If you go down to the woods today...
... you might be in for a surprise! This story stems from a recent trip (trip is maybe a little grand a term - more a stroll from the house) to try to capture the milky way rising over a distinctive tree in a nearby nature reserve.
Being almost in my backyard I know the area well but had scoped the shot earlier in the day, making my planning with the PhotoPills iPhone app to determine where and when the galactic centre would be visible. In UK terms, we live in a quiet rural location with little in the way of through traffic even at the busiest of times let alone in the dark of night. With a clear cloudless sky forecast I was expecting little in the way of drama to try my initial stab at some astrophotography.
Late October is at the tail end of the milky way hunting season; PhotoPills gave me an eight minute window between 19:57 and 20:04 hrs to capture my shot. I arrived a respectable 30 minutes ahead of target time to set up and check all camera settings were as required. I was concerned that the glow from Melton Mowbray, some 5 miles to the south, would cause some light pollution issues, but decided to try to capture the shot nonetheless.
All was looking good until, 15 minutes before my witching hour, two cars drew up and parked some 20 metres next to the field I was set up in. Somewhat bizarrely, the cars arranged themselves side by side in the track, and proceeded to illuminate the area with both sets of full-beam headlights effectively destroying my planned shot. I was about to wander across to reason with the occupants, when a group of 8 youths exited the vehicles and proceeded to instigate a bare-knuckle fist fight within their improvised headlight boxing ring.
Simple arithmetic stopped me in my tracks; 8 of them to one of me were not good odds. Neither did I consider my presence at an illegal fist fight with a camera to be the best of scenarios! I shrank back into my field and remained still and very, very quiet.
As luck would have it, one of the prize-fighters was clearly trying to punch above his league... so much so that he was floored within a couple of minutes and unceremoniously poured back into one of the cars, and with that the rest of the group also jumped in and sped off - presumably to drink their respective winnings or to drown their losses on the outcome of the night's main pugalistic event.
I checked my watch... I still had 2 minutes to grab my shot. My setup was a Canon 5D Mark IV on tripod set to bulb, ISO 640, with the Sigma Art 20mm f1.4 set to the widest aperture. A 20-second exposure (again calculated via PhotoPills to determine longest light capture without any discernable star trail movement) was set off with a remote cable release to minimise any camera shake.
In the event, the lights of Melton in the distance proved too overwhelming to capture the milky way. A semi usable shot was captured though along with many valuable lessons for future astro forays in darker locations. The most valuable lesson was. however, expect the unexpected. Good equipment and planning are essential for this genre of photography - as is an ability to adapt to conditions!