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  • Writer's pictureNick Faulkner

Astrophotography with Nick Faulkner 

Nick Faulkner recently submitted some of his breathtaking astrophotography work to our ‘Off The Beaten Track’ Competition. We were so impressed with his images we had to reach out and find a little bit more about his process for capturing his images. 

In this blog, Nick talks us through what he does before heading out on a nightscape shoot, essential gear to bring along and post-production tips & tricks! 

Tell us a bit about yourself? 

My Name is Nick Faulkner, I’m from Christchurch and I am a video editor at Flashworks Media. I started photography about 5 years ago as a hobby after buying my first DSLR for video production. It wasn’t long after that I discovered how amazing the night sky was to photograph. Nothing is more calming and relaxing than being out in nature, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere and capturing our beautiful night sky.

What do you check for before you head out for a shoot?

The first thing I check is the weather because you can’t photograph the night sky if you can’t see it. I always check for clouds and precipitation in the spot I want to go to. The second thing I check is the moon phase and the rise/set time. It’s difficult to photograph the stars during a full moon unless the moon is your point of interest. If not, checking when it sets is standard practice or wait for a new moon. There are a few apps for this but the most popular and the one I use is ‘photopills’. 

Where do you usually go to shoot?

Choosing a place is usually somewhere I’ve had my eye on for sometimes months or even years. It’s just about waiting for a chance to get there in the right conditions. What you need to look for is somewhere dark and as far away from light pollution as possible. You want to get out of the city and away from the lights. I like to get amongst the mountains or over a lake to capture some cool reflections. Two sites I use to check for light pollution are Dark Site Finer and Light Pollution Map.

What do you bring with you to a shoot?

I know some people like to bring all sorts of things with them, like their entire photography kit, a chair, their dinner etc. This is fine if you can be bothered lugging that stuff up a mountain face. For me personally, I only bring the necessities in which I need to get the job done. My camera, a 24mm lens, a 50mm lens, a tripod, star tracker, my phone, a headlamp and obviously dressing appropriately for the area you’re visiting. 

How long does it take you to get the shot? 

When capturing long exposure or astrophotography shots, it isn’t generally as simple as setting up, snapping a few photos and you’re done. For myself and for most of my pairs, we’re usually out for at least a couple of hours, realistically most shoots last sometimes 4 or 5 hours or even the entire night. It all depends on the subject that you’re photographing, the gear you’re using, or if you’re travelling to multiple spots in the night, which isn’t uncommon either. 

I use a star tracker, which is a special mount you attach your camera and/ or telescope on and it moves with the sky, so counteracting the earth’s rotation, basically a glorified egg timer. But it allows you to expose longer and gather more detail in the Milky Way or whatever object you’re focused on. Setting these up can take a lot of time, and because you’re exposing longer, there’s a lot of waiting around for you’re camera to do its thing.

How do you get from the raw file to the final image?

Editing a Milky Way shot can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. How you want it to look is completely up to you. Art is subjective, right, so everyone has their own take on what it should look like. My taste has changed over the years as I have grown with the hobby and gained more skills. I shoot multiple images to either stack to create more detail or to create a panorama. I like a slightly cooler sky with a nice clear Milky Way, good colour and detail in the core. Something I like to do is minimise most of the stars and get rid of the “salt and pepper” look. It helps to clear up the sky and makes the core stand out more I find.

What are the post-production steps you take? 

I upload all photos from the shoot into Lightroom. Then I choose a photo or a set of photos to stitch or stack and do all my local adjustments. If I’m creating a panorama, I will stitch them in Lightroom then head into photoshop to remove artefacts and work with the sky to get it looking good. I am currently working on some online tutorial workshops which will be available on my website very soon that will go through my workflow in detail.

What software do you use?

I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and  I often use Photoshop plugin tools like Astronomy ToolsAction or Astro Panel 5. This is to gain the desired look of the Milky Way that I want. I also use another plugin that I love, Color Efex Pro, which gives that glow in my Milky Way photos or any of my landscape shots. 

Any tips for astrophotography and getting the perfect image?

Once you get the fundamentals of Astrophotography down, try doing panoramas and taking multiple photos to stack them in the post to pull more detail out in the Milky Way and reduce noise, making for a cleaner overall image. It’s really important not to shy away from attempting new techniques in photography. After all, photography is all about exploration and discovery. Long exposure and even astrophotography are not as challenging as they sound. With the right gear, camera settings and a can-do attitude, you too will capture breathtaking photos of our galactic neighbours.

To check out more of Nick’s amazing astrophotography and long exposure work or to even purchase a print, click here!


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