This is only something I've experimented with on the margins these past few years, but picking up an a6000 and then a6400 opened up some new opportunities for shots I couldn't pursue with the my RX100.
I use a Sony a6400 with either a Manfrotto mini tripod or a K&F tripod with Shoot remote shutter release. This is of course, until I forget them. The shot above of Hardy's monument and comet Neowise in July 2020 was accomplished by wedging a flat(ish) rock under my camera and hoping for the best!
For lenses I mostly use the Samyang 12mm NCS CS f2.0 as it's superfast with excellent low-light capabilities. The moon picture below was taken with the Sony 55-210mm, which is basically the budget telephoto for the alpha series, and I've since managed to move onto the 70-350mm G master.
One of my ambitions is combining my interest in low-light photography with my consuming passion for underwater photography. Regrettably, I've not had the time to seriously explore this, nor develop the skills necessary to do so. What I have done is experimented a little with astrophotography in the marine setting. I've been a member of the British Society of Underwater Photographers for several years now, and found the society a massively encouraging place for the development of skills, technique and garnering inspiration for composition. Each year the society runs a 24 hour national multi-location shootout competition, The British and Irish Underwater Photography Championship, which in addition to wide and macro categories, has a category titled 'Human Impact on UK and Irish Marine and Freshwater Environments'. This category, unlike the others, is not exclusively underwater, and is relatively open to interpretation, as long as the story told is one of mankind's impact (good or bad) on marine environments. I seem to have made it my own excuse to indulge in a bit of marine-themed astrophotography...
At my first attempt at BIUPC in 2020, I had made the decision to head to Porthkerris further down in Cornwall from my folks' place near Tregantle. The boiler of the Margeurite at Talland Bay was vaguely on the way and I'd noticed the tides were right for an attempted shot that evening. I'd imagined -in my head- a glorious splash of milky way perfectly lining up with the boiler on a flat clam sea, but whilst the conditions weren't rough, the flat calm sea did not materialise and the sky was certainly not star-strewn!
Nevertheless, I was satisfied, if not thrilled, with the finished result and the smoothed-out effect of the choppy water:
The light blue sky courtesy of the Samyang 12mm f2.0 makes it look an easier shot than it actually was; in reality, the tide was bang on the turn, and as those visiting the boilers know, you have to hop between seaweed-strewn rocky outcrops in that situation to avoid going for a swim. I had a tripod and my smaller camera bag slung over my shoulder hopping between rocks and (not for the the last time) I wondered what the hell I was doing attempting this in the pitch black with only a beat-up old petzl headtorch to illuminate my way.
When the October meet of BSoUP came round I waited with bated breath to hear the results and was thrilled that not only had my principal dive buddy at the time, Georgie, won the overall competition, but I had picked up a 'Highly Commended' for both the close-up category and for 'Mankind's Impact' with my ropey astro shot. I was really chuffed, and more than a little encouraged to keep pursuing this type of shot for the category.
Once again, in managing my time for BIUPC, it seemed to me there was scope for kicking things off with an astro 'Mankind's Impact shot'. Given it is a 24 hour competition, starting at 10pm on the Friday and finishing at 10pm on the Saturday each event, you have the opportunity to get prepared, kitted up and start shooting from the moment the clock strikes ten. Closer to home this time, in early September of 2021 I knew the astro shot I wanted to attempt, so I had already parked up the Bunkerbus and walked round to the spot of Portland I intended to capture. Ten came round and I had the camera ready on the tripod with a shutter release attached to avoid any wobble. This is what I managed to capture and despite the fact it failed to get any traction with the judges, I really felt it was a marked improvement over the previous year's shot in terms of exploring the ideas of the category. I'm still really pleased with how it turned out, despite (again) no show from the milky way:
The subsequent year's entry saw me once again turn my attention back to foreshore wrecks, though this time I knew I wanted something on an altogether grander scale. Basing myself in Cornwall again for the competition, I raced on down to Lands End and set off on the trail towards Sennen Cove.
The MV RMS Mulheim was relatively new container ship that ran afoul of Lands End back in 2003, whilst I was at university. I remembered hearing the story and the subsequent investigation into the sinking, and thought it was a good representation of the category- if I could manage a decent shot.
Unsurprisingly, I had the pitch-black coast path to myself alone, including the final treacherous scramble down the rocks and onto the boulder beach at Castle Zawn, where the sea had finally deposited the remains of Mulheim back in October of 2003. Stumbling about the rocks and the rusting metal seemed very similar to my 2020 scramble for the Marguerite boiler- on more than one occasion I did wonder exactly how I had convinced myself to be there in the dead of night. My efforts were rewarded though, there was (at last!) a splash of milky way over the horizon, despite the blaze thrown out by Longships lighthouse. Stuffing my head torch in the sleeve of my coat, I experimented with different degrees of light painting until I had managed to achieve a satisfactory definition to the wreckage. I prayed I could resolve any remaining quirks by adjusting overall exposure in Lightroom from the RAW file, and I made my way back up the cliff, oddly encountering a small European eel wriggling up the meagre gravelly stream that doubled as the only path up and out.
I was there some time, and had multiple angles to submit to my poor parents, who have always had to judge my BIUPC offerings to sort the wheat from the chaff. In this case, they actually went for a shot I hadn't really rated, precisely because the line of the ships hull blended into the cliffs above in continuation, rather than emerging distinct from it. Upon reflection, I decided they were in the right of it, as the foreshore wreckage naturally does become a point where sea (or what should be on it) becomes land. It turned out their choice was auspicious, as the image secured me my first ever win in a BIUPC or BSOUP competition category, and a lovely bit of glassware for my shelf. I remain most grateful to the judges for their kind comments, especially regarding my original take on the category.
I'd realised there was very little chance of picking up even a commendation with a quirky astro shot- they might even have awarded me just to stop me submitting any more (just kidding)- but I also knew by now that Friday night astro was my BIUPC 'thing' for this category, and I wasn't going to kid myself anything different this year. Again, basing myself around Lands End, I had some hopes of a wide shot over at Najizal cave, that didn't come to anything that impressive. I did stop over in Marazion on the way, and found just enough causeway left (but only just, and I had known it would be tight to make ten o'clock) to take this:
The almost full moon made the shot almost appear daylight (as in 2020) given the long exposure on the fast little Samyang 12mm I use for wide and low-light land shots. It was also (perhaps) a bit of a lazy interpretation of the category, but it was certainly a shot I had been meaning to attempt for some time and one I will probably come back to, given a moonless night and similarly calm conditions in future.
At present, I have no idea if I'm going to base myself with my folks back home in Cornwall or at 'home home' here in Dorset for BIUPC 2024. But I can guarantee there will be some kind of half-assed Friday night astro shot to follow! Please do watch this space, and thanks again for sticking with my story so far, it is appreciated.
Jon (updated January 2024)