December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

This is the story of how I shot my wife when she touched a comet

7 min read

Pointing to the sky, she touched the comet, which ignited a spark that had intertwined with her soul and the soul she had created. A bond entangled for the rest of eternity and existence. And the very soul that grows, thrives and lives within her is Comet Girl!

It was about two years into my journey as a night photographer. My knowledge and experience was still pretty average, so this recording was a real challenge. Here is the story of my exploration of Comet Girl.

Late one night I was scrolling through my social feed and saw this image of Comet Neowise. Then I saw another and another. I was in disbelief and sad that I missed such an opportunity to see a once in a lifetime and rare sighting. Little did I know that this comet wasn’t in a hurry for at least a few weeks, and after more research I soon realized I hadn’t missed my chance to see and capture it.

Comet Girl Astrophotography History: For reference, this is the first star photo I've ever taken, not long ago before Comet NEOWISE came along

For reference, this is the first star photo I’ve ever taken, not long ago before Comet NEOWISE passed by

The first attempt to shoot Comet NEOWISE

The following evening, here in my little village, I set out into the hills to see if I could find it. I had no idea about astronomy or finding objects in the night sky, so all odds were against me. I searched and searched but to no avail. I pulled out my camera and photographed the sky, instead photographing in all directions. Finally there it was, a faint object that looked like a comet. I screamed with joy: I found it. It was such an exciting moment – witnessing a comet of this magnitude that many will never see in their lives.

Now that I had an idea of ​​where it was, it was time to take some photos. They all looked awful and they were all blurry. I photographed with a long focal length so that the earth’s rotation blurred the stars. The comet was also moving and unfortunately also blurred. Luckily I had some experience with a star tracker. It’s a small device that counteracts the Earth’s rotation, allowing you to take long exposures and produce razor-sharp stars. I was still faced with a problem: how to defeat the movement of the comet? to my knowledge this was not possible. I had to accept a slight blurring of the comet. On the other hand, this blur gives the comet a realistic look, showing its movement and path.

After I got home and edited my picture, I first sent it to APOD (Astronomy Photographer of the Day). They had to show it on their site, I said. And my gut feeling was right. The next day I woke up and it was on her Facebook page.

Comet Girl Astrophotography Story: This is my first serious photo of Comet NEOWISE

This is my very first serious photo of Comet NEOWISE

Later that day I told my wife I had to show her the comet. While she wasn’t a fan of getting up in the cold, she agreed to come with me and see what the fuss was about.

We made our way into the hills and spent a fantastic night watching the comet with the naked eyes and praying to the Universe to bless our soon to be due baby.

After that I spent the following nights watching the comet and trying to perfect my technique. After all, it was something I had never done before. Even other night photographers with superior experience found it quite challenging. Especially since this type of event is quite rare. The last comet worth discussing was Hailey’s Comet, which appeared in 1986 and won’t be visible again until 2061.

But we don’t even have a date for Comet Neowise yet. The next appearance is unknown, making this (literally) a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As the days passed, new information poured in. The message on the pad was that Comet Neowise was coming increasingly before passing Earth orbit. Of course, that made the experience even more exciting and I was more excited by the day to get out and take pictures.

My wife is in!

Eventually my technique improved and after a few nights on the hills I learned to locate the comet in the sky. I also learned that I could predict its direction and path. I was constantly on the lookout for new compositions as the goal was to bring them to the horizon with a decent foreground. As I walked the hills, I tried to move lower to get the comet as close to the horizon as possible. And that’s when the idea caught fire.

Comet girl astrophotography story: My wife during sunset

My wife during sunset

I’ve always wanted my wife to be in my night photos and this shot would be THE ONE. I pictured her standing on the hilltop, pointing to the sky and touching the comet. I’ll call it Comet Girl, I said.

My wife was hesitant at first and said, “It’s fine. I’ve already seen the comet.” Being almost six months pregnant, she didn’t feel like walking up the hill to stand in the cold. If we’re being realistic, no woman (or sane man) would do that. But anyway she made the effort and came out with me and let me capture this picture.

I brought them to the same spot I had planned the nights before and positioned them on the exact same hill. I then had to hike down the hills looking for the exact shooting location that was perfectly aligned.

At sunset we took some practice shots and waited for the blue hour to begin. Making such a picture is not trivial. The focal length is too long to capture sharp images with long exposure times. After some trial and error I decided to test a very short exposure of her at dusk to keep her beautiful and sharp silhouette style.

Comet Girl Astrophotography History: Choosing a Silhouette

Go for a silhouette

Eventually the night grew dark enough and the comet was in place. My wife pointed to the sky and “touched” the comet exactly where I took the twilight shot. In that moment I knew it would work. Then I turned on my skytracker and took several shots of the comet so I could stack them in post-processing. Stacking would reduce noise and bring out more detail.

Comet girl Astrophotography history: a silhouette and the comet

a silhouette and the comet

Of course, after freezing in the cold, my wife retreated to the car. It didn’t take me long though as I only wanted around 5-10 minutes of exposure.

The end results

Later that evening we went home and I immediately started editing the photos. I was amazed and filled with joy. I had captured the image I had in mind; it was better than i ever expected.

When I showed the last photo to my wife, she was overwhelmed and soon realized that her sacrifice and effort had paid off.

Comet Girl Astrophotography Story: The Final Edit for Comet Girl

The final edit for Comet Girl

The next day we left Switzerland for Corsica and I was halfway thrilled to share this photo. On one hand, I thought this photo was The One. No one captured this view of Comet Neowise. I wanted to keep it to myself. But at the same time I really wanted to share it with the world. While boarding a ferry to Corsica, I found a questionable Wi-Fi connection and spontaneously shared it. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I sent it to APOD; I shared it on Instagram; I posted it on Facebook; I even divided it into a few groups. In the hours that followed we lost the wifi and it was time to sleep. But my mind raced and pondered, will they love it as much as I do? What would the world think of my photo that I treasured so much?

When we arrived in Corsica, the internet connection was finally restored. I saw that APOD had published my photo, Nightscaper had published my photo and countless pages and social media were doing the same. I was over the moon I wanted to share it with the world, and how better could I do that by being reposted and featured all over the internet?

With the little time left until Comet NEOWISE disappeared, I took a few more pictures and did some more editing on the shot I had taken.

Comet Girl astrophotography story: another shot of Comet NEOWISE

Another image of comet NEOWISE

Comet Girl astrophotography history: a second image

A second edit from the same day


Eventually, the caption came about when my best friend and mentor, Ralph Rohner, was creating a book to celebrate the birth of our daughter, Ruby. Finally it was her in the middle of the photo.

The creativity of this book really took some planning, and it is a book that my family and I will cherish for a lifetime. The book describes the story of Ruby as a lost soul in the universe in search of her name, mom and dad. It explains the places she has traveled and the things she has done to find her name, leading up to the moment she meets her mother when the comet and her finger touch and their souls meet are intertwined.

We created history, an unforgettable memory and a story that will live on for generations to come!

About the author

Benjamin Barakat is an astrophotographer who hosts seminars, workshops and photo expeditions worldwide. He is based outside of Switzerland, where he is also a researcher at Europe’s highest observatory, the Sphinx Observatory on the Jungfraujoch, 3571 meters above sea level. His work has been featured by National Geographic, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Guardian, Vice and many more. You can find out more about Benjamin and his work on his website. You can also find him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

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