18 February 2021 (Astrophotography & Action Photography)

This week the club had a virtual visit from Andy Bennetts of Haddington Camera Club, who gave us two talks on very different photographic subjects: “Astrophotography” and “Action Photography“. 

Astrophotography

Andy showed us examples of different kinds of astrophotography. The easiest subject to photograph is the Moon, which is best photographed on a clear night with your longest possible telephoto lens. Andy’s examples were photographed with his 400mm lens, with a 2x converter, at ISO 3200, 1/2000sec at f5.6. The tripod and fast shutter speed help remove camera shake at this extreme magnification. You can use the web site https://www.timeanddate.com/ to predict the phases of the Moon and look up the times of moonrise and moonset.  Andy also likes to photograph the Sun at sunrise or sunset. You need to be careful not to look at the Sun through the telephoto lens and use a narrow aperture to protect your camera. The Sun will appear as a featureless disk unless you use a dark solar filter (see https://www.baader-planetarium.com/en/solar-observation.html), so it is best photographed next to a landmark. The web site https://photoephemeris.com/ can be used to predict when and where to photograph the Sun and Moon against local landmarks. There are also smartphone apps called TPE and Sun Surveyor which give you the same information.

Andy then showed us how to photograph more difficult subjects, such as the stars and Milky Way. These are best photographed from a dark site well away from light pollution. The most convenient dark site near East Lothian is the B6355 from Gifford to Duns. The camera should be set to manual focus and manual exposure for best results.  A red headlight is useful for setting up your camera in the dark.  Andy recommends focussing by looking at a magnified “live view” on the back of the camera, rather than just setting your lens to infinity. Photographs to emphasise star trails are best made with a wide angle lens, with the camera on a tripod. Exposure times of up to an hour can be achieved by setting the shutter speed to “bulb” and using a remote shutter release. Images containing some foreground detail, such as trees, lakes and mountains, will have the most impact. Use a wide aperture and an ISO setting below 400 to reduce noise. On the other hand, photographs to emphasise the Milky Way need an exposure time of 20-30 seconds to prevent star trails. These shots require an ISO setting greater than 1600. Andy recommends taking 5 or more shots of the same scene and stacking them in Photoshop to reduce the noise. Layers can be matched together manually using the “difference” blending mode. The Milky Way shows up better on a dark, clear night without the Moon.  Andy showed us some beautiful images he had taken by the Whitadder reservoir.  Finally, Andy showed us some post-processing tips for astrophotography:

  • Darken the shadows to emphasise the blackness of the night sky
  • Increase the contrast to brighten the stars.
  • Increase clarify, vibrance and saturation to emphasis the faint detail and colour.

Action Photography

Andy then showed us the techniques he uses to capture action shots, using different kinds of sporting events as examples. The photographer has control of the aperture, shutter speed, focal length and camera movement.  A wide aperture (such as f2.8) is useful for reducing the depth of field to emphasise the action while blurring the background.  A fast shutter speed (such as 1/500s) will help to freeze the action, while a slower shutter speed (such as 1/50s) can help to emphasise movement. Panning the camera helps to emphasise the movement of fast-moving subjects such as motorbikes, cars and cyclists.  A long focal length lens allows you to zoom in on the action from a distance. You can also eliminate a distracting background (such as ugly buildings behind a sports stadium) by cropping closely on the action, such as a rugby scrum. You can hand-hold a lens up to 200mm, but for longer focal lengths Andy recommends a tripod or monopod. A monopod gives you the best compromise between steadiness and flexibility. If you don’t have a long lens there are also opportunities for capturing action from a closer viewpoint, such as at the Edinburgh Marathon or at road cycling events.

Getting the focus right is one of the most difficult aspects of action photography. Autofocus works better when your subjects are well separated from the background, but even then most of the shots will not be focussed properly. Andy takes lots of shots and selects the ones with the best focus. Some sporting events, such as horse racing, are difficult to get right with autofocus. For those events, Andy recommends manually focussing on a stationary object, such as a fence, and waiting for the riders to jump or pass that fence.

Andy gave us some hints on where to find subjects for action photography. There are usually (when not in lockdown) regular football, rugby and cricket events in Haddington. Horse racing can be photographed at Musselburgh, action water events often take place at Fox Lake Adventures, near Dunbar, golf at Gullane, Canoeing at Grand Tully, wind surfing at Longniddry and Gullane beach (best viewed at high tide) and Motor Cycling at East Fortune.

Thank you to Andy for a very enjoyable and informative double evening.

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