We’ve talked to David McColm, AKA the Nightwatchman, not too long ago. A man that suffers through the late night cold and snow in search of his prize: breathtaking photos of the sky. The Milky Way, sunrises, the path of the Moon, and most recently, the Northern Lights that made it down to our celestial viewpoint not too long ago. On the night of MULTIPLICITY (for which you can buy tickets here) you can expect David to explain what goes on behind the scenes for one of his teeth-chattering sessions with jaw-dropping results, and 7 lessons he’s learned over the years when it comes to capturing the beauty hidden above us.
ML: First off, talk the reader through a typical set up and execution of these iconic photographs.
David: There are probably two main types of setups I go through when going out on a shoot – the planned shoots vs the spontaneous (run & gun!) shoots! The latter is quick & easy to describe. For shooting (mostly) unforeseen events like the aurora borealis, I simply have my camera & other gear packed (usually already in the car) & ready to go at a moment’s notice. So when I get a “notification” or simply an idea that the aurora might be visible, I roll out of bed, get dressed and head to the car and to a couple of pre-determined locations. And then comes the part that can take some patience since I might be out there for hours waiting for the light show to begin. And fortunately, sometimes it does!
The other type of shoot involves planning & factoring in things like the weather, how the clouds are “behaving”, the kind of access I have to a location (be it hiking, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and/or lifts, etc), snow conditions, the moon phase, the camera gear I have at my disposal (for some shoots I’ll borrow a specific lens from Nikon), and so forth. Then all of that gets factored in to the kind of image or time lapse I’m trying to capture. I have a revolving bucket list of images I’m trying for that I can only hope to capture when certain conditions all come together. And then it’s ‘simply’ of matter of getting out there and hoping that I don’t mess it up!
ML: Do these photo adventures mess up any of your day-to-day routines, or is there enough going on that you have become a night owl?
There’s no question that being a predominantly night sky photographer plays havoc on many aspects of one’s life. Maybe first & foremost, it’s not always the healthiest lifestyle, in that it messes with your sleep patterns; maybe counter-intuitively, it’s difficult to get proper exercise; eating habits can get weird & simply bad; and your social life … wait, what social life ? Haha! But at the end of day, when you capture that shot, yes, it’s all worth it!
ML: How on Earth did you get into this? Not every photographer decides to stay up all night for one picture.
As far back as my memory goes I’ve been enthralled by the night sky, space travel… So once digital camera technology had advanced to the point that I could shoot that place – space! – well, and available for a reasonable amount of money, I was ‘all in’! I guess I’m still just that kid at heart – but now with a fancy camera to play with…