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Connellsville photographer's starry image wins prestigious prize

| Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 1:31 a.m.
Bill Snyder of Connellsville was named Astrophotographer of the Year 2014. He stands next to his telescope in his observatory at his home.
Celeste Van Kirk | Trib Total Media
Bill Snyder of Connellsville was named Astrophotographer of the Year 2014. He stands next to his telescope in his observatory at his home.

Connellsville's Bill Snyder is a self-taught astrophotographer who got into the art as a hobby.

“I asked a lot of questions until I got to where I am now,” he said. “I always thought astronomy was interesting and there are always new things coming up and so many different aspects to it that it's hard to get bored with it.”

He found astrophotography so interesting, he built an observatory at his home. He also has a remote observatory in the Sierra Nevada.

In the spring of 2014, Snyder submitted five photos to Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest. One of those shots was of the Horsehead Nebula.

The Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition is an annual celebration of the most beautiful and spectacular visions of the cosmos by astrophotographers worldwide. The winning images are showcased at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Snyder's image is one on display. He was named the 2014 Astrophotographer of the Year in the deep space category. It was his submission of a shot of the Horsehead Nebula that won him the title.

Dr. Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich and a member of the judging panel, said the Horsehead Nebula is one of the most familiar objects in the sky and one of the most popular targets for astrophotographers.

“But the judges all agreed that Bill's (Snyder) image was one of the best treatments of this subject that they'd ever seen,” Kukula said. “The subtle detail in the dark dust clouds and veils of glowing hydrogen gas is extraordinary and Bill had also chosen an unusual framing of the nebula, emphasizing the bright star in its blue cocoon of dust as well as the more obvious ‘horse's head.'

“With his beautiful shot, Bill has shown us a familiar object in a new light,” Kukula added.

Rhianon Davies, with the public relations department of the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said the deep space category had 347 entries.

While Snyder has had a few photos short-listed in the contest before, he had never placed first or second or even honorable mention in the past.

He felt this past year that his Horsehead Nebula was a pretty nice image, but he didn't set any expectations.

“This is really the biggest achievement for me,” Snyder said. “There's nothing else I can think of that I'd rather win. My reality now is what I used to dream about. This would've seemed farfetched when I was first starting out.”

The winning shot was taken with a 17-inch plain weave telescope, Apogee U16 camera.

Snyder has had other accomplishments in his astrophotographer career. One of his photographs appeared on the front page of Astronomy Magazine in France and one was chosen on several different occasions as the photo of the day from NASA.

He has had work displayed at the Pennsylvania State Museum for three months and just recently finished up some photos to be displayed at a museum in Ohio.

Because Snyder thought it would be cool to be on the cover of magazines and to have his work recognized, he used to just give his photographs away, but his friends suggested that he start charging for them.

He currently sells his photography at art festivals.

Entries to the 2015 seventh annual Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition were to be submitted earlier this month and the winning images will be showcased in the annual free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich on Sept. 18.

Rachel Basinger is a Trib Total Media contributing writer.

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