by Ben Bush, Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 – People and Space.

Recently, after working hard to become a professional photographer, I was very proud to have been chosen as the winner of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019, People and Space category.  This is the biggest astro photography competition in the world. I was one of eight winners from 4,602 entries from 90 different countries.  My work is now published and on display in the National Maritime Museum, London and I have found my picture all over the world. I was and still am amazed and happy to have achieved this but it has only been possible because of my ability to head into the beautiful mountains and lakes of Cumbria to capture the stars and the landscape around me.  It’s a truly humbling and amazing sight to see the stars, planets, timescales and distances involved.  It blows my mind every time I look up! 

The winning photo- Photographer of the Year 2019 (People and Space)

I started photographing the night sky around five years ago.  Being out overnight, meant I had the Lake District to me and my four dogs.  I was soon hooked and went out more and more, exploring the different valleys and following the clear skies around the National Park and beyond. 

My photography has changed and evolved and the kit I use has gone from entry level basic DSLR’s to full pro equipment.  I am increasingly happy with the results of my nocturnal ramblings. Some favourites are the photographs of Blea Tarn one winters night where I captured my first galaxy (Andromeda 2.537 million light years away) with the light from the stars reflected thought the ice and snow on the Langdale Pikes. Another is my shot of Ullswater late one November night taken from the Aira Force Jetty with a slight inversion over a calm, still lake and a sky full of stars. The successes have really cemented my love for this type of photography - it is sights and memories like these that keep me going out night after night.

Cumbria boasts some of the most spectacular and beautiful sights to be had in the UK, or even the world.  Unfortunately it’s also a place where light pollution increases year after year.  This makes astronomical sights such as galaxies and nebulas increasingly difficult to see with the naked eye or capture on film.  The bright LED lights used by many hotels and businesses, left on overnight due to low energy costs and new technology, affect not only the ability of folk like us to see the stars, but also potentially the lives and natural circadian rhythm of plants, animals and insects which also live in the Lake District.  The lights are the wrong spectrum and throw out a lot of ‘blue light’.  Friends of the Lake District have been doing an amazing job to raise awareness of light pollution and the benefits of keeping our skies dark but it’s now time for us all to take notice and to try and do our part.  This doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  It can be a simple as turning those lights off when not in use or using energy efficient downward facing lights outside.  Businesses and companies have a large responsibility in this too as increasingly they shine lights 24/7, lighting up the landscape.  Again, this can be fixed by the right lighting and turning them off when most have gone to their beds.  In the long run this will save us all money and preserve the skies above us for our children and future generations.

I now run tuition in the Lake District and take beginners and advanced photographers alike out at night (or day) to see these sights for themselves and to capture them on film.  I find it very satisfying to see people captivated by these views and share their excitement when they see their first galaxy or startrail caught by their own camera.  The fact these sights are there for us all to see and are possible for anyone to photograph are the main reason we should all be behind the Dark Skies campaign. It only takes a little action from each of us to tackle light pollution.

To all those who would like to try and capture the stars on film I say get some sleep then just go out and explore.  The Lake District completely changes at night and is stunningly beautiful but also calm and relaxing.  The way the stars shine on a still and calm lake or how the heavens move and track across the skies is a sight to behold and create memories you will hold dear for years to come. 

Remember it takes persistence and experimentation so the more you do it, the better you will become and the pictures you take will get more accomplished and interesting. By exploring the capabilities of your camera and continuing to try different settings, techniques and locations, you will soon get to grips with capturing a new and different world - one of stars and snow-capped mountains, of silhouettes and still waters, of time and distance and of our planet’s place within the universe.  Take lots of photos, continually experiment and explore and most of all look up to the skies with wonder and awe. 

You never know, one day you may capture an award-winning shot or at the very least have a record of your adventures on the walls of your home - each being a special memory of a stunning night in the beautiful Lake District.

To see more of Ben’s photography and find out about the tuition he provides, visit https://benbush.photos/