Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Shooting solo so often, I tend to do a bit of research before embarking on any expeditions outside my home town. With flickr and google maps you can get a pretty good feel for things like parking, access and vantage points. Having scouted this location virtually I made the journey for real for the first time back in February, only to encounter hostile conditions on arrival. Six weeks later I struck lucky on the second attempt.
Each attempt involved a 160 mile round trip taking 4 hours in the car. It's a fair old trek down to the beach from the road (and moreso back up again!) and so eerie were the grazing sheep I could hear but not see I decided to count my footsteps to distract my mind. About 2200 each way, with nearly 2000 more paced up and down the beach whilst the exposure was burning. It was cold down there so keeping moving was a priority, especially as the need to carry tripod and peli case on the walk down meant my fingers were already pretty chilled through. And, in the excitement of the moment (c'mon, simple things keep me happy) I'd not considered the effect on the beach of the outgoing tide so knelt down to assess the perspective through the arch thus soaking my jeans from the damp sand
Before I set out to create this image I'd looked around to see if it had been done before. It hasn't that I can see, and I'm pretty sure the challenges of the location play a part in why not, despite the high rewards. On the journey down I had it in mind to stack, a layering technique that allows you to capture star trails even in areas with ambient light. As it happens, these were pretty much the darkest conditions I've ever encountered whilst shooting outside and my test shots at ISO1600 then ISO3200 served no purpose other than to confirm the darkness. It was even too dark to assess the composition through the viewfinder so this framing was achieved by numerous test shots at ISO6400 to manipulate the horizon and positioning of the arch.
As it turns out, stacking wasn't necessary. I knew from the equivalent metering of my high-ISO tests that at ISO200 the exposure duration would be sufficient to achieve a visually strong arc of stars through the sky. 1568 seconds when the shutter closed; or just over 26 minutes. When I got back to the car it was nearly 2am. The thermometer on the dash was reading -1.5ºc. At this point I should probably mention my fractured coccyx, picked up from an uncomfortable landing a couple of weeks previously and doing all kinds of wrong to my pain receptors as I sat in the driver's seat. I necked a couple of painkillers, turned the ignition and let the euphoria of seeing my camera's preview screen glide me home.