Cinetics Feature with Alyn Wallace

Alyn Wallace

Meet Alyn Wallace, an astro, landscape and timelapse photographer often found enjoying the incredible views atop the Welsh mountains. We caught up with Alyn to learn more about his work and creative journey.

Where are you from?

I’m from Wales, one of the four countries that make up the UK. More specifically I’m from a small town called Pontypridd in the South Wales valleys (our only claim to fame is Tom Jones!). It’s a place known for rolling green hills and more sheep than people. I’m lucky in that I’m only a short trip away from either the beautiful South Wales coast or the mountains and hills of the Brecon Beacons National Park, which is also a Dark Sky Reserve.

 

Alyn Wallace

When did you get into photography?

I’ve always enjoyed taking snaps of my travels and holidays using a compact camera or in more recent times my smartphone but it wasn’t until May 2015 when I bought my first ‘proper camera’a Canon 100D DSLR. I’d just started working after university so I finally had a bit of money in the bank and I made the decision after I realised that my upcoming holiday to a dark sky place in Turkey coincided with the Perseids meteor shower. I studied physics and astronomy and have always been an admirer of astrophotography so it was finally my time to have a go myself and thus the addiction was born!

Where does your creative inspiration come from?

I think the realisation that you can predict the future when it comes to photographing the night sky is ultimately what fuels my creative process. We know where the Milky Way will be at any given date and time in the future and the same goes for all the constellations, planets and satellites, so I’m quite literally guided by the stars. Whenever I find an interesting composition or landmark feature I begin working out what night sky wonders I can line up with the composition and when the opportunity for such an idea would be possible.

With regards to other photographers who inspire me, I could name a few. Yuri Beletsky is a huge inspiration for me and his astronomy roots and understanding of the known universe shine through in his work. I love the artistic style of Michael Shainblum and for me he was the guy who turned astrophotography into an art form rather than a scientific recording of an event or object. And lastly, Adrien Mauduit who keeps pushing the boundaries and blurring the lines between deep space and landscape astrophotography, he’s always looking at things in a new and exciting way.

 

Alyn Wallace
 
Why do you love chasing the stars so much?

It’s a bit of an addiction that comes with no negative side effects (other than a few cold toes perhaps!). I’m someone who gets bored of anything very quickly but the night sky offers an infinite amount of wonder and it appears differently everytime you gaze upon it so it never seems to lose its novelty. I also just find it a really therapeutic way to spend your time. When you’re out under the grace of the Milky Way or watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky you become liberated from the trials and tribulations of everyday life – it’s a waking dream.

I think the seasonal aspect of astrophotography keeps things fresh too. Milky Way season spans the summer months but you can only photograph the Orion constellation in the winter months for example. After a break from shooting something you find yourself taking a whole new approach next time the season comes round.

 

Alyn Wallace

Tell us more about your YouTube channel and type of content you post?

So I’ve started vlogging my adventurers under the stars with the aim of teaching people how to do this kind of photography but also to tell the story behind the shots that I take. For example, in one vlog I take a picture of the Milky Way above a lighthouse in North Wales and as much as I love the image it doesn’t portray the story of that night. As the tide came in we nearly got stuck on a tidal island but managed to cross the waist deep freezing water before getting completely stuck and not to mention the insane high winds I had to endure whilst precariously balancing on a steep cliff to get the composition I was after.

When I saw the low-light video capabilities of the Sony A7S series it was almost an automatic decision, the fact that you can video things like the Northern Lights and the Milky Way in real time completely blew my mind. I often get accused of using Photoshop to composite my images and although I do add my own personal touch when it comes to tonal balancing and colour grading, I always remain true to the scene. The vlogs add a bit of authenticity to my work and I think it offers people a useful insight into the kind of planning and previsualising that’s required to get the most out of this genre of photography.

Do you have a favourite video on this channel?

My most viewed video is one where I was testing out the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens and managed to photograph the Milky Way handheld but I think my favourite is the one about taking Milky Way selfies. It was quite an eventful night shared with good friends and those are the nights that stick with you forever.

What projects are you currently working on or towards?

I’ve just started writing a book, ‘Photographing the Night Sky’, which will teach people how to do this kind of photography and how best to go about capturing all the night sky wonders out there. That’s probably going to take up most of my time in the near future so personal projects have taken a step back for now. I’m also working on a series about landscape astrophotography in light polluted areas because I want to encourage those who are not blessed with dark skies that there’s still beauty to be found in light polluted night skies. I’m also planning a project to bring awareness to the ever increasing problem of light pollution and how important it is to protect our dark skies in a world that is forever becoming brighter at night.

The setting moon and milky way at Durdle Door

 
How do you deal with creative burnout?

That’s something I’ve only recently had to deal with. My photography has taken more of a commercial turn in recent times and together with a full-time job I just completely burnt myself out. I recently quit my job to persue photography full-time and I was immediately greeted by my first bout of no motivation or inspiration whatsoever.

I think the first step is to clear the mind. If you have things that are stressing you out or tasks and deadlines that are looming over you just get them done. Focus all your effort on tieing up all the loose ends first. Then once your mind is clear, head to a new place, somewhere you’ve never been before. I found that the novelty of a new place just rekindles that childhood curiosity and desire to explore. Oh and disconnect from the internet and social media, it’s better to find creativity from within yourself rather than from the influence of others.

What is in your bag for a typical shoot in Brecon Beacons National Park?

I use a Canon 6D for most of my stills and a Sony A7SII to film the vlogs. I’m a big fan of Samyang lenses (known as Rokinon in the US and Canada). They don’t have autofocus or even electronically controlled aperture but those things aren’t missed by astrophotographers. The lack of which also helps make them quite affordable and they offer incredibly good coma control even out to the corners of the frame. The 24mm f/1.4 is my favourite but I also use the 20mm f/1.8 and 14mm f/2.8. I use Benro tripods with my main workhorse being the Mach 3 TMA37C – a good solid base is crucial when taking long exposures of pin-point sources of light! I sometimes carry a Star Adventurer Mini which tracks the motion of the stars allowing me to take longer exposures before the stars begin to trail due to Earth’s rotation. Oh and a good headtorch is a must, I use the Petzl Tikka XP as it offers a red-light only function which maintains your biological night vision (it takes your eyes 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness). I’ve also recently added a Kase Pure Night filter to my bag which helps cut through light pollution and add more contrast to the night sky.

Alyn Wallace
 
 
What tip would you give other aspiring photographers looking to get into Astrophotography?
 
Get as far away from light pollution as possible and prepare to be amazed (Check the light pollution map to find your nearest dark skies). A fast wide-angle lens will help you get the most out of the low-light conditions and if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before make sure to arrive before sunset so that you have time to plan some compositions and get an idea of the landscape before it gets too dark to see.
Unless it’s summer time make sure to wrap up warm too. Not to sound like my own mother but I find it’s important to be comfortable so that you can focus all your effort on the photography and creative process. Take a star map with you or use an app like Stellarium so you can start learning the names of the stars and constellations. Lastly, make sure to take some time without the camera to just take it all in and enjoy the wonders of the night sky.

 

Alyn Wallace

If you find yourself near Brecon Beacons Dark Sky Reserve make sure to sign up for one of Alyn Wallace’s workshops. Stay tuned for big things in 2018 from Alyn Wallace, and look out for the next Cinetics Feature in the weeks to come.