A cold, clear night in the Australian Alps is likely to find me driving up a mountain in the dark, camera gear at the ready and the excitement of the chase spurring me on.
If I round a bend and the magic appears, then I’m out of the car and setting up my gear like a shot. The vista that I chase is that of the Milky Way, standing out starkly against a black sky with an interesting foreground to frame and enhance it.
At times I am lucky and the focus, the exposure, the angle of the ascending Milky Way and the foreground details come together to create something special. When that happens, the cold, the preparation and the traveling are all worth it.
Waiting in the darkness for the image to appear on the screen is a moment of pure anticipation. Sometimes the image that appears, the 30-second, high ISO, fast aperture product, is so stunning as to be breathtaking. It is hard to beat the thrill of night time photography for the human eye cannot see what the sensitive sensor can record. Therein lies the addictive nature of after-dark photography.
I began this stage of my photographic journey about six years ago and I am still very much a learner. My daylight photography goes back to when I first held a camera at the age of eight. Landscapes of a haunting, ethereal nature have been my passion for decades.
Since the dawning of the digital era, I have used Canon exclusively for my camera bodies. However, for my lenses, I have relied on Tamron, Samyang and Sigma. A decade after the purchase of my first DSLR, as my sojourn into astrophotography became more serious, I knew that my old workhorse was limited and that a different camera-lens combination was required.
The Canon EOS 6D was perfect for me with its full frame sensor, excellent low light sensitivity and relatively low levels of noise. It also had a reasonable price tag. It has proven to be a beautiful camera to work with when partnered with the Tamron SP 24-70mmF/2.8 Di VC USD.
At times I need a wide-angle lens to capture the stars without stitching together a panorama (guide). The Samyang XP 14mm f/2.4 wide-angle lens, a magnificent piece of glass and well worth the price tag, fits the bill. This lens, combined with the 6D, has produced some of my best astrophotography shots to date.
There are times when this camera is not the right choice – perhaps it is too heavy for the situation or perhaps I am reluctant to take it out in poor weather. Then the Canon EOS 760D camera and Sigma DC 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 lens combination work well. This smaller camera with excellent zoom lens has produced many fine images.
The third item on the essential gear list is my ball head tripod. I carry a well-priced model – the Vanguard Espod CX 203AGH. When walking, this tripod’s lightweight is a real bonus. Along with the tripod comes the head torch, an essential for night time photography and the remote shutter release, which prevents camera shake spoiling a slow shutter speed image.
Clothing forms part of my preparation as much of my photography is in the snow, or the dark and cold. A warm and waterproof jacket, beanie and warm gloves are essential. As well as extra warm gloves, I always carry finger-less gloves, as manipulating the camera controls wearing thick gloves is impossible. Once your hands are cold it’s hard to remain focussed (excuse the pun).
The final piece to my kit is my car – a Nissan X-Trail with winter tires and Alpine Diesel. When driving alone up an icy mountain it’s important to have a reliable car to get me there and home safely.
The X-Trail is also large enough for me to sleep comfortably in the back with the seats folded forward and a mattress and sleeping bag laid out. I love waking in the Alpine National Park with fog swirling all around me and the morning sun about to rise. I am right there ready to capture the moment.