Astronomy Club dives into details of astrophotography in speaker event


Ella Yee

Upper school physics and research teacher Chris Spenner discusses the lessons he learned in astrophotography during the Astronomy Club’s workshop on Thursday. During the workshop, Spenner emphasized how certain astrophotography techniques are more challenging and can take several years to master.

by Ella Yee, Reporter

Astronomy Club invited upper school physics and research teacher Chris Spenner to lead an astrophotography workshop last Thursday during long lunch.

The workshop was the first part of a series intended to introduce different astronomy topics to club members. The club postponed their original plan to hold a solar telescope viewing workshop on Tuesday due to overcast weather, but they hope to host the event next semester.

During the astrophotography workshop, Spenner projected photos he took of stars, the moon, comets and more onto a whiteboard. He then discussed the techniques he used when taking the pictures, such as stacking exposures, which includes combining several images taken of the same object but with different lighting settings. 

He also offered advice on which techniques were more beginner-friendly and which ones would take more time to master. Though Spenner developed his skills in astrophotography over the past fifteen years, this was his first time presenting his photos in front of an audience.

“I hope [students] got a little inkling of my reverence for the night sky and why I do [astrophotography],” Spenner said. “Sometimes a fox randomly comes up and sits next to me while I’m doing my photography, or sometimes I hear an owl come flying right over my head. Just being out in nature is part of the joy of doing it.”

Reduced horsehead galaxy. Upper school physics and research teacher Chris Spenner shared this photograph during Astronomy Club’s astrophotography workshop on Thursday Dec. 9. (Provided by Chris Spenner)

Upper school physics teacher Dr. Mark Brada, adviser of Astronomy Club, noted the visually engaging aspect of astrophotography.

“The thing that I took away the most from it was this idea of the three-dimensionality of an astrophotograph, how in a single photograph you can have objects that are at vastly different distances,” Brada said. “I think it was a great way of getting the students interested, besides just how naturally beautiful a lot of the images were.”

Throughout Spenner’s presentation, students asked questions about how to achieve certain effects in photos and made comments on interesting details they noticed in his work. Club co-president Emily Zhou (12), felt that the topic catered to a wide audience, which was something that she, along with other club officers, took into consideration when organizing the event.

“Even if you’re not really interested in the technical side of [astrophotography], just seeing the images is really awe-inspiring because there’s so much out there that you haven’t explored,” Emily said. “I think that’s really amazing.”

Astronomy Club plans to hold future workshops focused on technical skills such as the computer science behind filtering an astrophotograph.