Behind the Camera: ‘In a Galaxy Far, Far Away’ – Bardsey Island, Wales

Usually, I hate being photobombed by something in a capture. Usually it’s someone’s head or leg, or a bird, or sometimes the branch of a tree or something else I didn’t notice when looking through the viewfinder. But this time I didn’t mind the photobomb at all, because what photobombed this shot was the Andromeda Galaxy.

See that fuzzy patch just to the top-left of the stone cross? That’s it, and it’s a whopping 2.5 million light years away. This means that the light left that galaxy 2.5 million years ago! What’s more, that small fuzzy blob is home to a trillion stars (that’s 1,000,000,000,000).

I think that the fact that the light traveled all that distance – and over all those years – before being caught by my camera is pretty awesome.

The Andromeda Galaxy is also quite big. If it were brighter we’d see that it is in fact about six times wider than the moon.

I took this shot while on Bardsey Island, a small island off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula, the island where 20,000 saints are reputed to be buried, along with, according to some legends, King Arthur himself. It’s a truly magical place, steeped in history and mythology, and with everyone else tucked up in bed on the island, I had the whole place to myself.

Two of the hardest things about taking night shots are focus and composition. I will cover these in a separate post, but I take my time over these because they’re key. There’s no way to correct for an out of focus shot in Photoshop or Lightroom, and the only way to fix a bad composition is to crop, and that means losing precious pixels, which I try to avoid whenever possible.

Then it’s a matter of locking the shutter release cable, and sitting back and let the camera do what it does best. Since clouds are constantly moving I like to stay in the same spot for at least 15 minutes so as to give me a good range of pictures to choose from (if I’m shooting 30 second exposures then 15 minutes of shooting will give me 60 shots). In the summer months insect repellent is a must because without it they’ll home in on your sweat and breath and drive you mad in no time at all! Fifteen minutes is an eternity when you’re being feated on by bugs.

Since there was a fair bit of orange airglow in this shot I decided to process it as a black and white, and I’m pretty pleased by the results. Since you don’t see many astro shots processed into black and white images, I think it’s a little different.

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