THE TREE OF LIFE
The first time I visited the Blue Mountains in NSW was a bittersweet experience. The hoards of people coming up from Sydney, among which I had to include myself, filling up the lookouts and easy access tracks were pulling me back to experience the mountains properly. Ah! And the drive! I almost forgot the endless bumper-to-bumper drive.
Over time, and after several visits, I learned to appreciate the beauty of this National Park. Skipping the touristic areas and going a step forward helped a lot; wet adventures following crazy mates around canyons, stunning views not suitable if you suffer vertigo, and cold, extremely cold nights.
I scouted this area 4 or 5 times looking for unique compositions for astrophotography. I'm not going to lie, I always struggle to find an appealing composition in the Blue Mountains. The lack of peaks or elements breaking the horizon has always been a major deal for me, but this particular area has a couple of subjects that can fill that gap. These are not easy access spots and are pretty dangerous. I can't stress enough the importance of being aware of the dangers of shooting on a 100m cliff, especially at night time.
The first attempt to do Astro here was in October last year, but I had to pull back due to the weather. Beautiful clear skies, however, the wind was way too strong to deal with trackers and cameras just a few steps from a free fall. The end of the Astro season last year was pretty wet, as it was summer and autumn. I can count with my fingers the clear nights we had this year, but a few weekends ago, the forecast was looking good as well as the moon phase, so maybe this time was the one!
The new incorporation to my gear, a recently launched Benro Polaris, added a lot of hype to this shoot, even though the first two nights with this toy were quite disappointing and frustrating. If you haven't heard about this project, Benro Polaris is the first electric ball head with a camera controller, that allows you to plan and execute all kinds of photos you can think of; panoramas, astrophotography, focus stacking… but the most attractive feature for me it's the automated star tracking. The project is still in its infancy, with plenty of room for improvement, but it certainly looks promising.
I'd really missed the feeling of contemplating the starry sky and we are so lucky to have these dark skies just over an hour out of Sydney. I feel small and vulnerable at mother's nature mercy, amazed by the unknown and the absence of control.
With no other souls around but a quick visit from my best half and some friends, I spent more than five hours shooting this scene. It was freezing, literally, and caught me a bit off guard but I kept warm running from one camera to another one. I had one camera shooting and endless tracked panorama at 50mm, mounted on the Skywatcher Adventure Pro that took me more than 3 hours to complete. On the other side, I had the other camera on the Benro Polaris, which to my surprise, worked seamlessly.
The Tree of Life is composed of 2 panoramas:
-The sky is a panorama of 16 photos, at 24mm and fully automated with the Benro Polaris. For more than 25 minutes I left it doing its thing and the results were jaw-dropping.
-The foreground is another panorama of 10 photos taken at twilight as it was really dangerous standing there in the dark.
The Tree of Life brought me joy, capturing and editing it, and reuniting with the stars after such a long time was heartwarming! Definitely, a night to remember.
Please don’t forget to tell me what you think in the comments below!
Good light everyone!