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!
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.