Making the most of the Winter Blue Hours
Winter can be a difficult time to photograph, with the colder temperatures, later sunrises, and the general winter blues, but it is often well worth pursuing. I regularly find the sunrises and sunsets to be spectacular, with weather fronts moving through the Channel. I also love the fact the sun rises and sets further south, giving a fantastic backdrop to the lighthouse and Harbour Arm in Folkestone at dawn, and sets over the coastline stretching towards Dungeness in the evening. From about March to October, I need to travel a little to get the full effect of the sun over the sea. The ease of photographing at this time of year is the lazy in me coming out, which is fine. January and February for us mean taking it a little easier, hence the delay this month in the publishing of this newsletter!
It's also a time of photographic experimentation for me. If there's something that's been eluding me over the past year, be it a piece of equipment I haven't had a chance to master properly, or another aspect of photography I haven't quite explored, this is the time to do it.
Something I had been meaning to work on a lot more was the video side of photography. I could visualise an image in my head, and most times, could capture the still image with the camera, but the leap from the still image to a moving image, was one I had been struggling with for some time now. I've been playing around with videoing myself photographing scenes, why I do something, how I do it, etc., and have been releasing them on my YouTube Channel, which can be viewed by clicking on the video link above. Do give it a look, and subscribe if you enjoy the videos.
Another aspect of photography I've been meaning to expand on is astro-photography, especially in regards to using a telescope. I've owned a telescope for a few years now, and have done some photography with it, but I've never been completely happy with the results I've gotten using it. This is mostly to do with how quickly objects move through the eye-piece. Anyone who's done any moon or astro-photography, will be familiar with trying to focus on the moon only to find themselves having to adjust their tripod once they've focused, as the moon has moved! This becomes more problematic the bigger the lens used. It's pretty incredible just how quickly we move through space.
Now the way around this issue, is to use a motorised tripod, or star tracker. This can be set to track the moon, stars, etc., giving one the ability to use much longer exposures without losing your subject. My telescope does have a motorised mount, which, in theory, should be able to do the above. However, I've always found it clunky and frustrating, leaving me wanting to throw the whole mess over the edge of a cliff. My aim therefore, was to get the controller to connect to my laptop, making the whole process that much easier. After a very cable-filled sweary afternoon, I succeeded. I can now control the telescope via the laptop, enabling me to get the tracking I've been after for so long.
I was really pleased with one of the first images I took of the moon's terminator line, where day and night meet on the moon. The light of the sun throws the moon's topography in stark relief along this line, really highlighting the craters and mountains. This was taken with my Nikon D750, attached to the telescope with a T-ring, allowing me to use the telescope as my lens. It's now just a case of further experimentation to get closer into the details.
This second image showing the bottom of the moon was taken with a dedicated astro-photography camera, a ZWO ASI 290, which fits into the eye piece of the telescope, and is controlled via laptop. It takes hi-res video footage as the telescope tracks the moon, after which the individual frames of the video are stacked on top of one another to produce the final image. The image above comprises of around 500 individual images. I'll be going into more depth on this process in a future article.
In conclusion, the winter months can be used for all sorts of photographic exploits, even if it just means sitting and editing past images with a cup of tea as the wind and rain pelts the windows. That is, if you're not out there trying to capture this pretty special season...