The stars align as science and art come together in Wellingtonian Danny Rood’s astrophotography... "You realise there are people who would kill to have this as a bad day. It makes you feel small.”
Danny was born at Wellington hospital in 1989 and is sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother. Growing up in Johnsonville, the family moved to Silverstream in 1995. He remembers the abundance of native birds there growing up. “I remember staring at a Tui in a tree one day when I was 6 and it peed on me” he says deadpan.
A multipasionate person from a young age, Danny liked science, played rugby and cricket, but also liked drawing and creative writing. Photography, however, wasn’t in the mix. His main memory is of his grandfather using a camera when he was a child and people taking video and film on family occasions.
At Victoria University, Danny studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in environmental studies, geology and geography, whilst working 20 hours a week, sorting supermarket orders and tutoring. He also kept playing rugby and cricket and also socialising (sometimes too strongly he says). After a post-graduate diploma in geology, Danny worked for a couple of summers at GNS Science (a crown research institute) that works in geological and nuclear research. He was employed in their Avalon office focusing on climate change reporting (debunking climate change myths) and also teaching children science. Danny’s next job was at New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals, working as a geologist, before working for an Austrian international oil and gas company, based in New Zealand. Currently, he is working in freshwater management at the Ministry for the Environment.
“I got into taking pictures of landscapes and birds - of the avian variety” Danny laughs dryly.
At the start of 2014, he tore a tendon in his knee playing cricket. Needing something to do desperately, he got back into drawing. As an extension of this, Danny started playing around with taking photographs on his mobile phone. A girl Danny dated was “a pretty reasonable photographer” and the interest in photography slowly started picking up. Studying art in high school helped Danny with understanding composition, a key element of photography. Then, just as his knee healed and he thought it was back to sport, Danny injured himself again, spraining a disc in his back. With cricket out of the picture again, photography became the key to keeping sane. “I got into taking pictures of landscapes and birds - of the avian variety” Danny laughs dryly. Several photographer friends helped him start out and deepened his understanding of cameras and photography, such as Sean Gillespie, Uncle Fred, Ivan Luketina, Chris and Richard Davy, and Ben Hines. From there, an interest became something of an obsession.
Along the way, he was intrigued by his friends who were into night photography or astrophotography. Danny is inspired by Mark Gee’s photography. “What I like about him is he communicates the science of the stars - it’s the education, tied to the science. It’s definitely something that I want to do one day.”
After producing some work, Danny was encouraged by his friends positive feedback and decided to keep slogging away. Friends like Sean would look at his work and suggest ways to improve.
“People are what make up the world. You see how they live. It’s amazing to see how everyone does things their way, in their country.”
In 2015, he travelled through Asia, UK and Europe to see the world through photography. Danny changed his style and was inspired to take pictures of the locals. “Until then I had mainly focused on landscapes” he says. “People are what make up the world. You see how they live. It’s amazing to see how everyone does things their way, in their country.”
Travel also made Danny re-think New Zealand. “New Zealanders overthink how people perceive our country - if there is a tourist we meet, it’s the first question ‘Do you like it here?”. It doesn’t matter what they think, just focus on the New Zealand brand of integrity, being clever and creative. People like Lorde and Eleanor Catton. Anywhere in the world people look up to them. It’s so important to us as Kiwis.” Danny also understood how special Wellington is, particularly as a place to take pictures. “You realise, NZ is paradise. That doesn’t mean it's perfect. But for example, there is little if any light pollution around Wellington, just over the main city. That is simply not the case in other capital cities around the world.”
How to take a picture of the night sky
So what is involved in astrophotography? Unsurprisingly, late nights out. Becoming a werewolf can be interesting for those with a full time day job like Danny. “I get an idea of where I would like to go - for example, Castlepoint in the Wairarapa” says Danny. “I’d drive out there. The best time to do astro is during the new moon. You want something in the foreground - it provides a focal point - and then the stars behind it. From that point, you make it up and keep going until you get what you want in your image. It has to have some feeling and evoke an emotion, too. I wanted to produce better photographs so eventually I upgraded my kit. The camera works well in low light, but good lenses are more important.” Another tech trick Danny has up his sleeve is an app that helps him plan when and where the milky way will be positioned, anywhere in the world he wants to take a picture. “It tells me when the milky way comes above the horizon depending on the season” he enthuses. Danny also advises to dress warmly and have the proper equipment, like a head torch. “You just gotta be prepped for it.” He’ll also try and drag a mate along to keep him entertained when possible.
“Sometimes it can get a bit crazy. I took photos recently until 330am at Castlepoint, then just slept on the sand dunes”
“Sometimes it can get a bit crazy. I took photos recently until 3:30am at Castlepoint, then just slept on the sand dunes” Danny explains. “There are also funny stories, like once I almost stood on a seal as well as a little blue penguin.” Things don’t always go according to plan, though. He once got lost alongside a glacier in Iceland, that was used to film the movie Interstellar, and wandered in circles for about 15 minutes trying to find the path in the dark or risk falling onto the giant ice mass.
How does he keep being motivated to go and keep taking pictures at night? It’s all about having a creative outlet for Danny. It keeps him sane - most of the time. “Because you are out there for quite a while, you need to find something to do. Sometimes, when I am out there alone - this sounds a bit weird - but I practice impersonations of people to keep myself amused. I go through famous actors and practice. Some seal is probably wondering what Michael Caine is doing out at Red Rocks some nights”.
Why does he love Wellington the, after all that travel? “I think it's crazy you can get out of the capital city and drive such a short distance. If you have a bad day, you can drive out there and look at the stars. You realise there are people who would kill to have this as a bad day. It makes you feel small.”
Tonight, you might just find Danny out on the rocks, snapping away.