My Lockdown Top 6

Behind the lens

The photos below are my personal favourites captured in the past months during Lockdown, some making National Press. It was a tough choice getting it down to 6!

Covid-19 has impacted the world like nothing else. The impact of lockdown or isolation is far and wide is challenging for everyone at home and work. With challenge comes opportunity.

All images captured, with Olympus gear, from my home in South Leicestershire, East Midlands.

Some of these images were quite challenging. More detailed information on how I captured some of the more technical images are detailed in individual commentary. I have also put together a number of useful 'how to' guides. Do check them out - How-to-guides

1 - May Star Trail

May Star Trail

Captured at home on evening 28th May 2020.

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk3
Lens: 12-40mm

This star trail was captured by using the Olympus in-camera function called Live Composite (Setting B on top dial).
I chose 15s exposures and let the camera shoot for a period of 3 hours.

The final image you see is a 3hrs Live Composite all captured in camera.

Camera:- Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk3
Lens: Olympus 12-40mm
Tripod - Mounted in garden
15s exposure time using Live Composite mode in camera.
ISO 500

I mounted the camera on a tripod in the garden and set up the composition using a 12mm focal length composing the camera looking towards the North Star Polaris.

Once complete the camera processes the single composite image, minimising post processing/stacking.

The resulting image reveals 3 hrs of Earth spinning all captured in-camera

2 - Lightning Bonanza

Lightning Bonanza

This crazy lightning capture was taken on 16th June 2020 between 7- 9pm from my home in Sth Leics, East Midlands.

Most definitely the best UK Lightning shot I've captured. This photo was subsequently featured in National and Local media/press.

Here's how I captured it:

Olympus OM-D, E-M1 mk1
12-40mm lens
Lightning Trigger
f4, various shutter speeds, ISO 200
Sequential High (exposure shoot mode)
Power Mains connector.

I set up my Olympus camera on tripod in my bedroom (on covered balcony) overlooking my garden/field. A Lightning Trigger device was connected to the camera. The trigger sits on the camera hot shoe and detects electrical activity in the air and automatically captures lightning - A very useful gadget for lighting, especially daytime lightning, which is almost impossible to capture normally! Here is a pic of the camera in action -

The camera was taking images from 7pm through to 9pm as the intense storm passed over and just to the North from my location. I set the shooting mode to sequential high and used the mains power adapter. The camera was taking a huge volume of shots during peak activity!

At the end of the 2 hour period the camera had snapped just under 1000 images. Wowser! I then transferred all to MAC and went through each one individually to select those with bolts. Most of the images had picked up the cloud flashes and hence triggered the camera. It is the bolts or forks that I'm interested in for the shot. :-)

I ended up with 80 images that captured bolts of lightning. I took these 80 images and stacked them together using software (StarStax) which effectively layered all 80 images on top of each other.

The resulting image is a 2 hour composite of all the lightning bolts captured between 7 and 9pm. A mind blowing shot really as it is extremely difficult to capture daytime lightning - Tip - buy a lightning trigger!

The pink colour you see in the image is caused by different particles in the air scattering light. Elements such as nitrogen and oxygen can cause the lightning flash to look different colours such as pink, purple, blue. Dust & pollution contribute to this. White lightning means the bolt is nearer and in clearer air.

3 - May Space Station Marathon

May ISS Marathon

The end of May brings to a close an extraordinary month of International Space Station (ISS) passes over UK skies. We have also been blessed with clear skies (most of the time!).

The camera got busy on 14th May with a double flyby -

Then on the 15/16th May I captured the amazing Quad flyby. This image went viral and I made national media. It also celebrated the APOD (GEG) Picture of the day, which was very nice :-)

We finished off the month with a stunning SpaceX live launch, on 30th May as two astronauts made their way to an historic meet with the ISS today!

To celebrate and close this marvellous Space May month I set out to create an ISS extravaganza. It is a multiple exposure of all the (clear sky) ISS passes starting on 19th May and finishing last night on 30th May. I didn't get clear skies every night, unfortunately (that would have been really nice!) but I have managed to capture 11 passes, shown as a multiple composite in a single image.

How did i do this?

Firstly the gear:
Olympus OM-D, E-M1 mk3
8mm fisheye lens
Tripod (located in same position in field for 2 weeks!)

So the first part of the planning was to choose a location in the field, at home, which would allow a good west to east horizon composition. It was set to point due South,

The next step was to capture as many ISS passes for the remaining 2 week period as possible, clear sky permitting. All the dates and times were pulled from the Heavens Above website (or app) -

Each ISS flyby I will call a batch. For the first ISS pass on 19th May (2255hrs) the camera was set up on the tripod and I waited until the ISS passed overhead. I had a few trial runs for each batch to ensure settings worked.

The setting I used :
f3.5, ISO320 - 500 (depending on how light the sky was) and exposure times were 15s max (down to 3s, again depending on how light the sky was).

For each ISS pass a number of long exposures - approx 15-20 were taken (or batch) which covered the entire flyby. I had to set up and take down the camera using the fixed tripod for each pass, each day.

To capture each batch of images I used the Olympus in-camera 'Live Composite' mode. This very handy facility captures each exposure and automatically stacks to produce a final composite image.

I used this Live Composite mode for every single ISS pass (batch).

Unfortunately cloud killed visibility for a few days but on the whole it worked out well. The following days/passes were captured:-

19th May - 2255 hrs
20th May - 0032, 2207 & 2344 hrs
22nd May - 2345 hrs
24th May - 2346 hrs
25th May - 2259 hrs
27th May - 2300 hrs
28th May - 2212 hrs
29th May - 2300 hrs
30th May - 2213 hrs

Quite a marathon eh! Lockdown and home stay certainly allowed me to run this marathon!

Once I had captured the 2 weeks of images (batches) I brought them all together for post-processing. The first pass on the 19th was used as the baseline exposure (and where the ghostly shadows were added - me walking around field with a torch on/off during the flyby) with all other passes (batches) added as a multiple exposure. Some slight tweaking with the alignment (but not much) due to weather/wind and continually taking camera on/off tripod.

The final image you see is a single image Multiple Exposure of ISS passes from 19th-30th May 2020. For info the reason there are differing colours tones to each ISS pass is down to the brightness and time of the pass. Early evening passes had lighter skies and post processing involved masking each layer only to show the ISS trajectory pass.

It's fascinating to see the different trajectories as this wonderful piece of science flies unassuming over our heads each cycle. The next set of UK passes in July :-)

Now I rest....phew.

4 - Moon Phases

May Moon Phases

Captured throughout April/May 2020 on days/evenings where skies were clear for appropriate phase.

I have been working on this multiple exposure for 2 months. I started in April although cloud cover killed most phases, however mostly successful in May. It's a shame the last few days of May were cloud killed otherwise it would have been remarkable to get an entire clear sky month of phases!

It captures the daily changing phases of the moon from New Moon, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous to Full Moon.

A summary of each daily phase :-

25th April - Waxing Crescent 4%
25th May - Waxing Crescent 9%
26th May - Waxing Crescent 12%
27th May - Waxing Crescent 19%
28th May - Waxing Crescent 29%
29th May - Waxing Crescent 39%
30th May - First Quarter 50%
1st June - Waxing Gibbous 72%
4th May - Waxing Gibbous 87%
5th May - Waxing Gibbous 94%
6th May - Waxing Gibbous 98%
7th May - Full Moon 100%

Camera Gear:
Olympus OM-D, E-M1 mk3
300mm pro lens
Star Adventurer Sky Watcher tracking mount

Settings varied for each phase.
Shutter speed - See individual moon shots on Night sky gallery.
ISO - 400/500

Final composite put together post processing software.

5 - Comet Neowise

Comet NeoWise

Captured from home on 19th & 20th July 2020.

A multiple exposure of Comet Neowise commencing at midnight through to 0200hrs using just under 100 exposures. For this shot I used the 12-40mm pro lens on a 40mm focal length.

How to:-

To capture this I used a tripod and focused the camera lens on an area of sky the comet would pass through. I used the time lapse interval function on the Olympus E-M1 (mk3) camera to snap every 1min. The final image was put together in stacking software (100 images) and shows the comet every 2 mins.

Comet Neowise - C/2020 F3 NEOWISE was discovered on March 27 2020 by the NEOWISE space telescope and brightens as it approaches the sun. It is essentially a space iceberg, full of gas, ice and dust. As it approaches the sun it warms up and releases gases - called outgassing. This process produces the visible atmosphere or coma and tail.

Captured with Olympus OM-D, EM1 (iii)
12-40mm lens - Time Lapse Interval mode (1/min)
f2.8, 15s, ISO 1000

The inset comet captured with Olympus OM-D, EM1 (iii)
300mm lens - Live Time mode.
Skywatcher Star Adventurer tracking mount.
f4, 30.4s, ISO 1000

6 - Ghostly Star Trail

Ghostly Star Trail & ISS

Photo captured overnight 14th/15th May from my home in South Leicestershire, East Midlands.

Very fortunate with clear skies during this lockdown period!

This is ghostly star trail and includes the 0118hrs pass of the International Space Station (ISS) - far right.

The shorter days are reducing all night long exposures to 5 hours now. This image captures 5 hours of exposures showing Earth's spin as shown through the stars, spinning around the North Pole star 'Polaris' . It comprises 1200 exposures captured on the evening of 14th to the early hours of 15th May.

Once again, to add a bit of foreground fun to the composition I added some artificial light and created shadowy figures, which I think complement the night sky perfectly! How I did this described below.

Camera:- Olympus OM-D EM-5
Lens: Olympus 7-14mm
Tripod - sitting in garden overlooking field.
15s exposure time x 1200 images (stacked)
ISO 500

I mounted the camera on a tripod and set up the composition using a 7-14mm lens framing the horse chestnut tree (in full flower, which is nice!) and the North Star (Polaris). Finding Polaris is easy - Follow the last two stars from the blade of The Plough.

Camera set to manual focus and using the remote cable (set to lock - which forces the camera to shoot continuous exposures - Also making sure the camera (menu) is set to shoot continuous not single exposures). I then let the camera shoot continuously all night. For power I simply plugged camera into power socket, via an extension lead!

To create the shadows of myself I used a torch. By walking around the field (whilst the camera is taking continuous exposures) and turning the torch on and off at certain positions, making sure torch was in front of body, this creates shadows and light. A fun way to add something different to the composition!

Post processing I transferred all images to MAC and imported in stacking software (Star Stax - free) to produce a single composite image.

The resulting image reveals 5 hrs of Earth spinning, including the ISS, with a ghostly spin.

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