As you may have noticed if you are a regular watcher or member of the group I love to interview the group staff members and I am always delighted with the diversity of answers I can get when posing the exact same questions.
swiftmoonphoto has a very impressive and expressive photographic gallery here on DeviantArt. From portraits to infrared and from conceptual to starscapes of course, you would logically think the guy is a professional and experimented photographer.
He has an eye, for sure....
Swift currently works as a USAF bomb disposal technician.
It was my pleasure to conduct this interview with him and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying myself publishing it!
- When was your first encounter with the stars at night? Do you remember how old you were the first time you looked above and thought "Wow"?
I grew up western Montana surrounded by wilderness areas hundreds of miles from any towns bigger than a couple thousand people. My childhood was all forests and mountains and wild places. Honestly, I took the stars for granted. A "Wow" moment didn't come until after I had lived in places with too many people and too few trees for a while. A classic case of "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."
- How do you feel when you look at the universe?
Safe. That probably sounds strange, but if you ever start to understand the true scale of the universe you start to see that the things you do are pretty inconsequential and very consequential all at the same time. You only have to worry about things as much as you might want to, and the need to be successful sort of melts away. Buy a cup of coffee for a homeless guy, or donate millions to start an international charity organization, it's all the same to the stars. I think this is similar to what religious people feel when they "Leave things in God's hands."
- What is the first thing you do when you start preparing yourself for a night shooting session?
The first thing I do is to file leave for the day after. I'm too old to be staying up all night and getting up to PT at 5 AM.
- Tell us what is it you take with you exactly for your session
My heaviest tripod. This is the most important thing for long exposures.
2 Nikon D700s, one for visible light and one converted for IR (they are exactly the same except for a piece of glass inside the camera so I can swap out bodies and get exactly the same shot and then overlay them to get visible/IR blends. (in theory, I've yet to actually pull it off)
A Polarie Vixen star tracking tripod accessory. You put this on your tripod and then aim it at the North Star and it rotates your camera against the rotation of the earth so you can get several minute exposures without star trails. This allows for lower ISO and smaller apertures. I prefer it to using software to combine multiple exposures.
Nikon's amazing 14-24mm F2.8 lens.
A wireless shutter control and a sheet of black paper. Put the paper in front of the lens, open the shutter, and then remove the paper to eliminate shutterslap.
A red LED key-fob light to see what I'm doing without ruining my nightvision.
My ipod and my huge headphones to listen to music and keep my ears warm.
The Skyview App on my iphone, which I use to see what the stars will look like at 2AM so I can set up gear/compose my shot/get foreground shots in the daylight.
A pocketfull of chili peppers, eating them keeps me awake and alert better than caffeine.
- Do you like to improvise or would you rather have everything set and clear when you shoot?
I'm more of an anal retentive, make everything "just so" kind of guy. But somehow it seems that a lot of the time, the stuff I improvise comes out better.
- Do you make use of light painting to enhance the trees, bushes, houses and places you are shooting along with the stars?
I usually shoot a few exposures at dusk, just before the stars come out with a higher wavelength white balance for foregrounds and use software to combine it with the starfield I shoot later. If I have a subject like a model or a certain tree I'll use a speedlight light-paint.
- Would you want to share some special stories and/or memories associated with some of your stellar shooting?
I was doing some night shooting on a tiny firebase in Afghanistan when one of the Afghan interpreters approached and asked what I was doing. He was from a little village near Pakistan without electricity or running water and had absolutely no scientific education. We talked for hours about what stars are, how they burn, how they are made, how they clump into galaxies, how we are part of a galaxy ourselves, how men had gone to the moon, and how stupid the war we were fighting in was in that context.
- Do you have favorite places you often tend to return to when star shooting and what are they?
Afghanistan, there is really no light pollution there, I hope that I can safely go back someday when I'm old. Mono Lake here in California, it's the closest place with true black skies. Canyonlands in southern Idaho.
- If you could use a teleporter and transport yourself to the location of your dreams - what would it be?
A rogue planet about 250,000 light years "north" of the Milky Way. I'd like to see what our galaxy looks like from that vantage point.