Shoot of the Year 2020

As 2020 draws to an end, I'd like to revisit what is easily my favourite shoot of the year. As covid ravaged through much of this year, my mate Josh and I decided to take a day off on an August night this year to catch the last New Moon of the 2020 milky way season for an astro shoot. After looking up locations we managed to settle on a bridge which is not too far from Sydney and more importantly it is a relatively undiscovered spot for photography which presented us with an interesting challenge.


Lesson #1 Give Ample Time


As it involved a short hike, we decided to get there before the sun set so we could scout out a good angle and set up camp while there is still daylight (probably the only good planning of this entire episode).


With a small stream and many rocks around it was a bit tricky to get our tripods level and shoes dry but we each managed to find an angle we both like and also not be in each other's shot which is great. Now all we have to do is wait for the sky to turn dark, and it did, really quickly, Before long the sun set and we began to shiver so we thought it'll be a good idea to set our cameras to start shooting while we cook some sausages we brought along.


Lesson #2 Things are never as easy as they seem


We brought with us a loaf of bread and some sausages along with a portable gas stove and skewers for dinner. We thought it'll just be a simple task of putting the sausages on the skewers and holding them over the gas stove to cook. We have never been more wrong. There were several issues with our grand scheme namely:

1) Under the skin sausages are pretty wet, they soaked our skewers making them limp, so we had to use several to hold a single sausage.
2) The sausages weren't just wet, they were wet with oil, so by poking skewers in them, oil leaked out onto the open flame and it spat EVERYWHERE.
3) Soaked with oil, the skewers would subsequently CATCH FIRE AND BREAK.

We ended up eating questionably cooked sausages (thankfully we didn't get chicken ones). All in all I would highly suggest bringing either long metal skewers or better yet, a damn pan.


As it was winter and the sun set early, we were able to start shooting relatively early. We planned to take at least a 2 hour exposure so we set our cameras to take 1 photo per minute from 7-9pm. I was very pleased with the result as the milky way was slightly visible (impressive considering this is still near a major city) and the nearby city was lighting up the bridge giving it a nice warm glow in contrast to the blue sky. The resulting star trail photo is one I will cherish for a long time:

and because we did interval shooting instead of a single long exposure, I was also able to create a timelapse of the movement of the stars which gives the image much more context:

On the way back we managed to nab another 10-20min exposure from a different angle. I was incredibly lucky to get this shot as my camera battery was about to die and I didn't have a spare so I had to eyeball the settings for a single 20min exposure.

After that we packed up and headed to our sunrise spot which was about an hour away. We thought it'll be better to get there, get some shut eye and just get up and shoot.


Lesson #3 Check Weather Warnings


Being located in Sydney metro, we only bothered to check weather there since we this spot in the Blue Mountains isn't geographically far by any means. We were, once again, wrong. A severe wind warning for the region was put out by the Bureau of Meteorology which we missed. We parked next to a lookout we thought would make a good sunrise spot, it was great as it was near the car park but that put the car next to a valley which meant - crazy ass winds. The wind was literally rocking the car back and forth, we struggled to get any sleep as temperatures plummet to near zero outside.


Lesson #4 Overdress > Underdress


How hard could it be to spend a few hours sleeping in a car? That was what we thought as we put the seats down and closed our eyes. It did feel a bit chilly but we couldn't be bothered opening up the boot and undoing our sleeping bags and what not only to repack them in the morning. At around 3am we woke up from the sheer cold that took over the night. We now had to go through the trouble of unpacking sleeping bags but this time it's with shaky fingers and crazy winds around. Though the next 2 hours were much less uncomfortable, we were still feeling the cold from not covering up when it was time to shoot sunrise. I personally almost cried fighting the winds and cold walking towards the lookout point. The beauty of photography is, however, no matter how much you go through for the shot, the adventure that made it possible always gave a sense of achievement.


Lesson #5 Take it all in


While I wasn't too happy with the shots I got of sunrise, I know I don't always have to. Having laid eyes on the view myself, here's a mood reel of how that morning went.


It was a trip filled with a lot of stupid, but I can't wait to do it all again for 2021. Hope you enjoyed this little write up, go out into the world and create!


Ben

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