It’s that time of year again when the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London releases the latest selection of winners from the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards. We reached out to our good friend Matthew Robinson who just landed runner up in the skyscapes category with this incredible photograph off the shores of his home town Sunderland and asked him to tell PhoGoTraphy the story behind the image.
Hi Matt, incredible image. Can you tell us a bit more about what’s going on in the frame for us non-astro experts?
The photograph is of an atmospheric phenomenon called noctilucent clouds, Latin for night shining clouds. They are crystals of ice that have formed around grains of dust left behind from meteors burning up in the atmosphere. These clouds appear during the summer months in the northern hemisphere between May and August due to the sun under lighting them during the evenings and early mornings. This illuminates them and gives a beautiful, ghostly silver shimmering cloud effect to the north. The image was taken at 2am from Roker beach in Sunderland, this display was incredible, more impressive than any display of the Aurora I have observed. I’d only owned my camera for about a week when I took the photograph. I planned on going out for about half an hour and the display was so incredible I didn’t head home for several hours.
Q. Thanks for the lowdown on noctilucent clouds, we’ll keep our eyes peeled next year to spot some. Have you been into Astronomy / Astrophotography for long?
I first really indulged in astronomy as a hobby about 5 years ago when I had more time on my hands to start reading about it. Twitter is a great platform to network with other amateur astronomers, this is where I realised how simple it was to take images of beautiful objects and scenes and when my astrophotography journey started. I always remember as a young kid looking at the moon and wondering why it hung there in the sky without anything visually keeping it up. My spark started then at a young age and reignited as I got older.
Q. Well you’ve definitely learnt enough to show the rest of us a thing or two. What do you do when the Sun’s shining, can we assume astronomy is just a hobby?
Nope, I’m lucky enough to say that my occupation is a Science Explainer at the Kielder Observatory in the Northumberland National Park which holds the status as the third largest area of protected dark night sky in the world. It is my job to explain science to the general public at a level that all can understand. To do this I use presentations on topics from Planets and Galaxies to the Aurora Borealis when the clouds get in the way of observing these topics naturally.
Q. It sounds like an incredible life! Science all day, stars all night, sheesh! Can you give some idea of the equipment you use for astrophotography?
At the minute I am still using the same equipment I used to take the image entered into the competition. A Canon 1100D with an 18-55mm Canon lens, I have recently bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 which will give me a much wider field to my images. I would love to upgrade my equipment as I know my image quality would increase, however it is an expensive hobby so it may be a while before I can upgrade.
Q. If our readers weren’t blown away before, they certainly are now. To finish, tell us a bit more about yourself. Are you from the area you took the photo?
I would describe myself as your typical northern lad who’s ethos of photography is to inspire others to take part in it and share their images of what they see as beautiful. I live in Sunderland on the north east coast, Sunderland is a working class city where money is scarce but creativity is not. I am very proud of where I’m from and the majority of the images I take are from Sunderland and the surrounding areas.
Thanks for giving us the interview Matt, you’ve absolutely blown us away. Your photograph and story acts as living testament that it’s not the equipment you own but the person behind the camera that makes an image. We wish you all the luck for the future and look forward to seeing some more of your fascinating astrophotography snaps!
Related: Winners announced.