Milky Way over a Bavarian mountain

Milky Way over a Bavarian mountain, the Southern Lights as seen from Tasmania and the Horsehead Nebula: Incredible images shortlisted for the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of The Year

  • Incredible images show the Milky Way over a mountain and the Southern Lights from Tansania 
  • The pictures are from 2019’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition which includes 90 countries–
  • It was organised by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in south east London with 9 categories to choose from
  • 4,600 hopefuls – both amateur and professional – submitted their best snaps of the sky at night as seen from 90 countries

Incredible images from 2019’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition show the Milky Way above a Bavarian mountain and the Southern Lights as seen from Tasmania.

The 8th edition of the contest, organised by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in south east London, saw 4,600 hopefuls – both amateur and professional – submit their best snaps of the sky at night as seen from 90 countries.

Shortlisted pictures include an Aurora shaped like a bird spreading its wings and flying over a destroyed military hydroelectric station in Murmansk, Russia, and the remarkable Horsehead Nebula.

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The starry night can be seen above Mount Hooker in Wyoming and below it in the reflection on the river below in this photograph by Marc Toso. On his website, he says of his work: ‘Photographing these elusive landscapes is a way of entering timelessness, a way of experiencing these forgotten places in their greatest context, a context shared by all humans—we are but momentary flashes of awareness on a tiny ball in a vast universe’

Andrew Campbell, from Canberra, Australia, took this shot of the Helix Nebula – or NGC 7293. It has also been nicknamed the ‘eye of Sauron’ from J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings

Alastair Woodward took this incredible photograph of a solar prominence, a gaseous feature coming from the Sun’s surface, from his backgarden in Derby. He entitled the beautiful snap ‘Out on a limb’

Suavi Lipinski, from Paddington in Brisbane, Australia, took this stunning snap of NGC 6357, also known as the Lobster nebula. It resembles a large pincer claw

Shortlisted pictures include an Aurora shaped like a bird spreading its wings and flying over a destroyed military hydroelectric station in Murmansk, Russia, and the remarkable Horsehead Nebula

There are nine categories: skyscapes, aurorae, people and space, our sun, our moon, planets, comets and asteroids, stars and nebulae, galaxies, and the young astronomy photographer of the year for under 16s.

As well as these categories, the best newcomer – defined as someone who has taken up the hobby in the last year – and someone who uses a remotely-operated robotic telescopic will also pick up special prizes.

Judges include comedian Jon Culshaw, BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s art editor Steve Marsh and a number of experts. 

The overall champion, announced on September 12, will win £10,000.  

All the winning images, plus a selection of those shortlisted, are set to go on display at the National Maritime Museum from September 13.  

You will need a weatherproof single lens reflex (SLR) or compact camera capable of taking long exposures, along with a wide angle or fisheye lens, tripod and cable release. 

Zoom or prime lenses and a torch can also help you get the most out of your images. 

Picking the place 

The frequency of aurora generally increases the further north you go, with prime viewing locations at around 60-65˚ north.

The winter months between late August and early March are the best time of year for viewing. 

Staying away from light pollution generally allows you to see and photograph the aurora more effectively, but light can also add interesting elements to your images, for example red and orange hues.

Taking the shot 

Before you leave home, charge your batteries, preset your manual focus to just less than infinity.

 Set up to get as much of the sky into the picture as possible and don’t be afraid to turn your camera up on end to compose vertical shots. 

 With longer exposures, the aurora can show up as a green haze rather than distinct, vibrant bands. 

On bright moonlit nights shutter speeds as low as 5-7 seconds at ISO 400 work well. 

Once you’ve mastered the art of imaging aurora on their own, give some attention to your surroundings.

Processing

If you have got your exposure right at the start, post processing isn’t really needed. I sometimes use the fill light function in Adobe Photoshop to lighten and emphasise a foreground element, but I never touch the lights.

Expert’s top tip

Dave Brosha is a professional photographer who was first runner-up in the ‘Earth and Space’ category at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2010’ competition.

He says weatherproofing everything is essential in obtaining a perfect shot.  

The best aurora seen on clear cool nights of -20 to -40°C so having equipment that can stand up to this level of punishment is essential.  

Source: Royal Museums Greenwich  

 

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