The mindfulness of astrophotography

Photography is my favourite hobby. I’ve been dabbling in it for at least 20 years and it’s given me a lot of joy in that time. Within photography, there are a lot of different niches, and lately the one that’s hooked me is astrophotography. Those expansive Milky Way shots have captivated me for years, but the process of getting them is an immersive experience.

Astrophotography requires a dark sky, the light pollution from the city dims the stars enough that the Milky Way is generally not visible. To get a dark sky, you need to go outside of town, and it’s even better if there’s no moon. Cape Cleveland, for instance, is an excellent spot.

Mt Elliott, with the lights of Giru in the background and the QGAir helicopter in flight.

Standing in an empty salt pan in the total dark, just you and the mozzies and your trusty photography assistant, aka husband, with the only noise a wary curlew or owl hoot, or perhaps an occasional car on the distant road, might sound like the set up for a horror movie. It’s true that the dark is sometimes so enveloping that it almost feels like you’re swimming. Once your eyes adjust to the night though, the stars and galaxies reveal themselves. That moment takes any creepiness away; the stars have my full attention. It’s peace and calm and full realisation of how small a piece of the universe you are.

The photography itself is a calm process too. The stars are compliant subjects, they move very slowly, and stay around for hours. They are totally reliable, meaning you can plan the shot you want well ahead of time because you know they will always show up exactly where you expect them to be. Unlike other forms of photography where you have one shot to capture a moment, astro rarely requires rushing. It needs specific camera settings; careful, precise focus on the brightest star; and patience to go through a trial and error process to frame your photo in a situation where viewfinders are next to useless. It needs you to not get distracted.

This leads me to my point. Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment. For some, the adjustment to a practice like mindfulness can feel a big leap from their regular way of experiencing the world, but this doesn’t have to be the case. You can find mindfulness in your everyday life, in the things that already need your full attention or that you just enjoy. Any time you can forget what else is going on in order to complete your task provides you a mindful experience. Something that draws you in is helpful – like if you aren’t paying attention to your swim stroke, you’ll sink – but you can work with what you have. Gardening, golfing, walking your dog or even going to the gym and focusing on correct technique will provide you with a mindful experience if you let it. In this way, we can really incorporate mindfulness into our way of life, rather than adding it on separately on our to do list.

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