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Discover the story behind the photograph

30 August 2019 by Matt Smith

We caught up with award-winning astro-photographer Mark McNeill (and his daughter Maisy) when they visited the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition recently.

Mark’s stunning image, ‘Me versus the Galaxy’ won high commendation in the People and Space category of the competition. Here he tells the story behind this fantastic example of astrophotography.

“When we first arrived (at Sycamore Gap, Northumberland) the moon was in the air, with all sorts of satellites and shooting stars going over. I set my tripod up to do a time-lapse taking a photo every second. I was running up, lighting the tree with a torch to see what it looked like, so it’s actually me you see in the photo, it adds a little bit of scale and tells a story of just how small you are against the Winter Milky Way in the background.

Over the night I must have taken over twenty images of me pointing the torch this way, pointing the torch that way. The first image that I took that I liked was a colour version. I would say that 90% of Milky Way images are colour images so I decided to take the colour away to make it look a little different, more unique.

I posted the image on Twitter and tagged Brian Cox in. He said it was one of the most beautiful images he’d seen and retweeted it. It then went a bit haywire! That’s when I entered the competition. Shortly afterwards I got an email saying one of my images was short-listed, then one saying it was award winning and that I was invited to the award ceremony in London. I was over the moon, really proud!

My favourite from the exhibition is a picture of the sun. Technically, how could someone manage to do that? The effort that goes in to capturing these deep space images… it’s magical.

I would say to anybody that wants to do astrophotography – go somewhere dark, you can buy apps and maps that tell you where’s best – you don’t have to go miles – a tripod isn’t necessary but helps when you take a long exposure, you cant physically hold the camera that still. A normal camera set to manual, even a smartphone can have a good night mode; it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby.

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