Wednesday, 22 March 2017

3am Meteor 'Nightscape' of Black Hole Marsh

Night photography is something I haven't explored much so far but it often captivates me when I see the work of others; the results can be absolutely spectacular. Depending what the desired result is there are so many variables that need to be taken into account, the obvious main one being sources of light - these can be both shot making and shot spoiling.

Night shots tend to take some planning but just heading out with the camera can also yield some interesting shots. With night scenes there will always be parts of the image which are in complete shadow so a long exposure is necessary to bring out any detail. The downside of this is that any brightish light will likely be significantly overexposed; it is difficult to balance the two. There are various ways to combat the contrast of overexposed and underexposed areas in an image, including using physical graduated filters, digital graduated filters (Lightroom or similar), light painting the dark areas with a torch or even taking two different images and combining them; one would be set to bring out detail in the dark foreground and the other to control the 'blowing out' of any light sources.

I wanted to capture some detail of Black Hole Marsh whilst still being able to see stars in the sky for the final image. In terms of weather this required a clear sky, calm wind (which I didn't have) and no Moonlight as that'd make the sky too light and the stars would be less clear. Fortunately the sky remained free of cloud here for all the time I was out 00:00 - 04:00 and the Moon didn't show until 03:00 ish. The Moon was actually just coming into view for the shot posted below, hence the slightly brighter area behind the trees on the right hand side of the image. Although not planned I think this works okay here as the slight backlighting emphasises the detail in the trees a little. Something else that wasn't planned was the malfunction of a motion sensing light at The Lookout which was on intermittently with approximately 10 seconds on followed by 15 seconds off. I was trying to do long 30 second exposures so this would obviously capture the light in that time frame. This chance malfunction perhaps makes this image so much better than it would have been without it! It lights up the walkway to Island Hide and adds some nice detail to the middle of the image. There was a little more light pollution than I was hoping for with diffused light glowing distantly, probably over nearby towns within a few miles; this wasn't visible to the naked eye (it was completely dark apart from the stars and the dodgy light) but is quite obvious on a pic taken with a long exposure. I wanted to do this as a single image so I accepted that the light pollution would show if exposing to capture some detail of the foreground shadows.

In terms of image processing the contrast has been boosted, some shadows have been pushed to show a little more detail in the foreground and highlights have been pulled a tad to reduce the intensity of the light sources. This is a single image without any significant manipulation other than altering the RAW data captured in the original image. For those of you that use phones, bridge cameras or compact cameras in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you to make the image 'punchy' in the way that the camera sees fit. RAW files are always created intentionally 'flat' as it is simply capturing data for you to process later rather than having the camera interpret it in it's own way for you. Night photography can be a bit of a love/hate scenario in that some people don't like that cameras can capture more than what the human eye can see, whereas others think that what a camera can capture is simply amazing. After all, what the camera is capturing is actually there, it's just that the human eye isn't capable of seeing it in the same way.

As for the meteor? That was a nice bit of luck. I did see about a dozen of them but only a couple were bright enough to show up on the images. There is a remote possibility that what's been captured is a passing aircraft but a meteor did go through during this pic and the 'trail' doesn't look like the usual double-streak from aircraft in other pics. The streak is also slightly more intense towards the bottom which is how you'd expect a meteor to look rather than an aircraft. The image below has had a little more shadow & highlight adjustment than on the one that I've posted elsewhere so a little more foreground detail should be visible with this version.

Shot settings were as follows:
Shutter speed: 30 seconds
Aperture: f4
ISO: 8000
Focal length: 16mm

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