How to become an astrophotographer
From deep space to the aurora borealis, astrophotography captures the most mysterious and beautiful elements of the cosmos. For many people, it’s something of a dream job. As an astrophotographer, you’ll essentially be taking pictures of anything that’s not on earth. There’s essentially two main types of astrophotography, images of objects from deep space that are taken through telescopes, and photographs of large-scale portions of the night sky.
You’ll probably be spending lots of time outside at night, peering through the end of the telescope, but the results are often jaw-droppingly beautiful. So, how can you become an astrophotographer, and what do you need to get started. Find out right here!
What sort of salary can I expect?
As an astrophotographer, your earning potential is largely determined by the organisation that you work for. You can expect to earn a comfortable living once you’ve paid your dues and gained experience. However, it’s worth remembering that most astrophotographers are unpaid enthusiasts, pursuing something that they’re passionate about!
How do I become an astrophotographer?
Astrophotography specialists tend to work for large organisations such as universities or governmental agencies. However, it’s possible to make a living as a freelance astrophotographer. There are plenty of trade publications which require astrophotography. The best course of action is probably to build up a solid portfolio and get by-lines in as many magazines and newspapers as you can.
What qualifications do I need?
To be an astrophotographer, a solid background in science, computer science or engineering will stand you in good stead. Competition is fierce, and organisations like NASA or other astronomical research organisations will expect a strong academic pedigree. Specialist knowledge of astronomy and photography will obviously be beneficial, while a Masters or PhD is probably required for the most competitive roles.
What equipment do I need to get started?
Astrophotography requires a much more significant outlay on camera equipment than almost any other field of photography. Luckily enough, camera equipment is less and less expensive and more and more powerful, so even the most amateur astrophotographer has a shot at capturing some pretty amazing images. You’ll need three things to get started:
- If you’re serious about astrophotography, you’ll need a serious camera. You’ll generally be taking either long-exposure shots or short-exposure shots, so the better the camera, the better the shots you’ll be able to take. You don’t need to go overboard if you don’t want to, a standard DSLR camera will get you great shots. Try to get a wide-angle lens so that you can capture as much of the night sky as possible!
- The mount is perhaps the most important piece of equipment. Why? Because the earth rotates, and you need to cancel out the effects of that rotation if you’re going to take amazing pictures. This means that you’ll need to get an equatorial mount which has smooth motion and gears. You may need to spend a little bit extra, but it’s well worth the expense.
- Get one with a wide field of view so that you can capture as much as possible.
Who are the best-known astrophotographers?
Since astrophotographers are so often employed by organisations, there aren’t so many famous faces as there are in other areas of photography. That being said, there are a couple of well-known names to watch out for. Some of our starriest picks include:
- Justin Ng. An award-winning photographer based in Singapore, you can see his images in loads of mainstream publications, including CNN, National Geographic, Space.com and The Guardian.
- Mark Gee. Based in New Zealand, many of Mark’s snaps are inspired by the amazing night skies that can be seen down in the Antipodes.
- David Lane. David’s deep space images are beautiful, no ifs, no buts.
Astrophotography is competitive, no doubt about it, but it’s also one of the most rewarding paths for a budding young photographer to pursue! Don’t let your creative efforts go to waste in the meantime: photographs of space make really great personalised cases for your phone, for example, you could put a star constellation on the latest iPhone case or showcase Mars on your Samsung Galaxy phone cover.