Review: An Introduction to Astrophotography

Gavin James is an example to all of us that we can realise our dreams, no matter how big – in Mr James’s case, the observable universe is the limit.

Mr. James worked as a professional horse racing photographer for many years before he pursued his fascination with the night sky, and from the first blind steps that he took – such as buying the wrong telescope, one which all astronomy pupils at the college are grateful for – he has made it to be a professional astrophotographer, with a published book, “In the Marlborough Night Garden”, and its sequel on the way. Despite having worked for Mr James on his second publication, I am still amazed as to quite how much effort goes in to each of the pieces that he produces, a process which he modestly explained in his witty and engaging talk – ‘Catching Photons – An Introduction to Astrophotography’. Summing it up simply, for every astronomical target that Mr James photographs, a multitude of factors contribute to its outcome – the level of light pollution, the temperature of his telescope, the filters that he uses and the length of exposure, to name just a few. As we learnt on Tuesday, if any part of this process goes wrong, the entire photograph is affected – this shows just how much precision and time goes into each of Mr James’s pieces.

Mr James’s talk was split into three parts; wide field, solar system and deep sky photography. Wide field astrophotography is where Mr James started his career, as it is both the easiest and the most affordable form – buying the equipment needed to capture light from thousands of years in the past is understandably quite pricey. It involves using a digital camera to photograph the night sky, and features of it such as the Milky Way, the Moon, the constellations and the occasional exceptionally bright Deep-Sky Object, such as the Andromeda galaxy – at this point in his talk Mr James’s Q&A style may have slightly embarrassed the clueless physicists in the room. Despite the beauty of the star trails and night sky vistas captured in these images, Mr James’s curiosity was not satisfied – which brings us to our solar system. Astrophotography is truly unique in the sense that it can show you things that you never imagined you would be able to see. There are no words to retell how incredible Mr James’s captures were, of the granulation on the surface of our Sun, or the clarity of lunar craters, or the details of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, or the colours of Saturn’s rings – photographed from his River Park back garden, just off the Marlborough High Street and, more recently, to the delight of Mr Barclay, from the Marlborough College Blackett Observatory. The main feature of Mr James’s garden is his humbly named ‘River Park Observatory, or as he sometimes refers to it, his Tardis, his recycling bin, or his public loo. From this green Pulsar dome, equipped with sky camera, Mr James produces the majority of his Deep Sky photographs. These are the real focus of his work; painstakingly beautiful images of Messier objects, galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. To see these images for yourself, visit It is clear from these photographs that Mr James not only pours his artistic talents into what he does, but also his passion and his fascination with our universe.

This was a truly inspiring talk from a charismatic man, a brilliant examination invigilator, and an exceptionally talented astrophotographer. On behalf of the college, we hope he returns soon.

Review by Ellie Debs (IH L6)

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