I have been involved in astronomy for almost 50 years. As mentioned in a few blog posts, I began photography about five years later. I have been capturing both the Milky Way and some of the larger deep-sky objects using a camera and lens. However, it wasn't until about four years ago that I started shooting with a telescope. The learning curve has been steep. I've had to learn how to set up the mount, polar align it, focus the telescope, capture the images, take calibration shots, and, finally, put it all together during the image processing stage.
I must also caution you that astrophotography can become a slippery slope. Initially, you acquire a mount, thinking that's all you need since you already have a camera and a few good lenses. However, as you strive for better details, you find yourself wanting a longer focal length. So, you invest in a small telescope that perfectly fits your mount. Soon enough, you become dissatisfied with the colors in your nebula images compared to others. This leads you to explore proper astro cameras. Simultaneously, the desire for longer exposures prompts you to consider a guidescope and guide camera, implementing an auto guider. Despite your efforts, the nebula colors still don't meet your expectations, prompting another look at astro cameras. Before you know it, you've made your choice. As you progress, you realize that the mount, initially perfect for the small refractor and your camera, is starting to seem inadequate. You begin pushing the weight limits of the mount. Dealing with dew becomes a genuine annoyance, urging you to seek a control solution. One night, frustrated with a camera that refuses to cooperate, you log on to your favorite store and impulsively order that desired astro camera. And just like that, you've made the purchase. Now comes the tricky part – how do you keep this acquisition a secret from your partner?
You can observe how this unfolded, and it's not a theoretical scenario. Anyone who has delved into the captivating world of astrophotography can confirm the narrative I just described. However, don't be alarmed; the joy and fulfillment far surpass the challenges. Engaging in this hobby allows you to walk away with breathtaking images of the sky and gain some insights into our place in the universe.
Deep sky astrophotography involves the art of tracking stars using a mount, a telescope, and a camera. It entails combining multiple images of the same celestial object in a computer. While it may sound straightforward, it becomes more manageable with time. I'll delve into the equatorial mounts I own, specifically an EQ-5 equivalent and an EQ-6R. Additionally, I'll explore cameras, including DSLR or mirrorless options, and dedicated astro cameras. I'll discuss the distinctions among various telescope types and offer guidance on optimizing their performance. Finally, I'll guide you through the post-processing of images, covering multiple programs and accessories that enhance the ease and satisfaction of this type of photography. Anticipate that this series will span about six blog posts in total. I hope you find it intriguing and will return for more discoveries.
The image below showcases the Lagoon Nebula M8 and represents an early shot using the equipment depicted at the top. It features an Orion Sirius mount with the Orion ED80 and the Nikon Z6II. This composite comprises 20 shots of 3 minutes each, combined using DeepSky Stacker and Photoshop. Shot in July 2021.
The image presented below captures the Lagoon Nebula, utilizing the equipment depicted in the second image. Employing a Skywatcher EQ6-R mount alongside the 8" Quattro f4 Newtonian telescope, equipped with the ASI2600MC Pro camera, guidescope, and ASIAIR Plus, this composite comprises 60 images, each with a 3-minute exposure. Calibration frames were used and processed through DeepSky Stacker and Photoshop. The data was captured on April 22nd, resulting in the finalized image.
The image featured below showcases the Lagoon Nebula, captured using the equipment depicted in the second image. The imaging setup includes a Skywatcher EQ6-R mount, an 8" Quattro f4 Newtonian telescope equipped with the ASI2600MC Pro camera, guidescope, and ASIAIR Plus. This composite comprises a total of 120 images, each with a 3-minute exposure. Calibration frames were included using Pixinsight and Photoshop. The data was acquired on July 23, resulting in the final rendition of the image.
Continuous practice and learning contribute significantly to the improvement of your astrophotography images. While the enhancement of skills in post-production plays a crucial role, it is noteworthy that progress is not solely dependent on acquiring superior equipment, although such upgrades can indeed make a difference. Notably, I have upgraded from an 8" to a 12" f4 telescope with an extended focal length, further refining my capabilities.
I am pleased to share that these efforts have been recognized, as demonstrated by a recent Silver award in the Bintel Astrophoto competition. The awarded image showcases the Tarantula Nebula, specifically NGC2070, attesting to the positive impact of both continuous learning and equipment upgrades on the quality of astrophotography achievements.
I am also particularly proud of my latest image taken in November of the Nebula NGC1763 in the LMC.
This marks the inception of a brief series of posts dedicated to the art of capturing images with a telescope mounted on a tracking-style mount. Throughout this series, I plan to provide a comprehensive overview of my chosen mounts, shedding light on the challenges and obstacles I encountered in the process. I aim to share insights gained from my experiences over the past 3-4 years, offering valuable shortcuts and strategies to navigate potential difficulties.
Additionally, I will impart essential background knowledge, providing a solid foundation for individuals venturing into this realm. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned enthusiast, these posts are crafted to equip you with the practical know-how needed to embark on your astrophotography journey. Stay tuned for a wealth of information and insights in the upcoming posts.