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Northumberland Camera Club

Lights in the starry night sky looking down the coast towards Coquet Island. Picture by Ivor Rackham.
Lights in the starry night sky looking down the coast towards Coquet Island. Picture by Ivor Rackham.

I love moments of solitude. I especially love being alone in the outdoors.

So walking on a moonless night along the coastal path thrilled me as much as would taking the photographs I was setting out to capture. My word, it was cold though.

Arriving at Craster in the early evening, I parked and hiked to Dunstonburgh Castle. Walking quickly kept the chill away. Despite being prepared for it with several layers of fleece, good gloves, a warm hat and two pairs of socks, I knew it would start to cut into me when I stopped. I wouldn’t hang around for long.

It was a beautifully clear night and I wanted to shoot the Milky Way rising behind the castle. Apart from the temperature, night photography brings a whole new set of challenges.

Firstly, and most obviously, there is very little light. To get anything to register on the camera’s sensor, the shutter needs to be open for a long time and a wide aperture is needed.

On a cold, windy night the long exposure brings the disadvantage of camera-shake. I took my very stable tripod with me and that was weighed down with my camera bag. I used the remote release and anti-shock setting on the camera to prevent mechanical movement.

When the shutter is open for more than a few seconds, pinpoints of starlight become elongated because of the rotation of the earth. I was not wanting to shoot star trails so I needed a fast lens with as wide an aperture as possible to let in sufficient light to make the exposure. There was the compromise between raising the ISO and digital noise to be made too.

The wide aperture meant a very shallow depth of field so accurate focussing was essential to get maximum depth of field. That was the next hurdle. It was really dark, so dark I could not see what I was focusing on. Even illuminating the scene with my torch, the autofocus struggled to lock on to anything so I used the guide on the lens to manually focus.

All set up, shooting through the wire fence, I started taking shots. Some were with the castle as a silhouette against the stars, and for others I painted the walls with light from my flash gun.

Waiting for an exposure, I looked southwards and spotted the scene I should be taking. The coast reaching down to Coquet Island and beyond, with the starry sky lit with the orange glow of the light pollution from the villages and towns that stretch along our coast, looked magnificent. I turned the tripod around and got the shot.

There’s something Zen-like about photography. I become absorbed in the process, totally focussed (pun intended) on creating the image. Time seemed to stand still as I took the photographs, and I forgot the chill.

But I finally felt a shiver run through me and decided to head back. I guessed it must be about 9.30pm. Checking my phone, it was 11.10pm. Time to go home.

This week’s Northumberland Camera Club Challenge words are ‘Evening’ and ‘Circle’.