Meet Ben Bush: the astrophotographer behind Galáxia

News  •  05.07.24

Meet Ben Bush: the astrophotographer behind Galáxia

To celebrate the leading luminary in The Whiskymaker's Editions Galáxia, we are unveiling the secrets behind the iconic night sky image captured by The Lake District's renowned astrophotographer, Ben Bush. We had the pleasure of chatting with Ben to learn more about his story, photography journey and gather his invaluable tips for aspiring night-time photographers. 

What first drew you to astrophotography and how did you get into it? 

Born and raised near Bassenthwaite in the northern Lake District, I've always had a passion for photography. A few years ago, while living in Rydal, I found the area too crowded and began exploring the mountains and lakes at night with my camera. Initially seeking solitude, I discovered a love for capturing the stars and the stunning landscape.

One night at Blea Tarn, I captured an image of the stars above the Langdale Pikes. In the photo, I noticed a tiny smudge, which I later identified as our sister galaxy Andromeda, 2.537 million light years away and containing a trillion stars. This moment ignited my passion for night sky photography.

Determined to make this my career, I pursued this dream and, in 2019, won the People & Space category in the world's largest astronomy competition. Out of 5,500 entries from 90 countries, being one of eight winners was a proud moment that allowed me to turn professional and dedicate my life to photography.

What are some tips/advice you would give yourself if you started astrophotography all over again? 

My advice is simple: experiment. For those just starting out, play with your camera both day and night. This helps you learn your camera's functions, settings, and equipment, making night-time photography easier as it becomes second nature. A tripod is essential for astrophotography since long exposures are needed to capture the shots. So, experiment, learn your kit, and take lots of photos. The beauty of digital photography is that you can take as many shots as you want to capture stunning images.

When you're out shooting - how much of it is instinctual versus planned? 

Eighty percent of the time, I shoot by instinct. However, some planning helps maximize the chances of capturing great shots. I use various apps to plan specific shots and, when traveling in the UK or on tours to Iceland and Tenerife, to find the best locations for capturing the night sky.

Can you describe a favourite night-time shot you've taken and the story behind it? 

My award-winning shot, 'Ben, Floyd & the Core,' is a single 10-second exposure that changed my life, allowing me to become a full-time photographer. I took this self-portrait one night when the clouds obscured most of the stars, leaving a small clear patch of sky. Positioned at the base of a hillock with my dog Floyd, I captured us backlit by a sky full of stars. The photo features Mars, Saturn, the Summer Triangle, and the gas cloud at the heart of the Milky Way, where the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* lies. This photograph, embodying my passion for photography and love for my dog, enabled my wife and me to open The Bridge Gallery in Cockermouth, and it remains a best-seller.

How do you stay motivated during a challenging shoots or when weather conditions aren't ideal? 

In photography, especially astrophotography, we can't control the weather. This is where experimentation comes in. Thinking outside the box and being creative means that even in less-than-ideal conditions, you can still find unique shots. Completing a commission or project can be tricky, as it often involves going out and not getting any shots. Many nights are spent walking and searching, only to come back empty-handed. This is the reality for most photographers, who spend more time chasing the perfect shot due to weather conditions. However, when the stars align and the night is dark and full of stars, it makes it all worthwhile. For every photo in my gallery, there were ten nights when I didn't capture anything. These rare, perfect nights keep me going out time and time again.

What advice would you give beginners who want to start exploring astrophotography? 

My main advice is to practice your daytime photography and build up your equipment. A tripod is essential, and an interval timer is useful and inexpensive. I often take people out into the Lakes for night photography tuition, advising them to take lots of photos and continually tweak and experiment with settings for the best results. Keep track of which settings work and which don't. Great photography is made in the camera, not on the computer, so focus on capturing the best photographs and then tweak them in post to showcase them as they deserve. Keep experimenting, keep taking photos, and enjoy the process!

What are some essential tips for capturing star trails or the Milky Way? 

  •  Use a tripod.
  •  Invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera with 'fast' lenses for night photography.
  •  Consider astro lenses; I use prime lenses with wide apertures. There are budget options for beginners.
  • Use apps to track the Milky Way's position and core rise/set times.
  • Check the weather and moon cycle; a full moon or clouds can hinder results.
  • Bring a good-quality torch with spare batteries and a 'red' light to preserve night vision.
  • Wear suitable clothing, including boots and a jacket, as it can get cold.
  • If you're new to astrophotography, scout the location during the day, and bring a friend for safety and company at night.

Can you recommend any resources, like books or online courses, for aspiring astrophotographers? 

I highly recommend using YouTube for learning about photography, as it offers a wealth of information from professional photographers. Additionally, the School of Photography is an excellent online resource, offering courses from award-winning photographers. Their astrophotography course, which I teach, was filmed in Tenerife and provides a comprehensive learning experience. You can learn at your own pace and try various techniques.

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