Spin Cycle

With much of the planet in lock-down due to covid-19, it really does offer an opportunity to stand back and evaluate what we have and what really matters. As we head into late Autumn here in the Southern Hemisphere, the break from the daily grind resulting from this virus has given pause to really appreciate some of the natural beauty in my local surrounds. As a landscape astrophotographer I am often roaming the country in all directions scouting locations and returning at unsociable hours to capture the stars. The somewhat ironic situation of having a sky void of aeroplanes without being able to get out into the countryside away from light pollution to photography the clear night sky isn’t lost on me. Still, the constraints of the current situation do force the creative side to find a way. For me, this has been revisiting star trail photography where the facing the celestial pole gives an appearance of being caught up in the ultimate cosmic spin cycle.

I used the April new moon to visit a reservoir come nature reserve a few hundred metres from my house. Though beautiful, this is a Bortle class 5 location, so completely unsuited to capturing the Milky Way. For star trails however, it proved to be a very interesting location with decent orientation toward the South Celestial Pole. This particular night I was in terrific luck with a perfectly still night which gave the waters surface the appearance of an enormous mirror of the night sky. Not as impressive as it would be clear of the towns light pollution, but mesmerising none the less. I stood there just watching the sky for nearly an hour as my Sony A7R captured its image sequence.

Composite blend of over 100 photos shot with a Sony A7R and Sigma 20mm f/1.4 lens at various settings.

Another advantage of having an outing so close to home was it afforded me opportunity to work on my techniques. In the image above I shot a foreground self portrait shot using a 3rd party intervalometer stopped down to f/5.6 for excellent sharpness and ISO 200 for low noise. I didn’t need to take the ISO that low, but I really just wanted to see how far I could push it. Bracing myself against the platforms railing I managed an exposure of 90 seconds without any significant signs of subject blurring. This should give you a good idea of just how still it was. Following this I took a series of around 100 images wide open at f/1.4 and exposed for the sky. Back at the computer I then processed the RAW images in RawTherapee and stacked and blended the photos in Affinity Photo. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the result.

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