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Dark Sky Pictures.

24th November 2016
Living in the Midlands I don’t get many opportunities for dark sky shots but when I was planning a trip to the Norfolk Broads I thought I could make an opportunity for myself so I stopped off at Happisburgh to make a dark sky shot of the lighthouse.

I wanted a shot which showed the lighthouse against a dark sky and, importantly without any apparent movement in the stars. The simple way to ensure that the stars appear stationery is to use the rule of 500 which works like this. Set the lens to it’s widest aperture so that the exposure will be a short as possible. Take the number 500 and divide it by the focal length of the lens, in my case 17mm. The result of 29 is the maximum length of the exposure in seconds before movement of the stars across the frame becomes apparent. With an aperture of f 4.0 I set a shutter speed of 20 seconds; I knew the camera could be safely used at 3200 iso without excessive noise.

With the frames in the bag it was into my camper van and off to my overnight at Horsey to be ready pre-dawn for a few shots in the area. As I arrived and drove down the lane past the mill, or more accurately past the wind pump, for that is the purpose of the windmills in this area the sky was still full of stars and so it was out with camera and tripod for another shot. The set-up was pretty much the same as before, this time 19mm framed the mill nicely so an ideal exposure was up to 26 seconds but I decided to push my luck and go for 30 seconds and drop the iso down to 1600 which would result in only the smallest amount of visible movement of the stars and further improve the clarity of the image.

The only problem now was how to light the mill tower, which was pitch black. Into the camper for my big torch and …. damn…. it’s still plugged in and charging at home! Now what? As I stood there alone a vehicle came down the lane and triggered a security light on a shed which lit the mill perfectly. All I had to do was wait for the next vehicle and make the exposure.

But next time I’ll make sure I’ve packed my torch; you can’t rely on luck.

Bill Allsopp
Ellistown, Leicestershire
November 2016

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