Thierry Legault, the 47-year-old French engineer, may be one of the most famous amateur astronomy photographers in the world. But what's really striking about his images is how busy they are, teeming with stars, unlike other astrophotographers' stark simplicity.

Legault talked to the Wall Street Journal about his hobby, driving all around the world photographing stars, nebulae, galaxies, space shuttles and the International Space Station from the absolute best vantage points. He consults a special website, Calsky.com, to know exactly when various phenomena will be best observed. He's traveled to Angola, Egypt, Russia and Shanghai, China to photograph various stellar phenomena.

The WSJ article contains the best, and simplest, explanation of why so many astrophotography pictures are so brightly colored. In the case of Legault, he uses filters:

[A]ll of the deep-sky pictures of constellations, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies, meteorites and asteroids require an exposure of several hours. For these photographs, Mr. Legault places red, green or blue filters between the camera and the telescope. Without them, the pictures would come out in black-and-white. "I prefer pastel colors because they are the colors we would see if our eyes were more sensitive to low light or if these objects were brighter."

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Here are some of our favorite images by Thierry Legault. They're available in much, much higher resolution, along with many other photos, over at his website. [Astrophoto.FR via Wall Street Journal]

Take this image, of the Veil Nebula (NGC 6992). It's so rich with detail, with so many other stars showing up, the sky looks way more crowded than in pictures from the Hubble or other space telescopes or big observatories.

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Ditto for this image of the Cocoon Nebula. It's just one phenomenon surrounded by countless stars.

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And here's the Horsehead Nebula. Check out the horse's head at almost the exact center of the image.

Here's the nebulae M-8 and M20, with the open cluster M21 (top left) in Sagittarius.

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And here's the area of M-8 and M-20.

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Here's the galaxy of M-101. A lot of people would have cropped this image a lot closer around the galaxy, but it looks cool with so much space around it.

The galaxy of M-31.

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The comet C/2001 Q4 NEAT on May 13, 2004.

Solar activity.

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The Moon and Venus in transit.