”Did anyone ever tell you that sky is limit, trust me they are wrong ….”

If you are someone who can relate to relative size, space and time night sky photography is something you must try. As part of my resolution of 2020, I wanted to add a new skill set in photography. I decided to learn night sky photography because I spend a lot of time in the jungle and we get clear skies only in jungle-like places away from the maddening city. The utmost important thing in night sky photography is clear skies. This needs a lot of planning, based on my learning here are my two cents:

1. The remote location offers not just minimum air pollution but also least/no light pollution. After all you want to pitch dark sky to see lot of stars. We were next to huge water body formed by backwater of dam called Panshet. 60kms away from city of Pune

Remote beautiful location along Panshet lake.

2. Higher altitude implies lesser density of air hence more clearer skies. Our altitude was decent at around 910m above sea level.

3. Phases of the moon. If the moon is full and bright you end up having kinda flared illumination and thus making it difficult to shoot stars. I had big time challenge dealing with it at 69% illumination of moon.

4. Season /local weather I think one should avoid winters for reasons of fog/haze in the air and /condensation that can build up on camera lens. It leads to loss of precious sky time. I faced this multiple times and that ultimately will lead to not so great images.

5. Equipment and gears will also define your images. While a regular 18-55mm kit lens does the job, Wide angle lens is recommended. While I was carrying canon 80d with the kit lens but couldn’t procure remote shutter and relied on my in build interval meter. It didn’t work so well. Make up you keep back battery charges and empty memory cards

6. Timing. If you have any specific star/galaxy/planet to shoot make sure you study its timing and best location beforehand. For regular night sky photography stuff anytime after sunsets and few hours before sunrise is okay. Ensure the scattered rays from the sun are not in the picture.

7. Camera setting: Understanding of Exposure triangle, usage of tripod, infinity focus etc are key skills you will need to know before you start shooting.

I did this workshop on the first weekend of January 2020 with Impressions Photography. It was led by Saee Bhurke, Sarang Mhaskar and Snehal Joshi as mentors. We assembled at a pre-fixed location in Pune and reached the venue by 5 pm. The venue was a remote homegrown resort called ”Kamp Star Trail”. The entrance was narrow steep uphill with kuccha road. Perfect place to drive in for adventurer like me. We parked cars after a few metres up the steep climb between a bamboo thicket and mango tree. Mango tree had swing overlooking the lake.

View of car park from canteen.

Our stay was in well-sized tents ordered from Amazon in front of this tree. Tents were placed around edge of small ridge facing lake. A small narrow winding road (from where we had come) along the banks of back water separated the tent from lake. The location was awesome. Close to nature, serene something that is heaven to me.

Tents on edge of ridge. You can see the waterbody and mountain in background!
Selfie to start off at start of event!

The theory session started outdoors in a roofed platform open to the view of lake and hills. This became tricky as the screen wasn’t visible due to bright setting sun rays hitting the projector screen. Eventually, the team sorted it out by blocking sun rays. The same issue was faced next day in post-processing session but was taken care timely by shifting the venue to an enclosed room. Learning in open air felt like a gurukul system of ancient India except for the modern tools used for photography. This platform was at a higher elevation compared to the location of the tent.

Theory session – Gurukul style. Sarang & Saee mentoring participants.
Basics of setting up tripod was also included. As it is a key element of shooting stars.

We started star photography at 8:30 pm continued to 3:15 am in the morning including a dinner break of 15mins. Trust me standing so long wasn’t easy for many participants but for me it was different matter. First, been sales trainer myself I’m used to standing for long hours and number two my mind was too engaged to think about anything else. Another big challenge everyone faced was wind chill which had started in evening of our arrival at venue. It had become spine chilling by 2 am but with moon light fading away and skies becoming clearer, I was least concerned with chill. I was enjoying what my eyes could see. Moreover I had come dressed appropriately. So that’s another cent for recalling dress appropriately for these photoshoots.

Platform from where all of us took our shots at night. Safe Secure and stable.

I was first to reach the platform and setup gear and started stary sky trial shots. I took corner so as to leave space for others. Saee explained lot of things about stars constellations galaxies. All mentors assisted with camera and setups. Standing alone I was trying to understand what she was saying suddenly I had an experience. Experience that can be felt only with open mind. It was triggered as she spoke of constellation of Orion greek fighter with shield and sword.

We were also introduced to concept of using astronomy apps to track stars and constellations. Orion constellations- the star screenshot from mobile app taken at moment I was writing the blog. It is Taurus today, On day of shoot it was in sign of Aries.

My mind was wandering somewhere else. It was lost in stars with a thought if the warrior is present in the sky what could be the reason? Why the first and easiest to spot? The answer was simple. Forts/Kingdoms/treasures everything is defended by warriors. They are first you see. Maybe he was guarding secrets of universe and galaxies beyond. The actual constellation size was enormous and it sank in a sense of humility inside me. I realized we humans are to shallow – minuscule and non-existent in front of greater existence of universe and galaxy. We are too engrossed in ourselves to understand the real magic of the universe and thus limiting our abilities. Limiting our dreams and not going beyond our fears. That’s what starry sky taught me. By the time I came to my best shots it was time to sleep.

Tents at night !

I slept around 3:30 am in well-arranged spacious cosy tents only to be abruptly woken up by dogs barking next to tents at 7 am. I could see dew drops all around tent surface. I had no plans of leaving the comfort of three blankets I had pulled on. I kept lazying around till reporting time at 8:30am. So the day started with breakfast of Misal pav then hands-on post processing workshop.

Misal pav ! It is now a traditional breakfast in valleys of Sahaydri mountain.

The post-processing was conducted inside dormitories of camp arranged in traditional format. Unique set up and patterns for urbanites I must say.

Relaxed setup for post processing! Image credit Saee Bhurke
Got some new and interesting tips about post processing from mentors. Image credit Saee Bhurke.

It was fun I learnt new things abode photoshop, new tricks and some concepts got clarified. Overall it was a fun learning session.

Random patterns – The door
Random patterns – traditionally wooden grill

After post-processing session, we had sumptuous lunch and started our return journey to the assembly point in Pune. We shared our goodbye with lot of fond memories of new friends but I was with heavy heart for sure. I was going to miss place and experience of been close to nature, realizing humbling limited existence of human experience.

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