Stella DeSha Thomas Gallery Skylight by Rob Burbank

Rob Burbank... Astrophotographer

We asked Rob a few questions about his work:

How/why did you begin doing this kind of photography?

I'd always been interested in astronomy, but at one point my wife saw in the local newspaper an ad for a course at the local planetarium in "Making your own Telescope." This sounded expensive, so I called the planetarium and found that the total cost would be only $35.00. I jumped at the chance and only found out later that the $35.00 covered the total cost of instruction for the course. All materials were extra! Well, several hundreds of dollars later, I did have a working telescope that I had managed to build myself.

What kind of equipment do you need? Special camera? Telescopic attachments etc?

The homemade telescope proved to work quite well - I was able to do deep-sky, long exposure astrophotography, but it was awkward to use. I ended up buying an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope more suited to astrophotography. The picture of the Lagoon Nebula was taken with this telescope. The eclipse photograph was taken with a smaller telescope more suited to airline travel. (The 11-inch has its own special trunk and weighs in at about 60 pounds. That doesn't include the tripod.) I use a standard 35-mm SLR camera with a manual shutter so that I can determine the exposure length.

What was your most difficult shot?

I find the deep sky photographs to be the most challenging: you're trying to take an hour long photograph of a moving object through what is essentially a long telephoto lens. Moreover, there are usually many individual stars in the final photograph, so if the camera is not focussed correctly, or if it did not follow the stars exactly, the final picture shows this. On top of that, it's difficult to see the object before you photograph it and impossible to see it during the exposure. If that weren't enough, you have to keep quite still during the hour or so of the exposure so if it's summer, the mosquitoes can enjoy a nice sit down meal; during winter, the outer extremities tend to freeze first.

What was the most interesting photograph you have taken?

All Astrophotography is quite interesting, but the trip to Curacao added a little extra.

Do you photograph subjects other than the sky?

I don't do much photography other than astrophotography. My wife likes to document family events. And my daughter is taking photography classes at high school. She'll be the photographer in the family.

What suggestions could you give to someone just starting out?

Start small - a good way to start is with a pair of good binoculars. Don't buy an inexpensive department store telescope. They tend to have wobbly mounts that cause more frustration than enjoyment.

There are a number of astronomy magazines: "Astronomy" and "Sky & Telescope" being the best known. I like "Sky & Telescope" and subscribe to it. Both should be available at local science stores.

If you get really interested, make sure your pockets are quite deep. You can start quite simply, but there is no limit to how much you can spend.

R o b     B u r b a n k . .

With his eye on the sky for some time now, Rob works with camera and telescope to capture something of the marvellous light show in the sky above. Recently while on a trip north with fellow amateur astronomers of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Toronto Centre, intending to complete construction of their observatory -- and without his own film or tripod -- Rob was able to get a few pics with borrowed equipment when the famous Northern Lights unexpectedly appeared.

Rob who has been known to wait hours and hours at night with camera, telescope and tripod to get that one special picture, took this photo and several others "on the fly", so to speak. A beautiful surprise.

See Rob Burbank's New Orleans.

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