Judging the IAPY Awards 2016

BBC Sky at Night Magazine editor Chris Bramley gives an inside account of judging the biggest astrophotography competition in the world.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Judging day 2016, Endeavour room, Royal Observatory, Greenwich, Judges: Chris Bramley, Melanie Vandenbrouck, Ed Robinson, Oana Sadu, Will Gater, Marek Kukula, Pete Lawrence & Wolfgang Tillmans

Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year judges prepare for a day of debating the best of the year’s astrophotographs in the Endeavour Room. Image Credit: National Maritime Museum, London.

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Summer holds an exciting event in my calendar this year – judging the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

It’s a day I relish: it starts early and finishes late, but the hours in between are full of the most fantastic imagery imaginable.

This year it’ll be held in the Endeavour Room, right at the top of the Astronomy Centre at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Here in a book-lined room, beneath a dome topped with a golden weathervane, the judges gather to debate some of the most spectacular images of the night sky taken by amateur astronomers this year.

What’s most enjoyable about the day are these discussions and the differing viewpoints that surface around the table. The 10 judges will sit around a circular table, so the debate can get animated!

This year Turner prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans is joining the judges and it will be very interesting to hear his take on the aesthetic qualities of the images that come before the panel.

How will the scientists and astronomers among the judges – Chris Lintott and Pete Lawrence for example – respond to his view point?

It will be very interesting to see how these two sides, the aesthetic and the scientific, come together and whether they can find some common ground.

Or will the differences be too great?

Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen by Luc Jamet_2015_Skyscapes_Winner
Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen by Luc Jamet took the top prize in 2015

How will the dedication of astrophotographers who have collected hours of data and spent long (cloudy) nights achieving processing perfection rate if it comes up against the simple magic of a picture taken at just the right moment and is beautifully composed?

My view is that both sides will feed of each other, coming away with a new appreciation of the benefits the other side can offer.

These are the kind of meaty questions that will be wrestled with on judging day.

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And with the competition having the most entries ever this year – 60 per cent greater than last year – there will be plenty of debates to be had!