The photographer of night, Richard Tatti was Melbourne Camera Club’s guest speaker on Thursday 29 July 2021. He spoke with us via Zoom from Bendigo about the pleasures and technicalities of photographing at night. His website, https://www.nightscapeimages.com.au/ showcases a wide range of his inspiring images.
Who of us has not gazed up at the heavens at night and felt wonder: are there others out there? How infinite, how old – how beautiful! Richard Tatti for one did and has kept that sense of wonder alive throughout this life.
Using a slow camera to capture light given off by galaxies, constellations and celestial bodies such as the moon, Tatti grounds our viewpoint firmly on earth amongst the grasses of a paddock or a mountain top on a chill-clear night. His images give us room to contemplate the universe’s vast intricacies. And, they evoke a sense of deep time. In many of his images earthly relics from a past generation such as old machinery, ramshackle buildings, lie discarded under stars that may have shone before we were even born.
In the context of climate change and COVID human detritus, an ancient tree, or a lone figure against a starry night might give the sense of being at the edge of the world’s end. On a recent trip to Tasmania’s Lake Gorden Damn Tatti was lucky enough to photograph the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights). One image was of a silhouetted figure standing at the end of a jetty amidst a ablaze of electric blue, green-golds, and reds. This could have been a view from ‘Starship Enterprise’.
Based in Bendigo, Tatti said that he has been possessed by a fascination of the night sky since childhood. He launched into the photography business in the early 1990s with his childhood passion “ bubbling away” under the the surface of his commercial work. “It took quite a while for the technology to catch up with my vision for (the night),” he said. Now he’s very much into it and runs heavily subscribed workshops.
Tatti was very generous in sharing many of the techniques he deployed in creating the images he shared with us during his presentation.
Lighting is the most important creative aspect of photography and shooting at night requires special considerations. Tatti meets the challenges of night by treating the foreground and sky differently, and using light-painting and photo stacking. After situating himself to make the best use of any ambient light, such as the moon he might approach his foreground subject, an old truck, a building, or whatever, by lighting then shooting important parts of the structure one bit at a time. He uses light panels particularly when he wants to light the inside of a building but mostly use torches, “typically not very bright ones,” he said, and off camera flashes (set to manual). He will then photo stack his images in post production to create a sharp, less noisey and vibrant image. He also recommends “getting down low” when shooting so that the foreground subject stands above the horizon line more prominently against the night sky.
In relation to the night sky he might shoot a single image with a very low shutter speed, high ISO (up to 6400), and as wide an aperture as his lens will permit (often f 2.8). He mostly uses a 20 mm but sometimes moves up to a 50 mm lens if he needs to show more detail in the stars and make them appear closer.
At other times he might take multiple shots of the sky. Tatti’s “favourite image of all time” is a night scape of Childers Cove along the Great Ocean Road. This is multi-shot panorama made up of seperate panoramas of the foreground and the sky blended together in Photoshop. His colour palate, blue/purple/pink complemented by green golds/browns against a backdrop of stars is stunning!
More recently Tatti acquired a star tracker. This devise captures star trails as it follows the rotation of the earth. The resulting images are then blended with a foreground in Photoshop using the ‘sky replacement’ tool.
This kind of work naturally takes a lot of planning – finding locations, organising equipment and forever extending ones expertise. If you too would like to “embrace the beauty of the night sky” as Tatti invites us to I would warmly recommend dipping into his many online resources or consider embarking on one of his workshops. You can find his online video series on YouTube.
By Helen Lang
The Zoom video replay will available on the Members Video Library page