This image was produced with a RCOS half meter telescope and a SBIG STL-11000 camera between February 11- February 25, 2007.
Exposure times: 550 minutes Luminance, 255 minutes Red, 145 minutes Green and 306 minutes Blue (All 1X1)

NGC 2903 in Leo

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Contrasting Perspectives

For astrophotographers, the photographic process has always determined the picture's intrinsic contrast range, color, and tonalities. When astrophotography switched from film emulsion to a digital medium, the surface and tonal qualities of the final image also shifted because of differences between the old and new technologies. Before the widespread proliferation of electronic imagery, film photographers had to employ technical darkroom methods to gave their prints a distinctive character. Now, digital photography has made it much easier to be expressive and transform deep space images into objects with aesthetic qualities. Interestingly, this is a trait of fine art photography where personal perspectives, feelings, ideas and the picture, itself, is the focus of the photographer's efforts and attention.

For example, selective filtering can heighten or soften contrast and enable the placement of object values along the tonal scale. Thus a nebula can be transformed into an almost abstract composition, a dust lane can be made to stand out as if spot lighted against a luminescent background, and the depth of space can be rendered as a boundless, star studded place receding into infinity (even if the raw data was originally polluted with gradients). The imager can darken regions that have excessive brilliance, lighten areas deep within natural shade, and intensify or simplify the relationships between parts of their subject material. In short, astrophotographers have the means to control their medium with the same finesse that painters exercise with a palette and brush. For this reason, pictures of identical subjects can acquire distinctive appearances and conjure unexpected reactions. Thus, astronomical images can represent a personal opinion when the photographer imbues their picture with its own sense of reality.

Of course, folks may disdain this concern for control and finish, however, I don't believe technique should result in anyone's discomfort. While many photographers are mainly interested in their subject's topographical appearance, I believe that the Universe is vast enough for a few contrasting perspectives that shines a little starlight on both our similarities and individual natures.

The images that I produce are heavily influenced by the images of others. There's nothing unusual about this, it's how we learn and I'm human. However, I have also become increasingly aware of deep space representations, particularly galaxies, seen in motion pictures, science documentaries, video games, astronomical publications and press releases from the space telescopes. They have an immediacy and dynamic quality that instantly grabs my attention and stirs my imagination! Increasingly, I have found their depictions to more exciting than the images I work so hard to produce! I find that somewhat disturbing.

This has led me to reconsider the appearance of my own pictures and the processing approaches that I use. I did not make this decision without some trepidation. It's very easy to rely on the comforting methods discovered during the long childhood of my early imaging attempts, particularly when similar behavior is exhibited by and encouraged by others.

However, I have learned through life that change is inevitable: either you climb on board the train, get out of its way or prepare to be run over! Since my comments to publishers or producers will not alter their illustrations and CGI animations, I can either learn to adapt or eventually deal with a sense of irrelevancy. So, the picture above represents a first tentative step in a new direction.

It's as far from perfect as the distance to the nearest star, so I hope you will overlook problems that are obvious- I'm going through my second childhood!

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