A Photography Passion As Big As The Universe

Tim Ashby-Peckham shares his views on astrophotography

If you think astrophotography is only for experienced and professional photographers, think again.

Amateur photographers with a passion for astronomy and who delight in peering up at the night sky, pondering the secrets of the universe, will go far in creating good photos as when it comes to astro, having the technical ‘know how’ is not enough – You must have passion as big as the universe too!

The night sky is our connection with 6000 years of history. We can only image how our ancestors pondered on the night sky and how it impacted their belief systems, navigation skills, and annual cycles of life. We still believe in the seasonal movements of the sun, moon and stars and yet we're still learning how it affects us human beings of the 21st century - Becoming increasingly important is the understanding of the impact of blue light and light pollution on the human body. There is scientific evidence that suggests that for our own wellbeing, humans can greatly benefit from managed lighting and dark spaces.

As photographers we have the power to capture the beauty that is not visible or accessible to everyone and astrophotography is a good example. While “looking at the stars” sounds intriguing, mystical, and romantic in reality spending hours photographing the bright stars requires a lot of time, patience, and some astronomical knowledge.

So grab your camera, capture the night skies, and share them with our community on Excio after reading about Tim's experiences and getting re-inspired after seeing Tim's work and some astro shots from our other members who share the same passion.

How did you become interested in astrophotography, has it always been your chosen genre?

I've been doing astrophotography now for about 4 years. Before I got a DSLR, the photography I did was mostly with point and shoot cameras and SLR's so once I got a DSLR I was able to experiment a bit more, knowing I wanted to try astrophotography because I had a fascination for space and so exploring that through photography seemed like a good idea.

I found myself becoming fascinated by the universe when I was about 20 years old and it wasn't long before my fascination was directed towards space because you have a universe of wonder. 99.9% of the universe is beyond Earth and it's hard to satisfy your curiosity with that much to keep your mind occupied.

The wind on the Awhitu peninsula in New Zealand is so severe that it can bend trees almost to the ground.
"Windswept Tree" by Tim Ashby-Peckham

I've learned so much about the night sky and the universe we live in through just picking up my camera and taking it outside at night.

I love that cameras give you a reason to get out there and experience the world. I wouldn't have gone to a lot of the places I've been if I didn't have my camera. Space is beautiful and it's always peaceful and calm being out under the stars while the world rests.

Tell us about a photography challenge you've faced, and how you overcame it...

A photography challenge that I've overcome that comes to mind is a recent photography competition I entered. I had been getting ready for it for about 2 months prior but I actually didn't get all the photos I needed until a week before submission day. Especially with astrophotography, getting your shot is very weather dependent and I didn't think I was going to be able to get my shots but luckily it all came together in the final week and I was able to submit 4 photos that I was happy with. It's important to be persistent and give it all you've got.

Tell us some 'behind the scenes' info about your shot 'Celestial South Pole'...

My photo Celestial South Pole was taken on my farm on a clear night and was a test for a few other photos I had in mind, as you'll probably notice my next few photos are a similar style.

To capture this shot you have to find the celestial south pole, get your exposure right, and then use what's called an intervalometer which takes unlimited photos at intervals you set. As your camera is taking photos the world rotates so if you played these photos back as a video you would see the stars moving across the sky like the sun does during the day. When you fuse these photos together into one photo then the stars paint a trail across the sky.

It takes a long time to produce a shot like this, and sometimes hundreds of frames - this photo for example would have taken about 3 hours and consisted of over 300 frames. It takes so long that you have to use anti-fog spray on a lens filter otherwise the lens often fogs up before the photo is finished!

Celestial South Pole The world spins around this hypnotic point in the sky known as the celestial South Pole
"Celestial South Pole" by Tim Ashby-Peckham. "The world spins around this hypnotic point in the sky known as the celestial South Pole."

"Reaching" by Tim Ashby-Peckham "The stars twist around the celestial South Pole at night."
"Reaching" by Tim Ashby-Peckham "The stars twist around the celestial South Pole at night."

On some of your photos you clearly marked the astrology signs - what is your connection with astrology?

Some of the photos I take have the zodiac constellations superimposed on them and they are actually the same in astronomy and astrology. Personally I'm more interested in the astronomical side and I do these photos to be educational and to help people to learn that when you look at the night sky you can make sense of it and get your bearings.

The zodiac constellations are unique in the fact that they lie on the ecliptic, which means the planets orbits pass through them. In the past the planets were thought of as gods, so in spending a lot of time under the stars it's easy to see where the superstitions around the constellations came from.

"Aquarius" by Tim Ashby-Peckham

What makes a good astro shot in your eyes?

For me I think a good astro photo is a combination of two things, something interesting in the foreground to capture your attention and then of course a good star-field in the background to give the photo atmosphere. Having something like the milky way core in your photo can make all the difference and I've even found if you get far enough out of the city, the light pollution can give a nice glow to your photos. Some of the more advanced methods for getting a good astro photo would be things like panoramas, stacking and tracking your shot.

What are your thoughts about the popularity of some astro "copycat" shots on Instagram (e.g. hundreds of photos with a torch pointed at the Milky Way)

I think that copycat photos on Instagram are popular because they're beautiful and there is nothing wrong with taking them but if you want to stand out then you might want to bring something new to the table that people haven't seen before.

"Magnolias" by Tim Ashby-Peckham. "A beautiful tree full of magnolias lit up under the night sky."

Ascending Tui A plywood cutout of a tui suspended in front of the Oakley Creek waterfall in Auckland with spring. The light from it's neck comes from a little torch.
"Ascending Tui" by Tim Ashby-Peckham. "A plywood cutout of a tui suspended in front of the Oakley Creek waterfall in Auckland with spring. The light from it's neck comes from a little torch."

What tips can you share with our readers who want to go out and capture the night sky but don't know where to start?

So long as you've got a tripod and a camera that takes long exposures then you can do astro! There are just a few settings and techniques you have to learn and you'll be away. There are lots of good tutorials online and also don't be shy to contact any astrophotographer directly, we are a very open community and that is how I learned a lot myself.

You can find more of Tim’s photos on Excio there you will find links to his social media profiles and you can contact Tim or engage more with his work.

See below the works of other Excio members who are also passionate about astrophotography. Follow the astro collection with Excio on your phone for daily inspiration.

What our community is saying about astrophotography:

"My first attempt at photographing the night sky. It was such a pleasant experience, full of peace and solitude." Parmeet Sahni

"When arriving for a night shoot, first thing to do is take a few shots in all directions to see what's up with the sky..." Kane Hartill