MAGAZINE Voices Anand Neelakantan Sheila Kumar Gautam Chintamani Ravi Shankar Madhulika Liddle Mata Amritanandamayi Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI december 20 2020 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Best Stargazing Spots in India Nubra Valley Leh-Ladakh Sonmarg Jammu & Kashmir Spiti Valley Himachal Pradesh Roopkund, Katao Sikkim Uttarakhand Rann of Kutch, Gujarat INDIA Lake Shitota Maharashtra Mandarmani, West Bengal Coorg Karnataka Map not to scale Neil Island Andaman and Nicobar Shooting Stars Astrophotographers attempt to record and understand the Universe as technology expands the world and data brings it closer. As the Hubble Telescope turns 30, heavenly pursuits have grown from a niche passion into a full-scale pursuit in the Indian camera world. By Roshne Balasubramanian T he Hubble Telescope, mankind’s primary star catcher launched into the Earth’s orbit in 1990, turns 30. For decades it has been recording the births and deaths of stars, collisions and idiosyncrasies of galaxies, beaming down an unprecedented view of the workings of heaven. To celebrate the space telescope’s 30th, NASA has issued a selection of photographs labelled “30 celestial gems”. They are galaxies, star clusters, and great gas clouds and space materials tumultuously amalgamating to give birth to new stars and planets. Meanwhile on earth, a breed of sky spies are capturing the same mystic processes with equipment, light years away from the sophistication of the Hubble. They are astrophotographers. Once a specialised branch of photography in India, staring into space is catching on. Don’t be surprised if you see a young man or woman adjusting his telescope and camera at a vantage point in Pangong Tso in Leh-Ladakh, Coorg or Jaisalmer. Astrophotographers flew off last week to vantage points in Latin America to capture the rare total solar eclipse on December 14. This special kind of lens men look for the darkness to lead them to the light. The darkest of places, away from the light pollution of cities and towns, are best suited for their job. The eye takes around 30 seconds to adjust to total darkness after the pupils dilate and lets in light in quantities, thousands of times more than normal. But the Universe is an ever dazzlingly dynamic theatre of colours and light, as well as endless darkness. The astrophotographer, by capturing the endless steam of stellar history attempts to place the apostrophes in its story , . Astronomy is evidenced to have started with the Babylonians about 1,600 years ago. It was given its structural cosmological framework by the Greeks. The astronomer Thales used maths and data to predict eclipses. Hipparchus is the father of the first star catalogue and recorded the names of constellations. Much before Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church’s dogmatic arrogance, Eratosthenes based his calculations on the Earth being round. Pope Urban VII would’ve been apoplectic hearing that Aristarchus had conceived a Solar System with the Sun at its centre with the Earth and the planets revolving around it while the Moon orbits the Earth. In 200 AD, the Greek astronomer Ptolemy wrote the Almagest, considered the greatest treatise on the stars and planetary movements. Astronomy like all great sciences engaged in the examination of origins of man and the Universe is embedded with philosophers. Modern philosophers creating a digital Almagest with a camera, tripod and remote release simply show that nothing changes while everything changes. It’s the immutable law of the Universe. Neeraj Ladia "Last year, I captured the Chandrayaan-2 launch at Sriharikota. This image was featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and I consider that a milestone in my career.” O ver a decade ago, when he stepped into astronomy and astrophotography techno, logical advancements were limited. Despite the limitations, a handful of astronomy enthusiasts-turnedmentors tapped into their knowledge to shoot the space, starry skies and deep-sky objects with basic analogues and SLR cameras, Ladia says. “Since then, we have come a long way From . rocket launches, eclipses, the sun, planets to nebulae, over the years, I have been able to witness the interstellar scape and take the imagery and the learnings to the masses and budding enthusiasts,” he adds. Today with the rise of , social media, and several knowledge-sharing platforms, awareness of astrophotography has increased manifold. The images, albeit being processed, have become an appealing feature and often trigger the imagination of the netizens. Prabhu S Kutti “The fact that we can capture objects that are millions of light-years away from the Earth and have a copy of it is mindboggling.” G rowing up in Tiruchy Tamil Nadu, , Kutti was always blessed with limited city lights and a pristine night sky He . used to watch the expanse from his terrace for hours together. After graduating from an engineering college and job-hunting for a while, he decided to follow his passion and enrolled himself in an Astrophysics diploma course at the Madurai Kamarajar University . “Meanwhile, I worked in a health care unit to save funds for my first telescope. This gave me a lot of perspectives. I took to photography and learned its nuances too,” says Kutti, who came across the Indian Amateur Astrophotographers group on Facebook and became a spectator of the remarkable images of the cosmos taken by veterans and amateurs. He eventually learned more about the equipment needed, different layers of image processing and other aspects of astrophotography “I took a . loan and bought a 16-inch telescope, becoming one of the few in Tamil Nadu to own the colossal telescope. This journey involved saving up a lot of money and financial planning,” he says. What he enjoys most: How what we visually observe through the telescope is different from what the camera clicks. One long exposure image can lace the object with colours and details. Astrophotography is... more than pointing and shooting, and involves several hours, days and months of shooting and processing. @Prabhuskutti A piece of advice: You not only have to have a basic understanding of the camera and its mechanism but also of the subjects that encompass astronomy. Be a constant learner. Favourite spots: Spiti Valley, Sariska National Park (Rajasthan), Chandra Taal Lake @neeraj.ladia What’s Astrophotography? Astrophotography is another subgenre of photography. It is all about capturing images of the night sky—the spectacular objects that either you see with the human eye (the moon, stars etc) or the Milky Way, nebulae or distant planets in the deep space. A Beginner’s Guide Dark Skies: Find dark skies, free of light pollution. The moon also plays a crucial role in lighting up the night. If you are shooting during a full moon or even a half moon, stars will appear washed out by its light. So, photographing the stars during the new moon phase is ideal. Not possible? Verify the rise and set times of the moon, and align these with the times that the Milky Way is visible. This can be done using a phone app or Google search. The Right Equipment Science Communicator-Astrophotographer, Chennai Science Communicator & Head, Space Chennai Camera: It should have the feature to change lenses; cameras that come with a fixed lens often lack the necessary aperture. A wide fast lens—at least 24mm or wider and has an aperture of f/2.8 or lower—is ideal. The night sky is vast and your aim should be to capture as much of the scene as possible. A wide-angle lens lets the photographer compose with enough room for an intriguing foreground and scintillating Milky Way. It's dark, so let as much light into the sensors as possible. Using a fast lens capable of reaching f/2.8 or lower can ensure success. Tripod: A sturdy tripod is important during weather conditions like high winds, ocean tides or river currents. Also, some handy tools that will make your life easier are: A headlamp that lets you to keep your hands free; a remote trigger that helps keep your hands off the shutter and the camera free of shake; and some light to illuminate the foreground subject. Composition is the Key Composition is the most important element of a photograph. Spend some time around your location to check where the Milky Way will rise and set, and how you can have it interlace with your foreground to create a frame. Settings Do a Balancing Act Owing to the lack of light, it’s important to determine how as much light as possible can be let into the sensor, without bringing in loads of noise. The first step is the aperture. The lowest aperture possible lets in the most light, so a setting of f/2.8 or lower is necessary. Next is shutter speed, which will be determined by your focal length. Since the earth is rotating, the stars in the pictures will appear as dashes instead of pinpoints if the shutter speed is too long. This is known as star trailing. The longer the focal length, the shorter your shutter speed will have to be. Now, keep ISO as low as possible, for a low noise image. The Digital Darkroom The colour of your original raw images can vary widely depending on the original white balance used. Naturally the night has tones of blue, and thus a photographer should start with a cool white balance. Choosing the same white balance every time is the first step to creating continuity throughout your images. The handling of colour and white balance in the digital darkroom can be a delicate process. So, ensure that your monitor is routinely calibrated to maintain the uniformity that you wanted to create through the shooting process. Abridged from shutterbug.com and other web sources Turn to page 2
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