Astrophotography Cambodia debuts with local stars at show
These days, when most people look up at the night sky, they can’t see much beyond a few blinking satellites as they slowly crawl overhead. This is due to pollution – light pollution, which means the glare of city lights makes it hard to see distant stars – and air pollution, which is so heavy in some places that you can’t see very much at all, sometimes not even planes.
In the countryside, away from urban interference, if you look up at the night sky, you can see hundreds of stars, but seeing something really distant or in detail requires a telescope and some know-how.
This is where astrophotography comes in handy. It uses technology and photographic technique to capture truly spectacular images of distant celestial bodies such as galaxies.
Today, a group of five local artists who share a passion for photography and astronomy have come together to organize a one-of-a-kind astrophotography exhibition in Cambodia. The exhibition opened on January 15 with a workshop to showcase the art form.
“Unlike Thailand and Vietnam, astronomy or astrophotography is not very popular here in particular, but we think there are more people who share the same interests as us,” says Jiper “Sonic ” Duran, one of the organizers of the exhibition.
Duran – who self-deprecatingly remarks that he is neither an astronomer nor a photographer – says he simply loves science and in particular studying what lies beyond our planet.
“The purpose of hosting this event is to let our space-loving friends know that they are not alone,” Duran told The Post.
Duran says everyone – but especially those interested in astronomy – are encouraged to visit the exhibit at Cloud, which runs until February 12.
“During the opening workshop, we provided basic information about astrophotography and explained the equipment needed. We also illustrated what can be taken using different types of imaging devices, smartphones to DSLRs, as well as with dedicated astrophotography setups,” he says.
Duran and his fellow astrophotography enthusiasts meet online in their Facebook group “Astrophotography Cambodia”. The group promotes interest in astronomy in the Kingdom and tries to foster a spirit of camaraderie among those who practice astrophotography in Cambodia.
The exhibit itself consists of prints of astrophotography by five different astronomer-artists, and each of them took the time to tell The Post about their involvement in this unusual discipline.
Milky Way Galaxy Artists in Residence
The artists all come from different backgrounds and professions, but they share the same ambitious goals of capturing images of distant objects in our world using a variety of lenses, techniques and cameras ranging from smart phones to professional DSLRs.
Chea Sereywat started with a simple smartphone
Sereywat – whose day job is to work for DENSO Cambodia Co Ltd – has three years of experience in photography and two years specifically in astrophotography. He came across a night sky photography contest with global entrants and international photographers and wondered how they could capture things that people could never see with the naked eye.
“I started learning to take pictures with my smartphone. My most notable experience at this point was when I captured my first image of the Milky Way after waiting 30 seconds of exposure time. This photo led me on my current path,” he says.
Sereywat says shooting stars are his favorite things to photograph and he loves astrophotography in general because it allows him to see what can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Sereywat has nine photos in the exhibit and each of them was taken in a different location – including Rattanakiri, Battambang and Kampot – and on a different subject.
Suong Mardy imagines earthly subjects with celestial backgrounds
Mardy, a civil servant at the Ministry of the Environment, has 11 years of experience in astrophotography. In 2009, he decided to start photographing stars with wide-field lenses after seeing some astrophotography photos on the 500px website. His first subjects were photos of star trails and the Milky Way.
Mardy says he enjoys photographing subjects like temples, trees and waterfalls, but first he has to find subjects that are in dark places in good weather.
“I love seeing the starscape and experiencing the night sky and the deep sky,” Mardy told The Post.
It has nine photos in the exhibit and all of them are related to nature – trees, waterfalls and bodies of water – and they were taken in the provinces of Koh Kong, Kampong Speu, Mondulkiri, Stung Treng and Kampot.
Nara Tsitra was inspired by a friend
Nara discovered the hobby of astrophotography a few years ago thanks to Duran who showed her the equipment and how to take pictures of the stars at night.
“I was really amazed that capturing images of stars was really fun for me and the best way to keep myself busy when I have nothing to do at night,” says Nara, who has eight photos in the exhibit. .
In the past, Nara spent his evenings playing guitar in local underground metal bands such as Sliten6ix and Reign in Slumber, but these days he enjoys quieter pursuits.
“It’s the only hobby that keeps me sober at night and it captures the incredible moments when the brightness of these stars comes in after traveling millions of light-years back to Earth.”
Nara photographed the Andromeda Galaxy on August 24, 2020 at his home in Phnom Penh using a crop sensor mirrorless camera attached to his telescope with a tracker.
“It was a little harder for me to spot the object due to the heavy light pollution in the city and I don’t have an automatic tracker that helps me find my target easily,” he says.
He captured images of the Orion Nebula on August 18, 2020 at a resort in Kampong Cham using the same camera. He stayed up late setting up his gear and finally got his chance around 5am.
“It’s a hobby that can take time and dedication, but when you finally capture an image of something really cool out there in space, it’s so worth it,” says Nara.
Lim Piak’s hobby is to photograph everything, including the stars
Lim Piak, based in Poipet, is freelance and has been practicing photography as a hobby for over a decade now.
He says his interest in photography comes from the pursuit of honing his skills and perfecting his aesthetic until he can take great photos with a unique look.
Piak has five photos in the exhibit which were taken at different landmarks in Cambodia and they required a lot of preparation and travel time to capture them. Some of the places he took photos were Veal Thom at Vireak Chey National Park, Preah Vihear Temple and Khnang Kroper.
“One of the best places to film stars is Veal Thom. It has some of the darkest and clearest skies in the country. And my biggest single encounter in astrophotography happened there at Veal Thom when we were able to film the Neowise Comet C2/2020 F3. This comet will not return for 6800 years,” he says.
Sonic Duran always wanted to be a NASA scientist
Duran’s interest in astrophotography was sparked early one morning in December 2018 when he awoke to see three bright spots in the sky from his window.
He later discovered that what he had seen were three of the planets in our solar system: Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, rarely visible together or with the naked eye, and he wished he could photograph them, so he began to learn about the process involved and building an imaging platform.
Eight of Duran’s photographs of deep sky objects are in the exhibit. Among them is the Crescent Nebula of which Duran has taken 500 images since 2020 using 300-second exposure times.
“The most remarkable and extremely rare events I was able to capture were comets Neowise and Leonard and the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn,” Duran told the Post.
Duran suggests that budding astrophotographers look for places rated 1 or 2 on the Bortle scale used to measure the amount of light pollution in an area. He also advises finding somewhere open enough to see the whole night sky and where expensive camera equipment will be safe and secure – preferably with electricity and a place to sleep – and of course you’ll also need good weather and cloudless night sky.
“The opening night workshop went very well and we are doing another on a different topic related to astrophotography at Meta House in March when we move the exhibit there. If you are interested by astrophotography or if you are considering taking up this hobby, keep an eye on the Meta House calendar of events in March,” Nara told the Post.
The Cambodia Astrophotography Exhibition is open to the public at The Cloud located at 32 Ke Nou Street in Phnom Penh. It runs until February 12.
The exhibition will move to Meta House in March and the opening night will feature another astrophotography workshop. Check their event calendar for the date.
Facebook: @cloudcambodia and @MetaHousePhnomPenh. Join the Astrophotography Cambodia Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/978675679179229/