Undaunted by my recent failure to capture star trails, the goal remained in mind when I returned to familiar ground in Merseyside this week. I’ve spent enough time there to be getting my bearings, and though staying in Widnes I knew I was close enough to St Helens that I could easily return to the Dream sculpture that featured here a few weeks ago.
Thwarted by cloudy skies on my first evening there I was delighted to see nothing more than the occasional wisp the following night. Dining early to give myself the chance to take my time over the shot, I made my way to Sutton Manor, the location of the sculpture.
First challenge. I’m sorry if you’re local to the area, but to my eye it doesn’t look like the sort of place to leave your car at night. There’s a pub there with a large and fairly derelict expanse of land around it, and even though there were lights within the building I can’t be certain that the place is a going concern. It has the look of a place where drug deals take place in the more remote corners of the parking area.
I decided to chance it, leaving my car in a location that combined proximity to the roadside and one of the occasional streetlights in the area.
The pathway to the summit where the sculpture is located was quite distinct, though I wasn’t aware of moonlight, but the bushes and grassland on either side was dark and indistinct except where silhouetted against the deep blue of the night sky. Glancing ahead of me I spotted a figure outlined in the same way crossing my path and then disappearing once more into the darkness, making me question further the wisdom of my endeavour. I tighter my grip on the tripod I held in my right hand.
Seconds later I began to wonder if I’d need it to defend myself as I heard his dog announce its presence with a series of growls as it came quickly in my direction. Straining my eyes against the darkness I thought I could make out some sort of bull terrier, but luckily before I was able to confirm my identification it finally responded to man calling it back. Though I had a head torch I’d decided not to use it as I didn’t need to illuminate my path and felt it wiser not to announce the presence of a photographer with some pricey equipment on his back.
I reached the summit without further encounter, and identified the position of Polaris. Star trails look better when shot against the poles for here the rotation of the earth produced more pronounced results. I set up my tripod to include both the stars and my foreground subject, noticing as I did so that more wisps of cloud were passing overhead. I was unconcerned; they were both speedy and insubstantial. Focusing and composition done (as much as you can when shooting an image that looks largely black through the viewfinder) I opened the shutter and began my wait, which gave me plenty of time to notice more of the cloud fragments passing by overhead, though as I followed their progress I was frustrated to see that they seemed to be slowing enough to gather into a more substantial barrier somewhere between me and the Pole Star. I looked behind me where Orion’s Belt formed a smile at my annoyance.
Undaunted I reversed position to take advantage of the clarity of this constellation instead, only for the cloud to coalesce there too. The final straw came when two mountain bikers arrived, bearing enough lighting to satisfy the most demanding of road safety campaigners. Another largely wasted evening, though I liked the result of this shot where if you look closely you can just make out the traces of Orion through the cloud. Very closely. Very very closely.