A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning

Money from dental school graduation award sparked an interest that grew into a guide to the Moon, space, and beyond.
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Left: Rami Ammoun setting up the telescopes in his backyard. Right: A picture of the Moon captured by him.
Left: Rami Ammoun setting up the telescopes in his backyard. Right: A picture of the Moon captured by him.

Rami Ammoun 

"During the graduation dinner, I got a $1500 award, and I used that to buy my first professional camera."

Rami Ammoun, a Lebanese astrophotographer based in Richmond, Virginia, U.S., told Interesting Engineering (IE) while speaking about his passion and profession.

A board-certified prosthodontist, a branch of dentistry that specializes in replacing missing or damaged teeth, he works full-time as an instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond during the day and a full-time astrophotographer gazing sky at night.

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Ammoun's photography career started in 2015 when he bought his first camera with money from his dental school graduation award. This sparked an interest that grew into a guide to the Moon, space, and beyond.

Armed with telescopes in his backyard, he has created some fascinating images from space shared on his social media accounts.

A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning
Rami Ammoun in diffrent avatars.

Other than making images of celestial bodies, he creates brief narrative videos on his astrophotography on his social media, where he has accumulated around two million fans.

He frequently contributes editorial work from Moon Photography to publications and illustrious media organizations like Adobe. He was recently featured on the History channel.

IE sat with Ammoun for a brief interview, who likes to take pictures of the Moon that are as stain-free as his patients' teeth after a dental clean-up. 

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Interesting Engineering (IE): Tell us about your astrophotography journey. How did you begin?

A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning
Ammoun's beginner photos of the Moon.

 

Rami Ammoun: Astrophotography was first introduced to me in April 2015. Although I wasn't sure which style of photography would be my favorite, I wanted to learn photography in general, so I picked up my camera and started taking pictures throughout the day. Later on, I invested in a tripod and began experimenting with long nighttime exposures. Anything typically appears more stunning to the camera at night when using a long exposure. My neighbor's house looked beautiful when I snapped a photo of it at night; it was completely different from what you'd see during the day.

I positioned my camera behind two trees at that moment as the Moon was just about to rise, and I snapped a photo of the Moon framed by these two trees. I was overcome with delightful joy when I viewed the picture. With my lens even closer focused, I snapped another picture that revealed some moon craters. I kept purchasing larger lenses as my desire to see more details increased, eventually purchasing a telescope. Since then, the Moon and the night sky have dominated most of my photographs.

IE: Tell us about the telescopes in your backyard. What camera and other equipment do you use? I currently own four telescopes, five cameras, and three DSLR zoom lenses.

I utilize high-power instruments to capture photographs of distant objects like planets and galaxies, while low-power instruments give me a broad-angle view of the image field, which is why I have a variety of lenses and cameras. I then blend the pictures into composite images to create the scenes you see in my Instagram Gallery.  

Here's a breakdown of my gear:

Telescope 1: Meade Instruments S6000 5” refractor telescope. I use this telescope 90 percent of the time to capture the Moon and the planets. This telescope is discontinued by the manufacturer; however, here is an alternative

 Telescope 2: Celestron 11” Edge HD telescope. I use this telescope to capture celestial objects. The main reason I don't use this telescope often is that it's too heavy (28lb), and it often needs a sort of instrument calibration (collimation) due to the thermal expansion/contraction of the material. If this calibration is not done, the quality of the images will be blurry.

Telescope 3: iOptron Photron 150 RC - I occasionally use this small telescope to conduct live broadcasts.

Telescope 4: The superb small refractor telescope is the SVBONY SV503 105 ED F7 ED Achromatic Telescope. I take this telescope with me when I travel and use it for live Moon broadcasts.

Zoom lenses: Canon 100-400 IS ii telephoto zoom lens, I use this lens to capture a wider view of the Moon and some Moon time-lapses Canon 24-70 mark II lens, this lens is what I use for wide-angle astrophotography. I use my new Sony camera and the Sony E-mount FE 24mm F1.4 GM Full Frame Wide-angle Prime Lens to take wide-angle pictures of the night sky and the Milky Way. It is a prime lens, so it only has one zoom option, but this makes it incredibly sharp. Additionally, the lens is quick and can capture more light in a shorter amount of time because of the F1.4 aperture.

Cameras:  Canon 90D, Canon t6s, Canon 5D Mark IV, and Sony α7R IV Full-frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera; I recently bought this camera to capture wide-angle shots of the night sky and time lapses of the Milky Way ZWO ASI183MC Planetary Color Camera This is a specialized camera to capture the planets It performs better than DSLR cameras in this field because of the higher video frame rate and improved sensor sensitivity to details Planetary imaging is usually done via video acquisition of the planet and then stacking the best frames captured from the video.

In addition to the above gear, I use the following tripods to carry the gear:

Skywatcher EQ6 R Pro mount: This carries the 11" Celestron Edge HD.

Meade Instruments LX 85 mount: This carries the Meade 5" refractor telescope.

Meade Instruments LX 70 mount: This carries the iOptron Photron RC 150 and the 5" refractor as well; however, it has been discontinued for unknown reasons. 

Manfrotto 055 Aluminum 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column and a ball-head. This carries the cameras and the zoom lenses.

IE: You are famous for photographing Moon. What is your photographic process?

A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning
Pictures of Moon.

My photography process varies depending on the type of astrophotography I do. Astrophotography, for example, can be divided into lunar, solar planetary, deep sky, wide angle, and star trails categories. I primarily photograph the Moon. I previously wrote an article for Adobe explaining a few of the processes I use.

One frequently asked question is how I get the glow around my Moon photos. Because a camera has a limited dynamic range of light, a single image cannot capture the bright Moon's glow without overexposing it. The glow is created by blending a long exposure of the Moon behind the actual moon disc. Between the Moon's disc and the overexposed background, I add a layer of stars. I then reduce the transparency of the Moon's disc so that it appears both natural and glowing.

The glow draws attention to the image and heightens the drama of the scene. Furthermore, because the eye can see 21 stops of light (a very high dynamic range of light), adding the glow and creating a high dynamic range image produces results that are similar to what the eye perceives.

IE: How far have you reached in space with your camera?

A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning
Left: M65 Galaxy, Leo triplet galaxies. Center: Neptune planet. Right: Sombrero galaxy.

The M65 galaxy, one of the Leo triplet galaxies, is the farthest object I captured. This galaxy is approximately 34 light-years away. My favorite galaxy image is the Sombrero galaxy; I'd love to take a very large image of it with a specialized monochrome astronomical camera, which I don't yet have due to its high cost. In terms of planets, Neptune is the farthest planet I have captured. IE: Walk us through your favorite shot

A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning
Umbra Envisioned.

My favorite shot is this mosaic of the lunar eclipse. I call it Umbra Envisioned. The assembled mosaic represents an enlarged scheme of Umbra, which is the darker shadow cast by Earth during the advanced phases of an eclipse. In the center of the image, the total lunar eclipse is placed, making the theme of the image a flower. I also have several other shots that I love. One of them is me and the Milky way in 2017. I had this shot with Mars and me in the frame. At that time, Mars was very bright because it was close to Earth, which is called Mars in Opposition. And finally, a shot is the phases of Saturn, which consists of a composite image of 5 Saturn Images captured over a span of 5 years showing the change of angulation in Saturn's rings. 

IE: What plans do you have for your famous Moon photography?

A dentist astrophotographer pictures Moon as stainless as his patients' teeth after cleaning
Moon at the US Capitol.

My future plans in astrophotography include traveling to various parts of the world to shoot the full Moon with major famous landmarks. Like the full Moon with the Statue of Liberty and similar landmarks.