Four and a half hours a day… That’s how long I have slept each day for ten days. Why would I bother being deprived of vital sleep though? Because my mission and goal was to show the night sky in a different way. The second opus of my sequel ‘Galaxies’ aims at finding new techniques and skills to bring the beauties of the cosmos to the general public, and in this optic, I went to spend a bit more than a week in a privileged place: a dark sky reserve. La Palma is located in the Canary Islands, just a few hundreds kilometers west of northern Africa. Its climate and location enable professional and amateur astronomers to gaze at the stars almost year round in a very little light polluted sky. In fact, the cooperation of more than 19 countries in building a giant observatory site on top of its volcano at 2400m is no surprise, because the skies are drier, purer and darker up there. Having shot on top El Teide in Tenerife, the neighbor island two years before (vimeo.com/163680035), I thought it was the perfect place to go shoot the wonders of the winter night sky. Tenerife also possesses decent skies and opportunities to gaze at the core of the milky way, but when your goal is to observe and capture fainter deep-sky red glows, you need a less polluted and bright atmosphere. That’s why I embarked for an epic and restless astro-adventure on Canary’s darkest island.
Epic and restless, because the goal was to spend all night shooting. So have I done. Every evening I would drive one and a half hours from sea level to 2400m of altitude along the dangerously winding coastal roads to arrive at the top El Roque de Los Muchachos, the volcano. The air is very thin and chilly up there, not to mention the constant wind gusts, making any kind of portable time-lapse astrophotography challenging. I would start shooting from dusk till dawn in the dry cold air, and rest in my rental car while my cameras are shooting. At the break of dawn, I would drive down to my holiday condo and sleep for about 4-5 hours. I needed to get back up, because no matter how much I planned the trip before hand using google Earth to find good shooting spots, you need to scout during the day, otherwise you won’t get a chance to see anything. If you don’t know what dark is, I advise you to get up there. It is so dark because of the basaltic rocks, that almost none of my sequences are taken below ISO 6400 and 10 seconds of exposure, no matter what the focal length. You need all the light you can gather! However the real challenge of an astrolapser is the adapt to the local conditions: if the wind picks up, you need to lower your shutter speed to avoid jitter as much as possible, meaning you will have to compensate in any other way. This game of fine manipulation is what makes your astrolapse look good, or horrendous. There is no in between. The slightest slip-up, and you could see the result of a long energy and time investment go to waste (I did have to delete all of my first night’s captures because of misjudgment…). Practice makes perfect, especially within this novel field of astrolapse. I wanted to use narrower angles, astro-modified cameras and contrast filters to reveal the light and colors of nebulae and gas clouds that the winter sky is strewed with. In this short film that also includes day-time sequences of my unforgettable journey around the island, I wanted to feature some of these deep-sky scenes, as a test.
The main goal of this short film was showing La Palma under its Fall skies. It was also the occasion for me to use motion control tools for the first time (Yes, it was about time). I used the Vixen Polarie to track the deep sky sequences to get maximum details and sharpness. I also used the Syrp tilt and pan bracket system for wider angle shots. To increase contrasts at angles higher than 14mm, I used the Pure Night filter by Lonely Speck. Camera wise, I used the Canon 6D Baader modified to reveal the H-alpha emission nebulae, the Sony a7s (other night shots), and the Sony a7rII (day shots). From the 1% young crescent moon setting to the blood reds of Barnard’s loop, I tried getting a maximum of interesting and innovative shots. I am sure you can spot countless meteors (Leonids, Taurids and others). Also, some multicolor airglow and dust clouds from the Sahara were rampant and usually add a lot of haze and colors to some frames. On the tracked deep-sky sequences, you can also notice loads of satellites, and these are geo-synchronous ones that stay in synch with the Earth’s orbit! In some wide-angle shots, you can probably spot the famous zodiacal lights too.
These were the main goals for me, and I believe these objects have rarely been photographed in that way before, but unlike what you might think, it is possible with nowadays technology, and is very relevant as this test suggests! I will gladly provide a more detailed list of gear and processing techniques upon request.
Enjoy this short!