Sunday, 10 April 2011

Milky way panorama

20110406-DSC_5698_mergedAfter a day of 30-40kt winds, sleet and snow it was something of a surprise to see crystal clear skies. Having had a look around the web at ideas star photography, in particular looking for a software solution to an equatorial mount I came across the blog entry Sleep is for Sheep. Their vertical panorama looked good and was something I had though about but not yet tried. It was still windy and freezing the knobs off the camera, but worth a go.

Trying to get plenty of detail requires either a slow shutter speed, a wide aperture, or a high iso. All of these have their advantages and disadvantages, and you are restricted to a maximum of a 30sec shutter if you don’t want to get trails, even at this speed you can still see trails on stars further from the poles. This means cranking the iso up to 32,000 and having the aperture as wide as I can go at f/4 on my sigma 10-20mm lens, and a 30sec shutter.

The merged panorama here has come out OK in Photoshop, but it’s not quite accurate enough for my liking, so I’ve been testing a couple of other panorama programs, PTGui and Autostitch. Autostitch wouldn’t do anything, PTGui required some manual input of reference points, but then did a really good job of the merge. Unfortunately it’s only a trial, but is widely regarded as one of the best photomerge programs available, and isn’t too expensive.

There are a few things that could improve the picture I think, have a faster lens and a less ‘noisy’ camera, but obviously these are costly. Other free modifications would be to also do some long exposures of a few minutes on both foregrounds to bring out the detail of the Fenix and two Gentoo penguins which you can only just get a hint of currently. Fortunately I’m here for another 20 or so months so should get plenty more opportunities!


Having played around with some vertical panoramas it was getting a bit on the cold side, but before heading in I thought it would be nice to have a silhouette of Katie, the fisheries biologist who had come outside too, and myself in front of the milky way. It turned out OK too, go team science!

Friday, 8 April 2011

p..p..p..p..pick up a Pipit

With the departure of the SGHT habitat restoration team, we can now feel that as a base we are on our way to being ‘winterers’. The vast majority of people who work for Antarctic organisations like BAS only do so for the short summer season. For the few people who stay South for the winter ‘last call’ (the last BAS ship visit of the season), and the departure of any summer staff is a big occasion. This also marks the start of our inclusion into a limited group of people known as winterers, and quite probably nutters too!

The SGHT rat baiting went mostly to plan, with the Thatcher, Greene and Mercer peninsulas and Saddle Island all baited by helicopter. This should hopefully allow a large number of small birds, petrels, prions and also the South Georgia Pipit to breed without  ending up as a rats dinner. South Georgia Pipits occasionally appear on the Thatcher peninsula and are seen around base, having flown in from other rat free areas. This year has been especially good for post breeding dispersal, with Pipits being seen regularly at Maiviken, Penguin River and KEP, more numerous and more often than in previous years. Hopefully with the rats gone they will survive the winter and be able to breed here next year!

20110403-DSC_5433South Georgia Pipit

20110403-DSC_5428 Watching a Kelp Gull fly overhead

20110403-DSC_5461 Foraging amongst the rock reinforcing of the jetty

20110403-DSC_5478Foraging amongst the strandline Kelp

20110403-DSC_5513 Foraging in algae on the shoreline

20110403-DSC_5440 Plumage: Growth bars in the tail & feather wear

20110403-DSC_5442 Missing central tail feathers

20110403-DSC_5549 A nice close up

20110403-DSC_5562Getting it’s feet wet in the sea

Walking from the base down to the boat shed or food store you can now sometimes hear the typical tweeting of a pipit. Hopefully next spring this will be full on song, something that hasn’t been heard in these parts for a very long time.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

South Georgia night sky

There have been a few stunning nights recently, clear and crisp with just the most stars I think I have ever seen visible. The moon was also impressive earlier in March, being at it’s closest to the Earth in 18 years. These were obviously good opportunities for some night time photography, and I am slowly perfecting my techniques and getting used to what settings yield the desired results. Below are some of the photos I’ve taken so far.

20101115-DSC_5551 One of my first night photos
10mm 32s f/4 iso3200

20101121-KEP-trails-10-11-20 Added foreground interest in the way of King Penguins
94 combined exposures at 10mm 32s f/4 iso400 (52min total)

More King Penguins and trails
61 combined exposures at 10mm 32s f/4 iso400
foreground a separate 10mm 32s f/4 iso400 with flash burst

Having a go at ‘painting with light’ has always been an interesting idea to me. With a perfect evening looking possible I headed out into Grytviken with Sam the base doctor. We decided that Albatross and Diaz were in a good position to get the trails behind so set up our cameras and waited for it to get dark. As the light dimmed we had a play with our torches, and got fairly good at achieving an even illumination. Trying not to illuminate the grass was tricky, as was avoiding silhouetting ourselves against the ships, hopping around in the dark avoiding seals, rocks and lumps of tussac was quite amusing!

20110309-DSC_3973_trails-Edit 100 combined exposures at 10mm 32s f/4 iso400 (55min total)
Albatross and Diaz were lit using a torch in one frame

Perigree moon 
The full moon above Mt. Duse, 70mm 1.3s f/7.1 iso200

Perigree moon
The giant full moon, 500mm 1/640s f/8 iso200

100ish frames at 10mm 32s f/5 iso400

Having the moon rising into the shot caused some issues with it’s brightness, but I think I managed to control it OK. In total I took 161 frames but towards the end condensation formed on my lens fogging and ruining the images. Fortunately because they are separate exposures I was still able to use the rest of the images, something that wouldn’t have been possible with a single long exposure.

20110325-DSC_4457 10mm 30s f/6.5 iso1600

We had a day of gales, sleet and snow, some of which remained on the mountains for a couple of days. I was doing my late rounds (checking everything on base was OK) and the sky was clear and the mountains lit by the moon, I had to pop back and grab my camera.

Milky way pano2
Just before the moon rose the Milky way was stunning
2 frames vertical panorama merged 10mm 80s f/4 iso800

Moonrise, 11mm 76s f/4.2 iso560

20110327-DSC_4511Textured moon, 500mm 1/60s f/6.3 iso560

164 frames at 10mm 32s f/4 iso560 (90min total)

Looking forward to a winter of still clear nights, snow, star trails and painting with light in the whaling station :-)