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Episode #

7

Astrophotography and Tiktok Influencer Bray Falls

Bray Falls

June 16, 2022

Episode Show Notes

June 16, 2022

In this episode, we meet with Bray Falls, an astrophotographer and now astro Tiktok influencer from Arizona. Bray attended Arizona State University where he completed his Bachelor degree in Aerospace Engineering all in part due to his love of space.

Featured in this episode

Jens Bringsjord

Co-Host

Megan Luedke

Co-Host

Episode Transcript

Jens Bringsjord

We've all done it taking photos with our smartphones. And while our photos capture memories and life moments here on Earth, we are usually quite oblivious to what's happening above our heads in the starry night sky.



Megan Luedke

We don't always see how difficult it is to take pictures of the night sky above us. That's where Astrophotography first comes into the picture. These unique photographers take photos of astronomical objects and celestial events happening literally above our heads.



Bray Falls

You can't see colour and basically anything in space. It'll all be grey. Fuzzy blobs except for the Orion Nebula called M42. If you have a big enough telescope and you look at it, you can see a little bit of like green turquoise, and that's about it. It's like the only colour you can see in space.



Megan Luedke

That's very false. An amateur photographer and now Astro TikTok influencer with over 1.5 million followers from Arizona.



Jens Bringsjord

Bray attended Arizona State University, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. All in part due to his love of space.



Bray Falls

As far as, like where I started in Astro, I first got into it when I was 14. I decided I wanted a telescope badly. I saw or read a post online that said, you can see Jupiter's moons, the pair of binoculars. And I was like, Jupiter has moons. What? What's going on here? Like, I didn't know anything about this.



Bray Falls

And then I looked at it, and then I saw all these extra dots that I can see with my eyes. And I was like, oh, there's, there's some stuff here that, like, I didn't know about that. I can see. And I tried taking pictures of it through the eyepiece of the binoculars, and then it’s kind of slowly spiralled out of control.



Bray Falls

Me and my first telescope shortly after that, where Astrophotography is like taking pictures out of space. Aerospace engineering is like the study of how do you get to space? So, it's like mechanics, aerodynamics, the study of how like fluids flow around things, a bit of orbital mechanics, how things move around in space, and then a little bit of rocket mechanics as well.



Bray Falls

Like how what fuels do you use? How the physics of like an engine shape work, those are the kind of things that I spend most of my time on at school.



Jens Bringsjord

Astrophotography is all about taking photos of the night sky.



Megan Luedke

While many of us are sleeping, braces awake all night long and documents the night sky away from the light pollution emitted from our cities and instead goes into the depths of the vast deserts in the southwestern portion of the United States.



Bray Falls

When I'm going out to the desert or something to shoot, I have a Toyota Tacoma with a camper shell on top, and I have a little sleeping platform built in the back. So, I'll set up my telescope and then I'll go hide and, in the bed, inside of my truck and go on my laptop and use the telescope and then sleep.



Bray Falls

I do it by myself a lot. I've been lucky. I haven't had any strange encounters with people. I do run into people by. People always tend to be nice out in the desert. I don't like the awkward situation of like; you pull up and there's someone next to you at the campsite and you don't talk to them.



Bray Falls

You're like, Oh my God, there's another person. So, I usually try to introduce myself as soon as possible and then it's like try to, you know, break the ice. And that usually ends up like in a big conversation about space or astronomy and science, that kind of stuff. So yeah, everyone knew camps like stargazing, so it's like everyone is usually friendly.



Bray Falls

I do see wildlife sometimes, like foxes or deer foxes. They're kind of sneaky. So, it's like an it's a surprise when they come up and Arizona tarantulas and scorpions are a common thing to run across as well. Yeah. You don't leave your shoes unattended if you're going without your shoes and yeah, I've had that before. I'll walk up to my scope, turn the flashlight on.



Bray Falls

I'm like, Oh my God, there's a giant tarantula right there. Rattlesnakes. I've seen a couple of times. I've been rattled at a time or two as well. I've seen a lot of large centipedes, too. It's different if you're like going if you're hiking to kind of like get a milky Way shot somewhere, then your kind of like you're going to run into something probably at night, especially in the summertime.



Bray Falls

But if you're just sat in your telescope up at like a dirt lot, it's there's not a lot of things there. But sometimes animals will come check you out just to see if you have any food left behind or something.



Jens Bringsjord

Taking photos of the night sky is difficult with our iPhones. And while, yes, we might capture some stars on a clear night, you clearly need more power to really zoom in on more prominent objects in our galaxy.



Bray Falls

The amount I use right now is called a paramount mighty. So, it's like an it's very big. It weighs like £40. It sits on a big tripod, and it has these two massive motors on it. So, you can point anywhere in the sky, and it'll track anywhere in the sky, and it holds up to like £50 of equipment.



Bray Falls

So, there's a big spectrum where, you know, two pieces of wood all the way to massive thing. It just depends on how much stuff you want to carry and how accurately you want to point all that stuff at the sky. Because the more you zoom in to the sky when you're trying to track it, the harder it gets to track.



Bray Falls

So, if you if you zoomed into that movement basically, and you watched a star at like a thousand millimetres of focal length, the star might just go like it might zip through the field of view instantly. Like that speed is magnified. I pick a specific subject and track it from there. Most of the lenses I use don't have any zoom, so it'll be you pick a small spot you want to look at and then the map will follow it all night long.



Bray Falls

Though, the great thing that makes this all possible is automation with computers, so it feels a little bit like cheating sometimes, but once you have everything set up, I have it like so set up to the point where I can hit, run, and then I go to sleep and then the telescope just does all its stuff throughout the night.



Bray Falls

And then I wake up and have a big pile of images in the morning.



Megan Luedke

So, with these high-tech devices, you don't just point and shoot like a traditional camera. You instead let the lens get exposed to specific light frequencies for extended periods of time, some of which can be up to 30 minutes long.



Bray Falls

And then once you have a whole big data set, you might not even only use one night, you might use multiple nights like a week. There's no limit to how much you can do for exposure because it's always in the sky and it's not really changing. So, you can go back to it. But once you have all these images, you must do these steps called pre-processing for data, which is calibration, registration, and integration.



Bray Falls

So, calibration, you deal with all the annoying stuff with the sensor, the vignetting, all that kind of stuff. There are some special ways to take care of that. Registration means you align all the pictures you took throughout the night to each other so that they're all the same geometrically. And then integration means you average all of them together on a pixel per pixel basis.



Bray Falls

So, the analogy I like to use is when you're measuring your heart rate or something, you measure like a couple samples over 10/2 periods, and you take all your measurements, and you average them together. You do the same thing, but with each pixel, so each pixel in an exposure will have its own number. And then if you average the number that each pixel has over every set, then you get a cleaner result in the end, which means you'll have a noise free image by combining lots of stuff and averaging it.



Bray Falls

So that's the whole idea behind the main things you're looking at are kind of how big it is for why you're trying to do. The bigger the telescope, the better for most cases. And indirectly, this affects the F number, which is very, very important. So, if you're familiar with photography to these better than F eight, and its way better when you're trying to look at faint stuff because if you're looking at F two versus F eight, it's many, many times faster and you can finish a picture in like three nights instead of a month.



Bray Falls

So, a lot of it is looking for something that's fast so you can collect the light quickly or something with the right focal length for the shots that you want to get. There is no better amount of zoom or focal length. Like the telescope I just got is only like 350 millimetres. So, it's like an essentially, it's a big camera lens.



Bray Falls

It's not very zoomed in, but what it's good at is that it's fast. It'll be like F 3.6 and not to mention the other important thing is how big of a sensor a telescope can support. So, all the lenses can support full frame, basically, there are full frame lenses, but that's not really the case in the telescope world.



Bray Falls

Full frame sensors are very big in the telescope world, so not a lot of telescopes can handle full frame. The one I just got can, but many of them can't. So that's another important deciding factor like a lot of cameras are straight up won't work on some scopes.



Jens Bringsjord

Have you ever searched Google for Starry Night Sky photos and seen amazing imagery full of vivid colour and exceptionally looking organic shapes? Well, we're sorry to tell you the truth, but most of these colours represented in these photos are artistic compilations and decisions made by the photographers. Here's why.



Bray Falls

It depends on what camera you use. You can use like a normal DSLR, in which case, can you take a picture of a nebula or something. You can see the colour right away. You'll see like blues and pinks and all kinds of stuff. But a lot of the cameras I use are black and white, and I must tell the colours what they are for each image.



Bray Falls

The way I do that is I have filters that go in front of the camera. So, I have this whole rotating carousel of filters that will rotate and let me pick which filter I want to look at so I could look at red, green, and blue, and then later say that this one's red, this one's green son's blue.



Bray Falls

And software, and then that will make a colour image. So, for that when I when I look at the data, it's all black and white. But later, when I have each image for each colour filter, I can assign it and build a colour image. Where it gets complicated, though, is when I use narrowband filters, which aren't red, green, and blue, but they look at a narrow slit of light where certain gases emit that wavelength.



Bray Falls

So, for example, hydrogen, when it gets excited out in space, it'll emit a couple of different wavelengths. But one of the most common ones is hydrogen alpha, and it's kind of like a deep red colour. So, I have filters that only look at this narrow, tiny bit of deep red and reject everything else. And in that case, like if I'm trying to make a colour image with that, the human eye doesn't see that really.



Bray Falls

So, you kind of have to say this hydrogen alpha image will be my green, this other gas will be my blue and this other gas will be my red. And then you tell it that those are the colours and then that makes a false colour image. Yeah, you kind of know what the colour is going to be. And when you get to pick the colours, you'll also kind of get an idea of how they'll be.



Bray Falls

There are a couple different popular combinations for combining colours as well. The most common one is called the Hubble Palette, where the gas called sulphur two emission or the emission sulphur two is red, hydrogen alpha is green, and then some oxygen three emission is blue. And all the classic Hubble images you see are usually in that colour palette.



Bray Falls

So, people will most often tend to use that colour palette for their images and it's it looks generally the same for a lot of different objects, but I think it tends to look the best. That's the fun part about narrowband is you get to pick your colours and you kind of get to have fun with what the colours get to be like.



Bray Falls

I don't need to do as H0, I could do OHSU, I can flip everything around however I want it to make a colour image.



Megan Luedke

While Gray mainly shoots from the northern hemisphere of the planet, he also has travelled to the Southern Hemisphere to take photos of the night sky.



Bray Falls

So, the only other country I've been to shoot is Australia, which is an amazing place to do. Astrophotography for you because the sky is completely different down there as it is from the northern hemisphere. So, I flew into Perth and I kind of went around the southwest coast of Australia taking pictures and that was cool because like the sky is totally different.



Bray Falls

You can see these two things called the Magellan Clouds, which are these dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way. They look huge in the night sky. It's freakish. And the other nice part about Australia's No one lives on the West Coast, so there's no light pollution like once you leave Perth, that's pretty much it. It's one of the most isolated places on the planet.



Bray Falls

So, it was great for Astro. I brought a tracker like want to go hiking with something small and I had a camera and two lenses. That's it. I wish I could bring more. I intend to go back with more stuff because obviously if you're just flying and not hiking, it's easy. But I was mostly limited by cost then because I was a junior in college and that was my spring break.



Jens Bringsjord

After Bray has taken all his photos during the night, he's ready to begin his post-production process.



Bray Falls

So, there's some software’s that I use. Well, anyone can use that I do specifically for Astrophotography pics. Insight is kind of the main one. It handles all the alignment and the stacking and all that complicated stuff, but it also has like contrast saturation adjustments and detail enhancement stuff like you could find in Photoshop. So, pics inside is probably the biggest one.



Bray Falls

I use Photoshop a lot for masking and contrast adjustments as well. That's another really does program is most of the time it's just between pics inside and Photoshop. The image will start out in pics inside, it'll be compiled and then once the top reprocess it'll go to Photoshop for touch ups. There are some other niche software’s like Astro Pixel Processor is one I use for when I do panoramas of the night sky with my telescope.



Bray Falls

When you it's basically when you take a couple of images of different spots, and you merge them all together. The merging is very, very difficult to do for deep space stuff and it doesn't work very well in any other kind of like daytime photography panorama software. So, it's purpose built for that. Yeah, that's pretty much all I use for nebula photos, but with moon photos and pictures of the sun, you also stack like you do for Deep Sky.



Bray Falls

So, I'll use a program called Auto Stacker and that. So, there's extra layer when you're taking pictures of planets like this one or the moon where you basically you take video frames at a very high frame rate like 60 to 100 frames per second. And then you take all the frames from the video, and you measure how blurry all of them are.



Bray Falls

And then you reject all the ones that were too blurry for you, and you keep all the sharpest ones and then you stack those. So that program handles that whole process.



Megan Luedke

Even with the right telescopes, filters, and post-processing software. Like any artist, Ray is only as great a photographer as his tools will allow him to go. And unfortunately, something as amazing as solar eclipse in 2017 proved to become a multiyear test of skills. As an actor, photographer, and engineer.



Bray Falls

So interesting story behind this one. This isn't even a photo that I took. I just edited this photo. This is the total solar eclipse of 2017. This kind of started like a whole rabbit hole stuff for me because if you ever try to edit photos of a total solar eclipse, you'll realize that there is no software out there that can do it.



Bray Falls

And there are like three people in the world who wrote their own software to do it. I'm the fourth now, and I was like, angry. I'm like, I want these cool photos. Why can't I do that? And then I realize like, oh, you need to purpose write all these complicated algorithms by yourself if you want to be able to like to do this very nice thing.



Bray Falls

So, I spent like three years writing or learning and writing image processing software just to edit those pictures. So, like a good three years of effort went into just learning how to edit it. Very complicated and like probably one of like the hardest tasks I've undertaken just fuelled by the frustration that like I can't edit my photos like these people.



Bray Falls

I feel like a kindergartner, like I want to play with your toys, give it to me.



Megan Luedke

Taking photos of the night sky is a true art and skill, especially when you're competing with our human light pollution to see the night sky. Around 80% of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way those shimmers with its rivers of stars. This is in part due to most of the population living in urban areas with a high frequency of light pollution.



Jens Bringsjord

Our planet is truly a wonder that we may never fully understand the vastness of space. The true awe and wonder start to further unfold itself. When you look beyond our own planet.



Megan Luedke

The night sky is filled with amazing elements gases, objects, and light, all waiting for us to explore.




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We’re always on the look for new and exciting ideas.

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©2021-2024 Design Atlas Podcast. All Rights Reserved.

Created with love in Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles, CA.

©2021-2024 Design Atlas Podcast. All Rights Reserved.

Created with love in Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles, CA.

©2021-2024 Design Atlas Podcast. All Rights Reserved.

Created with love in Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles, CA.