Tag: astrophotography

Wilkinson Cameras ambassador, astrophotographer Alyn Wallace, has kindly written a blog post sharing his top 10 backyard astrophotography ideas for lockdown with us. Check out Alyn Wallace’s website and find him on social: 

With many of us stuck in lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation, I thought I’d share 10 ideas for astrophotography that you can do from home, even if you live in a light polluted town or city. If there’s  one thing that this pandemic has taught us it’s that we’re all in this together and astrophotography and astronomy only help to solidify that sense of unification. We all live under the same Sun, the same Moon, the same planets and the same stars. People stuck at home all over the world have a chance to photograph the same subjects and share their images with each other. This borderless aspect of astronomy is one of the reasons I love it.

1. Light Painting with Sirius

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and can be seen from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. At the moment it’s in the south-west after sunset and sets in the west later in the evening (though don’t confuse it with the brighter Venus). Once you’ve located it you’ll notice that it twinkles quite profoundly, especially when it’s low on the horizon and its light becomes more disturbed by the turbulent layers in Earth’s atmosphere in a process known as stellar scintillation.

You can use this twinkle for creative artistic effect. Put Sirius in the frame, make sure it’s slightly out of focus to accentuate its twinkle and flickering colours, and then intentionally move your camera during a long exposure to light-paint with it. Or check out the example above where astronomer Steve Brown arranged multiple photos of an out of focus Sirius in an almost pop-art fashion.

2. Moon Photography

No matter how much light pollution there is in your area it will never wash out the Moon! It also opens up a whole host of different photographic opportunities. You could should a wide-angle shot and include some foreground interest. Or it’s a great excuse to whip out the telephoto lens and get a better view of the surface details. Crescent moons and full moons are particularly good for a telephoto shot as they are low on the horizon during the twilight hours. Or, you could try a HDR shot and combine 2 exposures for the illuminated side and dark side.

3. Planets

Planets, unlike the stars, reflect the light of our Sun and are much more visible in light polluted areas. At the moment you’ll spot Venus shining insanely bright in the western skies and it will be around until about May. If you have a south-eastern view then you can also spot Jupiter, Saturn and Mars together in the dawn skies.

4. Star Trails

Even if you can’t see that many stars in the sky you’ll be surprised at how many your camera will pick up. You can do star trails even if you live in London! Take multiple exposures of 20-30 seconds, set the ISO to 800 and adjust your aperture until you have a good overall exposure, but don’t over-expose! Leave a 1-2 second interval in between the shots you take. If you have a new camera and a good spec SD card then you can get away with 1 second, but if you have an older camera or a low-end SD card then go for 2-3 seconds. There’s nothing worse than missing an exposure and having a big gap between your trails. Talking of gaps, you can stack all the exposures in the free software StarStax which has a gap-filling mode, nice!
If your camera doesn’t have a built-in intervalometer I recommend the Pixel TW-283 for reasons I explain in the video above. Also, it may be worth putting a lens warmer on to prevent any condensation forming on the front glass element. There’s nothing worse than coming back to find hundreds of photographs of a foggy lens!

5. Shoot A Timelapse

In a similar fashion to star trails, you can shoot multiple exposures using an intervalometer and turn the images into a timelapse video. In order to get smooth motion you need the video to playback at least 24 frames per second, so every 24 images you take will equate to 1-second of footage. In the tutorial video I posted on YouTube you’ll see that I used the same frames from the star trail image to create a timelapse video.
There are many ways you can stitch your images into a timelapse and you can find tonnes online but I’ll be sharing my own tutorial on YouTube very soon so make sure to subscribe to my channel if you don’t want to miss out on that.

6. International Space Station and Starlink Satellites

It’s worth keeping an eye out for any International Space Station flyovers for your location. My favourite app is ISS Detector as it gives you a nice star map showing you how the path will look for your exact location. You could also capture an image of the SpaceX StarLink satellites although that’s a very touchy and controversial subject for astronomers and astrophotographers at the moment. To keep an eye out for those I recommend Heavens Above.
If you’re lucky there may even be an ISS transit of the Moon or the Sun for your location too.

7. Bokeh Stars

If there’s not that many stars in sight then one way to accentuate them is to focus on the foreground, so that the stars turn into large bokeh balls. It helps to have a bit of a longer focal length here, something between 50-135mm. Although you can do this technique with 20-24mm lenses too, just be sure to be nice and close to your foreground subject. The technique is easy, just focus on your foreground subject.

8. Constellations

Constellation photography in dark sky locations can actually be quite difficult. Your camera picks up so many smaller stars that the constellation gets lost in the chaos. A little bit of light pollution or moonlight, however, washes away the smaller stars and helps the conspicuous constellations to stand out. Use an app like Stellarium to locate them. Some of the most obvious right now are Orion, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, and Leo.

9. Pinhole Solar Photography (Solar Can)

You could try your hand at making your own pinhole camera, or you could buy a ready-made one from SolarCan. Just set it up outside facing the Sun, peel off the black tab to unveil the pinhole and then leave it for at least a week. The resulting image on the film inside the can shows the path of the sun over an extreme long exposure image. I’m going to leave mine outside for the duration of the lockdown here in the UK. Then the image will serve as a quarantine souvenir!

10. Deep Space Astrophotography

You may be quite surprised at how good a result you can get out of deep space astrophotography in light polluted areas. With the right light pollution filter you can really hone in on your distant target and if you have an astro modified camera you could even do some narrowband astrophotography. Whilst I dabble in deep space astrophotography, I’m no expert, which is why you should check out some of the YouTube channels listed below:
Astro Backyard
Peter Zelinka
Dylan O’Donnell

BONUS: Edit Your Past Images

You may have plenty of images sitting in your archive that are still waiting to be edited. Or how about going over past images to see how your editing has improved. As a bonus, my Astro Workflow Lightroom Presets are currently on sale during lockdown. See how they can improve your workflow and take your images to the next level.

For many of us, astro photographer Alyn Wallace was the rising star (no pun intended!!) of Digital Splash 2017. His talks sold out in record time and with his tales of astro photography and nocturnal adventures, both his words and pictures captivated the audiences.

As one of our first ‘Wilkinson Ambassadors’, we wanted to catch up with Alyn to see what he’d been up to for the last few years – and to find out more regarding his magical night sky photography.

So the last year seems to have really taken off for you – and you’ve been all over the world! Share with us a round up of your adventures and the images you’ve captured. What’s been the highlight of the last 12 months & what has been your biggest learn?

Leaving my engineering career behind and taking the plunge into freelance photography was admittedly a terrifying experience and despite a difficult first-year, things have picked up and the newfound freedom has allowed me to pursue my quest to uncover the darkest skies and most otherworldly landscapes.

As winter arrives my compass points north, most recently Norway and Iceland, in hunt of the elusive but mesmerising aurora borealis.

As the summer nights brighten I find myself heading south, not just for extended darkness but also to gain a much better vantage of the Milky Way core, the heart of our home galaxy. I find myself returning to the Canary Islands of Tenerife and La Palma for just that and given that you can drive above the clouds on a nearly nightly basis it’s about as close to heaven on Earth as I’ve found. Although the Canary Islands are often compared to the landscape of Mars, I’ve found Cappadocia in Turkey to be the most otherworldly landscape I’ve ever seen.

It’s usually difficult for me to pick a highlight of the year but capturing and witnessing my first total solar eclipse in Chile was truly an unforgettable life event. Just thinking of the coincidental nature and sheer perfection of the alignment between the Sun and the Moon is enough to make the hairs on my arm stand up, but to experience it was truly ineffable, which is why I’d much rather express myself through photos and vlogs!

With such a big shift in my life, I have of course learnt many things. I’ve gained a much greater appreciation of how precious time is. The clock is ticking and there’s no stopping it, work hard towards achieving your desires before it’s too late and you find yourself looking back with regrets.

Secondly, the best things in life are often found on the other side of fear and only you can push yourself through those fears to reap the rewards on the other side.

You seem to have become the King of astro post processing, launching your own set of presets as well as the many tutorials on your YouTube channel. Talk us through this, what can people hope to learn?

Firstly, thanks! But I don’t think there’s a crown to be won for a subjective and artistic matter. Everyone has his or her own style and taste.

As for the presets, they were born from experience with my workshop clients as I often found they were a bit aimless in their editing, not knowing where to start, when to stop or what to adjust next.

I’m largely against one-click-of-a-button presets that try to do everything in one go, which is why my presets are based on a structured workflow that also allows the user to tweak to their own taste as they go.

Firstly starting with lens correction, followed by global tonal adjustments, noise reduction and sharpening, colour-grading and finally local adjustments where the user can really sculpt and inject their own artistic flare to the final image.

Having a structured workflow has so many benefits, it brings speed and efficiency to your editing and also results in a repeated style such that your followers can recognise one of your images without seeing your name or watermark.

What’s coming up in the winter sky that amateur ‘Astros’ can perhaps look out for and try to capture?

The so-called Milky Way season spans from March to September but despite this, you can still capture the Milky Way throughout winter and in fact throughout the entire year. Milky Way season only considers the core of the Milky Way, which although it may be the brightest and most interesting section, there’s still some stunning areas of the Milky Way to be captured throughout winter – such as the dark dust lanes of the Great Rift or the bright and nebula rich Cygnus Region.

The highlight of winter is of course the aurora borealis, a phenomenon undoubtedly on the bucket list of many and rightfully so – it’s something that simply has to be seen, to be believed.

Winter also sees the return of my favourite constellation Orion, perhaps the most conspicuous of the constellations and viewable pretty much from all around the globe. Not only does it feature some of the brightest stars in the night sky, but it’s also rich in hydrogen-alpha emission nebulae.

It’s such a vast topic – what’s the best way to get started?

Grab a tripod and try some long exposures! You’ll find yourself addicted to the new world you can uncover with your camera. I have plenty of useful videos on my YouTube channel that cover the basics and I also post a monthly video explaining what’s in the night sky for the month ahead so you can begin to make sense of the seasonal and dynamic nature of the heavens. (See link below)

What kit do you need to get started?

The most basic setup would be a camera, a wide-angle lens (preferably with a wide aperture such as f/2.8), a sturdy tripod and a head torch. An intervalometer or remote shutter release can also be useful as you don’t want to shake the camera when starting the exposure as the movement will easily be seen in the pin-point stars in the image.

What’s next in your personal adventures, a winter at home, followed by?

I’m actually looking forward to a winter in Wales! After months of travelling it’s time to cosy up and get to work on finishing my book ‘Photographing the Night Sky’ which is scheduled to be published by Fotovue in September 2020.

It’s a guide to the settings and techniques needed for landscape astrophotography, as well as a summary of the best locations on Earth – with guidance on the various post-processing techniques such as star trails, stacking for noise reduction and blending exposures.

I’ll return to places already visited to continue my workshops but as yet there’s no concrete plans for new adventures, although the desire for a big trip to New Zealand and Australia is growing too big to ignore!

Alyn’s Kit:

Sony Alpha 7 III
Sony Alpha 7S II (Astro Modified)
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens
Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens
Sony 55mm f/1.8 Lens
Laowa 15mm f/2 Lens
Tokina Firin 20mm f/2 Lens
Sony 100-400mm Lens with Sony FE 2x extender

Landscape Astrophotography & Nightscapes Workshop with Alyn Wallace

Ever wanted to learn how to shoot the stars and night sky? Not quite sure how or when to even find the Milky Way? Then come along to an astrophotography workshop in the Snowdonia Dark Sky Reserve, hosted by Alyn Wallace and Wilkinson Cameras. Find more information here.

To keep up with Alyn’s latest photography, news and tutorials, you can find him here:

Facebook
Instagram
YouTube
www.alynwallacephotography.com

phone 01772 252188
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