Saxon here again. Thank you for coming! Today, I am thrilled to share an interview with a most remarkable astrophotographer. Chris Baker details his early inspirations, influences, the journey of starting his own business, releasing a special book, and offers some suggestions to those looking start out in astrophotography.
In November of 2017, whilst lazily scrolling through Twitter, I was struck by a most wondrous photograph. An image of the Horsehead Nebula, captured by Chris Baker.
I then went from image to image, taken back by the sheer beauty, at first questioning if they were even real! After going over to ‘Galaxy on Glass‘ – where he offers his works of art on acrylic and glass backlit backgrounds – I there learnt a little more about his work and processes.
Over the course of the following months and years I have followed his Twitter account closely (@cosmologychris), in awe of each of his latest projects.
Being curious about how he became an astrophotographer to begin with, his works at the AstroCamp in Spain, the launch of Galaxy on Glass, the 2018 release of his book ‘Photographing the Deep Sky: Images in Space and Time‘ – I wanted learn more of the story.
A huge thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions!
More from Chris Baker:
Book on Amazon: Photographing the Deep Sky: Images in Space and Time
1. I understand you were fascinated with looking up and out into space from an early age. Do you have any memories that stand out in particular?
Yes! I do recall spotting a bright star in my back garden and wondering what it was – I was probably about twelve years old. I ask my father and we looked it up and it turned out to be Arcturus, the orange/red star in Bootes the Herdsman. Now, fifty years later, seeing that star often takes me back to that time when I was younger.
2. You recently shared a stunning image of the Rosette Nebula and noted in the caption that it took 50 hours to capture. Can you describe your thoughts and emotions during such long creative processes?
Since I started remote imaging, with the telescope based in Spain, I have been able to capture so much more data on each chosen object. I went from a few hours at best based in the UK to tens of hours per object in Spain.
The Rosette Nebula was an object I had tried before using conventional filters, Red Green and Blue with added Hydrogen Alpha. However I wanted to try it in narrowband, using Sulphur, Hydrogen and Oxygen (SII, Ha, OIII) narrowband filters and process it using the method known as the Hubble Palette. The aim was to make it good enough to launch in my art collection, Galaxy on Glass. I captured this image in early summer of 2017.
This time I decided to really go for it! It is true to say that the seeing conditions are very good – but I still throw away around 30% of all my subframes – they have to be perfect if I am to create something good enough for the collection. When I started processing I had over 70 hours-worth of SII, Ha and OIII.
The most rewarding part is when you start using the techniques to tease out the beauty that is contained within the data. It was such a joy to process this image – I think it is one of my best results.
It is even more poignant now as I did this in conjunction with the Apollo 15 astronaut, Col. Al Worden and sadly he passed away on March 18th this year.
He and I created the Al Worden Collection within Galaxy on Glass and this is the first object we chose.
3. In 2012, you began working from the AstroCamp near Nerpio, Spain. How did you first connect with the AstroCamp? And, how has this developed your capacity to photograph deep sky objects in comparison to when you were back in the UK?
For some years I had been observing in my back garden. Then in 2007 I decided it was all getting too much and had a roll-off observatory built in the garden. This made it much quicker to set-up as everything was in position and I was sheltered from the wind and frost! From then on my photography began to develop and improve. But after a few years I became frustrated by the streetlights, trees and clouds – all restricting what I could achieve. At the time my wife and I were considering a second home. I wanted somewhere abroad where I could spend time imaging and my wife wanted somewhere in the UK where we could drive to easily.
Then at European AstroFest in February 2012 I met Fernando from AstroCamp – they had a small stand. I hadn’t heard of remote imaging for amateurs and was immediately hooked! I signed up there and then and became an early customer. By June the equipment was shipped and by September it was handed over to me. I recall the first time I used it – I was away on business in Germany. That afternoon I had received an email confirming it was ready to run, so I feigned sickness, missed dinner and did my first remote imaging!
Since then I image whenever it is clear. I use robotic software to control everything, so I am able to set up and routine and let it run over night.
There is no comparison between what I could do in the UK and what I can achieve under the dark and mostly clear skies atop the mountain in Spain.
I now lend my scope to the Physics Department at the University of York. Each year a number of under graduates use my scope for free and do science projects. This has been so rewarding. We are now looking into jointly setting up a mirror configuration at a hosting site in Australia.
4. How did it feel to move away from glass with the 2018 release of your book ‘Photographing the Deep Sky’? Will you be working on more books in the future?
I had been promoting my business, Galaxy on Glass, using social media and other promotional techniques, when one day in mid–2016 I received a DM on Twitter direct from a publisher in the UK. They said that if I ever considered writing a book containing my images then they would like to publish.
I was stunned and flattered and more than a little apprehensive as apart from work related material I had never written much at all! I went to meet them with my ideas and by the end of the year had signed a contract. The manuscript was ready by the following June and they take a year to publish – Photographing the Deep Sky came out in May 2018. It has sold well so far and is available in quite a number of major chains in the UK as well as Amazon of course.
One thing I will say about the book is that I didn’t want it to be only a coffee table picture book. So the images are in distance order – from 440 light years out to 1 billion light years. I take the reader on a journey and in some parts talk about what the Earth was like when the light left the object to travel across interstellar space to my camera. For example, when the light left the Andromeda Galaxy around 2.5 million light years ago, the Himalayas where just being raised and the North Sea didn’t exist!
I also invited two other astrophotographers I admire to contribute a number of their own images – Sara Wager and Andrew Harrison.
As for writing another one – this very afternoon the publisher wrote to me asking if I had ideas for another one. I may do another but at the moment I am finishing off and trying to get published my first novel. So let’s see!
5. You have previously referred to your images as a fusion of photography, science, and art. Who or what inspires you most from these different areas?
I have never had a great interest in conventional photographing – only astro-work. I don’t even own a DSLR and wouldn’t know how to use one! I have received support and encouragement from a number of astro-imagers and found them to be generous with their time. Ian King and Nik Szymanek helped my tremendously when I was first setting up in Nerpio.
I have always been fascinated by space and science. I studied chemistry at University. I have also done some work using my scope to capture light curves of exo-planets. I have found that people in the space arena to be so helpful and keen to share knowledge.
As for art – the images are clearly creative and the more I do the more creative they become. I got guidance from the owner of a London art gallery when I first started Galaxy on Glass and this guided me to better understand what people like on their walls!
6. Did you work in a different field/industry before astrophotography and the launch of Galaxy on Glass?
Most of my career was in imaging and printing and for a two decades with Israeli high technology start-ups. I built the global sales and marketing of large and small organisations. This helped me enormously with Galaxy on Glass. When I first started I know I didn’t want to simply produce posters – I wanted something special and high value. So I went to see some of the top fine art printers it discuss what we could do!
Running a business is not easy of course, even a small fun business like Galaxy on Glass. It was no surprise to me but being able to take good images is only a small part of making it a success. You then need a great product, great service, constant innovation and serious marketing – meaning money too! I love the challenge and now have customers all over the world.
7. What lower budget gear would you recommend to someone looking to start capturing images of the night sky (3-5 suggestions)?
Although I don’t use a DSLR I would recommend starting with this – maybe using it without a telescope to capture the Milky Way. Then perhaps move on to planets using a scope and low cost scope and imager.
But my main suggestions are:
- Subscribe to astronomy magazine – there is so much useful information there
- If you can join an astronomy club – you will meet all levels and other beginners too!
- Get guidance from one of the many astro-suppliers
- Don’t be afraid to ask!
8. Are there any quotes, mottos, or ideas you use to help you navigate through daily personal or professional life?
Be positive, resilient and optimistic!
Interview by Saxon Bosworth, Founder of Découvrir La Vie
Writer? Storyteller? Filmmaker? Share your story. Write for Découvrir La Vie!
More from Chris Baker:
Book on Amazon: Photographing the Deep Sky: Images in Space and Time
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