It's easy for us to never think about the galaxy we're part of. Even Star Wars is about galaxies far, far away! But Paul Wison says that when you're away from the city, and your urban life, you see things in a very different light — literally. "You see stars like never before – whole galaxies gleaming in the distance, and suddenly you experience a combination of feeling both very insignificant, and incredibly lucky to be standing, frozen in time, staring into the distance and admiring a view that has taken aeons to conspire."
Paul is a New Zealand wedding and astrophotographer inspired by the beauty of the night-sky, the adventures that his work takes him on, and the incredible times he has with friends whilst on location.
It's not just about the final shot. Paul says the whole experience makes it for him. From camping out over the weekend, to the days spent location-scouting, and conversations with friends while the time-lapse ticks away. Those are the rewarding parts – being able to stand under the stars knowing that he has the tools and knowledge to capture the experience. And being able to share it with others is magical.
He says shooting astro comes down to planning, envisioning, and having the tools and set-up to bring the photograph to life.
Make sure there is little or no moon, he says. Check the weather for clear skies. Use an app to plan where the Milky Way will be. Find a dark location that looks away from city light.
Once you've found the time and location, envision the shot. Create the photograph in your head and find the foreground to complement it. Paul often arrives during the day to search for the location. He works to frame the Milky Way with beautiful mountains and landscapes, to give a sense of scale. And he experiments with colour and different times of the evening.
When it comes to taking the actual photograph there's no exact formula, but generally you want a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture, a camera good in low light that doesn’t have too much noise at high ISO’s, and a sturdy tripod that won’t move. Some typical settings for a 24mm lens would be ISO6400 / f2 / 15s.
Paul believes New Zealand is one of the best places to photograph astro, with dark skies being only an hour or two away from any city. In New Zealand The Milky Way is the best in the winter, which is perfect as the days are short and nights long, giving Paul more time to photograph.
Some of Paul's favourite locations are up the rivers in Godley or Havelock in Canterbury. It gets even darker there than Tekapo, a famous astro spot in New Zealand, and it's surrounded by epic mountains.
Paul says it's a great feeling when your plans come together, you captured what you set out to, and you come home after a weekend's shoot knowing you got the perfect shot. But things do go wrong. No matter how hard you plan and prepare, sometimes everything is against you. But that's the best part, says Paul. There's a time of growth in those moments.
And finally, pack warm clothes, a good head-torch, food and have fun!