Matterdale is also perfect for stargazing. Tucked away across the lake from Another Place, this is a truly dark location to get out your binoculars or set up a camera. Further down the valley, lies Brothers Water. This beautiful little lake – among snow-capped mountains – is another stunning place to watch the stars. A little further away is the Neolithic Castlerigg Stone Circle, a great and ancient location to see the Milky Way and Orion.
Workshops and tuition have become a large and fun part of what I do. These take place in the Lake District but also in Cornwall, Scotland, Wales and Iceland. It’s something I really enjoy: the faces of people seeing the stars properly for the first time. I tailor the tuition sessions for different clients and I have a large selection of hire cameras, tripod, lenses and tracking mounts which allows people to experiment and try equipment before going out and buying their own.
Astrophotography is possible with some very basic kit that need not cost the earth. It can be a very expensive hobby but to start off you can achieve amazing results with just a tripod, DLSR and remote control. This is enough for you to capture amazing photographs of the night sky. Once you have taken the leap and started with the basic kit you can then start to add to it. Firstly a wide angle lens with a very wide aperture is a great step up from a standard kit lens. Another key piece of equipment I use is a star tracker. I use this mainly for my deep space work but its also a great way to get longer exposures of the Milky Way and capture an amazing amount of detail.
When I started out I had a very basic DSLR, a Canon 450d, kit lens and tripod. All in all these can now be bought for £150 in total on Ebay. Now I use a full frame mirrorless Nikon Z7 with a selection of Sigma ART lenses. This is a massive step up but allows me to capture amazing detail in low light photography. This is the camera I took to Iceland at the beginning of 2020 and one of the pictures from that trip was shortlisted for the Aurora category of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 and included in the book and exhibition
Getting started seems daunting and complicated but it really isn’t. Once you have your camera, tripod and remote the main thing you will struggle with is focus. Once you can get this, a whole world of long exposure and night photography is possible. The trick is to put your lens on infinity (small horizontal figure 8 symbol) and point your camera at a bright star, light in the distance or if none of those a headtorch about 200ft away and using live view focus on that. This will mean your stars are in focus and you’re good to go. One of the main things when learning photography is to experiment and try different settings. YouTube is an amazing resource for learning photography, or you can book a course or tuition.
I recommend standing on the jetty at Another Place with some binoculars and a smartphone app for navigating the stars. As well as catching a glimpse of Andromeda or closer to home – Orion, once you let your eyes adjust, you can watch the Earth’s rotation, as shooting stars streak across the skies or passing satellites briefly ‘flare’ as the sun flashes off their solar panels. This is an experience anyone can enjoy. You’ll never walk under a star filled sky again without looking up with awe and wonder.
My main tip for photographing the night sky would be to always wrap up warm and be safe. Never go out to strange or risky places at night before you’ve seen them first in the day. The world looks and sounds different at night, and it can be easy to get cold, tired and lost. As long as that side of things is taken care of, I’d say exploration and experimentation are the best things to do. My best tip? Just look up.