Star Vistas - A Collection of Fine Art Astrophotography
Greg Parker and Noel Carboni are two names that will be familiar to anyone involved in astro imaging. Their collaboration via the Internet, with Greg imaging from his New Forest Observatory and Noel transforming the raw image data into spectacular deep space images from Florida needs no introduction. This collaboration that began on an Internet astronomy forum has now developed into their first joint publication. The forewords, written by a triumvirate of astronomical and rock music legends in Brian May, the late Sir Arthur C Clarke, and Sir Patrick Moore, really sets the tone for the truly exquisite images within the book's 155 pages.
Whilst not of the epic proportions set by Giles Sparrow's coffee table killer 'Cosmos', the book is still a hefty tome, printed to a very high standard with the image reproduction being uniformly superb. This book is just page after page of jaw-droppingly good shots that are taken with quite modest equipment by today's standards: an off-the-shelf one-shot pairing of CCD cameras and a similarly off-the-shelf pairing of refractor and SCT telescopes.
The book contains just enough detail to whet the appetite of budding imagers, whilst not overburdening the reader with too much technical detail. Noel's Photoshop actions (a staple of my own imaging) feature throughout, with staggering amounts of detail eked out of each and every image.
Where it really stuns is not with the close up shots, or shots of objects like M27, where a mono CCD using hydrogen-alpha filters and the like would probably have delivered more to the final image, (likewise with their wide shot of Orion, which as an example shows none of Barnard's Loop) but from the almost David Lean like panoramic shots of objects like the Veil Nebula complex, or a simply staggering IC443/ Jellyfish nebula, where you almost feel like you are flying towards them ready for rendezvous.
The thing for me that was most heartening is that you can see how it was done. Anyone who has similar imaging set-ups will recognise the final results, but where with one's own shots you may feel justifiably proud of, these really do go that extra mile. The images are not perfect, evidence of that is clear in the double page image of M31, which shows trailing stars near to the edges, or M46 that shows star colour alignment issues, but this just adds to the fact that you're not looking at some image data from Hubble or the Keck twins, but from a relatively small amateur observatory located in the cloud and rain sodden south of England, taken by a pairing who continually show the way forward for many imagers all over the world. The images are not all 'money shots' (for want of a better term), or big complex nebulae, and the book is only enhanced by the inclusion of more simple subjects like Polaris and Vega, still shot with outstanding clarity.
This book is a joy to behold, and will act as a very high benchmark and reference guide for the imaging fraternity to show how it is done, whilst at the same time proving that single-shot colour cameras are capable of magical results in the hands of a pairing truly dedicated to their art.
Interview with Noel Carboni
Astronomy Now spoke to co-author and astro image processor extraordinaire Noel Carboni about his partnership with Greg Parker.
Noel Carboni and "Quacky".
Tell us a little bit about you and Greg. How did you come to work together?
First a tiny bit of background about me to set the stage for our meeting... I have been interested in photography for 30 years. In 1979 my wife and I began seriously looking at film SLR cameras and in 1980 we bought our first, a Canon A-1. A set of good lenses soon followed, and we used that gear for many a year to freeze moments in time. Most notably, however, I always seemed to shoot sparingly, as film and developing costs were always on my mind. With 12 or 24 exposures on a roll, and maybe at most a roll or two extra in the bag, every photo was carefully considered. Photography became a minor hobby at best.
A career software engineer, in the early 1990s I became involved with web publishing as a secondary responsibility, and was provided with a copy of Adobe Photoshop by my then employer. I was instantly hooked, realizing that so very much would be possible through digital image processing. For example, owing to my efforts our company had one of the first graphic web page backgrounds that could be seen on the World Wide Web.
IC 443. Image: Greg Parker and Noel Carboni.
Once Greg has sent you the raw image files, how long does it take you to produce the finished piece?
It's interesting, but it seems to take just about as long for me to process a dataset into a finished image as it does for Greg to expose it. If it's a simple image that has taken him, say, several hours of time in a single evening to capture and stack, it will take me several hours to finish that stacked data into a spectacular image. Many of our images are mosaics or combinations of datasets from multiple sessions, sometimes using various filters, and the correlation still holds, since the digital work on any one given dataset usually takes me several hours. Some of our most complex and deepest images have kept us both busy literally for weeks.
You have created your Astronomy Tools Photoshop plug-in for image processing. What do they do and how can people download it?
It is my goal to provide tools to help astrophotographers process their data into fine results using almost entirely Adobe Photoshop, which I feel gives the greatest control, flexibility, and quality. Photoshop actions - such as Astronomy Tools - are pre-sequenced sets of Photoshop operations that can be applied to all or part of an image being edited. Over time whenever I found I was doing the same or similar operations over and over, I captured the sequence into an action. This has the wonderful effect of raising the thinking level while editing from atomic ('curves' or 'median filter') to a higher, more result-oriented level (e.g., 'assemble R, G, B channels from FITS files into a color image' or 'remove light pollution' or 'make nebula lighter'). In turn, good results become more repeatable and easier to achieve. There are also some actions in my set to help add artistic sparkle and framing to astro images.
M31. Image: Greg Parker and Noel Carboni.
Which of the images that you and Greg have done together has been the most difficult or the most rewarding?
I find them all extremely rewarding. I get a 'wide-eyed wonder' feeling as I see the data develop into these simply amazing views of the cosmos, and Greg has told me he gets that feeling as well when he sees the results. I often send him copies at various stages of development just so he can also see the results unfold. Sometimes he can't wait for me and develops data into an image himself just to get an early look.
Do you know of any other imaging teams that work together like you and Greg do?
Collaborations are rare but not unheard of. Two folks who we've seen collaborate in the past and who have often served as our great inspiration are Jim Misti and Rob Gendler.
Find out more:
Noel Carboni's astrophotography website: http://ncarboni.home.att.net/Astrophotography.html
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