2019 Aotea Great Barrier Astrophotography Competition results

July 23, 2019

This was an extremely exciting and interesting competition to judge. The overall caliber of the entries was superb and was a challenge to whittle down to a 1st, 2nd and a 3rd. I combined all entries into one folder and started a slide show and slowly trolled through them. After doing this multiple times and noting the images that, for me, provided the wow-factor, I then began to look at the technical aspects of my preferred photos. From here I placed the photos that could be winners in a new folder and followed the same process. After some time and with a certain amount of turmoil, I arrived at what, in my subjective opinion, are the three winners.

Here’s a few general comments that may help contestants in future competitions…

  • I looked carefully at the corners of the images, namely at the shape of the stars. When a lens is used at its widest aperture (e.g. f1.8), the stars in the corners usually exhibit coma – i.e. are not point-like. It’s often an idea to stop the lens down one or two stops to keep the stars point-like in the corners.
  • The use of lasers didn’t add much value to the images, if anything they detracted from the photo. The settings of an island under the stars doesn’t need an artificial input.
  • Check the focus. Some images were a fraction out of focus. It’s a challenge, especially with zoom lenses, but it’s critical to a good photo. Don’t always trust the infinity setting of a fixed lens too.
  • Choose your foreground objects carefully. They should add to the astronomical theme and not cause the viewer’s eye to wander from one object to the other. The adage of ‘what were you trying to photograph?’ is a good rule in such situations.
  • Beware the ISO setting. In the old days of film, high ASA ratings (e.g. Konica 3200 film) in astrophotography resulted in grainy appearances. In these digital days, high ISO settings (e.g. 6400+) also causes a grainy appearance as the signal is amplified to reveal fainter objects. With DSLR cameras and astrophotography, an ISO setting of about 800 to 1600 (or higher) is a good trade-off between light gather and smoothness.
  • Beware the sky colour. Some images had a little too much blue, green, brown, etc. Much of today’s astrophotography is spent at the computer, manipulating images to reduce gradients, excess colour, etc. If necessary, go online and compare your Milky Way images to those of well-known astrophotographers (e.g.http://skysurvey.org/blog/2011/2/17/for-all-the-nights-stars ). Try to adjust the colours to be as natural looking as possible. One good rule is process, walk away, look at what you did, reprocess, walk away, come back, etc.

The Winners

1st – Bioluminance by Talman.
Bioluminance by Talman

This is a superb shot – and one that encapsulates much of what the Great Barrier Island has to offer – stars, sea, beaches, hills and bio-luminance. The layout is beautiful, and the bio-luminance almost looks like a terrestrial milky way. The detail in the Galaxy is exquisite and the colour is nicely done. I love the dark lanes in the Milky Way. The photographer also captured the greenish air glow in this ~southeast facing photo, a layer of air about 100 km up that is excited by solar insolation from earlier in the day and that softly radiants light in the green part of the spectrum. Very nice work!

2nd – Kingston-Pano.
Kingston Pano

A lovely mosaic of the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds over the hills and sea. This also illustrates the far-reaching effects of light pollution from many kilometers away. Nicely stitched with no evidence of seams. The Galaxy colour looks good – as does the structure and dark lanes imbedded in it. Perhaps less foreground and more sky could have been captured – i.e. tilt the lens up a bit, however, the black of the foreground adds drama and contrast to reveal just how light the night sky is. Many people would like a large poster of this scene on their wall! Excellent work.

3rd – Mabey Beach by Ben Assado.

I love this picture in that it makes me feel like I’m walking the beach at night. The vast expanse of sand matches the immensity of the sky. This width of space (so to speak) was the result of a short focal length, wide-angle lens – great for getting longer exposures without star trailing. The soft white of the movement of waves during a longer exposure adds to the mystery. Just looking at this picture gives me a sense of peace. The streak is a slight turn-off. At first glance I thought, ‘Oh no, they’ve ruined the photo with a laser’, however, I now believe it to be a satellite trail due to its white colour, atmospheric extension as it gets lower, and that the end (where the laser holder would be) would be in the sea. Perhaps the sky could be reduced in the blue hue a fraction, however, the closest footprint shows a shadow, revealing that perhaps a slight moon was up – which makes the sky bluer during time exposures. Can anyone see the ‘Kiwi’?

Highly Commended – St Johns Church- Amongst the stars by Frank Hopfler.

This is a stunning image that initially made me say, ‘Wow’. However, upon closer inspection, under magnification, I saw quite a lot of clone stamping and disturbing artifacts that were rather obvious. In addition, there is a strange mix of in-focus with out-of-focus stars. I showed it to a professional photographer who judges Camera Club competitions for other cities, and he agreed. A little less processing would make it more authentic. Nevertheless, it is a good attempt to capture the beauty of the sky and foreground objects. Well done.

Well done to all.
John Drummond, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, July 2019.

Here are all the other stunning entries:

Tryphena nights by Frank Hopfler

Whangapoua-Beach by Stevie Mabey

Taiko Windy Canyon by Isobel Mabey

Reaching Jupiter by Isobel Mabey

Pohutukawas on Medlands by Steve Wardle

Puriri Bay by Kevin Fox

Orama by Jo Burgeois

Photographers Paradise by Carol Comer

Orama pano by David Jensen

No-limits by Isobel Mabey

Mermaid Pool by Night by Carol Comer

Medlands-Beach by Ian Preece

Medlands Beach by Steve Wardle

Kaitoke Creek by Ian Preece

Kaitoke Beach Reflections by Carol Comer

Jo Burgeios 1

Jo Burgeios 2

Puriri Bay by Bruce Maxwell

Norfolk Pine, Medland by Bruce Maxwell

Medland Beach by Bruce Maxwell

Guiding Light 1 by Talman

Guiding Light 2 by Talman

Bach on Medlands by Steve Wardle

Blackwell Drive by Ben Assado

Auckland Glow by Kevin Fox

Awana Beach by Ian Preece

Arid by Stevie Mabey

Arch from Aotea to Auckland by Frank Hopfler

3 Shot Pano Core by David-Jensen

Orama Oasis by Rob Fall

Orama Oasis 4am by Rob Fall

Medlands Church by Chris Neilsen

Aotea by Mark Russell

Aotea by Nadege Buisson