My goal in this upcoming presentation is to contrast the challenges that astronomical imaging presents vs. underwater imaging. As it is in all photography, mastering celestial photography is all about “knowing” the light. And there is a whole lot less of it coming from the stars, galaxies and nebulae! And because the Earth is rotating, it all is slowly moving while you are trying to collect the few photons trickling in.

How do you tackle such challenges, what are the rewards and how does this hobby dovetail with my other passion – underwater photography? What is the common thread between these two diverse photographic specialties?


Bill Williams is a father of two wonderful sons, Brett and Chad, and married 36 years to Sandy, who has been totally supportive of his seemingly boundless fascination with all things in nature, big and small, close and distant. Bill developed an interest in photography, particularly specialized photography, in high school in New Jersey.

A Nikonos II amphibious film camera with flashbulbs provided reasonable success underwater but trying to record faint astronomical objects he had seen in books was met with frustration. Because film was an inadequate faint light detector, Bill designed a unique camera to hypersensitize film with dry ice altering its characteristics making it suitable to record faint objects with long time exposures. He tested this new camera design in his own observatory and at Mt. Wilson and Ford Observatories in southern California, patented it in 1972 and sold “cold cameras” worldwide to amateurs and professionals. An article in Scientific American magazine in 1973 about the camera caught the attention of doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School who had Bill design one for them which they successfully used for years to document faint fluorescing tissues in immunopathology cancer research.

By the 1980’s, Bill was using forming gas-hypersensitized film for recording faint astronomical objects and graduated to digital imaging in 2003 with the advent of cooled CCD cameras. After traveling to Australia, South America, Africa and Europe to capture solar eclipses and southern skies with his portable astro-imaging equipment, he decided to build an observatory at the Chiefland Astronomy Village in northern Florida in 2007 for accessibility. The observatory sits in a dark sky site housing a 14.5” Ritchey-Chretien telescope with cooled Apogee U16M CCD camera with imaging capabilities beyond the largest American professional telescopes just 30 years ago. The observatory, scope and camera are now robotic and able to be operated anywhere quality internet is available.

Bill recently spent a night 25 feet underwater at the Jules Verne Underwater Hotel in Key Largo, Florida with a marine biologist taking him on an astro-imaging tour of the night sky accessing his observatory remotely. They captured 25 objects in one all-nighter ranging from winter to the summer Milky Way, including a quasar 2.4 billion light years distant between night dives. His son, Chad, recently created a website ( combining their underwater and celestial images. Bill’s next astro-imaging safari is to the Chiefland Astronomy Village to capture the May 9, 2016 Mercury transit of the Sun.

His next dive with his son is likely to be at the Blue Heron Bridge to investigate whether Stargazer fish fluoresce.

My main interest is going DEEP just like when I am diving. By “deep”, I mean I like the challenge of capturing faint and distant objects many of which are invisible or barely visible to the eye and bringing them to life. Bill

This image is “Local Galaxy M81”, 12 million light-years away!