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Shooting for the stars

The night sky at Gladstone. PHOTO/ALEX BEACH

By Gerald Ford

A Gladstone teenager took his amateur photography to new heights last week with a stunning photo of the Wairarapa night sky.

Alex Beach, 15, has been taking photographs for about three years, having become curious early on about what made his father’s camera tick.

“I kind of just worked it out for myself, I wanted to learn all about it.”

Alex has attended a few photography tutorials, but is mostly self-taught.

He has taken several groups of outdoors photos for clients of his father, who leads rafting excursions and guided fishing tours.

However last week’s experiment, “was actually the first night photograph I took”, Alex said.

He was therefore well pleased with the result, which required some preparation.

“I planned it for two days.”

A computer application called Stellarium allowed him to track the location of the Milky Way, and he decided the best time for a photo would be 2am.

Alex chose the early morning of Wednesday 21, which was actually the day of the winter solstice (although the longest night began at sunset later that day.
“I took it this day because there was a very clear sky,” Alex said.

“I live out in Gladstone so the light pollution from Masterton didn’t affect the photo.”

Alex co-opted his grandfather, 76, who is staying with the family, to help with the planning and execution of the photo.

He used a Nikon D3100 camera with the ISO setting of 1600, the aperture at 3.5mm (set to let in maximum light), a focal length of 18mm, and with a shutter speed of 15 to 20 seconds.

Alex is planning to study photography at school next year. He is interested in moving into professional photography, such as wedding photography, and videography. He is currently saving for a drone.

TAKING THE SHOT (Alex’s notes)

The night before I took the photo, when it was still light I focused the camera onto the sky (where the stars would be later) and put some wood down on the ground where I would set the tripod.

I positioned the camera how I would like it and brought it inside without touching the position.”

I woke up in the morning and brought out a torch with me. I took the photo while standing on a stile holding a torch pointed to the sky.

After taking 12 individual shots, I returned inside to put the pictures on my computer.

I then picked my favourite and put the image in Adobe Light room.

In the software, I did subtle changes such as increasing exposure, whites and contrast in the photo and also decreased blacks and sharpness.

These where just little minor adjustments which brought the stars to life without messing with the original photo.

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