It feels like forever since writing a proper blog. Writing for my book unfortunately has taken away a lot of my time and commitments. However, now I’m in the closing stages I’ll be publishing more blog posts and getting back to the norm. My first blog post looks at the Peak District and the Milky Way.
I’m a big fan of astrophotography, always have been. I do think that you have to sometimes be inventive and creative with it. Whatever type of astrophotography you do, you have to be careful not to shoot the same type of scenes over and over. I always try and seek out recognisable locations and portray them by night. I always have locations in mind, I look for places away from light pollution and often man made subjects although hills and mountains can work. I love shooting the milky way and prefer static shots over star trails, but in the Peak District I’ve always thought the milky way wasn’t clear enough to see due to the relatively close cities of Sheffield and Manchester. I knew you could see it, but I always felt it was faint compared to the likes of Scotland and countries abroad. I was quite naive there, my girlfriend who runs SLP Photography took a picture of Carhead Rocks in the Peak District show casing how good the milky way could be.
The week she took it was perfect conditions for astrophotography, constant high pressure, clear skies and no moon allowed the night sky to be as clear and dark as possible. It was also late July and at this time of year the milky way is fairly high in the sky, due south. August is more ideal but with a holiday pending and weather unpredictable I made the most of it. It was a case of burning the candle at both ends to try and capture some fresh shots. If you search “Peak District Milky Way” in Google, you won’t find much!
First off we went to Magpie Mine, a location I had in mind for a long time to shoot the stars. I had never been before, so finding it in the dark was quite interesting to say the least. On the maps it looked perfect, miles away from any light pollution it seemed the ideal spot. The old mine buildings have an important history of the Peak District but also made for great foreground interest to place against the milky way. Unfortunately, what I hadn’t envisioned was the relatively low height of the location in comparison to the surroundings which meant it didn’t actually exclude the light pollution. It was still possible to see the milky way, but within 30 minutes of setting up the cloud rolled in so it was a visit cut short. Thankfully, I managed to capture both of the below:
Peak District Milky Way
The next night we headed over to Arbor Low, the neolithic stone circle near Monyash. The Peak District has designated dark sky areas where you can best see the stars and the milky way, near Arbor Low is the designated dark sky of Parsley Hay. So I thought this would be a good bet. I had envisioned shooting circular star trails here against the stone circle forming symmetry. I had been before previously but the forecast of a clear night was wrong. This time I was in luck, but arriving late, tired from the night before I knew an extended stay wouldn’t be possible. Instead, I decided to shoot the milky way and make the most of it. I was glad I did and came back with the below:
So, for the finale. It really was the coming together of a vision I had years ago. I wanted to capture the Milky Way over Ladybower Reservoir. I know earlier I said I thought the milky way would be faint, but I had often drove past the reservoir and noted the exceptionally dark skies. The surrounding hills provide enough protection from the cities of Sheffield and Manchester. As I also mentioned, in the summer months the milky way is due south and high in the sky. August would have been ideal but I took my chances in July. The reservoir faces due south down towards Bamford and I knew it would provide the perfect framing. I combined the trip with a sunset at Burbage Rocks, headed to the pub and waited for it to get dark enough. The resulting image below was taken near midnight when the skies had got dark enough and one I’m very pleased with.
I had a great week shooting the stars, it was good for a change to do something fresh and capture more content for my book. If you want to shoot the stars and milky way, here are some of my tips:
- Look out for periods of high pressure. This is when the night sky is most likely to be clear.
- August and January are the prime months for the Milky Way. The months either side will still work well though.
- Light pollution plays a big part in the amount of stars you can see. Head either high up to get above it or find yourself in a valley with hills high enough to mask it. Where possible look for locations far away from light sources, the White Peak tends to lend itself better for this.
- Shoot at a wide aperture, wide angle, high ISO and use a long shutter (not too long to avoid star trails). A good example for full frame users is 17mm at f/4, ISO 6400, 20 Secs.
- Think of original locations with foreground interest to add to the scene. Don’t just shoot the milky way in the sky.
- Have patience. The British Weather is challenging!
- Check out the Peak District Dark Skies Project website to see locations. Bear in mind, these are suited for easy access from the roadside. You are sometimes better off seeking your own if you are able to.