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‘Astro’ photo workshops teach tricks for star pics

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Stargazing. KOY VIREAK

‘Astro’ photo workshops teach tricks for star pics

Earlier this year the first-ever astrophotography exhibition in Cambodia was held at Cloud and many people came away from it with a greater appreciation for it and curious about how they too could photograph the stars and other distant celestial objects like planets, comets, galaxies, nebulae and more.

Space enthusiasts who are new to astrophotography tend to have the same basic questions when starting out. How do I shoot stars at night? Where can I go to escape pollution from man-made light? What cameras can I use?

And the most common question: Why do all of my photos turn out so badly?

Astrophotography Cambodia – the Facebook group/hobbyist club – are organising a series of workshops in tandem with their second astrophotography exhibition at Meta House that will answer those beginner’s questions.

Meta House is the German-Cambodian cultural centre founded by German journalist/filmmaker Nico Mesterharm in 2007 and still going strong today in 2022, holding art exhibitions, film screenings and other cultural events at its third location, now in Daun Penh district on St 228.

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Cosmic Duo. NARA TSITRA

The exhibition is titled An Evening Under Mekong Skies and will feature photos of the night sky and astronomical images taken by Sonic Duran and his fellow astrophotographers Nara Tsitra, Mardy Suong, Sereywat Chea and Piak Lim.

“This is our second exhibition in town and on top of bringing in a new set of astrophotography images we will be holding a series of workshops every weekend,” Duran, the exhibition’s main organiser, tells The Post.

An Evening Under Mekong Skies at Meta House opens on March 29. They will also hold the first workshop that evening. The participants will learn the basics of astrophotography as the artists share their experiences with it through the weekend workshop series.

“The reason we’re doing these events is to let fellow space enthusiasts know that they are not alone and that there is a growing community in Cambodia of people who are really into this stuff,” Duran says.

The other four workshops will be held at Meta House on Saturdays – April 2, 9, 16 and 23 – at 3pm. All of them are free but space at the workshops, unlike outerspace, is limited. You can either sign up in advance or they will take participants on a first come basis.

“If this community grows bigger maybe we can also recruit some local professional astronomers and we can learn from them too,” Duran says, adding in self-deprecating fashion that he is neither an astronomer nor a photographer – just a dedicated and enthusiastic amateur.

Workshop participants will be introduced to the basics at the beginner level over the five sessions. By the end of the first session they will know what astrophotography is and what the different types of imaging devices are that they can use.

Duran explains that the team will present sample images taken by each type of camera from mobile phones to the DSLR cameras widely used by professional photographers on up to dedicated astrophotography cameras that were designed for that use specifically.

Those who are brand new to astrophotography will find out some things that may surprise them like the fact that telescopes aren’t strictly required in order to get started with this hobby and it will help them decide what kind of equipment is available within their budgets and how that relates to what sort of objects they are interested in photographing.

Duran says the topics for workshop two – Navigating the Night Sky – provides some of the most fundamental basics that astrophotographers need to know including information on when and where they can image some of the easier to capture target objects.

“For example, if we want to take an image of a full moon we need to do it on a schedule of roughly every 29.5 days, which is the length of time it takes for a whole lunar phase cycle. Also, the moon appears to change its location in the night sky every night,” says Duran.

Once people know how to plan their imaging sessions for their target objects, then they are ready to at least attempt to get images of them with some chance of success.

“The same goes for planets, constellations, nebulae – even the sun. Most objects will appear according to a schedule determined by the position of the Earth as we rotate around the sun and the position of the object as it moves relative to the Earth,” says Duran.

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A Rose of Life – the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros constellation. SONIC DURAN

Duran continues that workshop number three – Milky Way & Nightscape Photography – introduces the concept of long exposure photography, which is what beginners are advised to start with. No mounts or telescopes are required. It can be done with a DSLR, lens attachment and a tripod.

“During this session we will recall some of the info from the first workshop on which astronomical objects are suitable to shoot,” he says.

Workshop four is Telescopes, Mounts & Cameras. It will provide a basic overview of telescope types and what they do as well as the purpose of a star tracker and an astronomical mount for cameras whether they are dedicated astronomy cameras, DSLRs or even just a webcam.

One of the most common questions from beginners is which telescope they should buy. Session four will help people understand what to expect from various types, sizes and quality of telescopes and decide which one best suits their interests budget.

“This will also provide an overview for aspiring astrophotographers should they want to pursue the hobby more seriously and invest more money in equipment,” he says.

Workshop five is Planetary & Lunar Imaging. Brighter astronomical objects such as the moon or planets from our solar system require different imaging techniques than those used for dimmer targets – which are therefore further away – like nebulae and galaxies.

Capturing images of nearby planets or the Earth’s moon doesn’t necessarily require equipment with high specifications and it may be the most immediately accessible kind of astrophotography available to most people to start out with, according to Duran.

During session five the group will conduct an activity where the participants will be provided with the raw data of images of the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn and they will then learn how to do the post-processing themselves using free software that can do things like stacking and wavelet sharpening.

“This will be the final session of our Astrophotography Workshops for Beginners and this topic should help round out their understanding and help aspiring astrophotographers in Cambodia get started with this unique hobby,” Duran says.

Duran says that ideally prospective astrophotographers will attend all five workshop sessions in order to build on their knowledge from session to session.

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Lonely– Milky Way photo taken in Kampong Speu province. MARDY SUOS

“Our approach will be based on our photography experience and astronomy knowledge, which is by no means complete. We don’t claim to be infallible. But everyone present will be there to learn together and take away whatever help they can from it.

“Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend no matter what their level of experience or understanding of these topics might be,” says Duran.

He says that Cambodia may not have ideal weather for astrophotography or astronomical observation year-round but it has a lot of potential for dark sky photography because of the huge amount of land set aside for nature reserves where development – and therefore most artificial light sources – are prohibited.

“We still have plenty of areas that have little or no light pollution as yet. To illustrate that you can visit the website: https://www.lightpollutionmap.info – please note that this is not a real-time light pollution map but we can make simple comparisons between Cambodia and other neighbouring countries.

“Imagine if more people get interested in this hobby and can bring their telescopes and imaging equipment with them to these dark natural areas – then Cambodia can host big star parties and have an astro-tourism boom in the Kingdom ,” says Duran.

The Evening Under Mekong Skies exhibition’s opening night and first workshop session will be held on March 29 at 6pm. Sessions two, three, four and five will be held on Saturdays at 3pm on April 2, 9, 16 and 23 at Meta House located on St 228 in Daun Penh district.

More info on Facebook: @MetaHouse PhnomPenh Or via these links: bit.ly/AstroPhotoMeta bit.ly/AstroPhotoCambo

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