Michael Benson: Planetfall and the Edge of Space

Images of spacemen floating in the middle of nowhere can be quite awe-inspiring, but even barren outer landscapes can illicit the same response. Outer space offers hundred of thousands of great photo possibilities, but it’s actually finding great images that’s the tricky part. Fortunately, Michael Benson has saved everyone else plenty of time and trouble by going through the best photographs currently available on the edge of space, and collecting them in his book, Planetfall.

Michael Benson is an artist and photojournalist who is well-known for his publications and exhibitions on outer space. He has previously released two books filled with photographs on the subject, Beyond and Far Out. His latest book, Planetfall, is a continuation of this off-planet story. Unlike the usual images of space, Benson’s photographs look like 100 percent computer-generated imagery. They are in fact all real, only that they have been digitally edited to make them look larger than life.

Benson’s love affair with space began when he was small, collecting trading cards with outer space related images, and then later on watching the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This fascination with everything off-earth has led to his becoming a journalist and photographer, but his current work focuses more on the best of photography and art to produce the images of Planetfall, a term he describes as “the moment when a view comes off the edge of a planet.”

As anyone might have guessed, none of these images were taken by Benson himself. Rather, the original pictures were taken by robot satellites and spacecrafts launched by NASAESA (European Space Agency),JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and the like. Fortunately, these agencies provide these photographs for free to the public. Unfortunately, most of the original images resemble nothing like the fantastic pictures seen here.

Instead, the original RAW images are usually grainy, black-and-white, pictures that look nothing like these color pictures. In order to get a good picture, Benson has to scroll through the public images and find a good subject that has at least two images of it, one taken with a red filter and another with a blue filter.For the best results, three images are required, with the other taken with a green filter. Benson then makes sure that all images align perfectly before applying a little Photoshop magic. With a little more tweaking, the results literally look out of this world.

In most cases, Benson acts as an artist, combining raw data files in order to create majestic visual artworks. In others, he acts like an editor, sifting through hundreds of good images to find the best ones. In all cases, he acts as a responsible photographer, only choosing the best out of all the tens of thousands of images available online. Any other hobbyist would have quit in the first few hours, but Benson’s passion led him to uncover true gems of space photography.

In all cases, Benson’s images are the perfect marriage of science and art, showing how truly beautiful and still be mysterious outer space is, and even presenting a different view of Earth itself.

Michael Benson’s images can be found in the book, Planetfall: New Solar System Visions. His previous works Beyond: A Solar System Voyage and Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle are still available and offer a glimpse of the edge of space.

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