One of the nice things about staying in Valla Folkhögskola is that it’s right next to lovely walks through Valla Gård – with all of its historic treasures of rural life in Sweden – and into the forest beyond. Of course, it’s also handy for going to conferences on the Valla campus of Linköping University which is why I was there last week.
I’ve been taking lots of pictures lately using the body cap fish eye lens for my Olympus. I find that taking just one lens with me means I get used to what it will, or will not, do and here’s a range of the pictures I took with it. The students were doing a group project and I bumped into them one lunchtime and asked if they minded me taking their picture. As you can see, some of them had to be dressed as fictional characters. The rest of the pictures were taken one evening and I experimented with different foregrounds beneath the interesting cloud formations.
I’ve been out from home to take night pictures around Grahamstown three times recently when the cloud (preferably no clouds) and wind (preferably no wind or light winds) forecasts were favourable. The moon isn’t such a problem as you can use the moonlight to paint the foreground of your picture. Night photos have been a dominant theme for me lately. I’ve had great results with the fantastic ‘live composition’ option on my new Olympus and I bought an expensive wide angle lens to catch as much light as possible.
The first picture’s taken looking down the Belmont Valley from the hillside below PJ Olivier School. I had to hide the lights of Grahamstown behind the burned out tree stump and rocks but that gives a nice dramatic composition. There was no moon but plenty of artificial light so I used a short two second exposure and took a live composition for 50 minutes. So the picture is actually 1500 images combined.
Belmont Valley Star Trails
The second picture’s from just below the high point of the Oldenburgia Trail – where is goes over Dassie Krantz – south of Grahamstown. This time the moon was full and I positioned myself so the moon, and lights of Grahamstown, were behind me – on the other side of Mountain Drive. The camera settings are almost the same as the first picture. You can see the ribbon of car lights snaking along the N2 and the dotted lines of the two light aircraft flying along the coast. There’s also a meteor – the thin diagonal flash in the centre-left of the picture (in the middle of the Milky Way). The sky’s blue because there’s much less artificial light.
Oldenburgia Trail Stars
The last picture was taken a week later and only a few metres further down the Oldenburgia Trail. This time I’ve pointed the camera south-east, looking down Featherstone Kloof, as the moon was just rising behind the crags to the left. There are a lot more stars and a brighter sky because this composite is one-hour of five second exposures and the camera’s sensor picks up light from the fainter stars. You can make out the glow of street lights from Bathurst and Port Alfred on the Indian Ocean coast 60 kilometres away.
As well as the northern lights I was able to take some lovely pictures of the stars wheeling across the night skies when I was in Sweden. Hundby is a good place to do this as it is right out in the countryside with very few city lights anywhere near. The first picture is a 45 minute exposure using my Olympus’s live composition feature. It was helped enormously by a car driving past during the shoot that lit up the whole of the foreground. The rising moon behind the trees also casts a lovely glow in the thin clouds.
Hundby 29/09/2015 20:34:34
The second picture is a slightly longer exposure of 50 minutes taken from the viewpoint up above our apartment at Äsperöd. It’s looking due north with the lights of Uddevalla to the west and the row of trees masking the bright lights of Äsperöd. A flask of hot coffee kept me warm whilst taking this shot as it was a cold frosty night.
Last night the good aurora forecast tempted me out with my camera but I ended up coming back with pictures of night clouds and star trails. I headed up to a local viewpoint in the forests above Äsperöd with camera, tripod, warm clothes, flask of coffee and a sandwich to wait and see if the aurora would show itself and I could get some pictures. I got some alright but they weren’t of the aurora.
As sunset approached the forecast got less and less optimistic so I tried to capture some star trails over Uddevalla. That wasn’t going to be easy either as it was getting cloudy and windy. Fortunately my new Olympus has a great feature called live composition. Last night I set it to take a 5 second exposure every five seconds for five minutes. The camera then records anything that has changed from one picture to the next. This means that stars make curved trails, planes make diagonal dotted lines (see the first picture) and clouds seem to flow. It’s the clouds that really make these pictures.
The real beauty of live composition is that the picture gets painted on the viewing screen on the back of the camera as each image is added. So you can sit and watch it develop whilst sipping hot coffee. There were, of course, some downsides. The mosquitoes were a nuisance when the wind dropped and walking back through the forest alone in the dark was really spooky. I think the pictures were worth it though. The colours of the clouds and sky were not what I expected. They changed as the sun slid further and further below the horizon and in the last picture the orange tint comes from the lights of the town.