Black Tor Winter Camp, Landscapes and Astro Photography

On December 1st I packed up the car and headed off to Black Tor near Okehampton in Devon, UK. I took my time, stopping off in the small town of Honiton en route for a break and to buy a foam sleep mat for a bit of extra insulation; this was expected to be a very cold camp, and it certainly lived up to those expectations. 

I had packed extra layers of clothing for this trip, so my pack weighed more than ever.  But I am getting used to carrying it, and it was only just over a two mile walk, so it didn’t seem too bad really.

Camping in December can mean l-o-n-g evenings and nights – sunset was at about 4:15 pm and sunrise not until 8:00 am. I took my phone with a film loaded on it in case I got bored.  In the event, the evening flew by.  The sky cleared and I couldn’t resist going out to take some Astro shots of the Milky Way. The results were okay, but this is an area I would like to get far better at.  There is a limit to what can be done on a DSLR with a single 25 second shot; ramping the ISO up to 6400 massively increases the noise and light pollution adds to the difficulty of getting any kind of clarity of the Milky takes a lot of teasing out and some aspects of the post-processing end up being more “creative” than I would like.

I feel that it would be worth experimenting with a multiple exposure teqnique with black noise reference shots and some of the specialist software available. I feel I have reached the limit of what I’m going to get in the UK without a change in technique.

What I did really like about this particular shot was the foreground silhouette – from my camera position I am looking up at the Tor’s Peak some 30 to 40 feet in front and 60 feet up. The shape looks like a giant reclining, hands folded on his stomach, legs stretched out and gazing up at the night sky.

The video of the trip is now live on my YouTube channel “DSLR Life – Nigel Bailey”:

This particular trip was a tour-de-force of photographic techniques and I certainly put a lot of my skills to the test. Long exposures, polariser, wide angle and telephoto landscapes, low light, balancing the twilight with the torch light in my tent to name but a few. It also provided many opportunities to stretch my videography skills and story telling a little further too.

The cold was a challenging. It was physically challenging, but it also affected my equipment – batteries, including my large battery charger pack, really do not like being so cold; their life was reduced by about two thirds of normal. Next time I shall take steps to keep the spares warm.

I definitely have the bug. I know now that I can cope in winter conditions and I am constantly thinking about when my next trip will be and where I should go.

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