Reaching for the stars

Justin Ng is an award-winning photographer, based in Singapore, who has rapidly built a reputation for outstanding astrophotography. He travelled to Dubai earlier this year to shoot the Camelopardalis meteor shower. Vision chatted to him ahead of his visit to give a seminar on shooting the night sky

How did you get into photographing the night sky?

JN: It all began after I photographed the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in April 2012, at Mount Bromo, and I started to pursue other aspects of astrophotography from August 2013 onwards.

What technical challenges make it different from ‘regular’ photography and how do you overcome them?

JN: Understanding the vast universe and night sky, operating the sophisticated equipment and dealing with the complex post-processing workflow are some of the challenges that one needs to overcome in order to capture the essence of the night sky. I spent two months studying the principles of astronomy and developed an astronomy tool that's unique to my own needs, before I embarked on my astrophotography journey.

I hope more people will do their part to reduce light pollution and protect our night sky

Justin Ng

What brings you to Dubai?

Justin Ng: I first went to Dubai in May 2014 to capture the Camelopardalis meteor shower and I am coming back again to share my astrophotography journey with like-minded people.

How does your work contribute to awareness about the impact of light pollution?

JN: By unveiling the beautiful night sky and Milky Way galaxy, which is obscured by light pollution at locations that were once thought impossible to photograph, I hope to inspire more photographers to attempt to do the same. And, through these never-before-seen images, I hope more people will do their part to reduce light pollution and protect our night sky. In the context of astrophotography, light pollution means that we lose colours, contrast and details of the celestial objects that we're trying to capture.

How can we counteract the impact of light pollution?

JN: Using filters is one way to counteract the impact of light pollution. There are many filters available and a narrowband filter, which is the best suited for astro-imaging, even under extremely light-polluted skies, since it excludes the wavelengths associated with light pollution.

Where do astrophotography and astronomy overlap and how does one contribute to the other?

JN: Astronomy is the study of celestial objects like sun, moon, stars, planets, and other phenomena in space. It's important to understand its principles first before we attempt to photograph some of the rarest celestial events, which might occur just once in a lifetime. I've developed an astronomy tool based on its principles to predict when a rare celestial event will take place, so I can prepare myself for it.

Too much light pollution washes out starlight, and can also interfere with astronomical research

Is Dubai an appealing location to shoot the night sky? Are deserts good for this kind of work?

JN: Some amazing celestial events are location-based, such as solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers and comets. Dubai is definitely a very appealing location to shoot the night sky because it has many more cloudless days compared to Singapore. It’s the primary reason I chose Dubai to photograph the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

What personal qualities have made you a successful astrophotographer, and what advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

JN: Patience, perseverance and practice are some of the qualities that I think would make an astrophotographer successful. Following a very experienced astrophotographer will definitely reduce your learning curve. Also, join ‘star parties’ (a gathering of amateur astronomers) near you to find out more about your area of interest, before buying the right equipment to pursue it.