This massive new book by popular vlogger and astrophotographer Alyn Wallace provides a comprehensive guide to shooting nightscapes.
Capturing the starry sky above landscapes by night has become a hugely popular area of photography, in part due to the inspiration of YouTubers, such as the book’s author Alyn Wallace, who is based in Wales.
However, shooting nightscapes can be a highly technical pursuit well beyond the usual methods landscape photographers employ by day. You can binge watch YouTube videos all you like and still not get it! Fortunately, Alyn Wallace, working with specialty publisher fotoVUE in the U.K, has produced an encyclopedic work in print form.
Published in 2022, Photographing the Night Sky is a thick 575-page tome in a quality softcover binding that has, in my case, stood up well so far. While a hardcover version was offered, it was a limited edition no longer available.
For anyone wanting to get into nightscape photography, all the instruction you need is here in one place. For example, one chapter provides extensive information on what people most want to know: Settings and Techniques, with loads of tips gleaned from Wallace’s experience in the field. Another chapter is devoted to Multiple Exposure Techniques, with advice on stacking and tracking, and on shooting panoramas.
What l like is the inclusion of major chapters on what’s up in the sky and how the sky works, such as the Navigating the Night Sky chapter. While it might read like an Astronomy 101 textbook, that’s a good thing; I don’t think you can master nightscape photography until you learn the basics of astronomy and the subject you are trying to capture. I find too many aspiring photographers head out to shoot their “killer shot” of the Milky Way armed with all the right gear but without a clue about where and when to shoot it. Or even what it is!
Another great plus is that the book is southern-hemisphere friendly, with lots of information, advice, and sample images pertinent to shooting from austral latitudes.
The Night Sky Wonders chapter describes all the sights you can shoot along with good science explanations. Yes, the popular target of the Milky Way is well described, but Wallace also covers eclipses, airglow, auroras, meteor showers, noctilucent clouds, satellites, and atmospheric phenomena such as light pillars. Bioluminescent biology also gets a section.
In addition, with the popularity of sky trackers, Wallace delves a little into shooting wide-field deep-sky objects like the Andromeda Galaxy. But don’t expect a detailed tutorial on deep-sky imaging with telescopes. The focus is very much on nightscapes.
What is missing, I feel, is more about how to plan around the Moon phase, making use of moonlight for illuminating scenery, and how to choose a night and site to avoid aiming toward the Moon. Nevertheless, the information in the Planning chapter is superb. You could spend endless hours querying experts on Facebook and still not learn the essentials Wallace covers here.
A unique chapter on Locations presents excellent maps plotting the most scenic and darkest sites for nightscape shooting in all the regions of the world. The maps and galleries of images should provide photographers with lots of ideas on where to go to get great shots.
As with the maps, the graphics and diagrams are first class throughout. A lot of work went into producing a book with high production values and professional design. And that’s why I cringed at some of the errors missed in copy editing. On one page there’s even a copy-editing instruction that has been left in place by mistake. Oops!
The final chapter deals with Processing. There’s a good step-by-step tutorial on developing raw files using Adobe Lightroom, but it’s applicable to other programs. A section illustrates essential Adobe Photoshop techniques for layering and masking images along with blending composites for subjects such as meteor showers. However, the 30-page processing chapter (only five percent of the book) covers just the basics. Don’t expect detailed tutorials for a variety of images and subjects, nor thorough instruction on all that Photoshop can do for these types of images. That would take an entire book.
The book features inspiring images, all well reproduced, from the author and other photographers around the world. All are annotated conveniently in the captions, not in a photo index, with the technical details of equipment and exposures so you can learn from them.
Some areas of the book were updated just before publication in early 2022, and thus the inclusion of the new Star Adventurer GTi GoTo mount (reviewed here at AstroGearToday). However, the major opening Equipment chapter dates from 2018 or so, as the newest cameras described are the original Canon R and Nikon Z6 mirrorless cameras, and from Sony the a7III. There’s no mention of newer cameras that are likely to be the most popular choices now.
Lenses introduced since 2018 made specifically for the new generation of mirrorless cameras are not included. As such, the book will be of limited value in helping you choose what cameras and lenses to buy.
As comprehensive as the book is, it does not delve into the intricacies of time-lapse photography and processing. While it does cover shooting and stacking multiple exposures for noise reduction and star trails, it does not cover the unique requirements for planning and shooting time-lapse sequences, particularly advanced sets such as day-to-night “holy grail” clips.
There’s no mention of time-lapse hardware such as advanced intervalometers, bulb rampers, or motion control devices. That’s understandable, as time-lapse work is a vast field unto itself. Nevertheless, all those aspiring to shoot great time-lapse movies will benefit from the book, as they still need to know everything the book covers, and more!
Photographing the Night Sky is not available from the usual on-line retailers, but only from the author’s website or from the publisher, fotoVUE, at the links below. The book is big and heavy, so shipping costs from the U.K. add to the £64.95 cover price, bringing the total with exchange rate conversions to $120 or so for buyers in the U.S., and as high as $200 Australian dollars for those down under.
However, you could spend much more than that on field workshops and video courses and still not get the array of information and encyclopedic reference material Alyn Wallace’s book provides. In that sense, it is a bargain. I highly recommend it.
Photographing the Night Sky
Technique, Planning and Processing
by Alyn Wallace (fotoVUE, 2022)
Excellent content on how the sky works
Very thorough technical explanations
All images captioned with exposure details
Superb illustrations and graphics
Little information on time-lapse techniques
Equipment information dates from 2018
Processing chapter is brief
High shipping costs
Cost: £64.95 plus shipping