I am a UK based astro-photographer with my main interest being ‘deep sky objects’. Deep sky objects are those outside of our solar system, typically such things as nebulae and star clusters within our galaxy, the Milky Way. I also photograph other galaxies which of course are much further away.
I have been interested in astronomy since being at York University in the late 70’s. In 2001 I bought my first telescope and have never looked back. I developed a passion for astro-photography, gradually building the skills required to image deep space objects in colour and fine detail.
In 2012 I moved my equipment from my UK observatory to an observation site in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. The combination of dark skies and clear nights facilitate the capture of high quality image data.
I encourage you to take a look at the photographs here, showing just a tiny sample of the many and varied beautiful objects that exist out there. I hope it inspires you to do some of your own observing and next time you are out at night, just to look up at our wondrous night sky.
My focus now is turning these majestic images into beautiful works of art for others to enjoy. In 2015 I launched ‘Galaxy On Glass’ a range of unique wall art. I work with Fine Art Printers in the UK, USA and Australia to locally produce the Frameless and Backlit Collections in sizes up to 1.2 meters wide.
In addition to these activities, I acquire and analyse data for ‘Exo planets’. These are planets orbiting stars other than our sun. The first Exo planet was detected in 1995 and now over 2000 have been confirmed around various stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.
Amateurs can add value to the Exo planet search, complementing work done by huge ground-based telescopes or space-based telescopes like the Kepler mission. Using my equipment I am working with another astronomer, Ben Filmore, to help confirm suspected Exo planets (‘KOI’s- Kepler Objects of Interest’).
I am grateful for the help and advice I have received from many individuals. Special thanks must go to Nik Szymanek, Ian King, John Mills, Andrew Harrison and Ben Filmore. Finally thanks to the AstroCamp team for the support of the equipment in Spain.
Enjoy browsing and do contact me if you wish to know more.
The Location and Equipment
Since September 2012 my equipment has been based at the site known as Astrocamp (www.astrocamp.es) high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Spain, above a village called Nerpio. Here the seeing conditions are exceptional, the light pollution almost nonexistent and the clear nights numerous. I control the equipment remotely from wherever I am in the world.
For the type of imaging I do and to get the quality I require for the art, it is essential to have good conditions and be able to photograph for long periods. Many of the images require 20 or 30 hours of data, not easy to achieve anywhere but especially not from the UK! The equipment comprises the telescope, cameras, a mount and ancillary equipment and software.
The equipment currently comprises the following:
- Takahashi TAO 6 inch triplet Refractor
- Paramount Bisque MX Mount with SkyX professional control software
- Quantum Scientific Instruments QSI683wsg camera with 8 filter positions
- Baader Filters: Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, Ha, SII, OIII, Hb
- Starlight Xpress Lodestar guide camera (off axis guiding)
- Kendrick Dew Heater
- Maxim DL software for camera control
- Dell computer with solid state hard drives
- Ccdware AutoPilot 5 for robotic operation
- Ccdware Navigator 3 for image planning
- Teamviewer software for remote control
- Adobe Photoshop 3 and Maxim DL and others for processing
Astrophotography is a labour of love.
I can imagine being a wildlife photographer and waiting hours or days for that Kingfisher to appear and to capture that elusive shot of it skimming the water surface. It must require great patience and be very satisfying.
Astro-photographers are not usually waiting for something to suddenly appear, as most things are pretty much loitering in the same place for millions of years or more! But we are waiting for enough of those elusive photons from very distant objects to travel across the universe, taking perhaps millions of years to arrive on our camera chips. A different set of challenges await a budding astro-photographer!
To illustrate the types of things that are involved in astro-photography I will give an example of an image on this site which you may then wish to go and take a look at, M33 the Triangulum Galaxy.
This object is 3 million light years away and although visible from a very dark site with the naked eye as a tiny white blob, is nevertheless faint by photographic standards.
To get a colour image it is necessary to photograph through 4 different filters. Firstly through a luminance filter which provides the fine image details. This is followed by three other shots through red, green and blue filters respectively.
When I say ‘shot’ it is not just a matter of taking a photograph and ‘Bob’s ya Uncle’. For this image of M33 I needed about 3 hours of imaging for each of luminance, red, green, and blue respectively, totalling 12 hours.
But it is not possible to take one image of 3 hours through each filter. What actually happens is you take what are called ‘sub frames’ or shorter photographs of say 5 minutes or more and in this case enough to make up 3 hours through one filter at a time, maybe over a few nights. In fact you take more than this because some are unusable; due to a satellite, plane or a cloud ruining the image. Once you have enough ones of quality, you are ready to go to the next stage.
At this stage you have a big bunch of these ‘sub frames’ from each filter. But they are unusable in their present state as they have all manner of electronic noise and artefacts that first have to be removed. ‘What fun’ I hear you cry. To remove this mess you will have been diligent enough to take what are called ‘calibration frames’. There are a range of these but an example is ‘Dark Frames’: a large number of ‘shots’ taken at the same temperature and same duration as your normal ‘sub frames’, but with the shutter closed.
Using a range of software, the various calibration frames are combined with the main sub frames to produce calibrated sub frames, that are now ‘clean’.
Now you are ready to move to the next stage. Here you combine all the sub frames of each filter respectively to create ‘master’ images from each filter. So for example, using software all the Red sub frames are combined to create one Red, with all the data from the 3 hours worth of calibrated sub frames.
Now you have one master Luminance, one Red, one Green and one Blue, making up 12 hours worth of data in this case.
These are of course just black and white images representing the data for each colour and the goal is to have a colour image.
Software is then used to firstly combine the Red, Green and Blue images together and then you see for the first time a colour RGB image. At this stage it is probably horrible with very little detail. A range of software is used to extract and enhance the colours and details. This is no small task.
The next stage is to blend the Luminance image with the colour RGB image to create a more detailed result. Further processing is required to extract the intricacies that are hidden within the data that was painstakingly captured.
Just to complicate your life further, in this example I didn’t just use those four filters. I also used a ‘narrowband’ filter which just captures a narrow wavelength of light. In this instance I used a Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) filter to capture a certain type of ionised Hydrogen, present in star forming regions.
After going through the normal rigmarole of calibration etc, I blended this Ha data with the Red data to show those star forming regions within the galaxy regions where stars are being born. You will see some red blobs, those are they!
After many nights imaging followed by many days of processing I was able create an image that did justice to this spectacular object in space.
If you would like to know more, just contact me. I would be delighted to help any new astro-photographer as many have helped me and continue to do so.