The Night Sky

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Startrails – 35 minute exposure at f7.1 & 400 ISO

An interest in photographing the night sky lately has had me out in the dead of night trying different techniques for capturing the stars. From long exposures to catch the movement of the planet to image stacking techniques to bring out the colours of the cosmos, it has been an interesting learning curve.

Startrails

There are two different ways to achieve this – one is long exposures, setting the camera in Bulb & leaving the shutter open for a pre-determined amount of time as in the image above. The second method is to take a series of short exposures & use a program such as StarStax to combine them into one image. A remote shutter control & a tripod are needed to eliminate camera movement.

StarStaX 6 x 5 min f4 100 ISO

Six 5 minute exposures combined using StarStax

The Milky Way

As the planet rotates, taking photos of the Milky Way can be a little tricky, You will be surprised at how far the planet rotates in just five minutes. Faster shutter times will be needed to keep the stars a sharp points. Higher ISO`s will help but the higher the ISO the more noise will be introduced.

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A 30 second exposure at f3.5 & 3200 ISO using a 18 mm focal length.

A rule of thumb when taking these images is the Rule of Ten. To keep the stars sharp, divide your focal length by 10 to give you an exposure time. If you are using a 50 mm lens, a 5 second exposure will keep the stars sharp.

Stacking Images

The image below is a 10 second exposure at f4 & 1600 ISO. Not very spectacular right?

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But when 20 images stacked together using a program such as DeepSkyStacker are put together some interesting results can be achieved.

DSS 20x10-1600

The aim of using stacking is to reduce the Image to Noise ratio by using “Dark Frames” in the stack which take out the noisy pixels. DeepSkyStacker does take some time to get the hang of but the results are worth it.

Composite Images

Capturing the whole Milky Way in one image can be difficult unless using a Fisheye lens. One way to get an image is to use an Compositing program. The image below is a 24 image composite, 3 rows of 8 photo`s combined to give a 180 degree view, left to right & top to bottom & was taken with a 1/4 moon lighting up the ground

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24 separate images stitched together.

The program I used for the above composite was Microsoft ICE. This program has some interesting features, it can produce Panorama`s from video footage as well as still images.

I`m still pretty new to this type of photography & I am still learning the processes involved. It has given me a new view on the night sky & something to do at night while on camping trips.

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The Fisheye effect using Microsoft ICE

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Sculptures in the Scrub

On a recent trip into “The Pilliga” in western New South Wales, I decided to stop & have a look at the Sculptures in the Scrub along the ridgeline of Dandry Gorge in Pilliga National Park.

The sculptures are the result of an artist collaborating with local Aboriginal Elders that tells a story of local Aboriginal history and culture in the area. The first sculpture represents the spirits of people that have passed away, the next is of a hunter describing the plants & animals to his child. An iron axe head representing European settlement in the area alongside a stone axe used by Indigenous people.

The “Emu in the Sky” is an important cultural story in indigenous folklore & is represented here in a stone carving. More about this can be seen on a previous post – The Emu in the Sky. The last image is of a mosaic sculpture of the different plants & animals that can be found in the area.

A very interesting place to visit & explore, not something that you would usually see in the middle of nowhere. The walk takes around an hour & is reasonably easy. If you are in the area it is well worth the time to check it out. Best times would be in Spring & Autumn as it can get pretty hot during the summer months.

October Long Weekend 2016

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The view over Laurieton, Mid North Coast, NSW from North Brother Lookout

Day One, Saturday 1st of October

With the thoughts of a three day weekend trip to the Mid North Coast of New South Wales that we had planned through the rainforests & mountains of the great Dividing Range it was difficult to get a good night sleep the night before the trip. I don’t know whether it was the promise of adventure or looking forward to some fresh seafood on the coast at Laurieton that had me tossing & turning.

Awake well before the alarm went off at 5:30 am, I was up, coffee made & into the Patrol for the first part of the trip to met Cris & Brenda at Bendemeer for our planned trip of around 1000 km`s. The trip to Bendemeer takes around 11/2 hours on the back roads to cover 100 km`s, then another 1 ½ hours of tar road to Gingers Creek on the Oxley Highway.

After a quick coffee it was onto Station Creek Road that winds it’s way up behind the large rest area on the Oxley Highway. Not many people know that this road leads into some of the most spectacular rainforest of the Great Dividing Range with steep wooded valleys & crystal clear mountain streams. Not much off the recent rain had made it into the area though, the road was very dusty & the vegetation looking pretty dry.

After several kilometres we turned south onto Knodingbul Rd for about 5 km before taking the Old Highway east. This road follows the route John Oxley forged over the ranges back in 1818 on his expedition to the east coast near Port Macquarie. Detouring onto Goanna Rd & then finally onto Doyles River Rd south towards Elands & Comboyne.

We tried a couple of tracks heading east off Sandy Knob Rd but had to turn back due to locked gates & had to travel south on Doyles River Rd past Ellenborough Falls to Elands before turning east on Collings Rd towards Comboyne West then west onto Innes View Rd to our lunch stop at Rawson Falls.

Lunch over it was onto Comboyne heading east on Playfords Rd, then Blackbutt Rd towards Mt Comboyne lookout. The last couple of km`s to the lookout was for authorised vehicles only & as the day was getting on we decided to head to our camp for the night at Swans Crossing in Kerewong State Forest. Being a long weekend & in the middle of the school holidays the campground was packed, so we headed back up Kerewong Rd to a clearing a couple of kilometres away to camp.

img_20161002_062553Our camp in Kerewong State Forest

Dinner out of the way & a few drinks around the fire & it was time to hit the bunks, an early start the next day to the coast around Laurieton then back into the scrub for another day of exploration of the hinterland above the Mid North Coast.

Day Two, Sunday the 2nd of October

Up at dawn with a nice sunrise & the weather looked good for the day’s travels. Still very dry, not much rain had fallen on the eastern side of the ranges & the countryside was looking pretty dry. Breakfast over & the Roof Toppers packed we had a problem when Cris`s Navara had a flat battery. He had recently installed a second battery controlled by a C-Tec system to run his Engel fridge, so we don’t know if this caused the problem or if it was due to charging phones, video camera & laptop from the main battery the night before.

After a jump start we headed east on Blackbutt Rd before turning north onto Milligan’s Rd followed by turning west onto Rollover Rd & heading along the Bago Bluff ridgeline. There were a few lookouts along the way with steep drops into the valleys below. Then we joined Boundary Rd heading to Bago Bluff Lookout above Wauchope which had some great views to the coast despite the haze from a bushfire nearby.

imgp5020The view from Bago Bluff

We then headed south on Lookout Rd to the Pacific Highway at Heron`s Creek, then onto Bonny Hills, North Haven for some fuel & then into Laurieton for some fresh prawns & oysters for lunch. We headed up to North Brother Lookout which is around 500 meters above sea level with some great views of the coast.

We had planned to have lunch on the beach in Crowdy Bay National Park, while we were at the lookout we could here sirens & when we reached the bridge over the Camden River there had been an accident on the bridge so we could not get to the park. We ended up eating our seafood on the side of the road while waiting 90 minutes for the road to open. Can’t complain though, the prawns & oysters were superb!

Heading down the coast we turned west onto Stewarts Rd back towards the Pacific Highway which we crossed near Johns River on our way to Middle Brother lookout along TV Rd which is 558 meters above sea level with a huge transmission tower on top. Nice views back to the coast as well. The next stop would be at “Beneroon”, the largest tree in New South Wales at 12.5 meters in circumference at the base.

imgp5057Looking towards South Brother from Middle Brother Mountain

Heading west on TV Rd we turned north on Grey Gum Ridge Rd for about 5 km`s to the site of this tree. The “Bird Tree’ is also located nearby along with several other large specimens of Blackbutt trees, “Beneroon” being the largest of this type in Australia.

imgp5066“Beneroon”

Another large tree “Big Fella Gum”, was also nearby, so we headed back down Grey Gum Ridge Rd, turning west onto Mudfords Rd again, then north at Western Boundary Rd for around 4 km`s. The walking track to this tree is not marked very well, (GPS 31.41.725S 152.39.031E) & is to the east of the road next to a small creek. There are several large trees in the area, “Big Fella Gum” stands out from the rest, measuring 8.5 meters around the base.

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“Big Fella Gum”

After a full days travelling it was time to head to our camp for the night, so it was south on Western Boundary Rd to Mudfords Rd, then Jerusalem Rd over the Stewarts River heading to Coopernook State Forest & the campsite there. This is a large open area that had a few well spaced camps already there when we arrived but we managed to find a quiet corner for the night. We had travelled just over 170 km`s for the day & around 516 km`s for the trip so far.

Day Three, 3rd of October

Coopernook State Forest is only 52 meters above sea level, our trip home would take us up over the Great Dividing Range to around 1400 meters near Walcha, so it would be all up hill along winding mountain trails. After breakfast & packing up camp, the first stop would be Vincent’s Lookout only around 15 km`s away to the west along Coopernook Forest Way at 320 meters ASL.

imgp5103Vincents Lookout

Nice views down into the Manning Valley towards Taree from the lookout. Turning west onto Newbys Creek Rd the next stop was Newbys Cave in Coorabakh National Park, a large rock overhang near a small stream in the rainforest. Then onto Newbys Lookout just up the road at 415 meters ASL with good views over the farmland in the valleys to the south.

Rejoining Coopernook Forest Way we headed north past the ancient volcanic plug of Little Nellie before turning east onto Starr’s Creek Rd and down to the Rest Area amongst the palm forest for morning tea. There are toilets & picnic tables along with a boardwalk through the rainforest, a nice spot for a cuppa & a break.

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Starrs Creek Boardwalk

We continued on Starr’s Creek Rd to Big Nellie Lookout, another volcanic plug rising up to 518 meters ASL before turning north onto Forest Drive to Flat Rock Lookout, around 5 km`s further on. This lookout as the name implies is a flat rock overhanging the valley below & offers splendid views to the south & west & is 620 meters ASL.

imgp5140Flat Rock Lookout

A kilometre north of the lookout on Big Nellie Rd we turned east onto Oskies trail & followed it about 5 km`s down to Waitui Falls, a small waterfall & nice swimming hole, not much water flowing over the falls though. Heading back to Big Nellie Rd we continued north & then turned west onto Slaters Rd, then north on Lansdowne Rd & into the township of Comboyne.

imgp5160Waitui Falls

After a quick lunch we travelled back to Elands with a stop at Ellenborough Rapids. Once again there wasn’t much water flowing in the river, so will have to revisit it again when there is a bit more flow.

From the rapids we travelled west on Blue Knob Forest Rd before turning north on Knodingbul Rd near Blue Knob Lookout. This spot is 1010 meters ASL and has spectacular 360 degree views, including back towards the coast from were we had come from. We have travelled in this area many times before, in the 4wd`s & on dirt bikes, but there was one area we were keen to do in the four wheel drives, that was down to the Cells River.

We had been down there on the bikes before, the road was pretty rutted & is very slippery in the wet but Cris had been down there recently on his dirt bike & reckoned that we could do it as the road hade been repaired since & it was dry at the moment so we decided to have a go. The altitude when we turned onto Blue Mountain Creek Rd was 896 meters ASL. Cells Creek is at 570 meters, the track is only 6.5 km long with one section having a 38 degree grade & another at about 32 degrees & took 20 minutes each way to drive. I have heard some horror stories about people going down there in the wet & not being able to get back up or sliding of the track & getting bogged, defiantly a track for dry weather or if you had a winch.

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The old Gold Stamper near Cell’s Creek

Click here for a short video of the drive up out of The Cells

Anyway good to get into low range at least for part of the trip. It was only a 20 minute drive back to the Oxley Highway from there exiting where we started at Gingers Creek. Only one more stop on the way home at Apsley Falls, 20 km east of Walcha. The falls were first discovered by John Oxley in 1818 & were flowing well after all the rain we have had on the western side of the ranges.

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Apsley Falls near Walcha

Arrived home at 9:00 pm on Monday night after travelling for three days & 971 kilometres. The Patrol performed well, no mishaps for the trip, most of it going to plan. Good to have some great friends as travelling companions, we have had some great trips over the years, always a pleasure travelling with good company.

Already planning for the next trip!

 

Cee`s Fun Foto Challenge: Feathers

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It’s been awhile since I entered a photo in Cee`s Fun Foto Challenge (or any challenge for that matter). When the topic of Feathers came up, the first image I thought of was this one of a feather lying on the ground, taken a few years ago. It was a good opportunity to get down low & in close with the 55 mm Macro on the Pentax K30, something that you can’t do when the feather is still attached to the bird!

2016 Winter UHF/VHF Contest

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Wet & cold up on the mountain for the Winter UHF/VHF contest this year. Not many contacts for the 8 hour period that I participated in. A combination of the weather & poor conditions for radio led to not many portable stations out for the contest.

I managed only 19 contacts on the 2 meter & 70 cm bands for my first solo outing for a UHF/VHF contest. Antennas used were both homebrew, 8 elements on the 2 meter band & 11 elements for 70 cm. I was also the first outing for my homemade antenna rotator which performed well.

I was working from Gridsquare QF59CQ at Mt Lindesay, on the boundary of Mt Kaputar National Park at an altitude of 1032 meters which gave me a good line of sight towards Sydney, Canberra & Melbourne.

Thanks to Cris, VK2BOZ & Brenda, VK2FSMI for being there for the majority of the contacts & points scored, it would have been a long day without you guys being there. One highlight was hearing a station in QF44NM, Matt, VK1MT, which I heard very faintly from just south of Canberra, some 600 km to my south.

Looking forward to the next contest in November, hopefully the weather & conditions will be better & a few more stations will be out & about.

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View to the south on a clearer day

 

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