Monday, 31 October 2016

Stargazing Scotland - Night Photography: behind the scenes

In this blog I want to show you that there’s much more to creating a photograph than just snapping that final shot. I’m going to walk you through the creative process of one of my favourite images from conception to the final piece. Every now and again I’m in the right place at the right time with my camera, but ninety percent of the time I visualise what I want to achieve before finding the landscape and conditions to fulfil my vision. Because of this, I might visit a location several times before everything comes together in the right way, enabling me to produce a final piece.

I started by making the decision to break free from the rule of thirds; I was starting to find it very limiting and repetitive. Instead I resolved to make use of natural symmetry and contrast to lure the viewer into the centre of the frame. In my favourite images I do this by finding a ‘bow tie’ shape in the landscape, combining this with a lead line to compliment the ‘bow tie’ and pull the eye to the focal point. Having only adopted this technique recently, I decided to make use of it again. Below is an example of this technique from a previous piece.

In the above image, the tree-line creates the natural bow shape, which is complimented by the star trail revealed by a long exposure. Finally, a lead line adds extra interest to pull the viewer into the frame. This image came with its own stages of completion, but for now I’ll just use it as an example.

After searching up and down an area of river in Wigtownshire with trees on either side, I found a location looking downriver that I liked. And whilst I was pleased with the result of my first visit to this location, I decided I wanted to to make more use of the natural shapes available to me in the conifer woodland on the left and the deciduous woodland on the right. I knew the location had great potential, but I had to wait for the waterline to drop before I could get closer in for further experimentation.

After returning for some experimentation I was satisfied with this as starting point for a final piece. Here, I have my ‘bow tie’, and a subtle lead line in the river. I also love the way the conifer woodland contrasts with the deciduous woodland on opposite sides of the river. However, I wanted a more obvious lead line. To achieve this, I realised I had to wait. As my understanding of the night sky has increased, my ability to apply this to my photography has also improved. It dawned on me that the lead line I needed was the Milky Way, only it wasn’t in the right part of the sky… yet.

Our planet faces a different part of the night sky as the seasons change, resulting in the constellations rising a little earlier every night. I decided to wait for the bright part of the Milky Way to rise into position, thus creating an obvious lead line to compliment the natural shapes in the composition. I also knew that Mars and Saturn would be aligning in Scorpius later in the year, the constellation at the focal point of this image.

After waiting for the part of the night sky I desired to move into position over the space of a couple of months, I was finally rewarded with my final image. It turned out to be a close call. The summer solstice was fast approaching, bringing brighter nights and threatening my image of a detailed Milky Way. This, combined with terrible weather and lunar activity, made it hard to find the conditions necessary. Finally, one Sunday morning around 3am, I was at last blessed with clear skies over a dark, moonless landscape. As a bonus, there was some striking purple atmospheric glow (a phenomenon similar to the Aurora but less dramatic). Since yellow and purple are at opposite ends of the colour wheel, this glow complimented the warm, ancient light emitted by the red supergiants in the galactic centre perfectly.

After getting the exposures I needed, all that remained was to take them back to the edit suite and get to work. But just before packing up an Otter dove into the river right before my eyes, after watching it fish for a while I looked up into the sky to immediately see a bright green fireball scour across the heavens. The buzz you get from a double encounter like that is phenomenal, and it made standing out in the frost for three hours whilst my camera exposed all the more worthwhile!

Jesse Beaman
Stargazing Scotland

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