'Catchers of the Light'

The Definitive History of Astrophotography


Extracts from the published printed book and eBook by Dr. Stefan Hughes, BSc., MA, Ph.D.

... former NASA Project Scientist and Professional Astronomer.

Available NOW at our online store 'Catchers of the Light'.


I was twelve years old when I first looked up at the stars and wondered.

From the hill high above my house I used to look up night after night under dark skies and dreamed of all the wonderful photographs I had seen in my books - of other galaxies far beyond our own Milky Way, of glowing clouds of gas, clusters containing stars far too many to count and the mystical dark clouds through which no stars could shine.

Images of the 'Great Andromeda Spiral', the 'Great Orion' Nebula and the 'Great Hercules Cluster' and the most iconic of them all – the ‘Horsehead’ filled my soul as I lay beneath the stars all those years ago.

I used to think that the people who made all this possible were famous scientists – household names. They had to be - after all they had captured in these magnificent photographs the true nature of our universe. Yet the truth is so very different.

How many of you have heard of a clockmaker called William Cranch Bond; a doctor named Henry Draper; the brothers Paul and Prosper Henry; the priest Angelo Secchi; the ‘wedding & baby’ photographer, William Usherwood; or the housemaid Williamina Fleming? These were the true pioneers of Astrophotography - whose names have long been forgotten and confined to the closed pages of history.

Although it is over forty years since I first stood upon that hill, it is only now that I am able to repay them for what they gave to me. I can think of no better way than to tell the story of their lives; not in the language of a scientist but in ordinary words; befitting these ordinary people who did such extraordinary things..

I stood upon that silent hill

And stared into the sky until

My eyes were blind with stars and still

I stared into the sky

The Song of Honour, Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962), English Poet




About the Book


How to Become a Great Astrophotographer

Purpose of History

Part I: Firstlight

I.1 Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1787-1851) & Joseph Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833)

I.2 Frederick Scott Archer (1814-1857)

I.3 Richard Leach Maddox (1816-1902)

I.4 Astronomical Photographic Processes & Technologies

Part II: Moonlight

II.1 John William Draper (1811-1882)

II.2 Maurice Loewy (1833-1907) & Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928)

II.3 William Henry Pickering (1858-1938)

II.4 Lunar Photographic Atlases

Part III: Sunlight

III.1 Armand Hippolyte Fizeau (1819-1896) & Jean Bernard Leon Foucault (1819-1868)

III.2 Warren De La Rue (1815-1889)

III.3 Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen (1824-1907)

III.4 Solar Photographic Surveys

Part IV: Planets & Comets

IV.1 John Adams Whipple (1822-1891)

IV.2 William Usherwood (1821-1915)

IV.3 Paul Henry (1848-1905) & Prosper Henry (1849-1903)

IV.4 Maximillian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf (1863 - 1932)

IV.5 Imaging the Solar System

Part V: Starlight

V.1 William Cranch Bond (1789-1859) & George Phillips Bond (1825-1865)

V.2 Benjamin Apthorp Gould (1824-1896)

V.3 Henry Draper (1837-1882)

V.4 Isaac Roberts (1829-1904)

V.5 William Edward Wilson (1851-1908)

V.6 James Edward Keeler (1857-1900)

V.7 Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923)

V.8 Williamina Fleming (1857-1911)

V.9 Photographing DSOs

Part VI: Spectra

VI.1 Lewis Morris Rutherfurd (1816-1892)

VI.2 Pietro Angelo Secchi (1818-1878)

VI.3 William Huggins (1824-1910) & Margaret Lindsay Murray (1848-1915)

VI.4 Edward Charles Pickering (1846-1919)

VI.5 Hermann Vogel (1841-1907), Oswald Lohse (1845-1915) & Julius Scheiner (1858-1913)

VI 6 Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953) & Milton Lasell Humason (1891-1972)

VI.7 Astronomical Spectroscopy

Part VII: Cartes du Ciel

VII.1 Amedee Ernest Barthelemy Mouchez (1821-1892)

VII.2 David Gill (1843-1914)

VII.3 Photographic Sky Surveys

Part VIII: Astrograph

VIII.1 William Parsons (1800-1867)

VIII.2 Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903)

VIII.3 George Willis Ritchey (1864-1945) & Henri Chretien (1879-1956)

VIII.4 Bernhard Schmidt (1879-1935)

VIII.5 Photographic Telescopes

Part IX: Amateur

IX.1 Pioneers of Amateur Astrophotography

IX.2 Modern Astrophotography


Appendix A: Astrophotography Timeline

Appendix B: 109 Important Astronomical Photographs

Appendix C: Chemistry of Photographic Processes

Appendix D: Telescope Optical Systems

Appendix E: Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs)

Appendix F: Useful Astrophotography Formulae

Appendix G: Glossary of Terms

Appendix H: Astrophotographer Family Pedigrees

The Rules of History

List of Abbreviations


Photographic Sources

Rules of History

“It is the first and fundamental law of history that it should neither dare to say anything that is false, nor fear to say anything that is true, nor give any just suspicion either of favour or disaffection; that, in the relation of things, the Writer should observe the order of time, and add also the description of places ; that in all great and memorable transactions he should first explain the counsels, then the acts, lastly the events; that in the counsels he should interpose his own judgment on the merit of them; in the acts he should relate not only what was done, but how it was done ; in the events he should show what share chance, or rashness, or prudence had in them ; that in regard to per- sons he should describe not only their particular actions, but the lives and characters of all those who bear an eminent part in the story.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) from his speech ‘Pro Publio Sestio’