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Lockdown, A Comet and Much More.

June 2020. I had been off work for 2 months and spent the time making the most of the good weather. By now the heaviest of lockdown rules had been lifted and luckily for us in the northern hemisphere we had a bonus object in the night sky. Comet Neowise. When the comet was announced as being a likely object to spot I think many folks dismissed it as another non event because the sun will melt it as it had done with a couple of previous comets that showed much more potential to make the trip around the sun for us to then view.

However, comet Neowise did make it and WOW. What a stunning view it made. Unfortunately it depended on where in the UK you lived, the further north you were the better the view, for me being in the midlands I was able to get some spectacular views of it and it was the perfect opportunity to get some captures without having to worry about getting up for work anytime soon.

The Comet itself was on a northern track and when I first spotted it, it was a few miles north of my home but in an ideal position to capture it from my back garden. Life is so much easier when at home and not having to travel to capture things. I had also got hold of a new tracking unit that I needed to learn and so had yet another perfect opportunity to figure it all out. The weather was unusually good and so the scene was set. All I had to do was capture it.

I took a number of shots over consecutive nights and on each the results were stunning. Even more so when on the second night I also noticed (something I knew nothing about at the time) my first views of some Noctilucent clouds. Now these things are weird, it is dark yet, there are these really gorgeous wispy high level clouds as bright as day in the sky, it did not make any sense but being none the wiser I set about shooting them as well as the comet and getting one shot with both the clouds and comet in the same frame.

This was amazing and surreal, there I am at stupid o’clock in the morning capturing weird clouds and comets. Along with having all the time in the world I also tried using different lenses and on a couple of occasions at last set up the Astro tracker, dialled it in and got some amazing close ups of the comet. I must have done something right as I was able to take in excess of 1 minute exposures using a 400mm lens and not a single star trail, just a beautiful comet with the stars on point.

The secret to it all was one thing. Time. Of course clear skies were as important but having time without being rushed was the key. Allowing me to compose the shots as I wanted them to be seen was as important as the subject itself. Where I live in the midlands I am subject to horrendous light pollution and I have no doubt that if I lived in a less polluted environment I would have got even better clarity images, but, it is what it is, lockdown was in force so I was still restricted and had to make the best of it. This I did not only getting the shots I wanted but also learning a lot in the process. So much so that 2 of the comet images were posted in the regional papers, 1 is standard, 2 is unheard of, again a very welcome bonus for me as it was just an idea that worked.

You might ask, how was I able to shoot in excess of 30 seconds which these days is normally the rule for a super long exposure. On Canon camera’s there is the Mode B (Bulb) it gives you full manual control of the camera and you can do pretty much what you want well outside of any camera auto parameters. It was this mode I used with a mid ISO setting to minimise noise and keep the shutter open for long periods that gave me such clearly defined shots.

My 100 to 400mm lens only has as wide an aperture of f4.5 and so getting any zoomed in detailed night shot without a tracker is near to impossible as if I am right the best you can hope for untracked is around 4-5 seconds at a push and you would have to use a high ISO making the image look potentially grainy and noisy. Using the tracker took that problem away from me allowing me to push the normal limits to get the results that I did.

The upshot is that, as much as I love to travel, the lockdown hit me hard taking that (now) luxury away and so I had to adapt and to make the best of what I had. Both day and night and thanks to the comet I had plenty to get on with and learned so much I could not have hoped for better. I guess I have to say that even when restricted, if you are determined enough to capture something on camera you need look no further than your own home, whether inside or out there will be something you can take some shots of that at any other time you would think twice about.

Of course I not only loved what I did but also had a lot of fun doing so, which, for me is what photography is all about, and it seems strange but for me the images I capture reflect the mood I am in at the time. How that translates across in the shots I really do not know, I am not that clever, but it does and I am all the more grateful for it. I hope that maybe you can do the same.

If you would like to see more images that I have captured over the years, what places and adventures I am involved in as well as assignments or maybe even dropping me a line on social media here are my links.

Instagram: @rikfreemanphotographer

Twitter: @rickfr01


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