By Jonathan Stroud
Oceanside Photo and Telescope (OPT) recently changed ownership and Journalists For Space sat down with the new owners for an exclusive interview to talk about their passion, challenges, and vision for the future.
OPT’s newest owners, husband and wife duo Dustin and Ginny Gibson, are passionate astrophotographers and space enthusiasts on a mission to bring exploration of the night sky to everyone.
Originally founded by WWII Pilot Don Penning, Oceanside’s oldest telescope store has been supplying equipment to amateur astronomers and professional institutions since 1947. Prior customers, turned employees, Dustin and Ginny obtained ownership of OPT in September of 2016.
OPT offers a wide range of cameras, telescope equipment and training to everyone from novice astrophotographers to professional institutions in the space and technology industries. OPT also provides custom imaging systems for universities and government agencies, including NASA.
As part of the new ownership philosophy to lower the barriers of exploring the night sky, they regularly host “star parties” at venues around town to help engage non-traditional audiences. Bringing the telescopes and equipment to locations such as local brewery Wavelength Brewery Co., they hope to expand current public interest in the cosmos.
The couple hosts a website called Every Clear Night, to share their pictures of the night sky. Check it out by clicking here.
“People don’t realize that the same photos NASA could take 15 years ago by putting something in space, you can shoot now from your back yard through New York City light pollution.”
– Dustin Gibson
Focusing in on OPT with Ginny and Dustin
Q: When did you discover your passion for space, telescopes, and the cosmos?
Ginny: So, we had sold our fitness business; we had gotten out of business entirely. Dustin was writing full-time and I was painting full-time. We would come home every night and we would get out of the car I would always just look up. He caught on to this, thinking, “She is always looking up at the night sky.” He thought, “OK, what a better way to inspire her art work than to show her the universe.” That’s a pretty big inspiration. He wanted to give me that different perspective, so he ended up buying a used telescope on Craigslist for a couple hundred bucks. It was a Sky Watcher 12.
Dustin: Which I knew nothing about.
Ginny: It was a Dobsonian. When people usually think of what a telescope looks like aesthetically, they think of a refractor style. This Dobsonian looked like a massive Evel Knievel cannon that he would shoot out of. So, needless to say, he hid me in the bedroom. We were talking about birds a few weeks before…about buying a bird just for us; he had this telescope draped and he walks me out to surprise me and he pulls the cover off, and I was like, “What is that?” I had no idea it was even a telescope.
Dustin: She thought it was a birdcage.
Ginny: And I was like, “OK…I’m so confused here.” One thing led to another; we started actively engaging in local star parties, started meeting people, bought another telescope, put a DSLR behind it and that just completely changed the game for us. So that’s really what got us in.
Dustin: When you have a tool and start to see things that have always been above us, even things as simple as the moon…when you’re seeing it close-up in high-res there’s something very different about it. It hit us at the same time, where it was like: everyone that’s ever walked the planet, everyone that’s ever existed has seen this same night sky and now we are able to see it in a way that none of them could. People don’t realize that the same photos NASA could take 15 years ago by putting something in space, you can shoot now from your back yard through New York City light pollution. The technology is so advanced and the cost has been driven down so much by all the new innovation and electronics. What used to cost you thousands of dollars to get into, you can now get into for next to nothing. Astrophotography is cheaper than probably 95% of the hobbies out there and you get to see something that is literally so far away that the light left there is from when dinosaurs were still walking the Earth; you can take a picture of that… It’s incredible
Q: What’s your favorite object to look at in the night sky?
Ginny: Visually, the moon is always pretty incredible. It’s what got us hooked initially and it’s what I took my first image of. I found this free software that gave me 250 photos, or something, until I had to pay for it and I was like “Yes!” I took 250 photos of the moon that night…like the same photo 250 times. The high-res of the moon is great. Saturn’s great too. As far as photography, definitely the nebulas, the deep space stuff.
Q: What advice do you have for someone looking to start astrophotography?
Ginny: Call OPT. I don’t mean that as a shameless plug; we did that as customers of OPT, before we were employees or owners. We’ve literally seen it from every side of the equation and that’s where we got most of our answers.
Also, search your community. Local star parties are a great resource. You can meet a lot of knowledgeable people. Most people that go have some photography experience and some photography background; whether they’ve shot nightscape or the Milky Way, something got them out at night and they just want more.
Q: What was the biggest change you’ve made to OPT since taking over?
Ginny: From an organizational business side of things, for one, we’re looking at how we can better take care of the people we do have. We have tremendous staff, some of which have been here for 20+ years. Tiny things like drinks, snacks, and we’re looking at bringing in lunches.
Monthly team outings. We’re trying to do things more outside of the office because this can be very high-pressure at times; we are dealing with NASA and people that need things right then and there. So, we’re looking at how we better take care of our people so that they can do their jobs and take care of our customers better. We’re looking at hiring; we’re looking at new building for growth. There’s a ton of new stuff going on here.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge since taking over?
Ginny: The biggest challenge in the past was there was a lot of outsourcing. So, we’re looking at bringing everything in-house and when you do that it’s exciting, it’s invigorating, but it’s also challenging. We’re having to build new organizational structures and build an entirely new marketing department and building these pieces out and it takes time, it takes people, and there’s challenges involved with that.
Dustin: It’s a shift. That’s just business in general. We have the same challenges that every business in the world does, but with the people we have, I feel that we have it pretty easy.
Ginny: We invest in our people here. In business, that’s all that there really is.
Dustin: I’ve never seen a team anywhere in the world, with anything I’ve done, so committed to something as this team is; it’s always an easy decision and I think it will continue to be that way moving forward.
Q: What’s your vision for OPT going forward?
Dustin: There’s an attitude in parts of the industry that we absolutely want to change and make this accessible to everyone and not just the people that have been doing this for a long time. I think that starts with going to the places where people already are and showing them something that they otherwise wouldn’t see.
Honestly, one of the most fun things I think we’ve ever done is star parties at the [Wavelength Brewing Co.] brewery. Standing outside of a brewery where people are inside having a couple of drinks and seeing on a 140” screen the Lagoon Nebula in real time…there is a lot to be said for that. It’s a blast and everybody there is having a good time. You wouldn’t believe the conversations you hear. You can tell people are pulling back stuff from their high school astronomy class, or whatever it is; it’s still there and you can tell people care.
So we’re going to continue to do that. It won’t just be breweries; it will be wherever we can get people to take a step back for a second and see something in a new way.
Ginny: Next year will be OPT’s 70th year in business. Don Penning was a Flying Tiger pilot in WWII who started this back in 1947 as OPC, Oceanside Photographic Center. Craig took over in ‘74 because he loved the customer service aspect of it, and that was where Don was struggling. We took it over this year and it’s no different. We’re looking at how we can better take care of our customers and what valuable resources can we add outside of just gear and knowledge. There’s some more things we can’t talk about…but, we’re excited to look at how we can better serve our customers, the community, and just keep letting that ring get bigger and bigger.
Dustin concluded the interview by explaining how space is being made more accessible by the efforts of the OPT team. He said, “I think getting it out there and getting it in more people’s hands and showing people that it really is their universe, they can access this…I think it’s great.”
Check out the OPT YouTube channel by Clicking Here.
OPT is open 7 days a week, Monday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and Sunday from 12pm-5pm. If you are considering buying a telescope or have any questions, stop by and talk to one of their experienced sales staff. You can also find a wide selection of equipment on their website by Clicking Here.
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