How astrophotography has changed lives

The Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition has changed its entrants' lives in many ways: from the medical school drop-out who gained the confidence of his parents, to the parent who built his own observatory after becoming fascinated by his son's astronomy homework.

Matt Robinson - UK

"From a call centre to an aurora photographer in three years..."

I entered Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year with an image of noctilucent clouds taken from my home town of Sunderland, one of the first astrophotography images I had taken on my camera and I was very much still learning how it worked. At the time of taking, I was working in a call centre and living what you could call a ‘normal life’. My dream job would be working as a photographer but I never gave it much thought as I didn’t really believe I could change that. I struggled with confidence, and employment in a creative profession is difficult to achieve when you don’t have the relevant qualifications.

When I placed runner up in the Skyscape category in 2015 it changed my life in many ways. It firstly gave me more confidence in my photography and more confidence to try new styles. It gave me the opportunity to network with some influential and inspirational photographers and astronomers who I wouldn’t normally be able to rub shoulders with. Most of all, it promoted me as photographer, increased the footfall on my social media pages, and has propelled me to the Arctic Circle where I now work in Finland as an aurora photographer.

From a call centre to an aurora photographer in three years and it still continues to give me new and unique opportunities, I’m now hoping to start speaking to younger generations in schools and youth groups about my story to promote astronomy and photography and inspire the next generation to follow their dreams.

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Image of Sunderland Noctilucent Cloud Display
Sunderland Noctilucent Cloud Display © Matt Robinson, runner up, Skyscapes, Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2015

Roshaan Bukhari - Pakistan

"After leaving medical school and facing a lot of backlash for doing so I needed such a recognition" 

I left medical school in order to follow my passion of astronomy and make astronomy my career and profession, in a country like Pakistan where the subject is extremely poorly understood and no institute provides a proper undergraduate course in pure astronomy. The news that my picture was shortlisted and that too in a competition organized in part by the Royal Observatory will always be a major milestone of achievement for me whenever I look back!

When I was reading the email notifying my shortlisted pictures, I thought to myself: oh my goodness this is one of the most epic things to have ever happened to me! After leaving medical school and facing a lot of backlash for doing so I needed such a recognition by an extremely reputable organization to regain my family's confidence in me and to boost my morale!

Image of Saturn
Roshaan took 'Serene Saturn' using a telescope and an iPhone

John White – UK

"It was astrophotography that got me into photography"

Image of John White, photographer
John White with his daughter

Funnily enough it was astrophotography that got me into photography. I'd been following some of the great night time photographer like Mark Gee, Aaron Priest, Scott Stulberg for some time and thought it might be fun to see if I could try and take a shot like that. Little did I know I had opened the door to a new passion in life! Six months later, having discovered that astrophotography was one of the more technically challenging genres, I found myself knee deep in research - maps for locations, photopills for planning, and photoshop for post.

Learning how to shoot astro basically taught me how to use a camera, and learning how to use a camera turned me into a photographer. In learning to take one photo I had accidentally learned a huge amount about my camera and a bunch of techniques I now use in all kinds of different photography.

Astrophotography has also given me a passion for many other forms of the art too. I was stoked to find out just this morning that I am on the shortlist for the street category of the Sony World Photography competition!

Space is so vast, life is so short, and the Royal Observatory is steeped in so much rich history. To be connected to that, even just a little, is really a rather special feeling that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

See more of John's work

Image of Chinon, Window to the Galaxy. John White, shortlisted for The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer, Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017
Chinon, Window to the Galaxy. John White, shortlisted for The Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer, Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017

Bernard Miller - USA

Homework assignment: build an observatory

My son had an astronomy assignment in 8th grade where he had to check out a small telescope and try to locate a dozen or so objects. After helping my son with that project, I became fascinated with astronomy and the night sky and purchased my own telescope and began observing. A friend showed me how to take pictures with a common DSLR camera and that got me hooked on astrophotography. I progressed from DSLR to monochrome camera and filter wheel and spent the next nine years learning all I could about astrophotography and image processing.

I read books and joined online groups to gain most of my knowledge. I also took many image processing seminars and online tutorials to improve my image acquisition and processing skills. I built a remote observatory and learned how to operate it from my home in Phoenix. In short, I taught myself the image acquisition and processing skills through reading books, online articles and tutorials, astronomy groups, seminars, collaboration with other astro-photographers and hours and hours of practice.

Left: NGC 7331: The Deer Lick Group, Right: Bernard Miller's Observatory.jpg
Left: NGC 7331: The Deer Lick Group, Right: Bernard Miller's Observatory