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Corfu Milky Way and night adventures

In the end of June in Estonia there were the brightest nights of the year and people were enjoying midsummer vibes. I decided to travel to Corfu Island, Greece instead. It was actually more of a vacation, not a photography trip so much. I packed some gear with me but I was just taking photos more as a tourist and trying to capture some spontaneous moments instead. No big photo plans in mind. Also decided to rest from social media and didn't post anything to my photo pages. I decided to share some moments later after the trip.


Night photography

The last maybe half a year or more I have focused more and invested my time learning night photography. Actually the mystical night sky beauty has always been something that I have admired but earlier it has been a genre that I haven't put much time into. Firstly why am I talking about night photography is because as I said earlier in Estonia there were the brightest nights of the year and no dark skies. The next dark sky would be in the night of the 19th of August. But in Corfu you could experience dark nights about 5 hours at that time. Secondly in Estonia the Milky Way core hardly rises over the horizon. In Corfu island the core is higher in the sky and it is an amazing experience for a night photography enthusiast. Last time I had a chance to experience something like this was in Madeira in the end of February where the Milky Way core reached even higher to the sky than on Corfu island. So I decided to do an exception when talking about photography plans. I made a deal with myself that if I will find a cool location where I could photograph the Milky Way at night. Then it will be the only serious photo plan of the holiday. Well...I didn't have to wait long.


Milky Way in Madeira

Preparations and off I go

We had been in many beautiful places with my girlfriend and one morning we went to Limni beach. It was a small beach with rocky surface between two smaller mountains. You could go swimming from north and south and it was quite nice. Like a small private place with not so much people around. As I had this small night photography plan in my head, I found out that it would be really nice to photograph the Milky Way and night sky over there. I did some research and after a couple of days the day arrived and adventures

could begin.


Olive trees field

Before I started my journey to Limni beach I decided to buy some local food to go called Gyros, which is traditional Greek food. I was quite sure that I will get hungry in the middle of the night and then I couldn't focus on my photographing 100%. From our place to Limni beach it was about 2 kilometres and from the small parking lot I had to walk about 1 kilometres downhill to the beach. It is not much and on Estonian flat surface landscapes I would have gone by foot but in Corfu Island it is a different story. Some ups and downs can be quite challenging even at shorter distances and I really didn't want to take that trip back home at 5 am in the morning and with all my photography equipment. The 25 degrees at night didn't help so much either. It probably would have been easier the sleep on the beach. So in the end I decided to go by car. On my way to the beach there were a lot of olive trees. Later I read that they cover almost 70% of Corfu island.

Limni beach

When I was in Limni beach the first time a couple of days ago I didn't scout the landscapes and some potential compositions over there. So I decided to go there 2 hours before the nighttime which started at 23:14. Usually when the place is unfamiliar, I arrive at location on daytime to scout the environment and places where to take some photos later. I have used an app called Photopills which in my opinion is definitely a must have application when it comes to planning in landscape photography. This part is very important for me, because here you have all the control over your actions. You can't control the weather, is it going to be cloudy or not. You can't control if something happens to your car or photography equipment technically, but you can control to be in the right place at the right time. It is all up to you, if you screw up, that is on you. Sometimes my girlfriend makes fun on me about how precisely I'm planning my photography trips, writing down all the details and so on.


I left my main tripod to Estonia and only took a smaller one with me, the Joby Gorillapod 3K. Unfortunately it wasn't enough. As my night photography workhorse the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 lens and Canon EOS R body weight about 1,9 kg, then the tripod became very unstable on the rocky beach surface. Also the shooting angle became so low that almost all the details in the middle ground of the composition were narrowed down. The result would have been a messy photo that just doesn't work. So I had to find some alternatives to solve the problem. Limni was a public beach so during the daytime you could rent sun umbrellas. Well I didn't need an umbrella of course but I needed the bottom part to which the umbrellas were stick into so that the umbrella would stay up. Unfortunately it was a heavy piece of stone, about 30 kg (see picture below) and it was definitely the heaviest tripod I have used in my entire photography career so far. So far so good, the tripod problem was solved and I also had found some potential compositions to shoot later at night. Now it was about half an hour until nighttime and I could chill out a bit before the night party.


Tripod goals

Photopills

Waiting for the Stars

Problems continue

The first hour I decided to shoot a time-lapse of the Milky Way rising from behind a mountain in distance. My Canon EOS R doesn't have a built in intervalometer so I had to use a remote shutter. When dialing in the settings I realised that the remote shutter and my Canon have some connectivity issues. Couple of months ago I dropped it into the sea in Estonia while shooting Milky Way over there and I thought that maybe now it started having problems because of that. In the end it didn't work out and I had to find another way how to shoot the time-lapse. As the shutter speed was 15 seconds and before every shot delay 2 seconds, then I just had to press the shutter manually after every 17 seconds and for the next 1 hour and 15 minutes. Yes, that was the price but in the end it worked out. During the manual time-lapse shoot I was being entertained by the amazing night sky of Corfu island, some bats who were flying above the water and probably some martens in the bushes making noises. I had seen martens in Corfu before I came to Limni beach and heard that they are very often also seen in villages. At the same time I decided to eat my late dinner that I grabbed from Liapades village. I knew that later I don't have time for that. So I can't say it was a totally boring 1 hour and 15 minutes of time-lapse shooting. Time-lapse done, it was time to move on.



Couple of photos, wake-up call and local fisherman

After one hour the Milky Way core had risen to position where it was exactly between two smaller mountains on the left and right when looking south. On the foreground there were rocks that were leading the eye to the sea and from there towards the Milky Way. That was my first vision how to capture the scene. What makes it difficult to get the composition right at night, is that actually you don't see the details and elements clearly enough that make the final photo. You can use a flashlight to lighten up the foreground and make your life easier but you can't see how things align up in the background. As I know that some Sony cameras allow you to extra brighten up the lcd screen and therefore it is easier to compose your image. So to get it exactly right I had to take some test shots before capturing the final image. When I got my first photo I moved on to another position . You can see the photos and time-lapse in the end of the blog post.


As I started moving to the new location and grabbed my "lightweight" tripod I realised that something is wrong. I wasn't careful enough and didn't attach my camera on the tripod adapter strongly enough and the camera fell off straight to the rocky surface of the beach. Different thoughts went through my head and the Sigma lens I had was quite new so I thought that maybe I have to go shopping again. I don't remember if I had insurance on this lens or not. Luckily the front part of the lens hood got the first hit and then the body got the softer landing. In the end it was a lucky accident and it reminded me that you can't forget yourself in these dreamy conditions. Some not so cool stuff can start to happen.


Later I actually didn't get any more photos. During the daytime when I was scouting around there the compositions were looking far more attractive than at night. Also I was starting to feel a bit tired. By that time the clock was around 3 am and there was still 1 hour of nighttime left. As I was thinking what more I could shoot during that one hour I suddenly heard a weird noise. Like a working boat motor in far distance or something. After a couple of seconds I realised that it wasn't that far and it must be somewhere near close to the beach. During daytime when we were relaxing on the beach I saw a bunch of fisherman's equipment on one side of the beach and also a boat. When I arrived earlier in the evening then the boat was gone. I was a bit disappointed actually because it would have made a cool foreground element for one of the photos. So I had a strange feeling about it all and when I arrived near to my photo bag a big light was lit on the sea. Directly aimed towards the beach but far enough that probably they couldn't see me. First thoughts that came up to my head were that I really wasn't in any mood to justify to some greek man what am I doing here in the middle of the night at 3 am. I really didn't know who was there with the boat, is it a friendly local fisherman or someone else who just doesn't like me being there. So as the boat came closer and closer nevertheless I decided to leave. By the time the boat was arriving to the beach I was already uphill on the same road and stairs where I arrived to the beach earlier. It was actually a nice scene from up there to see the boat light and rocky surface of Limni beach. It would have made a great photo but I decided to go to my Corfu home. As driving home I almost overran a marten but luckily the animal was fast enough and escaped into the bushes. After about 20 minutes I was back home and hoped that I could fall asleep after this night full of events. Luckily I fell asleep like a baby.


One of the photos I was able to capture

Milky Way in Corfu island

You can see the photos larger from here and here



I decided to write about this story because I think it is one of my most adventurous photography trips I have had. It was mainly special because I wasn't familiar with the landscape and environment. I was feeling a bit anxious all the time during the adventure. Also I think that the story sums up what all can happen to a landscape or night photographer during a photography trip and what really goes on behind the scenes of capturing one photo. Recently I completed one Albert Dros online photography courses where one of his principles was not to concentrate on the problem but concentrate finding a solution. So I think that overall I got reminded that whatever the situation is, try to find a solution. Fixing your tripod on the spot, finding a solution how to still capture a time-lapse or whatever else it might be. What you focus in your life, that is exactly what you get in life. I'm happy that I decided to take this photo adventure in Corfu Island. Experiencing moments like this is definitely one of the reasons why I love landscape and night photography.





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