We’ve got a pretty special perspective of the stars down here in the Southern Hemisphere. Because of the Earth’s orientation in space, on a clear evening we get to see our arm of the Milky Way spectacularly drawn across the night sky. It’s a sight that the majority of the world’s population misses out on. We need only look up.
What if you wanted to capture these astral features? While our phones are getting better at capturing images, those ones pointed at the stars never seem to match up to the true-to-life vision. There is a way to capture the perfect night sky in its true-to-life form though. It’s called astrophotography, and all you need is the right tools and a little bit of knowledge to get started.
Gill Fry is one of the photographers who has it down to a fine art. She even offers workshops and digital resources to those who want to get started.
Gill’s unique style of photography uncovers a rare perspective of the Greater Hamilton region, with our beautiful agricultural landscapes and sprawling Grampians mountain ranges silhouetted against the cosmic nightscape.
Gill also experiments with light painting, another unique style of photography that utilises similar camera skills as astrophotography, with long exposure times allowing for the camera to capture light as it travels through its frame over a period of time. An example can be seen here:
We sat down with Gill to gain some local insights on photography in the Greater Hamilton region.
What was it that got you into this style of photography?
I have been into photography since I was about seven. But it was only when a fellow photographer showed me an image of the Port Fairy Lighthouse under the stars that I said, “I have to learn how to do that!!!” I quickly realised that there was a lot of misinformation on the web and Facebook. So it took a lot of trial and error and experimenting to work out the ideal settings and post processing. I was determined to do it right! Many a night was spent at Nigretta Falls as I worked to emulate the style.
Do you have any local tips for our budding photographers in the region? Where are the photography hotspots?
Greater Hamilton has it all for photographers! Waterfalls, redgums, wildlife, beautiful wildflowers, the amazing Omphalotus Nidiformis or “Glow mushrooms”, Rocklands Reservoir, the Grampians and of course, our magnificent clear night skies.
I of course take photos during the day, but for this article I will show you our region by night. It takes on a whole new beautiful and unique perspective.
We are even lucky enough to see the Aurora Australis here when the sun is active. The best night skies can be seen away from town lights. Head out into the rural surrounds and you will see what a difference it makes. When an aurora is present you will want a clear view to the south.
My number one tip for night photography spots is to think about your composition. It is equally important at night as it is during the day. Lighting the subject helps enormously. Subtle lighting is best.
Are there any photographs in your night photography portfolio that you feel stand out above the rest?
I have been lucky enough to win NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day (APOD) twice now. This is an extremely coveted award, so I am indeed honoured. Here is one of my photos awarded with this honour.
The following photos are personal favourites of mine:
The first image is the largest Aurora Australis I have seen here from near Hamilton. You could see it with your eyes but the colour appears muted. The colour comes out more in camera as the shutter is open for several seconds.
Regarding the second image, the night sky does not always have to be full of stars. On this occasion it was the biggest storm I had ever experienced here.
I see that you offer workshops and training for those that want to learn the techniques you utilise, would you care to divulge any advice for those getting started?
Night photography is fun!!! But you need to be prepared and have a basic understanding of what you are doing or you will just be cold and frustrated.
I offer workshops and training as you said, but I also have free tutorials on my Gill Fry Photography YouTube channel which can help get you started. They go through the equipment you need, the camera settings and how to focus in the dark. The latter is something most newbies have trouble with, but when you know how, it is easy. I explain it in detail in the video but the basic explanation is to switch to live view, magnify a star with 10X magnification and manually focus on the star so it is the smallest dot. Then take your shot. One thing I love about teaching night photography is the response of every person who takes their first successful photo of the stars. It is always, “WOW!!”
What makes Greater Hamilton such a great place to live as a photographer?
I was pondering this question only a couple of weeks ago. You know there are not many places in the world that are easily accessible where you have majestic scenery by day and amazing skies at night, including being able to see the Aurora Australis when it is dancing. There are awesome photography subjects for every genre of outdoor photography. We are really so lucky to live here!