Save & earn with MPB; trade-in and buy pre-loved

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg

David Clapp's last installment from the remarkable Isle of Eigg.

| Landscape and Travel

Words and images by David Clapp.

Welcome to the last instalment from the remarkable Isle of Eigg. This time we blast into space with my first go at astro photography, a collection of images that happened by sheer chance one night as I went to shut the curtains.

With raging winds and heavy cloud for most of the day, most of the evening was spent keeping warm by the wood burner and reading about St Kilda and Boreray, a remote set of once inhabited Scottish islands with a steep sided story to match.

Lens Choice - OK, what you wouldn't expect is that the best lens to use for wide angle work like this is an architectural lens - the 24mm TSE MkII. Why? It has a large image circle and treats a full frame camera like a crop sensor. The lens is super sharp at f/3.5 right across the frame.

Here's the very first test image taken from the front doorstep. I knew I needed high ISOs to capture this correctly, so I grabbed my backup camera, the 5D Mk II, as it has a one stop advantage over the 1Ds III (ie. ISO1600 on the 5D MkII is literally identical to ISO800 on the 1Ds MKIII).

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Laig Bay on the Isle of Eigg, looking towards the Isle of Rhum Captain Aurora - Phoning Antony Spencer confirmed this was indeed Aurora Borealis. Notice the Little Bear in the top left- 5D MkII, 24mm TSE MKII at f/3.5 f/16 30secs ISO3200.

Captain Aurora - After taking a good look at this, moments later on the laptop, the green hues got me thinking. Phoning Antony Spencer the following day, (or the 'Green Flash' as he is now known) he confirmed from looking at geomagnetic charts, that it was indeed a night of noted activity. Ok, there are no waves and bands, but you can see that the green hue was indeed the Northern Lights. Exciting stuff, especially for a doorstep shot.

I paced about a bit, considered leaving the house to get to the cliffs, but staggering around in the dark, with high cloud moving over and with the addition of strong winds (which were sure to bounce the tripod about on the spongy grass) I went to bed... and then got up again, pacing about and looking out the curtains, and THEN finally went to bed.

With broken cloud for most the day, it had been a remarkable day on Laig Bay with all manner of superb opportunities and good sunshine. The evening once again cleared up beautifully, with literally no wind, so after some dinner it was back to the cliffs.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Laig Bay on the Isle of Eigg, looking towards the Isle of Rhum
Eigg Shell - 5D MkII 24mm TSE MkII, f/3.5 ISO3200 Using a head torch pointed skywards, the beam was gently dipped downwards, just for a few seconds in a 30sec exposure.

Eigg Shell - On the walk up the path to head off, it became apparent I was staying inside an astronomical photograph. Shining the torch on the scene was way too much, so it was a mix of high ISO and using the beam pointed skywards, lighting the house with subtle ambience. With the walls being white, it didn't take much artificial light to create a complimentary effect that mixed well with the inside lights.

So probably at this point you may be thinking, OK Dave, but we have all played with ISOs and seen just how disgusting things get above ISO1600, even with the most modern of DSLRs. Well the results are not that bad at all when treated with some Lightroom NR. Smoother areas, like the sky, do exhibit noticeable noise, but overall it's a wonderful result, considering I could hardly see a thing. It's important to remember not to push the shadows too hard in post processing, just a subtle adjustment. Let the blacks stay black and let go of histogram convention.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Laig Bay on the Isle of Eigg, looking towards the Isle of Rhum
100% 21mp crop
- Wonderful quality all things considered. An image like this would have been very low quality around five years ago.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Laig Bay on the Isle of Eigg, looking towards the Isle of Rhum
100% 21mp crop - Smooth areas give the most noticable noise, but I am far from complaining. I am going to try some other NR products.

From the Cliff Top
After getting to the cliffs, the spectacle of the surrounding night sky was simply breathtaking. Everywhere I looked, there was something utterly wonderful to behold. I saw plenty of faint shooting stars, nothing incredible, but a truly marvellous array of celestial colour. Betelgeuse was orangey red, as were other stars I sadly can't name. Setting up on the cliffs, the 24mm TSE MkII was once again the weapon of choice.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Laig Bay on the Isle of Eigg, looking towards the Isle of Rhum A Tot of Rhum II - Well I was completely amazed once again. The results with the 5D MkII are exceptionally good at such high ISO. I was able to capture some ambience of the night sky, which certainly helps. It's the first time I have seen starlight reflecting off the sea. 5D MkII, 24mm TSE MkII at f/3.5 30secs ISO3200.

A Tot of Rhum II
- Are they from the same asteroid? Surely not. Just the subtlest of push to the shadows is enough to give the image that necessary lift in tones, without destroying the feel of night time. Remember this is only around 8pm. It was necessary to get here early or the entire Milky Way would rotate out of the frame to the right.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Milky Way
The Humble Telescope
- Still at 24mm, there were so many more possibilities away from the usual landscapes. 5D MkII, 24mm TSE MkII at f/3.5 30secs ISO3200.

The Humble Telescope - Slightly later on, about an hour after the shot above, it was just about possible to see the Milky Way in the viewfinder, but in the end it became trial and error to get it positioned accordingly. It was such a brilliant experience in between frames, filling up my soul with wonder, spotting other possible photographs to shoot next. The gaseous purples and reds are just gorgeous.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Orion
The Humble Telescope
II- Still at 24mm, there were so many more possibilities away from the usual landscapses.  5D MkII, 70-200mm f/4L IS at f/4 15secs ISO6400.

The Humble Telescope II - Finally, Orion, shot with the 70-200mm f/4L IS. I decided to try using the 70-200mm to shoot constellations and also experiment with further noise and time ratios. Once again, the level of detail is just amazing. After the first shot at 30secs ISO3200, this longer focal length made star trails far more noticeable than the 24mm, so I dubiously switched to ISO6400 and shot for 15secs. Again what a result. After Lightroom NR, I was amazed that the detail was so noise free.

The main stars have been enlarged for this purpose by about 30%, so they will stand out better on a website. It's really easy to do - Select around the star, right click inside it, Layer Via Copy. Now  go to: Layer> Transform>Scale and increase by a percentile of 30%. Finally, reposition and hide it as a hidden layer mask before revealing.

David Clapp visits the Isle of Eigg: Orion crop
100% 21mp crop - Betelgeuse and the sky beyond all at ISO6400, very pleasing.

As this was my first astro shoot, I am extremely happy with the results. My mind is now reeling about further possibilities in more remote locations like Eigg but also those closer to home. The clarity is something I rarely see locally, but there are places nearby when, on the right evenings, it is sure to be worth attempting once more. Time to order some torches and get out there experimenting I think.

On a side note, I will be at Focus On Imaging for the entire four days, giving around five talks a day between the 6-9th March. I do hope you have enjoyed these posts and thanks for your participation, as it means a lot.

Visit David Clapp's website.

David Clapp's previous blogs:

MPB Start Shopping

Support this site by making a Donation, purchasing Plus Membership, or shopping with one of our affiliates: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, ebay UK, MPB. It doesn't cost you anything extra when you use these links, but it does support the site, helping keep ePHOTOzine free to use, thank you.


Other articles you might find interesting...

How To Photograph Foggy Landscapes With Ease
6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Rivers
How To Photograph Rocks As Patterns & Textures To Enhance Your Photos
5 Top Tips On Photographing Shop Signs & Window Displays For...
4 Quick Tips Tips On Shooting Graphically In The Landscape & In Towns
What To Photograph On Day-Trips To Picturesque Villages
4 Essential Quick Tips On Photographing Standing Stones
5 Top Tips On Photographing Storms

There are no comments here! Be the first!


You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join for free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.