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Astrophotography

by Matt BenDaniel

Witch Head Nebula Nebulae in Cygnus Veil Nebula Cygnus

Orion's Sword Rosette Nebula Central Auriga M31

Earthshine Ranch Trails Moonbow Orion


Click on a thumbnail image above to enlarge it.

Matt BenDaniel is a world-class astrophotographer, based in Boston, Massachusetts. He strives for artistic and technical perfection using telescopes, precision hardware, electronics, and digital image processing. His work is immensely difficult, as it involves transporting a huge amount of equipment to remote dark sites by land, sea and air. Matt's pictures have been published in magazines and books. His images are represented by Bruce Coleman Inc., New York.

HERE IS WHAT MATT HAS TO SAY ABOUT HIS PHOTOGRAPHIC ART FORM:

"For superb astrophotography, a clear dark location is required. Unfortunately, light pollution from humanity's night-time lighting is increasingly stealing the night skies from us. It is also important that the moon be near its darkest phase, because its light, too, fogs film. In New England where I live, the weather is cloudy and unpredictable, which makes it a difficult location for astrophotographers. If the weather is favorable, I'm obliged to photograph until dawn; an average of three nights per month may be usable. Mainly, I use locations in New Hampshire, where few cars pass at night. A couple of times per year, I bring the equipment by air to highly favorable locations in the Southwest U.S.

"For a typical shoot, I need to pack hundreds of pounds of delicate equipment into my car for the trip North. I like to arrive before sunset, because setup takes a couple of hours. I use a portable, rigid aluminum pier to hold a massive mount head that tracks the stars. On the head goes the telescope (essentially a 900mm f/7 APO lens). On the telescope goes a Pentax 6x7 camera. Then a bunch of other supporting optics and electronics are attached. Then, I go through an involved process of drift alignment. By carefully watching the slightest drift of stars in a special eyepiece, I align the system to within arc seconds of the true North pole.

"In advance, I use software to create custom-printed maps of the sky that portray the exact composition of the shot. This is important, since I usually cannot see the object I'm shooting in the camera's viewfinder - only patterns of stars. Focusing the camera precisely is an exact science and requires custom tools and techniques. Finally, the shutter can be opened, while the electronics ensure that the system is precisely locked-on to the target. A typical exposure is 90 minutes. For the best resulting images, I'll take multiple exposures of the exact same field of view, to be digitally combined (stacked) later for increased clarity.

"If I'm fortunate, I'll have an exposed roll of 120 film for one night's work. The film may be gas-hypersensitized ISO 400 professional color print film or perhaps plain old Kodak E200 slide film. The film can be developed normally by a lab.

"Now the second half of the work can begin. The film frames are scanned on a medium format scanner into digital format, yielding up to 120 MB of data per frame. The frames are stacked (if there are multiples) using special software. Adobe Photoshop is used to curve the images (establish pleasing contrast and color saturation). I may need to use anti-vignetting techniques or special kinds of blurring or sharpening. I take care to make sure that the resulting colors are as true-to-life as possible."

WANT TO TAKE YOUR OWN ASTROPHOTOGRAPHS?

Matt has some good advice for photographers who would like to get started in astrophotography. Just click on How to get started.

CHECK OUT MATT'S OWN WEB SITE FOR MORE GREAT IMAGES

Matt's web site is located at Starmatt.com and his email address is matt@starmatt.com

Matt BenDaniel, astrophotographer-extraordinaire.
Matt BenDaniel, astrophotographer-extraordinaire.