Journey to the Stars – An interview with Astrophotographer Josh Dury


Journey to the Stars – An interview with Astrophotographer Josh Dury

Josh Dury | Landscape Astrophotogrpaher and Writer

Josh Dury Photo-Media (AKA Starman), is a recognised, award-winning professional landscape Astrophotographer, presenter, speaker and writer from the Mendip Hills “Super National Nature Reserve” in Somerset, United Kingdom. His work is recognised by major publishing media outlets, including the BBC, ITV and CNN amongst others. 

SIGMA 20mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury

What inspired you to take up photography?

My journey to the stars began from a young age. As a youngster at seven-years old, I was enthralled by the depth of our universe; from having watched children’s programmes about the Planet Mars. It always occurred to me what it would be like to be closer to the stars and that is when I started to document them. My Mum and Dad bought me my very first telescope and that was the moment that changed my life.

As anyone in the astronomy community will tell you, they remember the first time they saw the Planets; I was forever gripped. For what you expect to see in an article for the National Geographic was actually there; suspended in the sky. To see the light of moons orbiting around other Planets; seeing the Great Red Spot of Jupiter and Saturn’s iconic rings, these were some of my earliest memories and that experience was immense. I used to go down to my local bookstore to read more about these planetary worlds and what to see through a telescope. It was months later when Mars; the Planet that started it all – heralded the sky. Seeing that for the first time; the polar ice caps and the dust lanes on its surface. It is a moment I always cherish.

Throughout my school-years, I took photographs of the Planets using conventional webcams and imaging software (which are probably deemed poor by today’s standards but it was a starting point; you need to start somewhere!). It was here that my perspective on the universe became more grounded; to understand what we are seeing from our window to the universe.

It was not a hobby to me; but a way of life. Forever observing the sky; knowing what to see from one-month to the next. This connection stayed with me through my education – Astrophotography being my focus; eventually being awarded First-Class Honours in Photography by The University of the West of England (UWE).

When did you transition into photographing landscapes and Astrophotography? Did you find anything challenging or easy?

When seeing images of the night-sky, I am always impressed by images of deep-space; to areas of the universe requiring both large amounts of image acquisition and data.

For me though I wanted to take photographs, which were unique to me. This is why I became a Landscape Astrophotographer. I wanted something that would challenge me and keep me on my toes! This process happened during my degree; I remember the look on my tutors faces having never seen a student pursue Astrophotography before. It was new to them and dare I say it, somewhat cutting-edge.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury

I remember some of my earlier shots in an attempt to capture the Milky Way and never being quite satisfied with my results. You would see images from other Photographers of what seemed like ‘explosive’ amounts of detail. Only to find they were photographed from some of the darkest skies around the world. Even to this day, I have taught myself not to put pressure on myself. As artists, we know what things look like, and I came to terms that my homelands of The Mendip Hills are impacted by minimal light pollution from the nearby cities of Bristol and Bath and even so, I wanted to show my homelands of The Mendip Hills and Somerset in the best light.

So I learned I needed to travel more if I wanted to see these celestial events; I would need to make my way to the other side of the country and overseas when required, to catch a glimpse of these celestial wonders. Gradually, it is a process you work on and everyone takes photographs in different ways; no two photographers are the same. So when I see heavily-photographed locations, I think to myself; what is it I want to capture that is unique compared to other Photographers? I want my voice to be heard.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury
SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury
SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury
© Josh Dury

What are you thinking when you are capturing the night sky?

There can be nothing more mesmerising than looking up on a cold, clear night to the outer extremities of the universe. As we get on with our day-to-day lives, we forget in moments that we are in fact on a ball of rock; orbiting our local star. It’s moments like these where the universe really feels like it is coming down on you and when you understand your place in the universe. Looking up to the light of shining stars thousands and on many occasions, millions of light-years away. Thinking we are not looking at things as we see them instantly; we are looking back in time.

In my imagery, I do my utmost to capture images that are true to what you can actually see and justify otherwise, deployed imaging techniques when required to show what our universe really is capable of; from star trails to eclipses and the aurora themselves. Because they make us ask questions; create a sense of curiosity, a sense of wonder and what is out there; how can I see that?

I relate to my younger self at times and remind myself of the journey from a young, naive stargazer; the search for life on other worlds. It is astronomy that has brought me closer to like-minded people in forming a sense of community. When I look up to the stars. I think about so many things (not just wishes!), but my family, friends, the people I have met through my travels. Looking up to the Moon thinking how we really are connected through starlight.

How did you motivate yourself to become a full-time photographer?

I believe a poignant reminder is when I picked up my camera for the first time in six-months visiting the Outer Hebrides; setting sail to the small hamlet of Callanish. To have been fortunate enough to be gifted with clear skies at the time of New-Moon, was almost an omen to say this was my chance to pick up the camera again. When I took the photograph, which became known as ‘The Enigma of the North’, I never for one second realised how this image would change my life. 

The Enigma of the North - SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury

After a year-long break from Photography, I remember looking at the images coming from my camera and something was different about them. My approach and style had changed (or at least my outlook did). I really like to understand what I am photographing to tell a story in my own light. From my background in Stone Circles and Ancient Sites, I knew that Callanish, regarded as ‘The Stonehenge of the North’, is interpreted as a megalithic lunar observatory; marking what are known as ‘lunar standstill positions’, (or extreme positions as it were) over the lunar cycle. For me, this stone circle looked like ‘a crown’ and I wanted to depict that majesty in my work. 

It was after my television interview on the BBC when I saw things starting to change. Walking down the streets of Bath, only for a face amongst the crowd to recognise me and say ‘It’s Starman!’. I was shocked as I now had a name for myself. Music has always been an integral part of my photography; from my influences of Kate Bush, to Grace Jones, Tears for Fears and the original Starman himself, David Bowie. Each piece of music conjuring images in my mind and constantly shaping my style; creating an emotional connection.

I was later invited to more appearances on the Radio and seeing my works printed by UK-Photography Titles. Only then to be recognised as an Award-Winning Photographer, selected as the Overall Winner for Historic Photographer of the Year; being featured on the BBC News Pages and UK-Headline Newspapers. I was besotted.

Do you have any advice for photographers looking to expand their work?

The one piece of advice that I would give from my experience to any avid Photographer is to believe in yourself and keep it up. I know it sounds like an underestimated cliche, but sometimes I find it is. Never be put off by competition. The only way to develop your photography is through trial and error. Sometimes you win, other times you do not. Have faith. Take photographs for the full enjoyment of what you have set out to do. I believe it needs to be fun to make powerful work and you have your own story to tell. Yes it may take time to build the relationship with your camera, but it helps you learn more about yourself, your photographic style and the connection you hold with your subject. I remember being told to ‘never give up your photography’ and I am so glad I didn’t. My photography really has come back with a resurgence and has made me closer to the stars than ever before.

SIGMA 14mm F1.4 DG DN | Art - © Josh Dury

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