jueves, octubre 21, 2010

Averted Imagination

An interview with astrophotographer Alan Friedman
Saturn over six years

Alan’s work immediately caught my eye by the inspired serenity and composition mastery of his views of the Solar system. A New Yorker who designs greeting cards during the day, turns into a passionate stargazer by night and then conveys the fierce power of the Sun, the awe-inspiring rings of Saturn and the beauty of the heavens with his artwork next morning.

Join us to enjoy a brief journey into his world, the world of an averted imagination.

Around Astrophotography

How did you discover astrophotography? How long have you been taking pictures of celestial objects?
I went to a High School specializing in math and science, but followed a career path in fine arts. I rediscovered astronomy around the time my children were born. After everyone went to bed was my free time... I could be out at night exploring the sky without guilt. I travel to a dark site from time to time, but my schedule is busy and most of my astronomy work is done twenty feet from the back door of my city home, observing what can be seen best from an urban backyard... the planets, the moon and the sun. I experimented with film photography in the 1990s, but my serious efforts in astro-photography began when I purchased my 10" telescope and a Phillips ToUcam in 2003.

And.. what is it now for you?
Alan Friedman, at the frontend
of The Wall Street Journal, 2007
I call astronomy my night job... but I think it takes up more than half of my time! In addition to working and lecturing in astro-photography, I am involved in public outreach through the Buffalo Astronomical Society (I am the current president) and the Buffalo Museum of Science, where I am a research associate and frequent volunteer on programming from the rooftop observatory.

What does inspire you, what do you pursue or try to capture in your work?
It can be a challenge to sustain one's enthusiasm for solar system photography. The best results rely on excellent seeing, and for most of us, the atmosphere is rarely steady and these occasions invariably coincide with your children's dance recitals. Our subjects are limited and taking the same pictures again and again hoping for a trophy image can become tiresome. And just when you think you have a good one, a NASA satellite in orbit around your target starts beaming back images that take your breath away and make your heart sink.

In my pictures I try to work within the limitations of my location and equipment and to find an aspect of my subject that is perhaps a little less frequently told. I hope to present a natural view with a bit of imagination. I am respectful of the accuracy of my data, but I like to be a bit of a storyteller too.

What are the things you have not done yet, but would like to?
I would like to travel more, observe and image from distant fine locations and meet some of the wonderful astronomy friends that I have made from around the world via the internet. Seeing a total eclipse of the sun is also near the top of my wish list.

What is the work you’re more proud of? What music do you suggest as soundtrack for viewers of your works?
John and his wife, Donna Massino
This is a hard question, because our results tend to improve with practice and the development of our skills. I have a special feeling for the montage of saturn images taken over six years... mostly for my good fortune in finding at least one steady night each of those years. I am also very proud of the accomplishments of my daughters. They have limited patience for astronomy today... but it will catch up with them later!

Another tough question... I love many and varied genres of music. I have made a few short films with my images and often look to a jazz soundtrack... this 1964 recording of the Autumn Leaves by Cannonball Adderley with Miles Davis is one of my all-time favorites. Chopin's piano Nocturnes no.1 in B flat minor might work well too.

Tell me... Who are the best astrophotographers in the world? Your favorite artists?
There are so many astrophotographers whose work I respect greatly... I would hate to single out a few and neglect others. I am especially fond of deep monochromatic Hydrogen Alpha panoramas of emission nebulae. In planetary imaging, I have deep respect for the dedication of Damian Peach and Anthony Weasley who travel widely in search of the finest imaging conditions... their best results are stunning reminders of the role that seeing plays in great images of the solar system. I think the artists of TWAN do wonderful work. When the air over Oklahoma is steady, Wes Higgins and his 18" Starmaster are tough to beat. Gianluca Valentini and Harald Paleske both offer excellent high resolution views of our neighborhood star.

John portrayed by his dad, 85
How could I choose a few stars from the galaxy of my favorite artists?!... I have too many. Cartier-Bresson, Edward Hopper... I guess I would start in my own backyard and direct you to the contributing artists at my day job. These guys are some of the most talented graphic designers working today.

A hint for newcomers: What does make an astrophotographer a good one? What equipment does it take? Your favorite tricks?
Patience, practice and persistence is a good mantra for the planetary imager. Once a level of proficiency is reached, your chance encounters with fine seeing conditions will be the factor that liberates fine detail and provides raw material for your best work. It takes a lot of dedicated effort to find those fleeting steady moments and a good deal of practice to get consistent results from them. As with any astronomy venture, aperture is important, but only if it is not a hindrance to getting out quickly and often. The best work today is being done with apertures from 10-14". There are many industrial streaming cameras available for planetary imaging... I would recommend a monochrome sensor and color filter wheel. It has many advantages over a color camera.

Just a few tricks of the trade:
Learn your local seeing - study the jet stream maps and the Clear Sky Clock... find the times when good conditions are most prevalent from your location. For image processing, learn the ins and outs of Photoshop... it is an indispensable tool. When sharpening your images, learn restraint. Unsharp mask will not make up for poor seeing. Experiment. Some of my most interesting results have come from taking a second look. These two variations are a good example of how inverting an image can show dramatically different perspectives of the same object:


Around Alan

What are your backgrounds?
I am a native of New York City... moved to Buffalo to attend college and never left. I have a BFA from the University of Buffalo and have owned my company Great Arrow Graphics since 1980. My wife, Donna Massimo, is a costume designer on the staff of the University of Buffalo. We have 2 daughters.

What are your other interests?
My life is quite busy between my day and night jobs... I also enjoy running, cooking, playing piano and doing the NY Times crossword puzzle.

Your plans for the future?
To find a little more time for my astronomy, and to stay strong and healthy enough to continue to carry my 10" telescope around.