Astrophotography is one of the earliest types of scientific photography, first emerging as a specialised field in the mid-19th century. The first successful photograph of the Moon was captured in 1840 by John William Draper. Draper was a New York University Professor of Chemistry, who spent 20 minutes capturing the image from a reflecting telescope. Shortly after, in 1845, French physicists Hippolyte Fizeau and Léon Foucault took the first successful photograph of the Sun, with an exposure of just 1/60th of a second.

In 1871, the advent of dry plate photography, also known as the gelatin process, was the turning point for astrophotography. It was a relatively simple and inexpensive approach, resulting in more people experimenting with astrophotography. Andrew Ainslie Common, an amateur astronomer, used the gelatin process in 1883 to image a nebula from his backyard. His images were the first ever documentation of stars that were too faint for the human eye to see.

Modern astrophotography is a whole other ballgame. CCDs (charge-coupled devices) were invented in the 1970’s, which used imaging sensors to translate data into digital images. CCD’s are still used today and are incredibly light sensitive, record wide visual fields and are configured on multi-mirror and segmented telescopes.

Some serious astrophotographers invest in star trackers and lenses specifically designed for astrophotography. In reality, all you need to get started is some good quality gear and a bit of photography know-how. Most importantly though is a penchant for finding great shooting locations. Living in New Zealand means some incredible locations are right on our doorstep. Check out some of the top stargazing spots in NZ here and the top spots in Auckland here (we’re biased on this one because we feature!) Not to mention, Great Barrier Island, only a 30-minute flight from Auckland, has recently been recognised as one of only three dark-sky sanctuaries in the world – a prime spot for astrophotography, if you ask us!

This month, Stardome is very proud to be hosting a two-week gallery exhibition showcasing the winning and highly commended images from the 2017 Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition. The competition is facilitated by the Auckland Astronomical Society and is open to all New Zealand astrophotographers.

In the lead-up to the exhibition, we are sharing some of our favourite astrophotography images on our Instagram (by those who didn’t enter the competition – we don’t want to give away any the winning entries!) Be sure to regularly check our intsa-feed to be inspired by the incredible images. Then, head down to Stardome between 14-22 October, to witness some of the best images taken by astrophotographers in Aotearoa. Find out more about the exhibition here.

Exhibition entry is included in the regular space gallery fee.


Images – Left: Andrew Ainslie Common first nebula image. Right: Fizeau and Foucault first Sun image. News Tile: Mikko Lagerstedt.