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Shooting stars

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Making the most of Cornwall’s dark skies and dramatic landscapes, West Cornwall-based photographer Aaron Jenkin makes his living from long nights gazing at the stars. After capturing this striking timelapse of Watergate Bay one night in mid-September, he took a daylight hour to tell us about everything from adjusting your eyes to the darkness, to the elation of watching the Milky Way reflected in the water…

“I bought my first camera in 2013, and a ticket to Japan. I was there for a month, shooting all day, every day.

Photography was a new way for me to experience the world, and I loved it. I knew pretty quickly that this is something that I wanted to do full time. When I got home I continued to learn, mostly through online tutorials and experimentation.

It wasn't long before I started to explore the dark skies that Cornwall has to offer, and it's pretty much all I want to photograph now.

I haven’t studied astronomy. The little I do know is from internet research and other astrophotographers. There’s a Welsh astrophotographer, Alyn Wallace, who posts monthly ‘What’s in the night sky’ videos, which are fantastic.

I really love photographing from the South West Coast Path, in particular the area around Land's End. The cliffs are so rugged and dramatic. I often return to the same area to shoot in different conditions.

Cornwall has beautifully dark skies, which is something that is becoming increasingly rare. I feel so lucky to able to spend most of my time under the stars, in one of the most scenic places in the world. The dark skies are seriously under threat, and simple changes in the types of lights used and positioning can make a big difference.

Cornwall has beautifully dark skies, which is something that is becoming increasingly rare. I feel so lucky to able to spend most of my time under the stars, in one of the most scenic places in the world.

When walking along the coast or contemplating a shoot, I'm typically looking for a strong subject in a dark area, that also aligns with the Milky Way. It sounds quite simple, but it's actually quite challenging to find something that ticks all of the boxes.

There are lots of variables that can affect a photograph, but the most important is cloud cover – quickly followed by the moon. The moon is actually incredibly bright and greatly reduces the visibility of the stars. You can see so much more when the moon isn't in the sky.

I spend a lot of time planning, much more than I am actually shooting. I will always try to scout a location beforehand and arrive way before I need to be there. It's best to have lots of time to find compositions and get set up. I don't like to rush, and often find my best work was done when I had plenty of time.

Kit-wise, you actually don't need anything that outrageous to get you started… An entry-level DSLR or Mirrorless camera with the kit lens is quite capable of revealing the hidden details of the night sky. It's best to have a fast and wide lens, but learning the technique comes first.

My most memorable shoot is probably the first one I did after the lockdown restrictions were eased. It had been so long since I had photographed the stars. The conditions were incredible, crystal clear skies with no wind whatsoever. I shot a timelapse of the Milky Way reflected in water at St Michael's Mount. It felt so good to be out there under the stars, I couldn't stop smiling, and I knew that what I was capturing was going to be really special.

For the Watergate shoot, I arrived really early, way before sunset, and it was a beautiful evening. There was warm light illuminating the breaking waves. I took my time walking around to find the perfect spot to set up. I knew that I wanted to include the beach, cliffs, some of the buildings, and of course, the night sky. What came as a welcome surprise were the people fishing at night, which I knew would be interesting to watch in the timelapse. I was shooting for around four hours in total – from around 20:30 to 00:30.

There are a few small shooting stars in the image, but they will only flash up for 1/24th of a second, as the video is produced at 24 fps. The objects you can see moving in the video are either satellites or aeroplanes.

You can start to see part of The Big Dipper towards the end of the video, but can't quite see it completely.

When looking at the horizon we are looking through more of the earth's atmosphere, so we are able to see fewer stars. The peachy hue is from distant light pollution or scattered light in the atmospheric haze. Similar to why a sunset/sunrise is orange, red light waves are scattered the least by the atmosphere. When light travels a long path through the atmosphere (close to the horizon), the blue light has been mostly removed, leaving mostly red and yellow light.

After I am set up and start my timelapse, I have the rest of the night to watch the stars above whilst my camera is clicking away.

Mostly I shoot timelapse, focusing on one or two compositions for the whole night. So after I am set up and start my timelapse, I have the rest of the night to watch the stars above whilst my camera is clicking away.

If you want to go out stargazing, pick a night close to the new moon, and a location far away from any towns or cities. It takes at least 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. So sit back, watch the stars and wait. Avoid looking at any lights, such as torches, mobile phones, or even lights in the distance, as you will have to wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness again.”

See more at night with our autumn getaways.

What will you see when you look up?

Watergate Bay Portrait © Aaron Jenkin

aaronjenkin.co.uk
Instagram: @aaronjenkin

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