Brook Wassall: Dark Skies & Astrophotography

Brook Wassall
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Brook Wassall is a filmmaker and photographer best known for his awe-inspiring astrophotography and time-lapse films of the Manx dark skies.

Brook's work has really helped to demonstrate what a unique and beautiful place the Island is and how lucky we are to have so many dark skies sites. Brook's images have been used to promote the Island and have been featured further afield in the International Dark Sky Association's calendar and on Space.com.

With a growing interest in capturing the beauty of the sky at night, we caught up with Brook in January ahead of his sell-out workshop at Ballakermeen Studio Theatre where he shared his tips and advice. Brook is currently exhibiting some of his astrophotography at the Villa Marina as part of the Dark Skies Week celebrations for the Year of Our Island 2018 until the 2nd March. Brook tells us more about what inspired him to create these stunning images and films. 

Hello, Brook! Please tell us about yourself.

I'm Brook Wassall, I'm a filmmaker and astrophotographer. Film wise I enjoy making music videos and live music sessions as well as filming life in general like skateboarding or friends. Photography wise I do wide field astrophotography which essentially just means shooting it on a wide angle lens capturing the landscape and the sky above it. I also enjoy fine art photography. I don't do much myself bit I am trying to incorporate it in astrophotography here and there.

'Reach' by Brook Wassall is currently exhibiting at the Villa Marina in Douglas.

Q. How did you get into astrophotography?

My whole life I wanted to be a film director so I didn't get into photography really until about four years ago in 2014. I didn't even really know my camera could take night sky pictures. I bought it with the sole intent of using video but I was always fascinated by space so I just decided to put my camera on a 30 second exposure one night and point it at the night sky and I was amazed by the results of how many stars you could capture. Once I discovered that I could take night sky pictures, and still being fixated on video, I decided to go out and create a time-lapse video.

"I just decided to put my camera on a 30 second exposure one night and point it at the night sky and I was amazed by the results of how many stars you could capture."

Time-lapse is essentially just pictures in motion so wanted to show people on the Island how I saw the night sky. I basically had to learn photography because time-lapse is photography in motion. After a month of trial and error I fell in love with photography and started taking pictures of the night sky. I discovered other astrophotographers around the world and loved their material which inspired me to carry on.

Brook's time-lapse film, 'Skies of Mann' which took sixteen months to complete.

Q. Your short film 'Skies of Mann' is a brilliant showcase of the Island's dark skies. What was the main motive behind that project?

I've always been fascinated by films and essentially discovered time-lapse videos online from around the world. The feeling it gave me while watching them, along with the music, was just awe inspiring. I wanted to create something like that for myself and for the Island to showcase the amazing dark skies here.

"Now I knew I needed to go bigger and better, not to prove anything in particular but just to make the project worthwhile for myself."

A filmmaker is always looking for the next big thing that hasn't been done before. Although it had been done around the world, there was nothing really showcasing it for the Island. As fate would have it, a time lapse video did arise from another talented video maker on the Island called Glen Whorrall a month or so before I decided to start the project. I actually found that to be more motive for me at the time because now I realised that I had a new bar to set. Now I knew I needed to go bigger and better, not to prove anything in particular but just to make the project worthwhile for myself.

"Some nights it was a gruelling struggle but I wouldn't change that for anything."

I was obsessed with time-lapse at the time and wanted to capture the awe inspiring landscapes. So much so that I would leave my house at midnight with a camera full of gear, a time-lapse slider in one hand and a battery to power it in the other. Because I didn't drive at the time I would have to walk for about an hour to the location and spend another 30mins or so setting up. Once I'd set up I'd start a time lapse for about two hours. I'd stand there in the cold waiting for the time-lapse to finish all for an 8 second clip that I'd have no real idea would work because you don't really get to see it until it's back on the computer at home. There were months and months of trying and trying to perfect it.

There is just something about being out in the night sky in that peaceful atmosphere. It amazed me at the time so I didn't mind pushing myself that much. Some nights it was a gruelling struggle but I wouldn't change that for anything.

"I still remember the first time-lapse... It captured a bit of the Milky Way going across the sky but I didn't know that I had captured a bit of the Northern Lights as well right in the corner. That just blew my mind at the time..."

Some nights it would be a last minute decision to go out after scanning the Met Office for hours and hours to see if the clouds would clear up and as soon as it would I would have to motivate myself and essentially tell myself that if I didn't do it the video wouldn't happen.

I still remember the first time-lapse I captured. I hiked up to the hills in front of my house in Foxdale and I just pointed my camera in a random direction and set off a time-lapse. It captured a bit of the Milky Way going across the sky but I didn't know that I had captured a bit of the Northern Lights as well right in the corner. That just blew my mind at the time so I guess that was a bit more motivation to push myself a bit more. It was very unexpected and it just amazed me to be able to capture that.

'Dreamscape' (pictured above) was the chosen image for the International Dark Skies Association Calendar.

Q. How has it felt to see your work being so well received by Island residents as well as being used to help promote the Island?

Very surreal! You don't expect any of it because as I say I was doing most of it for myself. I enjoy doing it so it has been amazing to see so many people connect with it and enjoy it.

Whilst I was creating the time-lapses and pictures I was cooped-up in my parents' house with no idea whether people were interested. It took me sixteen months to finish my time-lapse film so to have received the results that I did after putting so much time into a project like that was just amazing. I actually get told that it is shown in lectures in schools still today which is weird to hear but great!

Q. Tell us what it's been like to see your work featured in the International Dark Sky Association's calendar and on Space.com's 'Image of the Day'? That must have been amazing to have such worldwide exposure like that?

The International Dark Sky Association's calendar was a competition. Usually they ask professional photographers to put their photos in the calendar. Inspirational photographers that I have followed for a long time, but for that year in particular they asked non- professional photographers if they wanted to submit anything. I decided to submit as many pictures as you could at the time, which was five, with no real expectation.

"To be in a calendar that my idols had been in just the year before was amazing and strange at the same time."

To my surprise they wanted to use one. To be in a calendar that my idols had been in just the year before was amazing and strange at the same time. It was great to get the recognition from the International Dark Skies Association and a chance to promote the Island further around the world and in the US which is just great to see.

A panoramic image of the Milky Way above the Glen Rushen Mines near Foxdale, Isle of Man.

Q. 2018 marks the Year of Our Island and January has seen an amazing set of events for Dark Skies week. As part of that you held a photography workshop giving tips and advice on astrophotography. How important is that to share what you know with others?

I've had a lot of interest over the last year with people asking questions like what settings I use and whether they can join me on nights out and I've always enjoyed sharing that. I wouldn't have the knowledge I have today if it wasn't for other photographers around the world sharing their knowledge whether that be tutorials, stories or a picture that they post or even if I reached out to get in touch with them directly. It is very important for me to be able to share the knowledge because no one is going to get anywhere if we don't. Artists can't figure everything out themselves and everyone is influenced by something.

"I wouldn't have the knowledge I have today if it wasn't for other photographers around the world sharing their knowledge..."

The meet-up I did at Niarbyl, having never really done any workshops in the past, was really a test for myself to see whether I was comfortable teaching a group of people. It wasn't anything formal it was just a meet up. I thought I'd see what interest there was to learn astrophotography and it was a massive turnout compared to what I expected! It was great to see and meet the people who came down and be able to teach them some of the basics.

'Above', taken at Fort Island, on the Isle of Man.

Brook's work is currently exhibiting at the Villa Marina as part of a Dark Skies photography exhibition for the Year of Our Island. You can find out more about Brook on his website or follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for regular updates. Stay up to date with all of Brook's latest news and projects. Got a query? For picture prints or general queries, please e-mail Brook at: info@brookwassall.com


www.brookwassall.com
facebook.com/brookwassall
Twitter.com/Koorb777
Instagram.com/brookwassall




A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government
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