Dark & Starry Landscapes : Sun 9th April
Peak District by night photos from Martin Bradley.
Welcome to Sunday evening at Bill’s Mother’s, our Sunday supplement, if you like. I posted a few samples of Dr Martin Bradley’s ‘Astral Peaks’ photos along with the earlier stories in Sunday at Bill’s Mother’s this morning.
But Martin’s photos need more space, I think, so here’s a wider selection, along with some of his notes about how to take fabulous Peak District landscape photos when there’s almost no light to photograph by.
Photo above: “This stone circle is on Harthill Moor close to the village of Elton. There are only four of the ladies left, but they are quite an impressive size. The circle dates back to the early Bronze Age. The constellation of Auriga hangs over the Ladies in the picture - Auriga was a Roman and Greek mythological charioteer. I liked the connection between a Bronze Age charioteer and the stone circle. The glowing orange clouds give the impression of a sunset but this picture was taken around midnight and the colouration is due to light pollution.”
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Martin insists you don’t really need a fancy camera for night photography, but you do need a tripod. He has a lightweight simple one for everyday use and a heavy duty one with a strap to hang his bag to weigh it all down and keep the picture steady when it’s windy.
Noise on the image is less of a problem he says than digital artefacts, produced by compression and enhancement techniques, so he always shoots in RAW format.
From his home in Chesterfield, Martin loads up his camera rucksack and heads out, sometimes for 2-3 hours to walk to a location. People ask if he feels vulnerable out in remote places at night with expensive camera gear, he says. His answer is that he doubts there’s much scope for villains making a living on Curbar Edge at night, and maybe the streets of Sheffield provide an easier hunting ground.
“I have never had an anxious moment, but have had some marvellous encounters with some pot smoking local youth at Fabric Rock above Ashover, for example. And I met a group of teenagers on the beach at Wells, who were very excited when they looked at the images I was taking. So I took a picture of them standing on the steps of a beach hut with the Milky Way above.”
“Normally I have a bit of a hike to get to my photographic location, but for this shot I just pulled my car in at a layby at Ladybower reservoir. The moon helped to illuminate the scene and the large constellation of Aquarius can be seen hanging over the reservoir. The orange glow is coming from the village of Bamford.”
Light pollution is a gripe for most star gazers and sky photographers. Martin says it’s really hard to avoid light pollution, even at the most remote parts of the Peak District. Taking decent pictures of the Milky Way is almost impossible round here, whereas on a visit to Turkey he was able to get dozens of photos. Heathcote Mere (below) is one of the less light-polluted locations, he says.
“This is Heathcote Mere above Hartington. I rode past it a few times on my bike, a lovely spot. I thought it might be good for a night time image. I remember it being a particularly pleasant, peaceful photo session. It was very tranquil, and I love the reflection from the mere.”
“This Froggatt Edge image is actually a four pane mosaic (four photos stitched together). I find the gritstone edges to be a magical place at night. I like the combination of the rock formation and the glow from the villages below with the infinite sky above. Orion the Hunter is over to the left with Taurus the Bull over to the right.”
“This disused lead mine close to Sheldon and Monyash is a fascinating place to visit. The glow from the arched doorway is from a judiciously placed front bike light! The Seven Sisters star cluster can be seen high overhead, it could almost be a puff of smoke from the chimney.”
Some technical advice: “Except for the mosaic image of Froggatt Edge (I used a 24mm Samyang lens for this), I used a Samyang 14 mm lens for most of the pictures, and single 30 second exposures using a Canon 6D camera. Samyang lenses are very popular for night time images because they have good optics but are completely manual which keeps the cost down. (Features such as autofocus and exposure along with image stabilising are not of much use for this sort of photography.) You don't need a fancy camera, just one that can take long exposures up to 30 seconds.
“Getting a good focus is quite tricky. My lenses will focus beyond infinity and the infinity indicator isn't accurate enough. I use the camera's display screen with the live view function and a very bright star or a distant light. I enlarge the image on the screen as much as possible, and then use very fine adjustments to get the focus spot on. There is nothing worse than getting home and looking at your picture on a larger screen only to discover that the focus wasn't right and the stars are unpleasantly bloated.”
“This is the Eagle Stone, set back from Baslow Edge. I love this isolated rock and have imaged it at night several times, on each occasion it shows something different.
On this occasion I was feeling a bit frustrated because the crystal clear sky had become murky. I took a few pictures and realised it was actually quite atmospheric. I love the way the clouds seem to be radiating from the stone itself. The Plough is sitting just above the stone, but it’s the cloud that grabs my attention. Apparently the local young men of Baslow used to have to prove their manhood by climbing the stone before they could marry.”
“A friend of ours got married here, it’s a delightful little chapel. Some time after the wedding I decided to return and take a star trails image. There was a near full moon which helped to illuminate the chapel. The stars can be seen to be rotating around a near centre star, Polaris, The North Star. We framed the pic and gave it to the couple as an additional wedding present.”
As far as I understand it (put me right if I’ve misunderstood, Martin!) for this type of image, you take lots of photos of the same scene one after another, at fixed time intervals, and then stitch them together in photo editing software to show the movement of the stars.
He goes to all the trouble to produce these remarkable photos because of the challenge, he says, and because very few people see the Peak District the way he does. Some pictures, like the star trails above Little Longstone Chapel, can take quite a long time to complete, so he takes along a star chart and a pair of binoculars, lies back and looks up at the constellations and brighter deep sky objects.
“It all feels very serene,” he says. “It’s so quiet, you hear birds like owls, and other animals rustling nearby and you have no idea what they are.”
He says he’s happy to answer questions left by readers in the comments below, and he’s recorded a video covering some of his technniques on the Stargazers Lounge forum.
Martin’s Astral Peaks Photography social media page also covers incredible deep space and star images.
“On a clear night I might be sat watching the television, nice and warm. Sometimes I just think to myself: ‘What am I doing sitting here when the greatest show on earth is up above?’ So I put on my down jacket and haul myself out into the countryside. I never regret it.”
Thanks for reading. And please do leave any comments (or praise) for Martin below.
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