Beacon Hill Field Trip
A couple of weeks ago, myself, Richard Reynolds, Andy Myatt and Gladys Perrier made a night time expedition to Beacon Hill nr. South Harting in Sussex. Our objective was to try and photograph the Milky Way as it remains relatively upright and high in the northern hemisphere.
Planning and Preparation
Richard has worked hard over the summer figuring out the minutae of how PhotoPills works and specifically how you can use it to plan Milky Way (and Full Moon) images. This little group have tried several times to optimise our approach over the summer and learn how to bag the Milky Way in our locality.
Tips and Tricks
We’ve learned a lot:
- Although perfectly cloudless conditions are not a must have, it is critical to have minimal cloud cover. That said, if you are not outside with your camera, then you have zero chance of taking a shot. Gotta be out there!
- Obviously light pollution, the ambient light cast from towns and cities, is an important factor, but again it is tolerable as the attached photos show.
- What is important is the moon, or more precisely the absence of the moon. We have worked out that the moon does light up the sky so much, it is best to shoot on no moon/new moon or at least when the moon has set.
- To photograph the Milky Way, you are looking south. Whilst we have done some trips without a foreground image objective in mind, it is clear that the best images combine Astro- and Landscape (hence it is called Astrophotography!)
It is these last two points where Richard’s planning skills have come in, working out locations and specific dates where the conditions are optimal – the stars are aligned one might say.
Dark Sky Area
This location (Harting Down and its environs) was chosen because it is the closest official “Dark Sky” area to Bracknell. As ever, roaming through the hills in the dark was exhilarating (ok, I accept this is not for everybody) and Richard had a clear mapping of which paths we needed to take. After a walk across the down, we went down hill into a secluded valley that was already filling with swirling mist. But it was still a warm night with virtually no breeze.
In the Downs, if you go down, you have to go up! And sure enough we made the final ascent up a chalk pathway to the top of Beacon Hill where we were rewarded with views towards Chichester harbour and slightly further west we could see Portsmouth and a clear Spineker Tower – this was the source of the light pollution one can see on the images.
The summit is quite open but features a trig point, another stone structure with an orientation dial and a couple of small trees, along with some clumps of wild flowers; all good foreground material. We split into two groups, tripods up and cameras on, we began some compositional work – personally I still find this challenging in the dark!! Then focusing – again always a challenge. And then the important test shot and as ever, although we could just see the Milky Way with our naked eyes, the magic of the camera and the sensitivity to different wavelengths, suddenly showed up on the backs of our Canons. Magic!
We continued taking images using different strategies. I have a Move Shoot Move tracker so was taking 2 minute exposures (remember the max without tracking is about 20-30 seconds using a higher ISO). Richard pursued a strategy of taking multiple shots for stacking in software later.
After about an hour we felt that was enough and turned around and focussed our attention northwards – I mentioned, above Harting Down is officially a Dark Sky zone- and accordingly we were treated to a wonderful display of stars, constellations and a bright Jupiter shining in the north east. We completed some shots of this spectacle before packing up and retracing our steps, noting now that we had an orientation of where the Milky Way and stars were relative to the ground, some other potential compositions for future trips.
I hope that this group, with some hands on experience of this type of photography that will allow us to pass knowledge on to others who are interested in joining this sort of DarKnights trip this season.
(on behalf of DarKnights SIG)
Photo by Richard Reynolds
Photo by Gladys Perrier
Photo by Gareth Fish
Photo by Andy Myatt