CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

How to get into astrophotography on Devon’s moors

PUBLISHED: 10:31 27 February 2018

Great Staple Tor star trail. A series or over 400 images taken over a four- hour period and blended together in Photoshop to produce the spin effect

Great Staple Tor star trail. A series or over 400 images taken over a four- hour period and blended together in Photoshop to produce the spin effect

Archant

Photographer Lee Pengelly urges everyone to get out onto our moors at night and looks upwards with their camera

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another,” Plato once wrote. Sadly in this day and age the connection to our environment is being lost; we are all chained to computer screens and the daily rat race. We forget to appreciate what is around us, and indeed above us.

The night sky is an awesome sight and one that 90 per cent of us rarely notice. With urban life sprawling out across our little island, the chance of witnessing the night sky in its full glory is tainted by light pollution from cities and flood lit motorways and streets, diluting the full effect of the heavens above.

Fortunately, living in Devon, you don’t have to venture far to discover the dark side; famous constellations, planets, meteor showers, shooting stars and the Milky Way are all perfectly visible and within easy reach.

The Milky Way taken with a fish eye lens, showing light pollution effects on cloudsThe Milky Way taken with a fish eye lens, showing light pollution effects on clouds

Internationally there are 11 Dark Sky Reserves, four of which are in the UK – Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, the South Downs and our very own Exmoor, which was awarded International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011.

The South West has plenty of star gazing spots, thanks to lower light pollution levels. A quick scan of a light pollution map of the UK confirms that our county has numerous dark sky locations from where to stage your star gazing trips.

These include south facing coastal locations such as Start Point – great for viewing the Milky Way, and of course Dartmoor.

Nun�s Cross, painted with light looking toward the lights of PlymouthNun�s Cross, painted with light looking toward the lights of Plymouth

The land locked National Park is not at present listed as a dark sky reserve, despite it having some of the best dark sky areas in the country.

It is possible that Dartmoor may apply for dark sky status in the near future, partnering with local groups who are eager for the National Park to be recognised. Although by all accounts the process of application is a lengthy and time-consuming one.

On the plus side: Dartmoor is very accessible from all sides and a great place to view the night sky. Polaris (the North Star), for example, can be viewed and photographed with little to no light pollution from various points on Dartmoor.

The Dark Sky map of the UK showing light polluted areas.The Dark Sky map of the UK showing light polluted areas.

You don’t have to be an astronomer to get out and view the night sky. Armed with some basic knowledge stargazing will open up a whole new world for you.

Stargazing is obviously a nocturnal activity and the best viewing times are after 11pm, and ideally between midnight and 3am.

An arduous hike isn’t necessary - there are plenty of locations on the fringes of the moor where you can view the cosmos in full detail – Nun’s Cross Farm for instance, is ideally situated as is Great Staple Tor and Haytor, all within easy reach without a degree in map reading.

Powder Mills with the Milky Way abovePowder Mills with the Milky Way above

Watch your local weather forecast and wait for a clear night, ideally with no wind. Moon phases are important to understand too, the best viewing time is on a New Moon, where in fact the moon isn’t in the sky.

Take your phone and use its compass feature to determine north. When photographing a spinning star trail the North Star, which will then be at the centre of the image with stars spinning around it.

Most smart phones now have access to a number of star gazing apps, Star Walk (iPhone) and Google Sky (Android) will not only guide you toward the best spot but also educate on the stars and constellations you are seeing. Photopills is another great app for photographers as it shows times and trajectories for the Milky Way in any given location.

Star map app for iPhone showing SaturnStar map app for iPhone showing Saturn

Milky Way season is between March and October when the galactic centre is visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

Be sure to take warm clothing - even in high summer temperatures can drop rapidly at night. A head torch or handheld torch with a red light is good to retain your night vision whilst still giving enough light to guide you to your location.

Bug repellant is also a bonus for summer nights; midges are rife on Dartmoor and make for an unpleasant session if unprepared.

Powder Mills with the Northern hemisphere constellations abovePowder Mills with the Northern hemisphere constellations above

If you are going alone be sure to tell someone where you plan to go and what time you plan to return, the weather on Dartmoor and Exmoor is especially unpredictable.

Astrophotography is a time consuming affair, be prepared to spend 3-4 hours in situ photographing star trails, and learn to use your camera in the dark – easier said then done.

Digital cameras are now capable of recording detail that the naked eye can’t see, with time-lapse modes and techniques adding an extra element of fun to a star gazing trip.

Nun�s Cross, painted with torchlight from behind with Venus to the right of the crossNun�s Cross, painted with torchlight from behind with Venus to the right of the cross

The National Trust run star gazing events throughout the year, a great introduction to the basics if you are unsure at first.

Turn off the tablet, put your phone on silent and get out there. “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” as Stephen Hawking said.

Powerful torchlight effect at Great Staple Tor, DartmoorPowerful torchlight effect at Great Staple Tor, Dartmoor

Astrophotography tips

Equipment: A camera with the ability to manually focus is best, with a shutter speed range of up to 30 seconds and the ability to trigger the shutter remotely. A sturdy tripod or some means of stable support is essential as the camera will be using long exposures.

Focus: Find a focus point and set your focus manually switching off autofocus.

Settings: Set your shutter speed to between 20-30 seconds. Your aperture should be at its widest i.e.; F2.8. ISO speed set to between 1600-3200.

Take the shot: Trigger the camera shutter remotely, check the result and adjust the settings in exposure/focus if needed.

Star trails: A star trail image requires a series of around 3-400 images taken at around 30 second exposures with an interval of around 20 seconds between each shot. Use an intervalometer to trigger this sequence remotely. The images are then merged together in Photoshop or via star trail software to create a spin or streak effect, recorded as the Earth rotates.

Check out Lee Pengelly’s work by clicking here.

_____________________

Follow Devon Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

More from People

Friday, December 7, 2018

Devon Life received this heartfelt letter from Mr Michael Thompson, of Torbay, which is felt particularly poignant to share with our website audience at this time of year

Read more
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bursting with festive inspiration, KATE WILLIAMS seeks out the best presents for a perfect Devon Christmas

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon has had more than its fair share of high achievers over the years but how well do you know our county’s singers, authors, sportspeople, explorers and TV personalities? This is an edited version of a quiz compiled by MARGARET BRECKNELL in the December 2018 issue of Devon Life

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

PHILIP DALLING recalls two Exmoor legends who shared a deep love of the moor and its natural resources, and gained national fame through the media

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the month when we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, STEVE ROBERTS highlights the terrible cost in human lives it inflicted on the county of Devon

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Actor Tom Burke talks to JUDI SPIERS about his production of Don Carlos staged by his own theatre company Ara, in association with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In the latest in her series throughout 2018 profiling inspirational women, KATE HASKELL talks to England Women’s Cricket Captain, Heather Knight

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

There is more to Georgia Toffolo than an award-winning TV show, as HOLLY EELLS discovers

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Striving to be the best in the world, homegrown Devon professional squash player Lyell Fuller is seeking sponsorship to help reach his goal. KATE WILLAMS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tavistock Rugby Club in Devon is celebrating after being awarded a grant of £2,500 to fund private showers for referees at their Sandy Park ground, as part of rural energy provider Calor’s annual funding scheme

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Devon’s Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, also known as The Black Farmer, tells KATE WILLIAMS about his new book, Jeopardy, encouraging the embracing of risk to enrich life

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As five members of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton celebrate 125 years of collective volunteering, we look back on their time with the organisation

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CAROLYN SEAGER reveals how long after her mother’s death she discovered her amazing career in the service of her country

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An author known for her novels depicting life on the Channel Islands is nonetheless happiest writing from home here in Devon

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search