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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Art Of Astrophotography

Capturing the heavens can be a rewarding and altogether unique form of outdoor photography

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Astrophotography is a word that we seldom hear or read; however, this photography technique was used soon after the first image was recorded. In fact, astronomer Sir John Herschel was the first to use the term “photography,” and the first to apply “negative” and “E2 positive” in relation to photography. In 1840, photochemist John William Draper was the first person to take a properly exposed astrophoto, an image of the moon. In the early 1920s, renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble used astrophotos he captured through a 100-inch telescope of what was then called the Andromeda Nebula to prove that Andromeda was a galaxy and that the Milky Way wasn’t the only galaxy in the universe.

One of the most powerful nature photographs ever made, a photo of the earth rise over the moon taken in December 1968 by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders on the first manned mission to orbit the moon, inspired my father, photographer Galen Rowell. My dad called the famous image “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

My father met Anders in the 1970s and had him sign a print of his earthrise photo for me when I was 10 years old. In his book Mountain Light, my father discusses several images he made over the years, including moonrises, moonlit scenes and star trails over mountain landscapes. From 1990 to 2001, I photographed many celestial subjects with my father, including the aurora borealis in the Arctic and the Milky Way in the White Mountains above his home in Bishop, Calif., where he established his gallery and offices, Mountain Light Photography.

In 2003, a year after my father and my stepmother Barbara died in a plane crash, I moved to Bishop. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few of Mountain Light Photography’s workshops, led by talented photographers including Justin Black and Frans Lanting. My dad considered Bishop and the surrounding Eastern Sierra to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The region also is home to one of the darkest night areas in the lower 48 states with relatively low light pollution that results in exceptional astronomical viewing.

gearEssential Gear
Astronomical photography can be done with standard photo gear, up to a point. To take the images to the next level, there are a number of specialized products that many photographers use. One of the most useful is a tripod that’s designed for observing the heavens. Berlebach makes wooden tripods and accessories for terrestrial, as well as astronomical photography. The Planet Tripod is their most stable wooden tripod, featuring large wood cross sections and newly designed clamping elements. It delivers a high load capacity and excellent stability with minimum vibration transmission. Contact: HP Marketing Corp., www.hpmarketingcorp.com.


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