I’ve always loved photographing the night sky whenever I get the chance. Using the camera as a tool to capture the billions of stars out there, it is hard not to feel small on our little blue planet as you look up at the infinite space surrounding us.
I ALSO LOVE camping, but on the afternoon of the 28th December, it wasn't on my mind. It was a glorious day in Snowdonia, not a cloud in the sky while out in the mountains, but knowing that the weather can change in a heartbeat I expected it to cloud over by nightfall. How wrong I was. My girlfriend is lucky enough to live in Snowdonia National Park, surrounded by mountains and rivers in all directions. After a lovely day adventuring, we headed back home. Snowdonia has recently been made an International Dark Sky Reserve due to its lack of light pollution, so after finishing dinner, I went outside and checked the night sky. What greeted me was incredible with so many stars clearly visible. It was so spectacular that even though it was after 9pm, we decided we had to go camping. We threw the tent, sleeping bags and roll mats in the back of the car, and to protect ourselves from the cold we put on thermals, hats and two pairs of socks, and started driving.
Arriving at Llynnau Cregennen, Cregennen Lake, we quickly set up our tent using the light of our head torches. The lack of cloud cover reduced the temperature further so we unzipped a sleeping bag to use as a base, had a sleeping bag each, and as many layers as we could manage. The layers were essential because my desire to photograph the sky meant we would be standing outside for hours before we headed to bed!
It is not just the lack of light pollution that made it a great night; multiple factors aligned to make it the best night I have ever experienced. There was not a cloud in the sky, so every star above the horizon was visible. There was no wind, so the surface of the lake remained still and reflected the stars perfectly. And finally, and most importantly, there was no moon. I've had these conditions before, but with a full moon, or even crescent moon the extra light means that some stars can't be seen. The absolute darkness not only caused an almost vertigo feeling when looking up, but it also meant that composing my images relied on trial and error. I could light up rocks or trees in the foreground, but the sky and lake were indistinguishable when looking through the viewfinder.
Cregennen Lake has an island near its middle that makes for a beautiful skyline reflected in the water, far more impressive than any city, if you ask me. By opening my camera shutter for 25 seconds, I could paint the island and its trees with my head torch illuminating them. Even though it is a dark sky reserve, Snowdonia is not completely light free, and I could see the faint yellow glow on the horizon from the town of Dolgellau, over five miles away.
The Milky Way, although being the wrong time of year to see the most impressive part of it, was still awesome. During winter for the Northern Hemisphere, the Earth obscures the brightest part of the Milky Way, but on this night the band of ‘dust' that is made up of dense clusters of stars millions of light years away stretched the entire way across the sky. I was in heaven, my only regret being that I didn't have multiple cameras to shoot in different directions. The beauty of the place meant that it wasn't hard for me to get beautiful shots, I only had to point and shoot and relax for 30 seconds as shooting stars appeared sporadically. My girlfriend Beth was very patient and would sit or stand still for 30 seconds at a time while I took pictures of her in the foreground, asking her to move ever-so-slightly, and promising more than once that “the next photo will be the last.”
I wanted to create some time lapses to show the rotation of the Earth and the stars moving across the sky, so at midnight I set up the camera, taking an image with a 25-second shutter speed every 30 seconds before retreating to the tent to warm up. Setting the alarm for 1am, I quickly drifted off to sleep, only to be woken in what seemed like a few minutes. Bleary eyed I initially had no desire to leave the comfort of our little nest, but telling myself ‘no pain, no gain', I pulled on my boots and ventured out into the darkness once more. As soon as I was back under the twinkling blanket of stars, I forgot all about sleep and was once again engrossed in capturing the night sky. The camera had been taking photos for an hour, and by combining over 100 images, I could create a single image showing the movement of the star trails, in both the sky and reflected on the lake's surface.
It's easy to get caught up in the details while photographing, such as what
ISO to use, so I always try and remind myself to enjoy the moment. While the camera was clicking away by itself, I would wander off and find a spot to lie down. Looking up, my entire vision was filled with the cosmos and nothing else. We have lots of annoyances in our daily lives, whether it be the traffic on the way to work or another bill to pay. It's important sometimes to stop and look, appreciating for a moment how insignificant we are amongst a vast universe that is continually expanding in every direction.
As the morning arrived, we woke slowly, allowing ourselves a sleep-in after being up for much of the night. Unzipping the tent, I took in the surroundings that had previously been invisible in the dark of night. Grey skies with low cloud, and the odd sheep wandering across our view, only confirmed we had already experienced the best part of our short stay.
Was last night even real? Or perhaps it was just a dream.
Sam Gore is a 22-year old photographer and filmmaker based in Cornwall, UK. He uses his work documenting nature and the world as a tool to inspire more people to get outside and enjoy it, and in turn, protect and respect it too.
OPPOSITE PAGE: Tamas Cserep is an aesthete, philosopher and designer from Budapest, Hungary. He is inspired by the sublimity of nature and the hidden order of our Universe.