INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL GOH @astrophotobear
Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?
My name is Michael Goh, and I’m a professional photographer covering a range of subjects including but not limited to portrait, time-lapses, virtual tours, commercial, events, but I’m mainly known as a landscape astrophotographer. I picked up my first DSLR around November 2009 and am self-taught.
What equipment do you use to create your images, and why did you select it?
My primary camera is a Canon 6D. I have some other cameras as well. I chose it because at the time I was already photographing with Canon cameras and the 6D was (and still is) well regarded for low light performance. I use a range of lenses – mainly the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8 as it is very sharp, fast and has very little coma around the edges. I often use portable tracking mounts – the Move Shoot Move SIFO rotator if I’m hiking/travelling due to it being very light and small and the Skywatcher Star Adventurer for more substantial jobs when I’m close to the car. Also, a remote cable release/intervalometer so that I can take photos from a distance away (can anyone say self-portrait?).
Additionally, I use a Fiesol CT-3442 Carbon Fibre tripod with a Sirui ball head. The Tripod is very light and stable. I also have a range of speed lites and other lighting equipment that can be triggered remotely. I have a Timelapse+ view that assists with the time-lapses when it’s going day to night (and to the moon), so it automatically adjusts the exposure settings. I have a syrp genie mini as a rotator for time-lapses as well.
What inspires your creative vision?
I have been a science fiction fan for as long as I can remember. So this naturally gravitated towards an interest in space and astrophotography and want to show it - so it was a bit about being epic and technical. As time has passed, though, I think I have moved forward a bit towards the emotions and feelings of the space. So with astrophotography, it’s expressing the sense of being small in the universe.
Which photographers have inspired you, and how did they influence you?
Corrie White – a photographer in the UK who specialises in drop collisions – having water drops hitting other water drops and spreading out and being frozen at that moment. When I first got into photography (with my entry-level DSLR), I saw her work in a magazine at the office, and it opened up my mind that photography could do much more than what the eye could see. She was also very open in her techniques and sharing them on Flickr. So this opened up the experimentation with photography and the full sharing philosophy that I have to share knowledge to improve the art.
What drew you to focus on astrophotography as your niche?
Initially, it was a love of science fiction and the technical side of it. I am inclined to continuous improvement and experimenting, so this seemed like a natural direction.
What other genres of photography do you enjoy?
I enjoy photographing people through portraits and event. While astrophotography and landscape help me feel connected to the universe, photographing people helps me have a connection to people. These genres are also useful to promote positive causes. Time-lapses are a fantastic genre. The acceleration of time is impressive, as you can see what you can’t usually see with the eye. It also links in with astrophotography. Virtual tours/360 photospheres are often just fun, and it was a special thing to learn. I too do aerial photography. I have been doing more and more video recently. I used to do many macros – but have drifted from that a bit. I think I like to get outdoors a bit more.
One of my photographic philosophies is – know as many techniques as possible because you never know when you can use it.
What equipment do you typically take with you on an astrophotography shoot?
Camera, lenses, remote trigger/s, Speedlite/s, light modifiers, tripod, star tracker, 2+ light sources (headlamp and handheld torch), handheld GPS, hand warmers, compass, levelling head, panorama head, cold weather gear, drone (good for scouting), first aid kit, gaffa tape, batteries, memory cards, food and water, a coffee machine, light stand.
What has been your proudest body of work to date?
That’s a difficult one, and I have a few for different reasons.
1 – The Light Within – I got someone else to come up with this title. It’s a Milky Way archway over the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park in Western Australia. A crescent moon sits on top of a Pinnacle creating a backlit image with shadows, and the zodiacal light reaches up to the Milky Way core. I’m proud of this particular work as it took me 2 years to get the image, ended up on NASA’s APOD (astronomy picture of the day), won an international photography competition (Photonightscape Awards), was in a book “Universal: A Journey Through the Cosmos” by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw,
2 – Exploring the Great Expanse – a self-portrait image of myself standing in a salt lake with a thin layer of water reflecting all the stars around me. It took a long time to plan, but probably represents the feeling of astrophotography the best, being a tiny person compared to the universe around me.
I’ve got a few others that I’m very proud of, with long stories – but those two are probably the most representative.
How do you prepare before heading out on a shoot? What considerations do you have to make?
Moon cycle and luminosity – I love an amount of moonlight over the landscape. Some additional light lights the whole scene creates depth to the image with shadows. Also, the cloud cover, temperature, over multiple locations. Expected location of the milky way core (using apps). Travel time and conditions, recent historical rain and temperature (depending on the site and time of year). I’ll confess that I do plan the whole year in terms of the sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, moon luminosity to work out the best times of the year to shoot.
What subjects do you generally prefer to capture as part of your astrophotography shoots?
Foreground interest is vital for landscape astrophotography. I’ve been known to take self-portraits a lot with the images. In part, due to the rest of the landscape being limited, the individual adds to the image and creates an additional connection between the person and the universe. Adding a person in the picture emphasises the scale in the image.
Are there any specific tools or tricks you would share that have helped develop your astrophotography skills?
Hmmm – do we have a word limit?
I do workshops, and they take quite a long time 😝.
· Know as many different photography techniques as possible, you never know when you need to use it. Some of my more popular styles have been developed from improvisation.
· Scout when it’s daytime. When it’s dark, you can’t see much so you won’t be able to tell if a better image is 5m away.
· Check your photos for focus before you end up taking a lot of unfocused images.
· Have a plan – frequently I’ve written down a list of different shots I want to take for either tests or compositions. I’ll even have tested some of these before I go out (e.g. panorama types or noise control).
· Make sure you photograph something safe and then get carried away experimenting.
· Challenge your camera and equipment. Get uncomfortable and push it more than what you usually.
· Get constructive feedback from someone you respect.
· There’s an app for that – apps have certainly made planning for astrophotography very easy. I use sky safari and photo pills.
· Remember to set aside the camera and appreciate the night sky. I believe you can best express how it feels by not being distracted by taking photos.
How did you learn about astrophotography and what steps taken to develop your skills over time?
Shortly after starting photography, I discovered Flickr, and it was an excellent resource for people to share their knowledge. I started my first steps into astrophotography that way. To begin with, I made star trails from the back yard. Then I discovered you could photograph the Milky Way, so that was a natural progression. Initially, it was following formulas of exposure, as wide open aperture as possible and go to ISO 1600. I did follow formulas, to begin with, but I can't remember what prompted me to start breaking all the rules, but about four years ago, I started photographing ISO 2000 and then 6400 and beyond.
Now with developing my skills - I write down ideas, visualisations, experiments, and tests and work out how to do them. I practice and test on a very regular basis. When I go out for night shoots by myself, I often have a list of compositions and experiments to try. I may not get through all of them, but I like having a plan as I'll be more productive that way.
Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for photographers looking to focus on astrophotography?
Learn as many techniques as possible as you never know when you need to use them.
Get to the location before it's dark - generally, you'll make a much better composition the more you can see.
Remember that you're taking a photograph, you still need to think about your composition.
After you've taken some "safe" photos, make sure that you experiment.