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INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY WEEK 19 - 26th APRIL 2020



This coming Sunday ( 19th April ) see's the start of International Dark Sky Week. You can read more about it by clicking on the following link - https://idsw.darksky.org


April really is the last chance that we have in the North East of England to get some really dark sky images as the nights are getting shorter all of the time and true darkness will soon disappear. At the time of writing we only have 5 hours left each night and by the 11th of May that will be at an end until it starts to return on the 2nd August. That is if you are in Helmsley as it differs based on your latitude.


This year will be unique in that the majority of us are confined to our homes due to Coivd 19 and it will make getting out to take images much harder than in previous years. I am currently keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for this week and planning when I will take my daily exercise. I have a couple of locations in mind that I can cycle to in about 5 minutes from home that will give me the elevation that I need to take a panorama of the Milky Way as it arches over Helmsley. Trouble is to get the image I want, I will need to be out at 3am in the morning. March and April are two of my favourite months for imaging the Milky Way as it possible to capture it stitching from the south eastern skies where the galactic core is just starting to become visible all the way through the the northern skies. It's a fantastic sight and on a cloudless and moonless night looking at it with the naked eye.


From late May my attention will start turning to the return of Noctilucent Clouds which are truly amazing and only visible between late May and the end of July. They are the highest of all clouds at a height of over 50 miles. What makes then so unique is that because they are so high and at our latitude, they are still in directly sunlight even through we are in darkness. They shimmer and dance in the night sky and are a wonderful sight.


With Dark Sky Week almost upon us, then why not have a go at photographing the stars if you have never done it before and you can seen them from your garden. You don't need to take a masterpiece and only need some simple equipment to get started.


First and foremost, you are going to need a tripod to put your camera on. You are going to be taking images which will be 15 - 25 seconds long. The second part that you need to get right is focusing to infinity with your camera. If you have never done this in the dark it can be a bit tricky but a simple tip to get you started is to look through your view finder and focus on a street light that is about 200 meters away. Once your camera finds focus then you will be pretty close. Make sure once you have done this that you switch your lens to manual focus and also make sure you turn image stabilisation off on your lens if it has it. Aperture wise you need to been on the fastest setting you have. Remember this is the lowest number - f2.8 lets in so much more light than f11. Just use the lowest number you have. ISO wise I would start off at 3200 and then you can adjust up and down as you see fit. White balance can be set to automatic.


Shutter speed is very important and it works in conjunction with the focal length that you are shooting at. To keep things really simple, I would be shooting as wide as you can. The reason for this is that you want your stars to be sharp in the image. The problem that we have, is that the earth is rotating and you can only shoot for so long before the stars appear to elongate or trail. Thankfully, there is a simple piece of maths that you can do which works this out for you. It's called the 500 rule and is really simple.


As an example - if you have a zoom lens that has a focal length of 16 - 35 mm then you would need to do the following maths.


Divide 16 in 500 which gives you 31.25 (seconds) this is the maximum time you could set your shutter speed for if shooting at 16mm to trailing. Obviously your camera would allow you to shoot for exactly 31.25 seconds so you would go for the closest you can to this number without going over it.


However if you were shooting at 35mm then it would be:-


35 divided into 500 = 14.28 seconds. Again you would go for the nearest setting.


Now if you have a big zoom lens say 70-300mm and wanted to shoot at 300mm then you would only be able to have a shutter speed of 1.66 seconds which is now where long enough to let the light into the camera that you need and the longer the focal length usually the higher maximum aperture that you have. There are ways to combat this but that's a post for another time.


Fingers crossed this may give you the basics that you need to enjoy Dark Sky Week. There is lots of information and instructional videos online which will really help you. Why not give it a go and see what you come up with.


Stay safe.

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© 2020 By Steve Bell Photography