On my recent visit to Berkshire as my colleague Kevan and I returned from sampling the wares of the local hostelry, I looked up to a remarkable display of stars, which then prompted two middle-aged men to stand in the cold, trying to locate the scant numbers of constellations that they could both identify and name. There were never many in my repertoire, but even Cassiopeia was eluding me.
The reason we felt compelled to stop and stare was the absolute clarity of the sky above us; unusually cloud free after the weeks of heavy rain that have swept the UK, but also free from the light pollution that we’re accustomed to and that dims the heavens these days. Given our proximity to London, this seemed all the more unusual, and even though we were staying somewhere relatively bucolic, we weren’t far from the main road linking Reading and Newbury.
Perhaps prompted by the older image that I posed recently I thought that I’d take advantage the following evening and shoot some star trails; long exposure images that take advantage of the earth’s rotation to create whorls of light from the blurring of what seems to be the stars’ movement but is in fact our own. Most of these shots are composites of dozens of image files, layered using specialist software, though it is possible to do something similar with a single ultra long exposure, though this needs to be shot against an otherwise black sky to prevent overexposure.
Inevitably the following evening, our last in this location, saw the return of cloud cover, but the seed was sown. A couple of evenings later and on my way back from meeting my friend Nic and her new Mercedes I stopped off to visit and old friend and try again.
No cloud to speak of tonight, but shooting north, where the best patterns would be achieved was a non starter. The combined luminance of Newcastle and Gateshead put paid to that idea. There there were the two girls who turned up and walked through my shot. Not usually a problem with a long exposure like this; they should have blurred into invisibility – if they hadn’t decided to use their iPhones as torches. Suddenly the trails in shot became random and much brighter than planned. Fifteen minutes of standing in the cold while that particular exposure was recording was wasted. I shot some more, but the chill was soon getting to my fingers and I retired for the night.
Checking my results later there was nothing that came close to what I was seeking. The shots with a dark night sky showed no real movement.
I looked again at one of the overexposed shots (again marred by torch trails). It was out of focus too (tricky when shooting wide apertures to make the stars brighter) and yet it had an interesting feel about it. Crop it down to get rid of the torches and the glowing moon. Maybe has some potential?