Keeping tabs on moon days to shoot the  Milky Way

A pair of shutterbugs in search of Milky Way ran down an abandoned Bedouin hut in Khuluf near Duqm. A small fisherman village, Khuluf is a tourist spot made famous for its white dunes and a perfect location to shoot Milky Way.

Ajayan Poyyara is an avid astrophotographer who was lucky enough to shoot Milky Way which coincided with his official trip to Duqm to attend to his company’s ongoing project. On their way back to Muscat, he and Afsal Suleiman, his colleague, decided to shoot Milky Way as the day was closer to a new moon day.

But planning a shoot for Ajayan, a Civil Engineer working in Muscat, starts months before keeping new moon days in mind.

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Shooting goes with identifying locations with lesser light pollution and striking landscape features, such as mountain, trees, monuments or installations.

“The Sultanate is a rich land for landscape photographers especially astrophotographers. The basic requirement is a clear visibility sky of stars and other celestial objects and possible only if the sky is with no or acceptable limits of light pollution,” says Ajayan.

“Though such locations are diminishing due to aggressive urbanisation all over the world and Oman is no exception to that.” However, Ajayan, says there are still a lot of such locations available and the government is taking care to preserve them.

Milky Way requires proper planning before moving to the field, he mentions that its visibility is an important subject which matters most.

“Oman lies in the Northern Hemisphere and visibility of Milky Way (during the night) is from May till October. Actual days of visibility again shrinks due to moonlight. Planning has to be done during the seven days slot of new moon day, three days before and after,” explains Ajayan.

He along with his friends from Indian Social Club Photography Group (ISCPG) accompany him for the Astro shoots namely Abdul Aziz Pulikkool, Biju Augustine, K P Chandran, T P Srinivas, Binish and Arvind Bhandari.

Interesting nightscape photography needs an interesting foreground and subject.

“This is quite challenging,” says Ajayan. Scouting and locating an interesting subject and foreground, for night photography is another task the photographer has to handle.

Generally, an experienced photographer finds time to reach the spot in advance before sunset so he can find a suitable location and settle down before the real shoot.

The photographer has to keep tabs on the weather forecast before he proceeds with his plan, as clouds can ruin his entire effort. A clear sky with no clouds is essential to complete successful nightscape photography.

Stray lights of aeroplanes, a vehicle from faraway places, isolated lights from houses are some of the issues the photographer faces, though a creative person can make new visual ingredients from these lights.

The photographer must protect himself from snakes, reptiles, spiders, or even mosquitos as the locations mostly used are rarely inhabited places or deserts. One should carry sufficient food and water for a comfortable stay for prolonged hours.

As a team they visited many locations to shoot Milky Way.

Despite his work schedules Ajayan and team has been able to shoot superb Milky Way photographs from various locations at Mahout-Ghaba, Al Ashkharah, Adam, Al Qariah, Ras Al Hadd and Sinaw-Mahout.

“Jabel Shams used to be a good location for night photography,” he says but the influx of tourists has made it difficult to get a good spot, because of camping of visitors and lights from far away distance.

As they were unable to locate a suitable sand dune to frame, they moved towards a desert-like place where they noticed an abandoned Bedouin village on the side of a dried wadi.

Ajayan and friends then shifted their camera twice to shoot time-lapse of the Milky Way and for a different frame of star trails. They used a picnic tent which is generally used as a foreground object in the photograph.

“Muscateers are lucky to have nearby places to witness star-studded sky. The sight of moonrise from the backwater on the East side is beautiful and twilight which lights the mountains and white sands on the ground is amazing.”

Ajayan says parents should take benefits of these spots and take their children to show them the night sky, for which they hardly get opportunities in the city like Muscat.