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Shooting the starry (and sometimes stormy) skies

Retreating thunderstorm at sunset. Credit: Alan Dyer/amazingsky.net

Retreating thunderstorm at sunset. Credit: Alan Dyer/amazingsky.net

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, September 2, 2013, 9:44 AM -

Since the Apollo moon landings and the first satellite launches, Alan Dyer is used to looking to the skies for inspiration.

The Alberta-based photographer has spent much of his life pointing his camera upward and letting the lens drink in everything the cosmos has to offer

"That's a really fascinating pursuit, it's just as immense as doing landscape photography by day," Dyer told the Weather Network, speaking by phone from Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.

Up until the last decade and a half, he had to rely on old-school film cameras.

"Boy, that was tough, when we look back on it," he chuckles. "Now digital cameras make it so much easier, and you can record the night sky and nightscapes lit only by stars and, in some cases, by the moon, that you just could not do years ago, so the opportunities are immense."

Barn and aurora. Image: Alan Dyer/

Barn and aurora. Image: Alan Dyer/

And he's been busy. His blog and Flickr page are crammed with incredible shots of nightscapes - regular landscapes lit not by the sun, but by the moon and stars.

His work has been featured in several media, and the ominous and beautiful shot up at the top of this article was selected as NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Dyer is more interested in the skies at night, though, and storm shots are more a target of opportunity than his bread and butter.

"If there's a storm handy, I might shoot it, but I certainly don't do avid storm chasing," he says. "But sometimes, you take what the sky presents you."

Although he owns some great gear, he says the basic principles of night photography don't require top-level cameras.

"It doesn't take fancy, thousands and thousands of dollars of specialized equipment, just the camera you already own, perhaps," he says.

He says the Internet has aided the spread of night sky photos, which he hopes will alert people to the threat of light pollution from major population centres.

"Even from a dark sky location like I am now, here at a national park, the street lights make it really hard to see the night sky."

See below for a sample of Dyer's work on his Flickr page, with supplied captions.

I.S.S. over star party

"The Space Station in a multi-exposure composite, in a pass over the Meadows Campground at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, at the 2013 Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, August 10, 2013. Each frame was 30 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 800 with the Canon 5D MkII and 15mm lens. The ISS passed from left to right, west to east, passing high overhead above Polaris."

Circumpolar star trails over canola field

"Circumpolar star trails stacked with a comet-like effect (created with Advanced Stacker Actions from Star Circle Academy), turning over a canola field in southern Alberta. A stack of several dozen 1-minute exposures with 10-22m lens at f/3.5 and the Canon 60Da camera at ISO 1600. Light is from the waning Moon off camera to the right."

Star Rain - Big Dipper star trails

"A cumulative star trail of northern stars around the Big Dipper, created with a stack of images from a time-lapse sequence, and stacked with StarCircleAcademy Advanced Stacker Actions - Comet Trails, which stacks a series of consecutive images at decreasing opacity. A neat effect. Each image was a 30 second exposure at f/2 with the 24mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. Taken from Ressor Ranch, July 12, 2013. A faint aurora tints the sky magenta."

Northern lights over wind farm

"The northern lights on June 28/29, 2013 as seen from the Wintering Hills Wind Farm near Drumheller, Alberta, on a night the aurora covered the sky. This is a single frame from a 300-frame time-lapse movie. It is a 14-second exposure at f/2 with the 24mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 400. The Moon is just rising as the display is reaching a peak in intensity."

Sagittarius and Scorpio from New Mexico

"Sagittarius and Scorpius in the pre-dawn sky, March 15, 2013, from the Painted Pony Resort, New Mexico. This is a stack of 5 x 3 minute exposures at f/2.8 with the 35mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600, with the ground from one image, plus a stack of 2 exposures through the Kenko Softon filter for the star glows."

Receding thunderstorm at sunset with tree

"Receding thunderstorm with mammatus clouds lit by the setting Sun. A shot with the Samyang 14mm lens and Canon 5D MkII camera, June 17, 2013."

Check out more of Dyer's work here.

And if you prefer your skies a little stormier, check out our active weather video gallery.

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