by Murray Fox
The astro photography season is back for Australia! Actually it's been back for a while now but we simply haven't had any clear nights around home.
Finally, the predictions were looking good for a clear window. I met up with a very good friend Craig Bachmann and we had a hit list of subjects to photograph. The first subject for the night was an absolute ripper as well! This stunning 1978 Dodge D5N 600 series V8 Petrol truck. Over the years it has been used to cart various produce from spuds and onions to the Rocklea Markets in Brisbane, to watermelons and lucerne for local supply in the Lockyer Valley. You don't get fresher than that, and I couldn't think of a cooler way to transport the goods!
We had the truck perfectly positioned in front of the farmers current lucerne crop and starting out, we spent our time light painting the truck with our torches as we waited for the core of the milkyway rising behind to be in perfect position.
Finally after an hour of painting and tweaking the composition it was time to photograph the core, and OMG the result was simply amazing! Not a single puff of cloud in the night sky, the temperature was absolutely perfect, just at the point of chilly, but not cold enough for fog, mist or warm enough for haze. The clarity was the best I can remember ever seeing to be honest. When I finished editing this, I immediately sent this to Craig and said "SHOW YOUR DAD!!". Honestly, I was gob smacked myself.
This is without a doubt, the best astro photograph I've captured to date. Everything I wanted to achieve in this photograph I did. From the complete lack of noise, to amazing sharpness, detail and colour, absolutely perfect to me. I've never seen the dust lanes of the core like that! Blown away. However, the night was only just getting started and our second target was a beauty as well. This is a 270hp Case Optum. With 4 massive rear wheels on this sucker, it has no issues getting through the fields. The farmer grows Cauliflowers, sugerloaf, and red & green cabbage.
It was a little tricky to get the right framing on this. Ideally I wanted the tractor a little more front on but that wasn't to be this night. I ended up with my camera on top of pallets next to the shed, and had to be extremely careful not to bump anything, always fun when your doing long exposures. I do want to shoot this beast from head on as well, really emphasise those rear wheels, so we'll be back one night soon to go again.
A lot of work has gone into these photograph. There was the initial planning, going over google maps, checking the direction and timing of the milky way using apps like Photopills and the photographers ephemeris. Constant watching of weather apps to see what the clouds were doing. At home when I left to head out, it was cloudy, but on location, it was perfect, so don't trust what is out your window, do the wider research and checking and take the shot. Post processing time was lengthy as well. Blending the light panting photographs with the sky took time and then working through my finishing steps was the final step.
It's funny when I take a photograph like this. I work and learn my techniques. I visualise what result I can get. I shoot on location with that visualisation and my technical knowledge to ensure I have the best chance of getting a good result. But during post processing, it's not about editing to get that result. Instead I let the photograph take me on a journey. This photograph really led me along, each step was just bringing out the best of each part, making sure things were technically correct (for me) but not knowing where I was going to end up.
When I finally stopped and sat back, not a word of a lie, my jaw dropped. I couldn't quite believe I created this photograph. It's on the printer now, it's going on the wall, I don't care whether it gets a bazillion or no likes, this was about my art, my photography. I had a vision, and I exceeded it, and I'm simply ecstatic.
The gear used for these photographs, if purchased today, is is by no means expensive. Camera used is a Sony A7, easy to pick up for under $800 used these days. The lens is an old Minolta 45mm F2.8 medium format film lens (for the 645 series of film cameras) that can be picked up used on Ebay for around $200. With a cheap $20 adapter. This lens has an equivalent focal length of 28mm on a full frame camera like the A7. Not exactly super wide, but with a full frame camera, and the amazing sharpness of this lens, it really works for this kind of photograph.
Both photos are a panorama. Shot horizontally starting at the bottom I initially take a light painted exposure, focused on subject, settings around ISO 500, F5 (for depth of field) and 20 seconds. We run around with torches during the exposure painting the subject with light. Then I adjust my settings being very careful not to move the camera. Increased ISO to 6400, Shutter to 8 seconds (at 28mm this is as long as you can go without stars starting to blur from movement), aperture at F2.8 (wide open) and refocused on the stars. I take a photo, then move the camera up, taking 2 more photos panning the camera up each time. Total of 3 images to create the panorama. In post processing I blend the bottom two photos (stars and subject) together then stitch with the other star photos and begin my final post processing.
I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing what comes out the end of all of this process. I grew up in the city, never really saw the stars much less farm equipment. Now, I actively seek out these subjects and locations, as they are truly amazing.