Chasing Dark Skies in the Philippines

Chasing Dark Skies in the Philippines

With so many remote islands and few large cities, you would think that the tropical archipelago of the Philippines would be a dark sky haven.

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There are reports that claim that light pollution is so bad that it hurts rainforest regeneration. Not to get too deep into astronomy and astrophysics, but scientifically speaking, you are at a much bigger DISADVANTAGE of seeing the night sky while in the tropic because there is more frequent cloud cover due to higher concentration of moisture in the atmosphere.
So, I consider myself lucky to have had a few clear, cloudless and moonless nights while traveling here in the Philippines. I always have my camera close by, and have taken the opportunities to shoot the night sky when conditions permit.

My first opportunity was on Guimaras Island. While fairly isolated in terms of transportation, it is actually situated in between the two cities of Bacolod and Iloilo, so this is not an ideal place to do some astrophotography and stargazing. I was able to get one decent shot despite the island resort in the not too far distance polluting the horizon, and preventing me from getting any Milky Way shots.

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In the image above, I used the ambient light instead of fighting it. Actually, I didn't have much of a choice, haha. To me Astrophotography is more about FOREGROUND, because it gives perspective and frankly, makes the image far more interesting because it connects the celestial bodies in the sky with life here on earth. Heck, if I just wanted to look at stars, I could look up NASA telescope pictures which are much better views.

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The real issue with adding foreground to astrophotography is that it makes the shots exponentially more difficult to pull off! Adding objects so close to the lens where your target subject is much smaller, brighter and further away is asking for trouble... but when you figure it out, it is all worth it.

Trial and Error is Your Friend

None of the images on this page involved a real tripod. I say "real' tripod because at times I did use a Manfrotto table top tripod... but only to keep the sand off my camera! It sank at least 3-4 inches into the dry sand and at least an inch into the wet, hard packed sand. Getting any kind of stable platform or keeping consistent frames for layered shots was NOT an option, this was a one shot kill scenario. By one shot kill I of course mean, that composition is all guesswork, and duplicating a frame is impossible. Even bracketing was inconsistent because of moving sand, and foreground obejcts such as trees, and boats on the water.

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The majority of my shooting was done using my daypack as a stabilizer and to keep sand away from the camera as much as possible. While this certainly helped lighten the gear load, it did make for a much more difficult astrophotography shoot.

Royalty-Free Stock Video at Pond5

All in all, astrophotography was pretty low priority on this trip so I was ok with the extra work. In fact, I am almost always up for extra work unless I am being paid directly by a client, in which case I try to be as efficient as possible. When traveling, carrying less IS being as efficient as possible. At least, my back thinks so.

So, when trying to get some astrophotography shots in the tropics, with some interesting foreground scenery, you are really asking for trouble and frustration, but it is certainly a battle worth fighting in my opinion. Keep shooting, and keep experimenting. Happy travels!

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