So I quite like the sound of my own voice. I really enjoy getting up on stage and sharing with an audience my love of the stars, and of the technology we use to look at them more clearly. I’ve done it enough, recently, that I’ve had to start organising and filing away my presentations. I’m even considering organising my own events where I can talk as much as I like! But I’m here now to talk about the two most recent talks. A few months ago, the organisers of ScopeX asked me to fill an hour slot with AstroPhotography. I asked “Why me?” and they said “Because you’re the director of ASSA’s Astrophotography Section. Duh.” I said “You know that it’s mainly an administrative function and that I’m not actually that good at photography?” But they were having none of my excuses, so I proposed a 15 minute speech introducing modern astrophotography techniques to be followed by a 45 minute panel discussion. At around the same time, I was also approached by my dear ol’ Mum to give a talk at her annual work function. Over time, this second event grew until they threw open the doors to the general public and charged an entrance fee at the door. Now that both talks are over, I can share my experiences.
Astrophotography: How to create beautiful images of the night sky
ScopeX was, as usual, a crowded affair, with school groups and astronomy enthusiasts bumping shoulders between the rows of amateur-built telescopes and science shows. I had several other jobs to do during the day so didn’t get much chance to enjoy the sights (I usually take my camera with and grab a full catalogue of all exhibits. This year I didn’t take one single photograph), but eventually 5pm rolled around. Up I went to the hall where I was due to speak, and was just in time to see the previous speaker packing away the projector and PA system. People were already arriving to hear me speak, so I had to run from a rapidly filling hall to find another projector. Fortunately, Johan Smit (of ASSA’s Pretoria Centre) had brought one along and I was able to get set up before the audience began throwing things. The talk was simple and brief: a very light, general-public introduction to the techniques of modern digital astrophotography. I talked about cameras, mounts, guiding and processing, and finished with a quick slideshow of the process I followed with one of my more recent images, starting with one of the raw light frames and ending with a beautiful colourful picture of the Trifid Nebula. And then I called up the Panel. Since we’d had so little time to prepare, they all had to drag their own seats up from where they had been sitting (sorry about that!). On the panel we had Cory and Tanja Shmitz, Melvyn Hannibal, Gerhard Bloemhof and Chris Stewart. Between them they amassed many years of experience behind the camera and telescope, but represented a wide variety of favoured techniques and equipment levels. I seeded the discussion with a few questions about getting started in astrophotography, dealing with light pollution, and how to approach different image subjects before opening to the floor. The audience had a number of interesting questions which the panelists fielded admirably – between them they maintained a good flow of quality information and held the crowds interest well. Unfortunately, there was no PA system available for us, and the hall had no elevated stage. This meant that the sound of our voices didn’t travel well past the first few rows, so we had to remember to shout. And with the hall being filled to capacity (rough guess: 100-200 people) that was a lot of people struggling to hear. But on the plus side, the entire talk was filmed and recorded. It’s still in processing (it’s taking time because the volunteer who agreed to record events recorded ALL events for the day, and I imagine he has a job and a life), but when it becomes available I’ll share the link.
Wonders of the Universe
Now jump forward a few weeks. We’re in Howick where the little work function has ballooned to a fully catered meal-and-a-show open-to-the-public event filling the Eagle Ridge Estate clubhouse to capacity. This time I had a projector, and a PA system, which was a definite improvement. The talk lasted a full hour, and was titled “Wonders of the Universe”. As with the ScopeX event, it was very well received, with an attentive audience who had plenty questions afterwards. This was definitely one of the most fun talks I’ve given, partly because it was the first time my wife and kids were in the audience. Most memorable moment? After the last question from the audience, just as I finished thanking the sponsors, my five year old daughter’s voice piped up loud and clear from the back “Daddy are you finished talking yet?” Definitely a crowd-pleaser!