The Rise of Matariki: How to Get the Perfect Star Photo

Once upon a time, astrophotography was left to the domain of only professional photographers with expensive equipment.

But as camera technology develops and our interest in the night sky increases, even amateur photographers can learn to capture vivid images of starry nights.

Mid-winter is one of the best times of the year for star photography due to the dark nights, made even more special by the re-emergence of Matariki in the Aotearoa sky.

Matariki is also known as the Pleiades star cluster, or the less romantic designation of the IAU Messier 45 (M45).

While Matariki can be seen most of the year, this precious star cluster disappears for about a month, before rising again – marking the celebration of the Maori New Year.

Astrophotographer Mark Russell, who runs several astronomy workshops during this month’s Bay of Islands Matariki festival, says night photography is profoundly different from any other type of photography.

“You can spend a few hours at a time in the middle of the night and it’s a really meditative experience,” he says. “Night is so different from day in terms of the weather. It can be a cloudy day and then all of a sudden the night opens and it always is.”

The first Matariki festival takes place from July 2 to 11 in several places in the Bay of Islands. Festival-goers are encouraged to nourish their mind, body and soul with events that include stories, cultural experiences, Matariki-inspired parties, wine tours, music and, of course, viewing opportunities. stars.

Russell says he’s noticed a significant increase in interest in astrophotography over the past four to five years, which appears to be driven by better camera technology, phone apps and social media sharing .

The night sky seen from Aotea / Grande Barrière.  Photo / Mark Russell, provided
The night sky seen from Aotea / Grande Barrière. Photo / Mark Russell, provided

“It’s really getting more and more popular and people are getting very specific in the types of photos they take and very detailed in their imagery.”

And when an amateur photographer sees what he is capable of capturing with a simple understanding of his camera, a sense of wonder and surprise almost always ensues.

“It gives you that immediate feeling of ‘Wow! I can do this'”.

Russell has spent the past ten years taking photos on Aotea / Great Barrier and has worked closely with the island’s countryside to become a Dark Sky Sanctuary. It’s rare that an area this close to a large city has such a clear and dark sky, which makes this status incredibly unique.

Night sky photo taken by astrophotographer Mark Russell from Aotea / Great Barrier.  Photo / Mark Russell, provided
Night sky photo taken by astrophotographer Mark Russell from Aotea / Great Barrier. Photo / Mark Russell, provided

“I spent a lot of time there growing up. That’s what started me. Because it’s an island, you have all of these makeup choices – you can shoot east, you can. shoot west, you can shoot over Hirakimatā. You can shoot all these different aspects.

“So you can see the moon rise from the ocean, or see the moon set behind distant Auckland, where you get a faint glow. You have a pristine sky.”

Now based in Kerikeri, Russell helps others learn the craft and discover the joy of capturing our night sky.

Mark Russell’s tips for photographing the rise of Matariki:

There is only a short window to capture Matariki sunrise about half an hour before the sun starts to light up the sky, so you need to get out early.

“Look east. Get a tripod and set your camera in time. You want a clear view of the horizon if you can because it will be low on the horizon.”

Ideally, you will have a wide angle lens that will allow you to capture as much of the sky as possible.

Set your shutter speed to 20-30 seconds to see what your camera can pick up.

You will also need to focus your camera manually. “The light is not bright enough in the stars to autofocus, so switch your camera to manual focus and focus on the infinite end of the scale. star on your screen to focus. “

The other factor that you might want to consider is light pollution.

“If you’re in the middle of town and you have streetlights around you, you’re going to decrease your eyesight by 70-80%. If you spend 15 minutes out of town or in the country anywhere, that is. is as good as it gets in this country. There are beautiful dark skies. “

Finally, think about the composition. “Anywhere you can get mountains or near oceans to get a bit of contrast. It’s a little hard to take pictures like this in the bush. A clear horizon, a mountain or a lake or a map ‘water – and you are far away. “

Mark Russell’s astrophotography workshops:
Friday July 2, Bay Light, Russell 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday July 7, Plume and Plume, Kerikeri, 6.30 p.m. – 9.30 p.m.
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