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Aligning the stars

Image of the September 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
September 2020 Issue

Sarnim Dean heads to Granity Pass Hut to nab a photo of the heavens

Night photography is one of the final frontiers where a dedicated digital camera still reigns supreme. But even with the best camera equipment, photographing clear images of the Milky Way is difficult in populated areas where light pollution diminishes the view of the stars.

After being housebound for far too long, I looked at possible locations for a backcountry overnighter with solid night photography potential and soon settled on Granity Pass Hut in Kahurangi National Park for its accessibility and stunning mountain backdrop. To maximise my chance of coming away with a good image, I explored the topography using software such as Stellarium and The Photographer’s Ephemeris to reveal the location of the galactic arc. Google Earth showed peaks and valleys which could be worked into a composition. The moon might be a touch bright, but the stars were aligning.

With two free days and a promising forecast, I arrived early at Granity Pass Hut carrying the absolute smallest photography equipment possible. There was time to scope out possible compositions before darkness closed in. Then I set my alarm for an early morning wake-up.

Despite all the technology-assisted pre-visualisation, the true majesty and wonder of the heavens are unceasingly breathtaking and though it was freezing cold I felt privileged to be outside amidst such beauty.

There’s a lot that goes into making a successful night image including some good luck. It’s when you get back home, hunched in front of the computer that you really discover what you have. In my case, it was OK but not great – my photo would have benefitted hugely from a little light in the hut. But that’s fine. Photography provides the perfect motivation to explore New Zealand’s magnificent backcountry in pursuit of the next image and the next adventure.

Tech specs
: Olympus OMD E-M10 / Laowa 7.5mm F2 lens
Tripod: Vanguard Veo 235
Camera settings: 25”, F2, ISO1600

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