Derek Horlock: Stunning Milky Way Photography (Case Study)

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derek horlock

In our latest interview with photographers shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year, we have Derek Horlock.

He has three images shortlisted for the competition in 2023 – Pandora’s Box (above), St Agnes and Abandoned Beach Hotel (below) – which he details how he captured below.

How Did You Plan the Shots?

I spend a lot of time using Google Maps to look for landscape features or man-made structures that I could possibly use as a foreground.

I also consult a light pollution app, Dark Sky Finder. It gives me an idea of where the least polluted skies are anywhere in the world.

However, it’s important to understand that the maps are only accurate for what is above you at a particular location.

If, for example, you are shooting the Milky Way which is in the southern sky you need to look out for any towns etc that might be in that direction.

If the locations are in the UK I try to visit in advance.

I know the coast of Devon and Cornwall, the Scilly Isles and Pembrokeshire with their southerly aspect into the Atlantic are the best places to see the Milky Way, so I concentrate on these areas.

I allocate time around the new moon and keep an eye out for the weather using the Clear Outside app from First Light Optics.

clear outside app
Clear Outside App

I only travel to a place if the weather is favourable, often deciding on the day. I do not book accommodation in advance. If I have to, I take a tent and camp out.

If I am travelling abroad, locations must meet certain criteria:

  1. Is it a relatively light pollution free location?
  2. Is it the week of a New Moon?
  3. Is it between March and October? (Milky Way season)
  4. Where will the Milky Way be situated in the sky?
  5. What will the weather be like? Is it the dry or rainy season?
  6. Are there any distinctive features such as rocks on the coast or abandoned buildings I can make use of as a foreground?

With regards to the position of the Milky Way in the sky, if it’s early in the season, the Milky Way is often more horizontal before it rises overnight.

This is ideal if you are trying to capture a large panorama across a flat landscape such as the desert.

By the end of the season, the Milky Way is almost upright just after dark.

Abandoned Beach Hotel by Derek Horlock
Abandoned Beach Hotel by Derek Horlock

What Equipment Did You Use?

I use:

The bulk of my pictures are taken with the 35mm lens and the Syrp Genie with 6+ images to make a panoramic image.

I have also recently started using a Hydrogen Alpha filter.

I brought it primarily to try taking images of Orion’s Loop with landscapes so I can extend my hobby into the winter months when Orion is visible but the Milky Way core is not.

How Did You Compose the Shot?

I use an app called PhotoPills that can demonstrate the exact position of the Milky Way at any time or place in the in the world.

If I am already in the location PhotoPills has a feature that can show a picture of the Milky Way through my phone camera using augmented reality.

derek horlock st agnes
St Agnes by Derek Horlock

What Post-Processing Did You Do?

I use:

  1. Photoshop for processing, and
  2. PtGui (a stitching software program) to produce the panoramas

Can You Recommend Any Learning Resources For Other Astrophotographers?

I am very much self-taught I have learned from trial and error but I am also indebted to contributors on YouTube for sharing their techniques on post-production.

derek horlock

About You – Derek Horlock

I was an MRI radiographer but recently retired Live in NE London Walthamstow.

You can follow me here:

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About the Author

Anthony Robinson is the founder and owner of Skies & Scopes, a publication and community focused on amateur astronomy and astrophotography. His work has been featured in publications such as Amateur Astrophotography, Forbes, the Guardian, DIY Photography, PetaPixel, and Digital Camera World - read more.


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