Catchers of the Light Books


"This book is truly a magnum opus, a labour of love, and a great work of scholarship. It is authoritative, detailed, thorough, superbly illustrated, well referenced, and all-encompassing. There is no nook or cranny of the history of astronomical photography or its proponents that has not been investigated, noted, and embellished with a relevant image. It is worth every single cent of its price. It is an essential addition to every astronomy library. Anyone with even a vague interest in the development of astrophysics will need to have this book to hand; it is a vital and reliable starting place for any historical research into the last two centuries of astronomical endeavour." Professor David W. Hughes, 'Observatory' magazine, February 2015. Read Full Review Here:

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B.1 - Catchers of the Light - Print Book Edition
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Due to many requests from astronomers, photographers, booksellers, museums, libraries and the general public the PRINTED BOOK Edition of the 'Catchers of the Light' is now shipping to customers. 


It will be published in TWO Large A4 format hand bound hardback Volumes containing around 800 pages each. Each volume will be printed on high quality 'heavy duty' paper, with its own full colour lithographed dust jacket and an identical laminated hardback cover underneath it, thus ensuring our customers of a Book which will grace any bookshelf, whether it be in a library, a bookstore or a home. Furthermore, in order to enhance the purchasers' reading experience, a comprehensive and consolidated Index is also provided. 


It is highly appropriate that both the Printer and Bookbinder we have chosen lie within a short distance of the Old Royal Greenwich Observatory - one of the great institutions featured in the 'Catchers of the Light'. J. W. Brown Printers Ltd (Darwin Press) and J. Muir Bookbinders Ltd., of Greenwich have a combined two centuries worth of experience and expertise, using both traditional and modern methods; and as such were in existence when the memory of many of the 'Catchers' were still 'alive', before the time soon to come - when their stories became consigned like the destiny that befalls us all - to history. 


As an 'appetizer' you can download the Book's entire Index - which is in itself 65 pages - with over 3000 cross-referenced entries, which includes all the - astronomers, astrophotographers,astronomical objects, observatories, photographers, photographic processes, telescopes etc., featured in the Book - not to mention reference to incredible true stories of the men and women who first photographed the heavens. To download the Index 'right click' and select 'save target as' option on this link:Index


Here is the Foreword to the Book, written by one of the world's leading Astronomers, which describes his own personal feelings about the 'Catchers of the Light':


"The magnificence of the ‘Catchers of the Light’ has burst across my sensibilities and enthralled me.  I don’t know the background of how Stefan Hughes devoted what has obviously been many years of research and writing; I merely know that the book’s website* is an astonishingly varied, interesting, and important resource, that provides fundamental information about an astonishingly wide range of individuals who are important not only to the history of astronomical photography, but also to astronomy in general. It is also fun to read through, whilst at the same time looking at the many pictures that are to be found there. 


Although I have seen both the electronic ‘flip book’ and pdf versions, I still think it was important that the book be published in print, and I am very glad to know that it has now appeared. I had previously chosen to review the e-book versions for the newsletter of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society, which I chair; and I am pleased that Dr. Hughes has asked me to contribute the foreword to the printed edition of his book.


I have my own interests in astronomical photography and in some of the photographers or astronomers featured here, and I can vouch for the accuracy of those things about which I am knowledgeable--and so I extrapolate to vouch for the overall quality of the work.  


So many of the people featured are familiar names to me, and it is a delight to be able to read about them and to see relevant photographs in Hughes’s book.  Everyone knows about Louis Daguerre (and I will be on the rue Daguerre near l’Observatoire de Paris soon as I write this, when I am awarded the Prix Jules Janssen of the Société Astronomique de France) but fewer know about his predecessor Nicéphore Niépce, who was equally important in the early evolution of photography. These early pioneers immediately saw the importance of the ‘newfangled’ Daguerreotype process to astronomy, in being able to provide a permanent view of the Moon.


I’ve been privileged to visit the house in Hastings-on- Hudson, New York of the ‘First Astrophotographer’ - John William Draper, and to see the stack of (still disorganized) photographs held there.  

As for the Solar Physicist - Pierre Jules César Janssen, whose life story is beautifully presented in a new biography by Françoise Launay of l’Observatoire Paris (with an English translation by Storm Dunlop), quite aside from my new prize I’ve been reading about his role and that of his contemporaries - the well-known Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer and the more obscure Norman Pogson in the discovery of helium - made during the first application of the spectroscope to a solar eclipse back in 1868 (in India for Janssen and Pogson; and after the eclipse back in England by Lockyer). The new book - ‘The Story of Helium and the Birth of Astrophysics’ by Biman B. Nath tells their dramatic stories and places them in the context of scientific and photographic advances.   


I’ve been collaborating with the art-historian Roberta J. M. Olson since the run-up to Halley’s Comet’s 1985-6 apparition. In carrying out research for our book, with support from the Getty Research Fund, about comets in British Art, we discovered that the first comet photograph (that of Donat’s Comet of 1858) was taken - not through the Harvard ‘Great Refractor’ as previously thought by the Harvard College Observatory Astronomer, George Phillips Bond (its Director from 1859 to 1865) and the Boston Daguerreotypist, John Adams Whipple; but by an unknown English portrait artist, William Usherwood of Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey. Usherwood used a portrait camera with a much lower f/number than the refractor’s, so he was able to image the tail that Bond couldn’t, but even more galling he also beat Bond by imaging the Comet the night before!  


We couldn’t find out much about him, and I even spent time in the Harvard archives looking at the bottom of folders to see if the copy plate that Usherwood sent Bond was there (no images survive, though descriptions do). Usherwood was so obscure that even his location had been ambiguous, with several English similar place names (Walton Heath, Walton Common, Walton-on-Thames, Walton-on-the-Hill etc.). I was reduced about twenty years ago to placing a query in a letter-to-the-editor in the magazine New Scientist. One of the several replies panned out, and my wife and I even paid what must have been the first- ever Usherwood pilgrimage. We found little of historic interest there, though. (Our findings appeared not only in our book ‘Fire in the Sky: Comets and Meteors, the Decisive Centuries, in British Art and Science’, but also in an article we did, together with the Harvard plate-librarian/astronomer Martha Hazen, in the Journal for the History of Astronomy).  


Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked up Usherwood in Hughes’s ebook and discovered a treasure-trove of interesting material. Somehow (and he did have the advantage of the internet) Hughes tracked down his listing in census reports, found records of his marriage (including his 60th wedding anniversary announcement), and even showed a picture of his grave.  How did Hughes find time to do such wonderful research and to find such information and such photographs for not only Usherwood but also the many dozens of others who contributed to the development of astronomical photography?  I am in awe!


I am so glad that Hughes’s - ‘Catchers of the Light’ now exists in printed form, and I hope it finds its way to all scientific libraries and those interested in photography.  The volumes could even be bedside table reading--an episode at a time.  It is a pleasure to see so many interesting figures in the history of astronomy and in the history of photography brought to a wide audience."  


Jay M. Pasachoff

Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, and Director of the Hopkins Observatory, Williams College;

Chair, Historical Astronomy Division, American Astronomical Society;

Chair, Working Group on Solar Eclipses, International Astronomical Union;



B.1 - Catchers of the Light - Print Book Edition
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Important Notice

The 'Catchers of the Light' eBooks on the History of Astrophotography can NOW be read on Windows PCs & Androids, Apple Macs and iPads. 

Our Customers can use ANY or ALL of the following THREE different formats to read the 'Catchers of the Light':

  • A PDF (Printed Document Format) version, which can only be read on a PC or an Apple Mac running Windows emulation software. This version does not require Internet Access to be read, please 'right click' and choose 'Save Target As' option to download the free PDF version of the 'Catchers of the Light' Introduction PDF;
  • 'flip page' version for a PC or Mac, which makes use of your Internet Browser. It is compatible with IE, Opera, Firefox, and Safari. An Internet Connection is required for this version to be read.For an example of this new eBook reading experience, please click: 'Catchers of the Light' Introduction (if you are using a PC or Mac to view this page);
  • An iPad or Android 'flip page' version. An Internet Connection is required for this version to be read. For an example of this new eBook reading experience, please click:  'iPad: Catchers of the Light' Introduction (if you are using an iPad or Android to view this page);
  • iBook Versions for all our eBooks are NOW AVAILABLE on the iTunes Store, and can be read using a Mac or iPad.

The free unencrypted introduction to the 'Catchers of the Light' - History of Astrophotography can also be read on any PC, Mac iPad or Kindle with pdf reader software installed. When purchasing the complete 'Catchers of the Light', customers will be provided with Access/Download Instructions for ALL of the above THREE versions of the eBook.

For further information on our eBooks and the 'anti-piracy' software used to protect them, see Our eBooks page.




The Print Book Edition of the 'Catchers of the Light' in Two 
Hardback Volumes totaling nearly 1700 pages - SORRY BUT THIS ITEM IS NOW SOLD OUT!

Dr. Stefan Hughes began his career as a professional astronomer, gaining a 1st Class Honours degree in Astronomy from the University of Leicester in 1974 and his PhD four years later on the 'Resonance Orbits of Artificial Satellites due to Lunisolar Perturbations', which was published as a series of papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. After graduating he became a Research fellow in Astronomy, followed by a spell as a lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Queen Mary College, London. Then came a ten year long career as an IT Consultant. In 'mid life' he spent several years retraining as a Genealogist, Record Agent and Architectural Historian, which he practiced for a number of years before moving to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where for the past ten years he has been imaging the heavens, as well as researching and writing the 'Catchers of the Light' - A History of Astrophotography.

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