35 Astronomy Photographer Of The Year 2019 Finalists That Took Massive Amounts Of Planning And Precision

Astrophotography is probably one of the most difficult and specialized types of photography to try your hand at, but if you manage to get it right the rewards are some of the most astonishingly breathtaking images you are ever likely to see.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich has just revealed the winners of its annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, and the quality of the entrants was nothing short of spectacular. This year the competition attracted 4,602 entries from 90 different countries across the world, all presenting the universe in a new light and vying for the coveted prize of best picture.

#1

Aurorae: ‘Aurora Is A Bird’ By Alexander Stepanenko

Hungarian photographer László Francsics was named the overall winner of Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019. His bewitching image, ‘Into the Shadow’, depicts the 35 phases of the total lunar eclipse that occurred on 21 January 2019.

“I started taking astrophotos in 2003 at the age of 19 at the very moment I looked into a small telescope,” László told Bored Panda. “I had already been into photography for several years, and one of my friends pulled me into amateur astronomy. I put the two things together immediately.”

“For this moon eclipse shot I did not need to travel anywhere, I took this photo at home from the roof-terrace over my house. But for deepsky images (nebulas, galaxies) we have to go to extremely dark places far from settlement, also in Hungary. Hungary is actually a fairly good location in Europe for astrophotography as the light pollution is quite low at certain areas.”

László is incredibly proud and honored to win the prestigious award, however he explains that it was not entirely unexpected. His wife knew it was coming! “When I started to process the image after my sleepless night of the capturing, she saw halfready image on my computers screen and told me confidently that it will be the next overall winner, he told us. “She has never said it before, despite I have already took 5 awarded images at the IAPY competition during the past 7 years.”

The style of photography, while techincal and difficult, is more accessible than you might think. László says that people are trying it with their mobile phones – you don’t need a hundred thousand dollar robotic photo-telescope in the Atacama desert! “In Hungary we have a strong community of astrophotographers, he said. “In 2018, we founded the Hungarian Astrophotographers’ Association, of which I became the chairman, and already have 90 members. We organise annual exhibitions, frequent club events, and most of all we go out together to take photos under the starry sky. Our recent great challenge to establish our own astrophoto observing site in Hungary.”

Would you like to give it a try? Scroll down below to see the best of the entrants from this year’s competition for yourself, and let us know what you think in the comments!

#2

People And Space Winner: ‘Ben, Floyd & The Core’ By Ben Bush

Cloud cover doesn’t always scupper astronomy. It can complement and frame the sense of awe so long as it keeps in the right place, as captured here.

Jon Culshaw, comedian, impersonator and regular guest on The Sky at Night

Talk about a ’decisive moment!’ Vast yet intimate, breathtaking and touching all in one beautiful image.

Rebecca Roth, Image Coordinator and Social Media Specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

I love the story of how Floyd the dog was persuaded to be a part of this fantastic image.

Alan Sparrow, Chair of the UK Picture Editors’ Guild and Director of the UK Picture Editors’ Guild Awards

#3

Our Sun Winner: ‘A Little Fireworks’ By Alan Friedman

This image presents a view of the Sun infrequently seen. It reminds me of images viewed through a microscope rather than a telescope. Taking something as huge as our star and presenting it in such fine detail as if observed under the microscope is a real feat of photography.

Oana Sandu, Community Coordinator and Communication Strategy Officer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

The use of a different colour palette to our expectations gives us an alternative way to think about the Sun.

Alan Sparrow, Chair of the UK Picture Editors’ Guild and Director of the UK Picture Editors’ Guild Awards

#4

Stars And Nebulae: ‘Deep In The Heart Of Mordor – Ngc 7293’ By Andrew Campbell

#5

Skyscapes Highly Commended: ‘Flower Power’ By Brandon Yoshizawa

Timing is everything. There is no better example of that than this image. However, even the best timing needs an expert eye to make the most of it. The perfect execution of capturing and processing here makes me feel as if I’m standing on the ground witnessing this incredible event.

Steve Marsh, Art Editor for BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Looking rather like a special effect from some imaginary spacecraft in a science-fiction story, this image shows hot exhaust from a launching rocket making contact with colder air. Though the initial plume is thin, the changes in atmospheric conditions as the rocket climbs cause the exhaust to surge dramatically outwards, creating the ‘petals’ of the flower. Under the right conditions, minute ice crystals form, reflecting and scattering light from over the horizon, injecting colour into the scene (including rainbow effects). The apparent stillness of the natural landscape and the man-made activity overhead contrast wonderfully, and are dramatically framed.

Edward Bloomer, Planetarium Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich

#6

Stars And Nebulae: ‘Ngc 6164, The Blue Doily’ By Josep Drudis

#7

Robotic Scope: ‘Sh2-308 Dolphin Head’ By Tian Lee

#8

Stars And Nebulae: ‘Depth And Height, Ngc 7822 Devil’s Head Nebulae Complex’ By László Bagi

#9

Galaxies Highly Commended: ‘Andromeda Galaxy’ By Raul Villaverde Fraile

This is a popular deep-sky target imaged to an intensely detailed degree. The bright halo around M31 really shines here. This is not easy to capture without bleaching out detail in the brighter parts of the main galaxy, but the photographer has managed to display fine dust lanes spiralling all the way into a beautifully balanced galactic core.

Steve Marsh, Art Editor for BBC Sky at Night Magazine

#10

Aurorae: ‘To The Flying Aurora’ By Zhijun Yan

#11

Skyscapes Winner: ‘Across The Sky Of History’ By Wang Zheng

I was immediately struck by the surrealist quality of this image. There is a calmness about the scene but also a great strength in the twisted form of the dead tree reaching out, both towards the Milky Way and the falling meteor, making a powerful connection between the Earth, near sky and deep sky. The tonal quality and range emphasize the detail, which I can easily lose myself in for quite some time.

Mandy Bailey, Astronomy Secretary for the Royal Astronomy Society

From the movement of the trees to the streak of the meteor, there is symmetry and drama in this shot that feels like it was always there. The decision to de-saturate the image gives it an ageless feel.

Steve Marsh, Art Editor for BBC Sky at Night Magazine

#12

Skyscapes: ‘Deadvlei’ By Stefan Liebermann

#13

Aurorae: ‘Aurora Like Phoenix’ By Wang Zheng

#14

Our Moon: ‘Mineral Moon – Aristarchus Quadrangle’ By Alain Paillou

#15

Aurorae: ‘Aurora Outside The Tiny Cave’ By Sutie Yang

#16

People And Space Runner-Up: ‘Above The Tower’ By Sam King

Night-time mist, ancient ruins, ethereal light and the quiet expression of the human presence all make this contemplative scene remind me of the romantic landscapes of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Melanie Vandenbrouck, Curator of Art at Royal Museums Greenwich

#17

Stars And Nebulae Runner-Up: ‘A Horsehead Curtain Call’ By Bob Franke

It takes control to present monochrome images of such colourful objects such as this one. Even more control to produce one as perfectly processed as this of an object notorious for its imaging difficulty.

Steve Marsh, Art Editor for BBC Sky at Night Magazine

#18

Stars And Nebulae Winner: ‘Statue Of Liberty Nebula’ By Ignacio Diaz Bobillo

This is simply exquisite! I love the pastel aquamarine and rosy hues, the delicate wisps of gas and dust, the finely drawn features of the nebula.

Melanie Vandenbrouck, Curator of Art at Royal Museums Greenwich

The choice of palette and attention to colour balance lend a fairy-tale quality to this image. Pools of light are perfectly balanced, inviting the eye to explore the abstract sculptural beauty of the nebulae. A superb result.

Tom Kerss, Public Astronomy Officer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich

#19

The Sir Patrick Moore Prize For Best Newcomer Joint: ‘Bloodborne’ By Keijo Laitala

#20

Skyscapes: ‘Worimi’ By Jay Evans

#21

Our Moon: ‘Sunlight Versus Earthshine’ By László Francsics

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An image of swathes of the universe under construction conveying a grace and beauty at vast distance, which contrasts with the cataclysms and ‘late heavy bombardments’ which are likely taking place at the heart of it.

Jon Culshaw, comedian, impersonator and regular guest on The Sky at Night

#23

Our Moon: ‘Hubble Space Telescope Transits Across The Moon Between Lunar X And Lunar V’ By Michael Marston

#24

Our Sun Runner-Up: ‘The Active Area Ar12714’ By Gabriel Corban

This is an incredible portrait of the Sun’s untameable fury – a maelstrom of seething plasma we so seldom consider as we bask in its warm rays on a peaceful day.

Tom Kerss, Public Astronomy Officer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich

#25

Our Sun Highly Commended: ‘The Sun – Atmospheric Detail’ By Jason Guenzel

I commend the creative and artistic choices made by the photographer in both the colour palette and the highlighting of the prominence with an enhanced atmospheric layer. The final image is spectacular. 

Ed Robinson, Award-winning photographer, creative director, visual consultant and founder of OneRedEye Visual Communications

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#26

The Sir Patrick Moore Prize For Best Newcomer Joint: ‘The Perseid Fireball 2018’ By Zhengye Tang

#27

Stars And Nebulae: ‘Fiery Lobster Nebula’ By Suavi Lipinski

#28

Galaxies Runner-Up: ‘Hydrogen Sculptures In The Large Magellanic Cloud’ By Ignacio Diaz Bobillo

This is a fascinatingly unusual image in its texture and patterns, like endless backlit smoke rings in the corner of a celestial jazz bar. 

Jon Culshaw, comedian, impersonator and regular guest on The Sky at Night

#29

Skyscapes Runner-Up: ‘Galactic Lighthouse’ By Ruslan Merzlyakov

The range, balance and framing of this composition are already incredible, yet some intangible ingredient further elevates this image to dizzying heights of surreal beauty. The essence of exploration, from the terrestrial shore to the cosmic shore, with beacons of light both grounded and celestial, is utterly spellbinding.

Tom Kerss, Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich

#30

Planets, Comets And Asteroids Highly Commended: ‘Black Saturn’ By Martin Lewis

I’ve loved the monochrome images in this year’s competition and this view of Saturn is no exception. Capturing an image using a methane filter to reveal this type of detail is technically challenging. It gives us a very different view of Saturn and one I found fascinating to explore, wondering what caused the methane to form into such bands.

Mandy Bailey, Astronomy Secretary for the Royal Astronomical Society

#31

The Sir Patrick Moore Prize For Best Newcomer Joint: ‘The Horsehead Nebula’ By Rob Mogford

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#33

Stars And Nebulae: ‘Ngc 2070 – The Tarantula Nebula’ By Thomas Klemmer

#34

Aurorae Winner: ‘The Watcher’ By Nicolai Brügger

I love the detail in the foreground. It puts a perspective on the aurora and gives a scale to this phenomenon.

Alan Sparrow, Chair of the UK Picture Editors’ Guild and Director of the UK Picture Editors’ Guild Awards

If an image is worth a thousand words, this one definitely encompasses that. The amount of elements to explore in this frame is impressive. Even more impressive is the way the elements come together in a balanced composition: the Milky Way arch above intersects with the aurora and the human presence points towards the landscape below, which puts up a light show of its own. I especially liked spotting the footprints in the snow.

Oana Sandu, Community Coordinator and Communication Strategy Officer at the European Southern Observatory

#35

Stars And Nebulae: ‘The Running Man Nebula’ By Steven Mohr

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