On November 6th Stephen Cheatley travelled up from Blackpool to entertain and educate members and a significant number of visitors with his presentation “The Astro Landscape”. Stephen is a professional photographer whose biggest passion is photographing the night sky. He won the Royal Meteorological Society, Weather Photographer of the Year in 2018 with his night-time photograph of a lightning storm over Blackpool.
Stephen explained how his interest in astronomy started watching programmes such as “The Sky at Night” and was further developed watching “Stargazing Live”. A pivotal moment for him was when he splashed out and took an “Aurora Flight” from Blackpool airport. There was no aurora borealis to be seen that night but Stephen was inspired by the witnessing amazing views of the Milky Way from the darkened plane.
Stephen then went on to describe some of the locations where he takes his night-time images from. One of the factors he has to take into consideration when taking landscape photographs is light pollution. He showed a map on which the main origins of light pollution in the north of England are located and also showed images on which it could be seen how far light pollution actually extends. With careful consideration of time of year, the night sky, and location, Stephen is able to take photographs with minimal light pollution contaminating them.
With star charts and his own images Stephen was able to highlight to us the main features of the night sky and those features which are most suitable to be photographed. He also gave us practical advice such as how to locate Polaris, the North Star and how use of relatively inexpensive tracking devices can track the night sky to enable longer exposure times without the stars becoming blurred. In contrast he also showed how very long exposure times with no tracking of the night sky can produce very different “star trail” images with the moving stars creating a series of concentric circles around the North Star.
There were several images of the Milky Way and Stephen explained how it progresses across the northern sky during the year and how various parts of the Milky Way become visible as it moves. He advised members of the audience who had not tried astrophotography before that it is really quite easy, with a little planning, to take impressive photographs of the Milky Way. The only real necessity as far equipment is concerned is a sturdy tripod to hold the camera steady for the long exposure times. All that is needed of the camera is to be able to open the shutter for long enough.
Stephen finished his presentation with a series of lunar images. He was able to demonstrate how using lenses of differing focal length can result in dramatically contrasting compositions of the moon and foregrounds.