Shooting the Stars

25 Jun 2015

When people ask me what my favourite type of photography is I never have to think for too long. When I answer, the reaction is pretty much the same majority of the time. I get this tilted-head-puzzled look, accompanied by a hesitant “ummmm” and finally a response: “Is that even a genre?”


I guess one can’t classify low light photography as a genre per say but it is one of those topics that can stretch over a couple of photographic themes and still capture natural beauty at its very best. I’ve tackled wildlife in the golden hour, dabbled in some bokeh and missed out on some precious zzzz’s to capture the sunrise until I got it right. The time had dawned for a new challenge.


Being a lowlight enthusiast, I jumped at the chance to join on a weekend workshop that would focus on night sky photography. We trekked north-west to Tilodi Wilderness and set out to find the ideal spot to get a clear shot of the milky way. Following a theory session, we bundled up in layers and beanies and made our way into the night and set up our cameras. Getting the shot seemed pretty simple: camera on tripod, widest aperture setting possible on a wide-angle lens, 30” exposure and 400-800 ISO.

Blue sky with yellow over the horizon starscape

We all know never to get in the way of photographers and if you think they are mild mannered people out in darkened bushveld, think again. As soon as your shutter is open for a long exposure, any artificial light source that shines in your photo’s direction will automatically appear in your image. Yes, there is the beauty of post processing to get rid of it but if you dare switch your head lamp on and the person down the row is taking an image, you will hear a quick and loud, “turn off your light!” echoing in the darkness. I found it’s easier to just drop your head straight down first before fumbling to switch your head lamp off while looking straight ahead.

Starscape with lens distortion on the outer corners

Making sure the picture was sharp was somewhat of a challenge. The rule of thumb is to get your focus on infinity, but just off centre, take a picture and check your sharpness by zooming in all the way and zooming out x3. Being the perfectionist that I am, I wanted to ensure that my pictures were sharp enough and kept calling out, “Richie!” every time I needed the facilitator to come and check if all was good. Poor Richard already knew that phrase all too often and always patiently responded with a “coming Chicken!” as soon as he heard it. To this day, I still don’t know why I got that nickname but it caught on to the rest of the guests and to my dismay, I was dubbed “Chicken” for the rest of the weekend.


Another interesting take on night sky photography was discovering the beauty of changing my white balance. I’ve never actually played around with white balance too much but changing it up opened up my eyes to the wonders it can do with the colours of a photo. Customising the colour balance in incandescent white balance brought out different shades of the image being taken and even though a pink-purple photo may not be “technically” correct, it was deemed the most popular one my social media page.


Now that the sun has set on this new challenge, what’s next for this lowlight apprentice? Well, the lack of remote trigger rendered me unable to capture a star trail this time ‘round but until the next trip to the great outdoors is planned, I’ll focus on perfecting to write my name in sparklers.

Starscape with purple hue photographed over lake

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  1. Earl 25 Jul 2015 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Do you take tours to learn star photography

  2. Nicolette 27 Jul 2015 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl – Nikon in South Africa is offering a weekend workshop on night sky photography in October (same one I went on) Check it out on their website:*

  3. Greg 27 Jul 2015 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love your shots and would really appreciate some pointers on the lens(es) you used for your shots.

    Kind regards

    • Nixlouw
      Nicolette Louw 27 Jul 2015 at 9:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Greg, the widest lens you can have is the one to go with! F/2.8 is preferable but there was a lady on the trip who got an amazing shot with an 18-55mm kit lens. I used a Nikkor 14-24mm and a 10.5 fisheye…Nikkor glass is fantastic!

  4. Rod Lichtman 9 Aug 2015 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    Hi Nicolette
    I would like to buy/borrow/beg one of your pics for a book on rock art I hope to publish
    Please reply privately to me for details

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