Shooting stars: Our astonishing front-page photograph, and the competition it won

A contest to capture Ireland’s night sky received a huge response. These are among the highlights

Photographing a night sky is challenging. I once tried capturing the moon’s occultation of Venus. I was prepared: I had been told the precise time to expect this diamond-like shimmer to appear from behind the moon. This can’t be any more difficult than shooting elusive politicians, I thought. I was wrong. I didn’t get the shot.

As Picture Editor of The Irish Times I am no stranger to cameras or gazing at the night sky, and as a judge for the Reach for the Stars astrophotography competition I understood just how demanding the task for the entrants was.

The competition, organised by Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, called for submissions of photographs of Ireland's night skies. Anyone over 18 with an interest in photography, astronomy or both could enter. The only stipulation was that the images had to be taken on the island of Ireland between January 1st, 2020, and March 31st, 2021.

Having reviewed hundreds of entries, I’m in awe of the talent, perseverance and technical ability required to accomplish the images displayed here.


Gallery: See the winning photographs and more here

The overall winner – as featured on the front page of today’s print edition of The Irish Times, and on the epaper – is by Josh Mathews, titled To the Waters and the Wild. It depicts the Milky Way over Crocknaraw, on the Connemara coast, in Co Galway.

This outstanding image made for a clear choice by the judging panel, which included Peter Gallagher, head of astrophysics at DIAS; John Flannery, vice-president of the Irish Astronomical Society, and Martina Quinn, managing director of Alice PR & Events.

Josh Mathews’s photograph is not only an astonishingly beautiful, well-balanced image but also a perfectly executed one. He evidently has immense technical knowledge and patience. It’s also clear that he conducted both day- and night-time reconnaissance, researched the location and is familiar with shooting the night sky.

Two runners-up were also selected: Ciarán P O’Donnell, from Belfast, for his image Cygnus Mosaic in Hubble Palette, and Tom O’Hanlon, from Tullamore, Co Offaly, for North Star Jesuit House.

The Irish Times' support of this competition as media partner gave me the chance to see work by hundreds of talented photographers. As well as the winners, a selection of the judges' top-rated Reach for the Stars images is on view in an online exhibition on An outdoor exhibition at DIAS's premises on Burlington Road in central Dublin is planned for the coming weeks, followed later in the summer by an exhibition at DIAS Dunsink Observatory, in Castleknock, on the northwestern edge of the city.