The photographer Andrew McCarthy is celebrated for his astonishing images of the universe, which were mostly taken from his backyard in Arizona. He is particularly known for his mesmerising images of distant stars and galaxies, and also his images of the moon that capture it in textured detail.
For his latest project, Artnet News reports that McCarthy has taken some remarkable photographs of the sun, focusing on the chromosphere, which is the thin layer of plasma between the sun’s surface and its upper atmosphere. He takes thousands of photographs over a thirty minute period, and then uses a method of photostitching to compile the image.
The resulting 140 megapixel images reveal the surface of the sun in all of its fearful fiery glory, and are beautiful and captivating. However, he warns that amateur solar photography can be extremely dangerous, and he uses highly specialised equipment to take his images.
Discussing how he first became hooked on astronomy in 2017, McCarthy says: “I impulsively bought a telescope after fondly remembering looking through my father’s telescope as a child. One look at the planets through the eyepiece and I was hooked. I became obsessed with trying to share what I was seeing with the world.”
He said: “I’m reminded that I’m part of a greater universe, and that life on Earth is extremely precious. We are a mote of stardust that became self-aware, and that miracle must be preserved at all costs.”
In just a few years, McCarthy has become a highly skilled solar photographer, amassing hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and collaborating with NASA. He began by photographing a solar eclipse in 2017, and went on to create a dynamic image of the moon that was composed of 150,000 shots.
The image showed the coloured mineral deposits in vivid blues and greens, and went viral on social media. Describing how he goes about taking his stunning celestial photos, McCarthy said that the first step is to wait for any atmospheric haze in the sky to clear, which takes patience because sometimes it can be several days.
His glittering galaxies soon drew more and more followers to his Instagram page, and then at the beginning of the pandemic he was laid off from his full time job at a tech company in California. This was the prompt that he needed to turn his hobby into a full-time occupation.
He now spends his nights staring at the stars, but the biggest portion of the work is actually done indoors in front of a computer screen. The images need to be manually processed, which normally happens automatically with modern digital cameras. This can take hours or even weeks for larger solarscapes.
For anyone interested in taking up space photography themselves, McCarthy advises starting with a basic DSLR kit rather than a telescope. He also recommends learning the positions of the planets and brighter galaxies, and getting involved in the astrophotography community for support and mentorship.
If you feel inspired to take some shots of the stars, drop into our framing shop in east London and we’ll make them shine.