Saturday, 23 February 2013

Stargazing in The Mendip Hills

Last year I posted about getting into photographing the night sky. Since then I've been doing some research and a little planning. It's all turned out much more addictive than I first thought. This week I was photographing Crook Peak on the Mendip Hills. Knowing that we were in for a clear sky that night I decided to take the opportunity to hang around until after dusk to make a start on my night sky project.

Star Trails Over Crook Peak, Somerset
Star Trails Over Crook Peak, Somerset

The limestone outcrop at the top of Crook Peak made for an interesting foreground so before darkness fell I selected the most interesting looking rocks and then waited for the stars to appear. My research had paid off as once it was dark enough I was easily able to identify the pole star (Polaris) around which all the other stars would appear to rotate. Better still I managed to find it in my viewfinder!

The one thing I was unsure about was whether to go for one single long exposure or several short exposures and stack the images together later. Consensus on the internet was the latter. Certainly my limited attempts at star trails on my old Nikon D2x a few years ago supported the thinking that noise would be an issue with one single long exposure.

I had a Mental block once darkness fell though and was unable to remember where the intervalometer could be found in my camera's menu. That decided it. I had no intention of spending all night searching through a menu on the back of my camera so single long exposures it was!

I tried different exposures of up to 10 minutes and experimented with a small LED torch to paint light onto the rocks. I was pleased with my final image, although a 20 minute exposure would have given longer trails for better effect. As it happens the camera did admirably well with a single exposure and produced very clean images.

This stargazing bug has certainly bitten and the family now has a small 4 inch telescope. We've only used it in the garden so far and this has limits due to nearby street lamps and a restricted view of the horizon. The day before I made the image above at Crook Peak, we decided to go up onto the Mendip Hills which would be free from these limitations. So just before sunset we carried the telescope up to the top of Cross Plain on the Mendips (near Crook Peak).

Stargazing On The Mendip Hills, Somerset
Stargazing On The Mendip Hills, Somerset

Unfortunately once we were set-up we realised that the batteries in the telescope's motorised mount were running flat which made locating objects in the sky a little tricky. Mental note to charge them before leaving the house next time. Our frustration was made worse by the stiff breeze that kept shaking the telescope. A little more planning will be required for our next excursion!

Still, it wasn't a completely wasted trip as I managed to make some nice images of the kids using the telescope in the dusk light.

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