Navaneeth Unnikrishnan’s Instagram bio states ‘Fragments of my imagination’. And like the universe, his imagination transcends the Milky Way, nebulae and supernovas. He shot for the stars albeit claims to not have landed anywhere. His pictures say otherwise. The 26-year-old Malayali is an astro-landscape photographer. His subjects feature star clusters, asteroids and everything out of reach. In a country where astrophotography is yet to build momentum, Navaneeth finds his groove among stars.
“Space has always intrigued me. A couple of years ago, I fell asleep on my terrace. My house is far away from the city lights, and the skies are clear. When I woke up, the sky looked different. There were star clusters and hazy white light. I couldn’t recognise it but I shot a picture which looked entirely different from what was captured by my naked eye. After thorough research that night, I figured that I’d shot the Milky Way. Further, I stumbled on articles and videos wherein people shot galaxies with an ordinary camera and telephoto lens. That’s when I decided that I wanted to shoot space,” says Navaneeth, who promoted his gear from a Canon 1100D to a Sony A7R3.
After the episode, Navaneeth directed his focus upward. He received an opportunity to shoot at the Indian Astronomical Observatory in Hanle, Ladakh, right after, in 2015. “For 20 days, I shot pictures. That’s how I got ‘publishable’ astro pictures. From there, I went to Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. And now I conduct astro workshops in Iceland, Indonesia and Spiti,” says Navaneeth.
One can’t help but wonder about the extent of stargazing in a country wherein clear skies unmasked by pollution is a rarity. “It’s extremely difficult to shoot in South India. Clouds play a fundamental role. One can plan to shoot astronomical subjects even years ahead. But a cloud is sufficient to ruin the shot. One can see a clear spectacle only in the Himalayas. Probably a reason why we don’t have many astrophotographers in the country,” says Navaneeth whose workshops delve into the wide-field astrophotography.
“Which is more creative. You shoot the Milky Way with the landscape. Unlike deep space photography, the former doesn’t require a lot of technical knowledge. Participants are more interested in wide-field astrophotography,” he says. However, his deep space photos have found their way to acclaimed international magazines including the National Geographic, BBC Earth and Conde Nast.
Does one require extensive knowledge to shoot astronomical objects?
“If you’re doing nightscapes, basic knowledge and creativity are all that is required. Deep space requires deep technical know-how,” Navaneeth says. Undoubtedly, astrophotography is a complex and expensive field. “Once you figure out the business aspects, you can make a good return out of it. Initially, it was a hobby, now a career,” he adds.