Deep Sky or the photography of the invisible



We start talking about real astrophotography in photo history when photos are more than just experiments. The start of astrophotography is situated in 1850 (Michael Maunder, the Photohistorian, 09/2005)

Photographers and astronomers of the 19th century were confronted with two restrictions when photographing stars: the low sensitivity of the Daguerrotype and the errors of the telescopes. Since the Earth turns around its axis, it's almost as if the stars evolve around an imaginary point (the polar star). Take a look at the nice picture by J.R. Eyerman, 1950. These are 2 problems that modern amateur photographers still have to cope with.

The development of more sensitive emulsions was boosted under the influence of, amongst others, astronomers. The problems concerning the sensitivity of emulsions were solved with the discovery of the wet Collodium and more importantly the improvement of the dry Silver Bromide glass negatives (1874).
In the meantime telescopes and mounts were optimized for astrophotography. All self-respecting observatories installed special telescopes to experiment with the new inventions.

In 1880 the idea was launched to make a photographic star atlas. The Observatoire de Paris took the initiative. The Brothers Henry (Paul, 1818-1905; Prosper, 1848-1903) were important pioneers of this project. In the exhibition you can find an early photo by the Henry Brothers (1886). From a modern point of view this photo isn't that impressive, but in 1886 these photos were very revolutionary. 45 minutes of exposure time was no exception.

The clearest nebulas could now be photographed. It was the Scottish astronomer Isaac Roberts (1829-1904) who was the first to photograph the arms of the Andromeda nebula in 1888. The Andromeda nebula is the closest galaxy to ours.
From that point onwards the discovery of new objects was wide open. Later on it were the American observatories (Lick, Mount wilson and much later Mount Palomar) which took over from European observatories.
The European observatories, which were mostly located near big cities (f.i. Ukkel near Brussels), suffered more from light pollution and became less interesting.

Under the impulse of the American photographer Edward Emerson Barnard (1858-1932), who made the first photographic atlas of the galaxy, more and more investments were made in the photography of weaker sky objects. Especially the photos of Mount Wilson were revolutionary. In the exhibition you can see several photos made by the Mount Wilson Observatory.
By 1954 Mount Palomar Observatory made a complete photographical star atlas. This Palomar Sky Survey is still used today.

Discover this exhibition ...

Xavier Debeerst

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