across the river with Polruan. I couldn’t recommend the Lugger Inn highly enough. Our lunch of fresh, locally caught plaice with buttered prawns on a bed of crushed new potatoes with samphire was absolutely superb! Click on the link here, or on the links above, to take a look for yourselves.
After lunch on a scorching hot day, what better way to spend an hour than sitting on the quayside enjoying the view, a lovely sea breeze, and watching people messing about in boats on the river. Well, for me as a photographer, there was a better way to spend that hour of course and that was taking photographs. My mother, whom I’d taken out to lunch, got to sit and enjoy the view and the breeze and I didn’t feel quite so guilty about getting all absorbed in my photography when on a trip out together.
I pick up my Mum and we go out to lunch quite regularly and coincidentally enough, the pubs and hotels we visit are always in locations that lend themselves to a photograph or two. My Mum hasn’t complained, is very tolerant and for that I’m very grateful. Here are some of the pictures I took today. A day and a location that lent themselves perfectly to a picture postcard type photo or two. Click on any of the pictures to open the gallery. I hope you enjoy the pictures..