Catching The Stars – Astrophotography tips for beginners

He is just 23 and has already won the title ‘World Renowned Astro Photographer’. Meet Navaneeth Unnikrishnan, who started photography just 3 years back after witnessing Milky Way with naked eyes from his very own backyard! He happened to use his camera to capture the Milky Way using long exposure and that was the beginning of the many accolades he has received so far! From being a highly featured photographer in National Geographic to BBC and space.com to Earth & Sky, one would spot his surreal astro photography under every platform that hosts information about Astronomy. PhotoConcierge is thrilled to feature Navaneeth, a self-taught photographer as its ‘Featured Photographer Of The Week!’

Andromeda Galaxy

PhotoConcierge: Hello Navaneeth, did you study Astro Physics? You speak effortlessly of the celestial.

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Am an Engineer specializing in Electronics and it has nothing to do with astrophysics. It is only my passion to learn Astronomy that drives me to learn more about it.

PhotoConcierge: What takes away too much of time in this genre of photography during its pre shoot period?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Planning and loads of it! Astrophotography requires planning such as moon duration in the sky and it is always better to shoot on a new moon day. South Indian skies are pretty much cloudy all the time, which makes it tough to shoot. Also setting up and getting the equipments ready for the astro shoot, takes a significant time for they are heavy and transporting them always becomes a great deal. Assume we successfully cross all these stages, the mount which tracks the stars has to be aligned to North Star and this gets extremely difficult if Northern side of the sky is polluted or covered with clouds.

Most of my deep space images are a stack of hours of data, i.e., capturing a far away dim galaxy requires hours of exposure. Not in one go, we capture 5-10 mins exposures about 10-30 images and stack them to increase signal to noise ratio which gives detail to the images.

Observatory against starry sky

PhotoConcierge: For a layman who gets to admire your photographs, can you explain the difference in the camera and lens that is required for Astro photography compared to other genres of photography?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: The cameras I use are just ordinary cameras that I use to shoot landscapes and weddings – a canon 6D. There are few objects out there in the sky, which are Nebulas, red in color and is in the right most corner of the light spectrum near the infrared. To capture this you will need a modified DSLR camera. I use my old canon 1100D, a self modded one. This is achieved by removing the IR cut filter in front of the sensor. This has to be done with extreme care or the camera will be damaged.

PhotoConcierge: How does it make you feel when you see your own image ? Something that captures the unknown side of universe – and look at ourselves as specs – must be a very humbling experience.

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Capturing different worlds out there kind of makes you feel extremely small – that we are nothing but a small sand particle in a sea shore. With the countless stars that are visible in our own galaxy, you start to think “Out of these billion stars, why not exist another earth?”

The antares- brightest stars in the sky

PhotoConcierge: On a lighter note, every hoped to see a UFO in the process?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: (Laughs)..There is a reason to have named them ‘Unidentified Flying Objects’ – they are not just identified yet. It could be part of a de-orbited satellite burning through the sky, or a satellite that has been watching the sky for sometime. I never got to witness anything other than meteors and satellites.

PhotoConcierge: Places you often visit in India for Astro Photography?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: The Himalayan regions are the best. It has less clouds and pollution is under control. Also places like Rann of Kutch and Coorg are a great option too. I usually try to shoot from my backyard with a light pollution filter and I ensure to travel to Himalayan region once or twice a year.

Silhouette of man standing against starry sky

PhotoConcierge: Places for Astro photography outside India and what would be your Wishlist?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Some of the best skies in the world would include New Zealand, Atacama Desert – Chile, Namibia, Canary Islands. Basically a place far away with no light pollution. My Wishlist will be New Zealand and Canary Islands.

PhotoConcierge: What are the favorite astro photographs taken by you and do you do any other genre of photography as well?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Some of my favourite images from my collection would be the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way pano from Ladakh. Besides astro I also do Wedding Photography and Landscapes.

PhotoConcierge: Where are your photographs typically used?

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Most of my images either goes to a magazine or BBC Earth.

PhotoConcierge: If you were to mentor a group of students on Astro Photography, what would be your advise to them:

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan: Astrophotography requires a lot of patience; Some objects require data more than 7 to 8 hours. You might get one photo from one entire night and it is not so easy.

Comet Lovejoy

PhotoConcierge: Tell us about your last expedition

I was in Spiti Valley at the beginning of the month. It was really amazing and we traveled to some remove villages, especially Kaza for skies with less light pollution. It was a very successful trip as the skies were crystal clear and I got to execute all my ideas. In a nutshell it was awesome!

To view more of Navaneeth’s work, please visit: https://www.photoconcierge.com/profile/Navaneeth

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