Sunday, 10 September 2017

Bigton Aurora display

Following a disappointing night on Wednesday things finally came good on Friday. Earlier in the day the weather had not looked promising with thick cloud covering Shetland. Then around 7pm it started to clear, well before it would go dark

The Moon would be a problem with at 92% full but cloud came in to help for once

A large CME  sent a fast solar wind which arrived earlier in the afternoon  and would have given a great show had it not been for the daylight.

In Shetland the Aurora is also known as the Mirrie dancers -Northern Lights

At 9 pm we went out as the cloud had cleared  over to the west although everyone else was reporting heavy cloud and drizzle.

At Bigton I could see some Aurora activity on arrival so we soon set up and started photographing. As luck would have it the Moon was covered by cloud and didn't dilute the colours.

About 9.30 the Aurora started to spread and columns of colour could be seen with the naked eye, this lasted about 10 mins before it settled down again. Around 10.15 pm the cloud had come in so we headed back a lot happier.

It appears that most other people in Shetland had not seen the Aurora but further south on the Scottish mainland they also had a good show.

September / October are good months for the Aurora and its not cold either. Once the nights start drawing in it worth heading out if you see any gaps in the sky. All the weather forecasts proved wrong, so never know what to use.- send me your weather forecast please if accurate

Shetland Aurora Hunter members have now passed 1,000, why not join us as the webcams many people watch for signs of the Aurora will be closed down at the end of the month with no company ready to take over from Promote Shetland

Friday, 18 August 2017

New season, new course

Well the Aurora season kicked off on Thursday 7 August 2017 and people in the north mainland got lucky with the cloud cover, well for 20 mins anyway before the rain set in. Down in Sandwick it was all cloud but I am sure that we will have many more  Aurora evenings to come.

I am running a brand new Night Sky Photography course for Shetland Adult Education and there are a few places left, if you need any further info please send me a message

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Waiting and watching

It is not long now , we should be able to see the Aurora in just a few weeks as the nights start to draw in and i cannot wait.

To keep us going through the long daylight hours we have had a Talk by the British Geological survey dept at the museum the other Friday night. It started with a superb video of the Aurora in Iceland followed by a very informative talk lasting an hour.

They talked about the Geomagnetic data from the UK used in predicting the Aurora with Lerwick observatory being a vital part of collecting the information. It may look like a collection of garden huts but each one collects some vital information which is used to determine the Aurora KP level.

check out

Another magnetometer has been installed in Mossbank in the north mainland and should go live in the next few month

It was also interesting to see how much the magnetic pole has move since 1900, one thing that we have to think about when doing astrophotography.

For many years those in & outside Shetland have no doubt been watching cliff cam 3 to see the aurora, you may not be aware but this has been under threat. The Shetland Island council has withdrawn funding from Shetland Amenity Trust which runs the webcams around Shetland.

The webcams would have gone off line on the 30 June but the SIC have said they will allow funding for another 3 months which will allow other tenders to be submitted for the work to carry on, that's if they get an acceptable bid which hasn't happened yet.

So when the aurora season arrives make full use of the webcam service, it might not be here for much longer. A petition has been launched to save this service, please sign it whether you live in Shetland or not

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it important that 5000 signatures are submitted, over 3000 at present.

don't forget to join us on Facebook at Shetland Aurora Hunter - just send me a request to join

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Star Eater

Astrophotography - some problems

I have read a lot about the problems with Sony cameras being ` Star Eaters' . I have the original Sony A7s and i gather that there is no problems with exposures up to 30 seconds but if i used bulb mode then the star eater effect would take place

For 99% of the time i would be using less than 30 seconds for my Nightscapes, although i intend to  use my Astrotrac which would allow longer exposures. With a 200 mm telephoto lens i currently can do 3 seconds without star trailing (500 Rule).

Even at 30 seconds would give me a lot better signal to noise ratio with this lens using the Astotrac. I could always change to the Nikon D610 for bulb shots if needed.

I thought about the Sony A7s II but this was not as good at high ISO as the Sony A7s, the upgrade was more for the video side, this is also affected by Star eating above 3.2 seconds due to firmware issues.

Any firmware upgrades cannot be reversed, so i am glad i never up graded mine. The Star Eater problem is down to the software spatial filtering designed to reduce noise in photos

This issue affects all recent Sony alpha mirror less cameras including the a600, a6300, a7s, a7R, a7, a7II, a7sII and a7RII, possibly other models as well. It has been discussed on many forums and individual blogs with many people contacting Sony direct asking for a fix for the firmware.

To test this out take an exposure at 5 seconds then turn to bulb and take another 5 second exposure and compare the two. This one in bulb mode will see stars lacking punch (Brightness) with the star eater effect.

As the nights are too light in Shetland i wont be able to try this out on my camera.

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Friday, 5 May 2017

Sony A7s incredible ISO range

The Aurora season has finished for us in Shetland, they are still happening but as the nights pull out darkness does not happen until around mid night.

Having used the Sony A7s since January i thought this might be a good time to review its ISO capabilities.

The Sony A7s has an incredible ISO range up to ISO 409,600. Well beyond most cameras and therefore excellent for low light. The Dynamic Range is also superb even at high ISO

For Astrophotography this 12.2 mp camera is ideal, this camera is supported by Lightroom 5.8 my preferred software.

As a result of the low mega pixels and a full frame Exmor sensor the pixels are extremely large and can therefore collect more light. This produces low noise, always a problem with astrophotography as it tests your camera and lenses to the limits.

The images shown are a range of ISO settings, the first in the set exported direct as jpeg's from Lightroom, the second on as a Tiff. Both are converted to web-size.

As you can see the images are clean right up to ISO 51,200 and beyond although Stars tend to get eaten after this although the images are still usable. Let me know what you think. , all these images have been taken on RAW with noise reduction turned off in camera. However noise reduction was undertaken in Lightroom.

I think these are very impressive compared to the Nikon D610 full frame camera which is good up to ISO 3200

I have been very impressed with live view, the milky way looks amazing as you increase the ISO which makes it easier to frame and see what how the final photo will come out. Its tilt screen is another bonus as you point the camera high up.

Where the Sony A7s excels as a tool for astrophotographers is its live view feed, particularly with its S-log2 picture profile PP7 enabled (available via Menu>camera>5 Picture Profile.

I need to carry out more tests but so far i am impressed, just have to wait now until late September when it come dark.

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Monday, 17 April 2017

Full Moon at Bigton

It was just after a full moon at Bigton when we made the short visit over the hill. An Aurora was showing but very faint in the moonlight.

Even though it was supposed to be a clear night cloud built up quickly

Looking south cloud quickly obscured the night sky

Only a short visit but still worth getting out under the Shetland night sky

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Monday, 27 March 2017

22 3 17 Tingwall Aurora

Although not as active as the night before it was still a good  Aurora show under a clear sky at Tingwall

Using the car headlights to light up various parts of the landscape is a good idea to add an extra dimension to the photo

The reflection in the loch from the stars and colour of the Aurora also gives depth

On a previous post on Tingwall, lots of cloud was present reflecting the Light pollution from Scalloway and Lerwick but on this occasion with clear skies the south gave a more natural colour

Did you observe Earth Hour on Saturday 8.30 - 9.30 ?

Using car head and tail lights adds a bit of a focal point

Looking north to the old Manse is one of the classic views in Shetland.

I will be offering a new 6 session course on Nightscape Photography for Shetland Adult Education around October 2017 (in Shetland) message me if interested

If you haven't does so, please send a request to join the facebook page - Shetland Aurora Hunter. Lots of great photos and interesting information

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Superb Aurora 21 3 17

The 21 3 17 proved to be one of the best Aurora's we have seen coming to Shetland. First a clear night, that's been a rarity recently and the prospect of a good Aurora tempted us to visit Bigton.

A rare sight in the UK, a pink Aurora (For a short time)

The colours on the night were amazing, anything from various shades of green, purple, pink, even a bit of blue

From the off the Aurora was very active with pulsating pillars and lighter green curtains moving rapidly across the sky

reaching above the green curtains large purple pillars all moving very fast. All these captured at 1- 2 seconds at ISO 6400

I left after 2 hours after it seem to be calming down as it reached 11 pm, but this one will stay in our memories for many years to come. March has proved to be a good month to see Aurora's

More photos to come once i have had time to process them

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