New Location and Night Time Photography in the New Forest

Anyone following my site may have noticed a bit of an absence for the past few months and there is a reason for this, I promise! Reasons that I'll get into in this post.

For starters, I had to finish my degree - deadlines for my 4th year independent research project had to be met, presentations made, and coursework submitted that all in all took up a lot of time unsurprisingly. For those who don't know, I studied geology at the University of Southampton, focusing mostly on palaeoclimate (or paleoclimate, no one ever seems sure of how it should be spelt (including people in palaeoclimate research!)) research in my 4th year. My final project was on utilizing grain size data from marine sediment cores taken from the coast of Northwest Africa as a palaeoclimate indicator over the past 10 million years. This involves a LOT of lab work, so photography unfortunately had to take a step back for a bit. It was all worth it in the end though - I graduated last week with a 2:1 classification in Master of Geology - I officially have something I can put at the end of my name on my business card! 

My girlfriend, Nikita, and I at my graduation - photo courtesy of Dad!

My girlfriend, Nikita, and I at my graduation - photo courtesy of Dad!

University out of the way, it was time to start my new job and prepare for the next one - let me explain: During my time at university I'd already got a job lined up ready for me to start as soon as my final coursework assignment was handed in as a lab assistant in the same labs I'd been using to complete my research project - not exactly photography related but it pays the bills and is reasonably flexible so if something were to come up I wouldn't be too tied down. However, since starting this job I've interviewed for a photography position at Fraser Portraits in Broadstone and (you guessed it) got the job. So, at the end of August I start at Fraser Portraits - primarily as an assistant photographer but possibly stepping in as a main photographer when required. Fraser Portraits deals mostly in school photography so I'll be working mostly with schoolchildren! 

Finally(!), I've moved out of Southampton; I'm now based in St Ives, Hampshire (not Cornwall, nice as that would be!) which is just outside Ringwood for anyone wondering. After years living in student accommodation, it's absolutely fantastic living in a small, quiet area again, where every horizon is crosscut by a tree. As a country boy at heart, I feel right at home again and my girlfriend and I have settled in nicely, after a rather hectic move over. For the moment I'm still working in Southampton, which is an easy journey across the New Forest on most days (don't get me started on Friday afternoons and school holiday traffic!). Speaking of the New Forest - it's now just a 5 minute drive away for me, perfect for a photographer!

Time for some photography at last - the New Forest is right next door, the UK is in the middle of a heatwave, and I'm buzzing to get out and find me a dark spot. These are areas with very little light pollution and therefore ideal for night time photography. Setting out at 11:00, and bringing a friend for company (and some other purpose you'll see shortly), we get to a car park and it's just us, the New Forest and its horses, and the night sky - and what a night sky at that. I'm sure I sound incredibly cliche and dramatic, but a night sky in a dark spot on a cloudless night is something everyone should see at some point in their lives. I've heard people say that climbing the Himalayas makes you feel small and insignificant - if you crave that same feeling, this is the cheaper (and easier) way of doing it. Just go out late at night, look up, and prepare to be amazed. You never truly see the night sky in the city; you'll see stars yes, but you just won't appreciate the sheer quantity of stars out there - you get this feeling of vastness and calm, shortly followed by this feeling of insignificance. Anyway, you get the picture, if you can ever get out into the middle of nowhere on a cloudless night, do it!

Out with the camera! Having recently upgraded to a full frame camera, I feel better equipped than before. Crop sensors are amazing these days but just don't have the same ISO performance you get from full frame, which you absolutely need if you're to have any success in night time photography. You may think you can simply leave the shutter open for longer to let the light in but in reality this isn't the case - the night sky is far from a still subject, so shutter speeds any longer than 5 seconds are likely to introduce some movement; great if you're looking to get star trails in your image, not so great otherwise. Further, there's a point where you just get trails so short the image just looks a bit blurry than as if you've made a conscious effort to capture the trail. What this means for those wanting still stars is finding the sweet spot in your ISO - for me I found 3200 was about right, anymore and in the post processing I found too much grain and noise in the final image to be satisfactory. With sensor technology constantly progressing I'm sure there'll be a time when much higher ISO settings could yield satisfactory results, but for now (for my camera at least) 3200 seems to be the limit. 

So, getting a wide angle lens on, pointing up in roughly the right direction (I'd already visited the area during the day but the spot I ideally wanted to shoot from was now full of resting horses), and experimenting with some settings resulted in the shots down below...

After getting some standard night sky shots I got a little more creative, using a standard smartphone torch to produce some light trails round my car - one trail from shining the light through my friends jumper, and the other by shining it through his thumb!

 

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So what did I learn? Keep the ISO down! going too high will expose better, but the grain it introduced was beyond my tolerance. Also, next time I'll be going even later into the night - even at midnight there was some light left from sunset, and with the Moon coming over the horizon this sunlight transferred through the atmosphere and shone on the Moon's surface, creating an amazing orange light across the horizon as if there were a forest fire in the distance. We didn't even realize it was just the Moon coming up until much later - there was a point where we genuinely thought there was a fire in the distance!

So there we go, it's been an amazing few months, the next stage of my life is now getting into full swing and I can't wait for whatever the future holds - Fraser Portraits will be a great first step in the right direction that's for sure. On top of starting at Fraser Portraits, I also have two engagement shoots coming up before the Summer's end, so stay tuned for those!