Notes on the 2015 TWAN Photo Contest

By Babak A. Tafreshi*

2015 June 22: From the view of circling stars above the Table Mountain against the urban labyrinths of Cape Town to the magnificent glory of the Milky Way over Mt Rainier in Washington, the winners of the 6th International Earth & Sky Photo Contest highlight the natural beauty of the night sky and its growing battle with light pollution. The 10 winners of the 2016 contest, selected from about 1000 entries, are from China, Iceland, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, and the United States. About 70 other outstanding images competed closely with the winners. They are awarded as Honorable Mention and appear in the contest video.

Rise of Female Astrophotographers

Some might consider night-time photography, chasing dark skies in remote areas, too much of adventure for females. The steady grow of female photographers (both amateur and professional) contributing to the TWAN contest proves this is wrong and there is a notable change in general lack of prominent female astrophotographers. In the 2013 contest we had our first female winner from Canada. In 2014 the contest overall winner was an Italian lady who is imaging from Dolomites in the Alps. And in 2015 our first winner in the Beauty of the Night Sky category is Lyubov Trifonova of Russia, for her image “The Enchanted Forest” showing the Moon and the northern lights lit up the snow-covered forest in Murmansk, northwestern Russia. The fifth winner in this category is another lady from China. Caren Zhao captured her winning image “Strolls in the Star River” from Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat located in Bolivia. When I tried to reach her this week for the contest result she was imaging in a remote mountainous area of Tibet.

Challenging Classic Photography

In a post on the 2012 contest I noted how an increasing number of nightscape images appear to be over-processed, often with extremely saturated colors that do not represent the natural night sky. This year we had much fewer saturated images that might be a sign that more of nightscape photographers are getting familiar with this concern and avoid altering the night sky reality. However there are many new techniques that diffuses the border of accepted realistic nightscape photography. A large number of the outstanding entries that didn’t succeed in the contest were extreme blending of exposures where the dark foreground is imaged separately with several minutes of exposure and the digitally blended sky image has much shorter exposure of 20 to 30 seconds (or vice versa). These techniques are currently not accepted in the TWAN program and considered too far in the photo-composite. However in the 2016 contest besides single-exposure photos, star trails and regular panoramas there will be new categories to enter “soft” composite images such as HDRs and exposure blends, and multi-focus images (focus stack).

Let’s Meet on La Palma

The 7th International Earth & Sky Photo Contest will be announced in early March 2016. The submission continues to the Earth Day April 22, as part of the Global Astronomy Month. If you plan to participate I recommend that you start now! The images must be taken between January 2015 and April 2016. We also welcome all nightscape photographers and time-lapse imagers to the first International Nightscape Conference that will be hosted in the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain. This is an opportunity to bring together photographers and other artists who connects the Earth & Sky, bridging art and science.

Honorable Mention photos

Some of the Honorable Mention photos of the 2015 contest, see more in the contest video and in the Guest Gallery:

Ghost Cloud

by: Martin Mark

Lucky Shot

by: Martin Mark

The Night Full of Light

by: Giorgia Hofer

Star Eruption of Elbrus

by: Boris Dmitriev

Trees Capturing Northern Lights

by: Lluis Romero

Canton Tower Under Startrails

by: Luo Zhenyu

The Aurora Mimics the Shape of the Mountain

by: Jean-Luc Dauvergne

 Light River in the Heaven and on Earth

by: Giorgia Hofer

The Milky Way Valley

by: Pouille Jerome

Moon Set on the Kanzhol Plateau

by: Boris Dmitriev

* Babak A. Tafreshi is the founder of TWAN program, a photographer for the National Geographic image collection, a science journalist and astronomy communicator. He is also a board member of Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) and a contributing photographer for Sky & Telescope.


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