The Fire of a Hundred Billion Blazing Stars

The element of fire was the reason I first picked up a camera back in 2017. This hobby-turned-passion has now transformed into a professional career but I have the stars to thank for first inspiring me to create and share my work with the world.

 

Before I began my career as a travel photographer I used to work in an office in London, a world away from what I do now. While there, I took great pleasure in seeing the work of professional artists around the world, inspiring others through their imagery in social media and online. One particular artist and photographer I have to thank for inspiring my career change is Mikko Lagerstedt. His breath-taking Astro-Landscapes (ultra-wide photos of milky-way starscapes) depicted the fire of a hundred billion blazing suns shining down upon us from the heavens. And so, I bought a camera.

 

Equipped with my trusty Canon 1300D (a very basic model) I took to the countryside in the UK and tried my hand at capturing the stars. These were some of the first images I began to share on my own, very new Instagram account. The photos were pretty terrible when I look back at them now, but at the time, I was ecstatic to be able to capture these stars in such detail in my own images and then see the reception of my friends and new followers online!

 

Since those early days, I have played around with various genres of photography – portrait, weddings, urban, wildlife – before landing on travel landscapes. However, still to this day, my favorite form of photography has to be Astro-photography – capturing images of millions if not billions of fiery suns in the night sky. The scale of what I capture just amazes me to think about. The light from the fire of our sun takes 8 minutes to reach us, but those small pinpoints of light from our Milky Way stars could be up to 100,000 years old. Our next closest, neighboring galaxy is a whopping 2.5million light years away, yet we are still able to capture it. For example, in this image from Australia below, you can see the faint light of Andromeda on the right side, dwarfed by the stars of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

 

 

So every time I find myself on a trip with clear skies, I dedicate an evening to capturing that fire, those stars in the sky, that inspired me from the beginning. I’d like to share a few of my favorite moments from capturing the night sky from around the world.

 

Here are a couple of photos from my time in New Zealand, a fortunate evening of clear skies on the Mount Taranaki trail. Here it almost looks like the Milky Way is erupting from the Taranaki volcanic peak! This remains one of my favorite photographic moments, since I was totally alone up there, apart from a young couple who also hiked shortly after me. They were happy to pose with the headlamp for the photo.

 

 
 

Northern Lights, Greenland – Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by the solar wind, which itself is a result of the intense fiery heat of the nuclear fusion created by the sun. A magical moment above the igloos in West Greenland.

 

 

Namibia – Perhaps my favorite location I’ve ever taken photos of the night sky was in Namibia. These images were taken one evening in the middle of the desert at Dead Vlei and at Spitzkoppe arch. As there is little to no light pollution in these regions because of the lack of major cities, the skies are super clear with the Milky Way clearly visible in the night sky. At Dead Vlei, the ancient trees provided the perfect foreground for the twinkling light of the stars above.

 

 
 

Whitepocket, USA – a semi cloudy evening with the Milky Way in frame

 

Recently I picked up a 400mm/2.8 lens. This extreme telephoto lens got me wondering whether I could capture some more distant objects more closely. On my recent trip to Utah, in the United States, I spent a night under the Milky Way on a very clear evening and decided to give it a try.

 

 

The Orion nebula was my target – a massive star-forming region in the constellation of Orion. In Nebula regions, the formations of gas, dust, and other materials clump together to form denser regions, which attract further matter, and eventually will become dense enough to form stars. We are literally witnessing the birth of these fiery giants through our cameras!

 
 

A few quick tips for shooting night skies:
 

  1. A wide, fast lens (so wide aperture, 2.8 or less, ideally something like a 14/1.8).
  2. A sturdy tripod.
  3. Shoot around 20s exposures, wide aperture and adjust ISO to expose perfectly.
  4. Remember to manually focus on the stars.
  5. If there is wind, weigh down your tripod.
  6. Use a night sky app to see the path of the Milky Way.
  7. Shoot during the summer for good images of the Milky Way.
  8. Don’t shoot near cities (too much light pollution). Higher elevations can help, too.
  9. You can shoot with a star tracker to take your images to the next level, often shooting for several minutes without any trailing. This can lower your ISO and provide super detailed images.
  10. If you don’t have a wide lens, try 35mm or 50mm and shoot a panorama, so stack the images vertically to get the whole Milky Way in!
  11. Editing is key, especially on a calibrated monitor. I love to bring out the blues in an image by adding some split toning.
  12. Remember to sharpen the stars with masking and remove visual noise with the noise reduction tool.

 

My love for the fiery night sky continues to this day, and perhaps one day in the distant future I might – or some of us might – be lucky enough to photograph these objects from outer space.

 

Dolomites, Italy