Starstruck photographer Dr Christian Sasse

Dr Christian Sasse, whose composite photo of the Milky Way (projected on screen) went viral on social media this year, was in Singapore recently to speak at Visual SG, a visualisation festival.
Dr Christian Sasse, whose composite photo of the Milky Way (projected on screen) went viral on social media this year, was in Singapore recently to speak at Visual SG, a visualisation festival.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Dr Christian Sasse's subjects include celestial bodies and wildlife and his work has been featured by National Geographic

8Q

At 1.96m tall, the inquisitive Dr Christian Sasse is a bit closer to the stars than the average person.

These celestial bodies - galaxies, stars and astronomical objects - are among the many topics that fascinate the German-Canadian photographer, best known for a composite photo he took in April while gazing at the night sky in southern Australia.

The breathtakingly gorgeous photo, stacked together from shots taken over 10 hours on one night, shows the Milky Way twisting its way across the sky.

It quickly went viral on social media and eventually appeared on the website of iconic magazine National Geographic.

In July, the magazine also uploaded video footage shot by the 58-year-old on its website, showing a young red-tailed hawk in Canada behaving like an eagle after it was "adopted" by eagles in the wild.

Dr Christian Sasse, whose composite photo of the Milky Way (projected on screen) went viral on social media this year, was in Singapore recently to speak at Visual SG, a visualisation festival.
Dr Christian Sasse, whose composite photo of the Milky Way (projected on screen) went viral on social media this year, was in Singapore recently to speak at Visual SG, a visualisation festival. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Eagles are another favourite photography subject of Dr Sasse's, who shoots mainly with a Nikon D5 camera body and 800mm f/5.6E telephoto lens.

Born in Britain, he has lived in South Korea, Germany, Israel, South Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka and Sweden, and now resides in Canada.

He was in Singapore recently and was a forum speaker at Visual SG, a festival that celebrates beauty through its emphasis on visual aesthetics, insights and narratives residing in science.

This event is part of the month-long Singapore Science Festival, jointly organised by Science Centre Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

The son of a diplomat and pianist, Dr Sasse is a former widower who is now married to an electrical engineer. He has twin sons, aged 23, from his previous marriage and a step-daughter, 22, from his current marriage.

1 You have a doctorate in optics. Has that influenced your photography?

Yes, it has. I see everything in patterns and details - the reflection of lights, beautiful feathers of birds, iridescent colours of insects - I am fascinated by light and understand its properties.

In photography, there are rule books that tell you, for instance, to never look against the light coming from the sun. I ignore everything. I just do. And I have learnt most of my skills by mistake - when I had a wrong setting on my camera and it did something incredible.

2 What is your objective in photographing stars and galaxies?

It is partly to show the world how beautiful the universe is. Sometimes, I look at the sky for hours, trying to remember the patterns, so I can be in tune with what I see.

It is also partly to satisfy my curiosity. I am incredibly curious, like a boy who never grew up.

I also think sharing what you see with the world is good because it is only when you have to explain something in a simple way that you really understand what you are talking about.

3 What do you think about the art of composite photos?

I think it has not been explored very much.

Composite photos can give beautiful effects, such as when capturing the movement of ballet dancers and athletes.

To be honest, I don't really see the difference between composite shots and regular shots. Who is to determine what is a real picture?

Photographers also "set" regular photos, such as when wildlife photographers put out some bait so the birds will come.

4 What other subjects do you like to photograph?

I take many photos of eagles, which are my favourite birds.

When you photograph wildlife, you have to specialise because you are competing with very good photographers. And I told myself that I have to become the best.

What I want to do in the future is to use slow-motion photography to show - very slowly - how an eagle takes off. The beautiful details of the feathers - that is very educational and I think it will interest viewers.

5 Have there been unexpected incidents that occurred while you were photographing something?

Once, I was in my driveway in Canada, doing a live broadcast about the moon.

I was concentrating - following the movement of the moon, showing my viewers its beautiful craters and answering their questions - and I suddenly noticed a family of raccoons sitting nearby and observing me do my broadcast.

It was as if they were watching a show.

It gave me the fright of my life because I don't know how long they had been sitting there.

6 What advice do you have for people interested in seeing stars and galaxies?

Go to a place with low humidity and no light pollution, such as some parts of South Africa, or Texas and Arizona in the United States.

Australia is not very far from Singapore and I will be giving special tours there and teaching people how to look at the night sky, take beautiful pictures and remotely control a telescope.

7 What is your astrological sign and do you believe in horoscopes?

My astrological sign is Aries and I do not believe in astrology. There are only 12 categories and I think we are much more complicated than just 12 categories.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As a genuine, honest person who is passionately trying to show the beauty in the nature around us.

Watch Dr Christian Sasse recall a memorable encounter while photographing the moon. Go to youtu.be/BL3F2VBNE_o

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Starstruck photographer'. Print Edition | Subscribe