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Milky Way Shoot (Part 1), Isle of Wight

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Photo Outing - 29 August, 2021

Welcome to my first photography related blog entry, here on my new website. It's great to be back, although in all honesty, I'm adding my initial blog entries to see how they appear on this new blog page, as it's a completely new layout and one which I'll have to tweak as I go along. Well, here goes...

September 2021 presented a few opportunities to photograph the galactic core, on the Isle of Wight. It's a place that is special to me and my family, as we've been visiting the island on and off for the last 20 summers. That said, it wasn't until 2020 that I actually got round some of the more interesting dark sky areas of the island, in the dead of night. September is my favourite month for photographing the milky way, as it appears more photogenic, with the galactic core showing for a few hours each night...providing you have clear(ish) night skies. Not only that, but shooting time normally begins around 9pm, which means I'm not out there in the early hours of the morning, which has its advantages. Yeah, it's great to get under the stars for an hour or two, then head back to base for a couple of beers and a good look through the images I have captured.

Our annual trip to the Isle of Wight took place in the first week of September 2021. After ticking off a few locations last year, I earmarked a few new locations to visit this time out, including Yarborough Monument, which sits proudly on the top of Culver Down, near Sandown. Me and the wife headed up there during the day, to recce the place in preparation for a night time visit to practice the art of astro photography. It was a very hot afternoon and there was quite a few visitors dotted about - mainly around the Yarborough Monument and nearby coffee shop. The panoramic views across the water were amazing, even though it was slightly hazy, due to the heat. A row of holiday cottages sat overlooking the sea, as well as the Culver Haven Inn, which closed due to staff shortages. If ever there was a day to sit in a beer garden, this was it, and in a prime location. Ah well, never mind - maybe next year.

At 7.45pm I made my way from the Orchards Holiday Park (our holiday base for the week) and headed to Culver Down. The journey across took around 25 minutes and I had some great music to accompany me. One of the local radio stations was running a show called High School Hits, featuring quite a few songs from the 1980's, by artists like Visage, Pet Shop Boys and Bronksi Beat. The soundrack of my youth, and a great way to start the outing. 25 minutes later I had reached Culver Down. Car parking couldn't have been better, as I dropped anchor right next to the gateway to Yarborough Monument. I recorded a short video from inside the car, which will be appearing in a VLOG, in the near future. It was a brief introduction video, which will be accompanied by a photo or two from my visit.

The impressive Yarborough Monument – the tallest on the Isle of Wight, is a prominent feature on the skyline of the east of the Island. For many years it has acted as a seamark for shipping but, surprisingly, not always from its present position. It was originally built on the slightly higher summit of Bembridge Down. But this massive granite obelisk on its stepped ashlar stone plinth was painstakingly moved, stone by stone, in the 1860s. It was to make way for Bembridge Fort, which was built as part of the island’s defences against invasion. So who was the man whose memory inspired such a grand memorial? The Earl of Yarborough, 1781-1846, was born Charles Anderson Pelham in Lincolnshire. Thanks to the twin circumstances of birth and marriage, he rose to wealth and power. He received a baronetcy on the death of his father and, in 1806, married Henrietta Simpson. She inherited the estate of her uncle, Sir Richard Worsley, the largest landowner on the Isle of Wight. Charles was one of two MPs returned by the ‘rotten borough’ of Newtown. Why not visit Newtown Old Town Hall and see where the action took place? In 1837 he was elevated to an Earl. Charles’ great passion was sailing and in 1815 he was one of the founding members and later the first Commodore of what was to become the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes. It's arguably the most prestigious yacht club in the United Kingdom and perhaps the world. Sadly, his son did not follow in his father’s illustrious footsteps but is remembered nevertheless for the ‘yarborough’ – an exceptionally weak hand in bridge.

It was 9.15pm when I got into position and fired off a few test shots. I had the place to myself. I decided to use my back up camera body - a Canon 5DMk4, coupled with a Samyang 24mm prime lens and my trusty Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod. My first couple of test shots didn't pick out much detail in the milky way, so I tweaked the settings before settling on an aperture of f2.8 and a shutter speed of 15 seconds, plus an ISO of 3200. I could have pushed the shutter to 20 seconds, but using a focal length of 24mm would have resulted in trailing on the stars, which I certainly didn't want.

I wore my Sunderland AFC shirt especially for the shot. I always think red sets off an astro shot, which is primarily blue, when the skies are clear. I managed to land a shooting star, too, so I was well chuffed to leave Culver Down with the shot I wanted, plus the bonus of a shooter. There was barely a breeze and I could easily have stayed longer, but there's only so much you can pull from a location like this, so I bailed out and headed back to base. Job done!!!!

Stay tuned for more milky way photography of the Isle of Wight...


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