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Josh Dury: the astrophotographer exploring the night skies

'The Enigma of the North' capturing the Callanish Stone Circle <i>(Image: Josh Dury)</i>
'The Enigma of the North' capturing the Callanish Stone Circle (Image: Josh Dury)

Josh Dury is a self-confessed insomniac but it’s not really surprising since as a night photographer every minute in bed is potentially missing that perfect shot of the dark sky.

Although only 26 years old, Josh has already been shortlisted twice for the prestigious Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition hosted by The Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It’s the biggest of its kind in the world and receives more than 4,000 applications.

This year’s shortlisted image is titled ‘The Enigma of the North’ capturing the Callanish Stone Circle on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, with the backdrop of the Milky Way.

Josh said: ‘It was a time of my life when I thought I would never pursue astrophotography again. It is thanks to this one image that has revived my photography career, there has been a resurgence. This photo revitalised my enthusiasm.’

Great British Life: Josh DuryJosh Dury (Image: Josh Dury)

He hadn’t picked up a camera for six months but he had always had an interest in stone circles and ancient sites. At the time of visiting, there were four days of clear sky forecasted and a new moon; this was his chance. ‘What I didn’t realise, yes there was dark skies, but you could see the aurora as well. To see those beautiful pillars and curtains along the horizon I thought that was absolutely magical, enigmatic.’

Following the nomination he has received media attention from the BBC, ITV and even CNN in America, alongside having his work published in the UK’s leading photography magazines. After one televised interview he was walking down the street when someone said: ‘Ooh look, it’s Starman.’

His passion for night photography stems from when he was a seven year old boy in Compton Martin; his mum had just bought him a small telescope, he was fascinated by cameras and he’d just seen a children’s television programme about Mars. He went down to his local book store and got a photographic astronomy guide. Taking it to school he generated ‘nerd’ calls but he persevered right through to his photography degree at UWE.

The day of our conversation coincided with a period when the Northern Lights were stretching as far south as Somerset. Later in the day this photograph was used in the Points West regional news.

Great British Life: Glastonbury Tor bathed in purplish pink aurora taken at 3am. Glastonbury Tor bathed in purplish pink aurora taken at 3am. (Image: Josh Dury)

Over a cup of coffee in a Wells café Josh skimmed through his phone to show this amazing photograph of Glastonbury Tor bathed in the purplish pink aurora, taken just a few days earlier. It was shot at three o’clock at night and was just one of about 500 snaps.

He said: ‘Because the aurora is getting stronger these images have never been seen before. So to capture it at somewhere like Glastonbury Tor, this is a first. That image is incredible. It’s showing that our area is amazing for night skies.’

According to Josh the area of conservation that has not received the attention that it deserves, is light pollution. To give you some perspective, London is a 9, Exmoor is a 1 and Mendip is a 4.5. On this issue he has been working closely with the Mendip Hills AONB.

He said: ‘Mendip hills having been designated a Super Natural Nature Reserve the Mendips has now become a hotspot for dark skies. So to have this protected going forward as part of the King’s Series National Nature Reserves is fantastic news. To know that this part of the world, my homeland, is protected is amazing. You’re not just photographing the stars but you’re looking at the greater environment. We’re protecting our heritage, our nature, our wildlife.’

Great British Life: The Mendip Tree at Priddy PoolsThe Mendip Tree at Priddy Pools (Image: Josh Dury)

Later in the season BBC Springwatch are putting together an item on light pollution in which Josh will feature.

His advice for budding astrophotographers: ‘You don’t need to go to your latest photographic supplier and buy all the new gear; use the equipment you’ve got, it might be your mobile phone it might be a DSLR camera, just go out and have a go, take a couple of exposures and see what you can get.’

His advice for kids: ‘If you have a passion, work with it. I remember the early days of Chew Valley school and I was bullied for my astrophotography. But the thing is that passion has stayed with me and it’s led me to some massive achievements. Keep that passion going.’

For the rest of us: Look up and enjoy the splendor of the dark sky. ‘That’s where my ambitions are going forward. To get people interested in looking up at the night sky and in raising public awareness of our beautiful part of the world.’



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