Behind the Image: David Tolliday, Orion DT

A wildlife photography holiday for David Tolliday ended with him winning an astrophotography prize! An unexpected outcome to say the least. Read on for the story…


Behind the Image: David Tolliday, Orion DT

Image by David Tolliday


David Tolliday was this year’s recipient of the Sir Patrick Moore prize for best newcomer in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, an award given to newbies to the hobby who show great promise.

With his startlingly beautiful image of the Orion Nebula, David certainly fulfilled that brief. Amazingly, this was his first ever proper go at an astro picture, snapped on a holiday that was supposed to be for wildlife photography!

Read on as David tells us the story behind the shot…


On winning a prize for his first ever astro picture (!)


“Bit of a shock, really!”

“I was delighted, amazed. I was obviously quite pleased with the picture, and all the friends I’d shown it to thought it was pretty good, but I didn’t think it was up to the standard to win a competition like that!”

“If you go to the Royal Greenwich Observatory the image is up in the entrance lobby to the Planetarium, and it’s massive – about three or four feet high – and it’s backlit and looks absolutely stunning.  I’ve had one or two wildlife exhibitions and had images shown at Macclesfield Camera Club, but certainly never anything of this nature. And it’s in the book as well! It’s brilliant.”


On the subject


“This is called the Great Nebula in Orion. Orion is one of the constellations we have in winter in this country, and the Orion nebula is in the dagger below Orion’s Belt. If you look at it with your eyes it’s just a little speck of light, like a star. Take a picture with a long lens on a camera, and there’s detail you can’t see because camera sensors are better than our eyes at resolving things like that.”


On capturing the shot


“It’s my first proper astro shot. I went away to Elan Valley in Powys with my cousin and some of his friends, who are serious astronomers, and I only went to take wildlife photographs! But it was the first night and I just sort of looked at the sky and thought ‘Oh, I’ll see what I can get’ and pointed the camera at the sky. And it was rubbish!”

“The next time I went one of my friends lent me an astro track, a device that tracks the movement of the Earth and rotates to keep stars still. This was the first time I’d used that bit of equipment. During the days I’d be taking red kite photographs, and then in the evenings I’d have a go at doing this.”


On astrophotography


“Obviously dark sky locations are crucial. Doing it from where I live, just south of Manchester, you’ve got no chance! You need cloudless nights – don’t believe the weather forecast, they’re always wrong – and you need the moon to be out of the way. Those things are key.”


On the kit


Behind the Image: David Tolliday, Orion DT


In addition to the astro track, David was using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a 500mm lens. “Just ordinary camera equipment,” as he puts it.

“That’s what I want to keep doing for as long as I can, just using my own camera equipment. There’s plenty of different types of pictures you can take – star trails, images of the Milky Way, loads.”


See more images from Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year


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