Amazing shots of the Highlands night skies captured by award-winning photographer

Amazing shots of the Highlands night skies captured by award-winning photographer

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

Graham Hazlegreaves with the equipment he uses to capture the stunning images of space. Picture: Aidan Woods.

One of the very best regions in the UK to capture the night skies is the Cairngorms and here is the heavenly proof.

Talented award-winning photographer Graham Hazlegreaves has shared with Highland News & Media some of his stunning images which, incredibly, were taken from his back garden in Boat of Garten.

Graham has captured these photographs of the hidden beauty of the universe using his technical know-how and specialist astrophotography camera equipment.

Our nearest neighbour, the moon. This is a single shot captured with my mirrorless camera and a 500mm lens and received a Bronze Award from the Guild of Photographers. Graham said: “The moon is not as easy a target as you may think. It is very bright with huge contrast against the night sky and this needs to be considered when selecting the exposure. ” I edited this image in Photoshop and accentuated the colours of the moon stemming from the minerals spread across the surface from meteor strikes.”

Of course it helps to know where to look – the sun and moon can’t exactly be missed and several of the Solar System’s planets are easy enough to see but pretty much everything else is not visible to the naked eye other than as pin pricks in the vast sky given the unimaginable massive distances from the earth.

Some of the galaxies are millions of light years away.

This is Sol, our sun, captured in white light last summer. Sol is in a phase of increased sunspot activity, and several are showing in this image. I captured this using my largest telescope, a Celestron Nexstar 8SE with a focal length of 2032mm. I used a commercially available solar filter which blocks 99.99 per cent of light. Graham said: “It is so important not look directly at the sun without using an approved Solar filter, if you do you risk serious damage to your retina and blindness.”

Graham said: “We are blessed in the Badenoch and Strathspey area with dark skies which allow the beauty of the night sky to be visible to us.

“I remember when, as a child, growing up on the Wirral seeing dark skies full of stars.

“My imagination was captured by the Apollo Missions and especially the moon landings.

Moving further out again beyond the solar system, we enter the realm of deep space. This is Messier 42 (M42) also known more commonly as the Orion Nebular and is one of few nebulae that are visible to the naked eye. M42 is a diffuse nebula situated in the Milky Way and is the central ‘star’ of Orion’s sword. The Orion Nebula is some 1,344 light years distant, and the nebula spans some 24 light years across.

“I was fascinated by science and nature and through my photography I see the world and space in a new light.”

Graham added: “My astrophotography journey started about three years ago when I mounted my camera and 400mm lens on a tripod and captured my first image of the Orion Nebula in the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.

“The image showed a blue–purple image of the nebula.

Staying in the Orion area there are other nebulae that can be imaged with Graham’s equipment but they are not visible to the naked eye. In the vicinity of the star Alnitak are the Horsehead and Flame Nebulae.The Horsehead Nebula is a dark nebula and is visible against the bright emission nebula IC 434 and is some 1,500 light-years from earth. Immediately adjacent to the Horsehead is nebula NGC 2023 – the small blue feature below and slightly left from the Horsehead Nebula. Graham explained: “Emission nebulae are so called because their light comes from atoms that are ‘excited’ by the radiation from a nearby star. Reflection nebulae are visible because they reflect the light from a nearby star.” To the far left is the Flame Nebula is an emission nebula approximately 900 to 1,500 light-years distant. The nebula is a vast cloud of hydrogen gas which is excited by the ionising radiation from the star Alnitak.

“It wasn’t much to look at but it inspired me to find out more about astrophotography.

“I made baby steps with my digital camera and progressed onto a tracking mount that allowed me to capture longer exposures which allowed me to capture more details in the nebulae.

“Eventually I progressed to my current equipment.”

The Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree cluster lie some 2,350 light years from earth in the constellation of Monoceros. It is an emission nebula and star cluster – the colour green shows the oxygenrich gas clouds, red the hydrogen rich areas and the ambers/orange are sulphur rich dust clouds.

The professionally trained photographer captures all sorts of the images of the natural world which he said ‘for me covers just about everything between macrophotography and astrophotography’.

The technical part

Graham’s main telescope is a William Optics Zenithstar 61 II and Achromatic Refractor. Attached to it is a specialist astrophotography camera, the ZWO 294 MC Pro, it is a one-shot colour camera.

The smaller telescope mounted piggy-back on the Z61 is a William Optics Guide scope with a ZWO 290mm mono camera.

The North America Nebula (NGC7000) is an emission nebula located in the constellation of Cygnus (The Swan). The nebula resembles the shape of the North America Continent. The nebula is some 2,590 light years distant, 90 light years north to south and 140 light years across.

The rig is mounted on equatorial mount which ,in concert with the guide scope and camera, tracks the target very accurately accounting for the rotation of the earth.

The system is orchestrated by a minicomputer enabling Graham to take very long exposures of the order of five to 10 minutes.

Graham explains: “Long exposure times are needed to capture the very low levels of light reaching the camera from deep space.

The Rosette Nebula is also located in the constellation of Monoceros and is 5,200 light years distant. The Nebula is also sometimes referred as the ‘Skull Nebula’ because there is a resemblance to a human skull. The Rosette is approximately 130 light years across and the radiation from young stars excites atoms and produces the nebula we see today.

“I capture a series of exposures and in bespoke software I integrate the images producing a detailed image of a faint nebula and galaxies many hundreds, thousands, and in the case of galaxies, millions of light years distant from earth.”

Further out again we find two nebulae in the constellation, Cassiopeia.Graham said: “The first is the Heart Nebula and is one of the most beautiful nebulae that I have had the pleasure to image. The Heart Nebula is some 7,500 light years from earth and is in the Perseus Arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. “In this narrowband image the blue colour is ionised oxygen and the orange colours from ionised sulphur gases.”

A bit of explanation

Put simply, a nebula is a giant cloud of dust and gas in space.

Also located in the Cassiopeia constellation at 7,500 light years from earth is the Soul Nebula which is an emission nebula.

A galaxy can have millions or billions of stars.

The nearest large galaxy to earth, Andromeda, is 2.5 million light-years away. So, we see Andromeda as it was 2.5 million years in the past.

The universe is filled with billions of galaxies.

Moving on from our own galaxy is the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) which can found in the constellation of Andromeda and is 2.5 million light years from earth.The bright red/pink areas in the arms of the galaxy are regions where star formation is taking place. Andromeda is larger than our galaxy and is on a collision course and will ultimately merge with the Milky Way Galaxy in about four to five billion years.

Looking to the future

Graham said: “My journey into astrophotography has been one of discovery and wonderment which has clearly been helped by the dark skies we enjoy over the strath.

“But we should not take those skies for granted and we should strive to use lighting systems that do not pollute the night sky.

Finally moving even further out into inter-galactic space we have the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51a).The Whirlpool Galaxy is a grand spiral class galaxy and is interacting with a smaller galaxy M51b/NGC 5195.This galactic interaction is taking place 31 million light years from earth. This is a cropped image to show the interaction.

“If we can protect the night skies, then further generations may well be inspired by the marvels that exist in the universe.”

All images are copyright to Graham Hazelgreaves. If you would like to see more of hiss stunning work check out his website at


Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.