20 October, 2017 By: Vanessa Pogorelic
For one group of photographers, their craft is all about what they can’t see and it’s a passion that has them working late nights and long hours, often in desolate places.
Astrophotography, or shooting ‘nightscapes’, involves finding a suitably dark place with a blanket of twinkling stars overhead, setting your camera on a tripod and leaving the camera’s shutter open, sometimes over several hours.
As light slowly enters the camera, an image gradually forms from the darkness on the camera's sensor.
Western Australia’s dark night skies and lack of light pollution make it an ideal place for astrophotography.
And all you need is a regular DSLR camera.
We meet three local nightscape shooters who, while the rest of us sleep, capture WA’s stunning landscape against a background of stars.
10 of WA's best stargazing spots »
It was the work of photographer Corrie White, renowned for taking photos of colliding water droplets, that lead 46-year-old Michael Goh to astrophotography.
“It made me realise there is so much you can do with photography that you can’t see readily with your eyes.”
After starting with single shots Goh now specialises in panoramas, producing 360-degree panoramas comprised of up to 80 images.
Shooting amazing nightscapes is not hard, says Goh, particularly in WA with its dark night skies not far outside Perth.
“You can even shoot at Yanchep. You do get some light pollution but you can still get an image. It’s a testament to how dark it is and how lucky we are relatively speaking that we don’t have to go very far.
“Astrophotography is not that difficult. A lot of people overthink it. They think ‘oh I can’t do this because I need better equipment’ whereas I’ve photographed the Milky Way with a compact camera before.”
Right now his favourite places to shoot in WA are salt lakes.
“There’s no one around and when they fill with a little bit of water you can actually stand in the lake and see all the stars shimmering around you.”
His advice for anyone interested in giving astrophotography a shot is to be safe above all else.
“Safety is always the main thing in my opinion. Beware of kangaroos because they’re more active at night. Go out with people who know what they’re doing.
“If you have a DSLR, give it a go. When you actually get out and do it you realise how simple it is.”
About nine years ago, Stephen Humpleby bought his first DSLR camera. Shortly after that, the camping enthusiast realised he could mix his love of sleeping under the stars with photography.
“I like getting out. I go out camping under dark skies - it’s perfect. And I’m pretty lucky my partner loves camping so we get out a lot.”
As he’s gained more experience Humpleby has graduated from simple shots that take under a minute to expose, to shooting star trails that take several hours. The end result is a series of circular light trails made by the stars as the earth gradually rotates.
Star trails are more complex to shoot but he says there are simple settings anyone can use on their DSLR camera to get great shots. He says that after doing it for a while you get a feel for what you need to do.
Humpleby’s favourite places to shoot in WA are in the Goldfields and Wheatbelt, especially the northern Wheatbelt.
“The weather, the clear, dark skies - it’s beautiful. I’m surprised not a lot of people go out there. One of my favourite spots is Billiburning Rock, north of Beacon, basically on the edge of the desert. There’s a camping spot there and a nice granite outcrop that is great to shoot.”
As a veteran of night photography, 55-year-old Humpleby is pretty relaxed about getting his shots these days, especially those that take several hours.
“I won’t sit next to the camera like I used to. I’ll go and get some shut-eye!
Paean Ng was a photographer interested in many different photographic styles but after joining some friends for a night shoot his photographic interest went in a whole new direction.
“We just decided to go out one night and take pictures of the stars and it evolved from there. I sort of caught the Milky Way bug.”
Two of Ng’s favourite places to shoot in WA are the Lancelin sand dunes and Kalbarri.
“I plan my shoots quite far in advance. I use google maps and apps that shows where the Milky Way will be rising or setting throughout the year.”
After three years of focusing his camera on WA’s night skies, the 30-year-old's skills have extended to creating 360-degree photospheres.
“It’s probably the most technically challenging star photography I do. A single 360-degree image could be made up of 100 images."
“Any modern DSLR on the market can do this. It just depends how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.”
Ng has made a lot of astrophotography friends along the way. He says there is a healthy interest in this genre locally and some great work being produced.
“The Perth Astrophotography Facebook page has over 1000 members who are very happy to share tricks and tips on astrophotography. We have a thriving astrophotography community here. ”