IN 2014 AN UNEXPECTED REDUNDANCY CAUSED STEVEN MORRIS TO LOSE AN INORDINATE AMOUNT OF SLEEP. BUT A DEVELOPING INTEREST IN ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY MEANS HE’S NOW MORE THAN HAPPY TO SACRIFICE TIME UNDER THE DOONA FOR NIGHTS UNDER THE STARS.
In the years Steven Morris has been out photographing the night skies he has shot all manner of unidentified astronomical objects. Yet it’s his first that will always remain closest to his heart.
It was a dark night in 2014 when the-then 32-year-old asked a friend to accompany him to shoot some stars. Having never before used a camera, he packed his dad’s Nikon D300S, an assortment of lenses, and a tripod into the car and set off. He arrived at the designated spot with few clues about what he was looking for and even fewer about how to use the equipment at his disposal. He pointed the camera upwards and began hoping for the best.
“As the night went on I managed to get the camera into manual mode and worked out how to manually focus [albeit] very badly. My next photo turned out to be [a smattering of] blobs. I was so excited about my three blobs, I yelled. I was hooked.”
Needless to say Steven’s knowledge of both equipment and subject matter have come a long way since those early days, to the point Steven has now set up his own eponymous photography business. Part of the services he offers is to teach others how to shoot planets, galaxies, nebulae, stars and other large areas of the night sky.
“There are so many things I enjoy about astrophotography, capturing light from thousands of light years away knowing that you’re capturing the past. Seeing the night sky get lighter and darker from air glow, the night sky is so active… it’s relaxing to sometimes just sit back and look up,” he says.
Having always been fascinated by the stars, Steven began taking his nighttime viewing to the next level by purchasing “cheap” telescopes. But it wasn’t until he was stretched to breaking point after being let go from his workplace that he decided he needed to take his interest in astrophotography more seriously.
“I figured now that I’m older I can afford a computerised telescope that can point to objects in space and I could learn that way. I was hooked from that night [when I first captured the mass resembling the stars], but it was when I found out that I could connect a camera to my telescope that it became the start of an obsession.”
Steven, who has been using Nikon camera equipment almost since taking his first photo, purchased his first camera – a Nikon D5100 – in 2014 after being introduced to the brand by his father. He has since added a Nikon D810A camera body and in the intervening years has added NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR and NIKKOR AF-S 20mm f/1.8G ED lenses to his collection.
When shooting nightscapes or indulging his other subject of choice, sunset and sunrise shots, Steven pairs his D810A up to the 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. If shooting wide field deep space he opts for the 70-200mm f/2.8 or the NIKKOR AF-S 300mm f/4D IF ED. Anything fainter, then the Nikon D810A is usually connected to the telescope, he says.
“The biggest challenge I’ve found so far is producing detailed and clean images of the night sky. Producing images that look good on a computer screen isn’t that hard. It’s when you print those images of the night sky and they come out noisy. Producing clean astro images for large printing is not an easy task [but] it’s how you capture the image that will determine the final outcome.”
Technical ability aside, Steven says astrophotography is not a job for the faint-hearted with the nature of nighttime photography producing its own set of challenges unrelated to lens selection. Inhospitable weather conditions and poor light frequently combine to result in dewy lenses, while the unsociable hours required can also wreak havoc with standard sleeping patterns, he says.
“Travelling away from the cities and towns finding nice dark skies to obtain as much detail as you can [can also prove to be painful]. On average I drive around 2.5 hours away from Adelaide to find dark skies. Then there is the challenge of camera noise, trying to reduce the amount of noise captured in a nightscape photograph through different techniques and the lack of sleep. But [it’s worth it] when you see the final outcome of the image you worked so hard on, when you get the chance to explore new landscapes, when you see all the activity and realise you’ve captured it.”
A latecomer to social media, Steven plans to spend the remainder of the year working on increasing the number of followers of his work and completing some personal projects that he has started but is yet to finish.
“Now that the Milky Way is starting to form its arch, I have a few projects in mind for some large panoramas and time lapses, and later in the year I will be wanting to shoot some nightscapes with Orion rising above some locations. [I will also be focussing on] my wide field deep space work. I have some large tracked mosaics coming up later in the year that I would like to finish, including a mosaic of the constellation Orion that I started over a year ago.
“Astrophotography is very weather dependent so fingers crossed for clear skies on those moonless nights.”
[Words by Tracey Porter]