After a fairly quiet couple of months (due to the new puppy!) I have embarked on a new project. It involves night time photography, a powerful torch and UK landmarks. It’s also challenging and interesting. The plan is to travel around the countryside shooting the stars at night over some well known and less well known historical country monuments, follies, ruins and views. The idea is to capture a series of pictures that highlight Britain’s diverse history and landscape and to highlight the fact that these are ‘available’ to all of us with very little effort. These icons are easily travelled to and most are still accessible, even at night. At the same time we aim to convey how totally insignificant we are in the overall scheme of things. These important landmarks and historical monuments only mean something to us on this small island on this small planet in this absolutely enormous Universe. I guess its a juxtaposition of sorts. Important to us, totally insignificant when compared to even just our own solar system, let alone all the billions of others. Both are beautiful in their own way.
If I tell the whole truth I also hope the series of photographs also make us think deeper. Our individual and collective problems and troubles, hopes and dreams, life and death, compared to the world and universe as a whole, pale into insignificance. To help to understand that we are all a part of something truly enormous and great but we really have virtually no understanding of what’s ‘out there’. Overall, the project is about perspective. It potentially has many other aims and thoughts attached to it but I suppose like all ‘art’, it’s up to the viewer to decide what they want to get from it, if anything at all.
The practicalities? It’s obvious that to do this you need several things to be in your favour at the same time. I have already learned the following requirements:
- Rigorous planning
- Constant study of the weather forecasts – clear(ish) skies are essential
- A knowledge of moon phases/rise and set times
- A study of the Milky Way Galactic Centre visible dates/times (for shots that include it)
- A fully researched list of locations
- Choosing locations with minimal light pollution
- A knowledge of each location’s availability and accessibility
- A researched understanding of time needed to get to each location
- Permission to shoot if private land
- Warm clothing
- Good walking boots
- Suitable camera equipment inc fast and wide lens
- Comfortable back pack – the amount of equipment is amazing
- Strong powerful torch and batteries
- A good head torch
- Spare camera batteries and cards
- A very sturdy tripod with good visible (at night) levelling visual aids
- A quick and easy to align tripod head
The technical aspect is two fold. The shooting itself and the processing. Both are different from normal day time photography and both require specific skills and planning. It’s fascinating to research, learn and experiment and already the results are pleasing. I’ve managed to capture several images already and my previous experience of photographing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) has really come in handy on these trips. I’ve also learnt some good lessons from bitter experience.
It’s hard to tell whether this series will be successful from an actual visual point of view. It’s too early to tell. The learning curve is still steep and the variations occurring in the night light could be compelling or a distraction. I’ve usually shied away from having a ‘style’, however, I’m unsure whether these will require one. That’s the beauty of experimentation and the uncertainty of this type of work. I suppose it remains to be seen if the project as a whole will ever see the light of day but it’s huge fun trying. Getting the buzz. The anticipation, the frustration, the delight when a shot works, the despair when it doesn’t.
The plan is to shoot as many ‘venues’ as possible as soon as possible. Once we’ve gained a body of work (this is a dual project with my close friend and inspiration, Richard Lock) we hope to persuade other more private landowners to allow us onto their land to snap quietly away in the dead of night…
Wish us luck and lots of clear nights!