This article on Astrophotography is a guest article by Nikunj Rawal, an amateur astronomer and an astrophotographer from Gujarat, India.
Capturing the night sky is as difficult as a baby photoshoot. But once you know how to tackle the baby nicely, the photoshoot becomes easy. The same goes for Astrophotography, a wide field that covers planetary & deep-sky imaging, Earth-Sky style widefield nightscapes, star trails, comet imaging, and anything that is related to space. I am serving Astronomy for the last 23 years.
How To Step Into Astrophotography?
Understanding the basics of astronomy is the first task. Understand the night sky, the constellations, their movements, and position throughout the year, basic concepts such as types of magnitude. Download apps like GoogleSky, Stellarium, SkySafari for live and better interpretation.
Secondly, learn about the camera (DSLR). Understand the terms such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focal length – Understand their working, cause, and effects. No matter which camera you have, practice, and get fully acquainted with the setup. Shoot the Moon. Shoot your surrounding night sky. Then go to some remote dark place and shoot there. Note the changes in the camera settings. You will gradually develop the skills and become a maestro.
What Can You Photograph?
Widefield Nightscapes – You can always make them with your kit lens, fisheye lens, or telephoto prime lens by framing a beautiful foreground. You should know the rise time of the Milky Way galaxy and then plan your journey to the nearby dark site and make it happen. Milky Way is the easiest galactic light photons you can capture with your basic gears.
Startrails – Giving back to back longer exposures for hours gives you trails of stars as a result of the apparent motion of stars in the night sky due to rotation of the Earth. It looks circular in pattern towards North/South and straight towards East/West direction. Use an intervalometer to give continuous exposures and stack them in RegiStax, StarStax, or star trails.
Planetary Imaging – With a good telescope (above 5 Inch diameter), you can get good photos of planets. T-ring and T-adaptor are needed to fix your camera to telescope eyepiece slot. For some fantastic high-quality images, Barlow lenses and special planetary ZWO type cameras are required. Video recording of planets helps to reduce noise and brings smooth & sharp image outputs from PIPP, AutoStakkert software.
Deep Sky Objects – Galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters, located outside of our solar system are much fainter and smaller in angular size that needs longer camera exposures and higher focal length equipment to capture. Longer exposure gives trailing in images after a certain time interval. Earth is spinning on its axis, so to overcome the trailing in images, we need a stepper motor that rotates with the same speed as Earth – called a Startracker or Equitorial Mount. There are many Equitorial Mounts and Startrackers available in the market as per transportable size and budget, like NEQ6, VixenPolarie, iOptron, Astrotrac, SkyAdventurer, etc.
- Jaw-Dropping images of Comet NEOWISE from around the world
- Best pictures of the annular solar eclipse of June 2020
- Hubble’s top 10 images
Setting up the Equitorial Mount or Startracker, we need to do a polar alignment to the pole star and giving the co-ordinates, date, and time of our place. For greater accuracy and precision, piggyback telescope or secondary camera is guided by a guiding software, which is more complex and time taking task.
Shooting in a low light condition is a challenging task for any Astrophotographer. Consider the following points and make up your mind to get into it.
- Travel to a dark location free from light pollution.
- Get away from unwanted street lights, vehicles or highway lights, torch, etc.
- Moonless Night is always preferred to get natural darkness.
- Choose a clear weather night.
- Beware of unsafe locations, wild animals, and unknown people.
- Keep camera batteries fully charged. Keep a backup battery too.
- Remove UV Filter from a lens! Not at all required at night.
- High Wind! Attach weights to a tripod or stand.
- Fogging on a lens! Keep a dew heater, air drier, or heat gun.
- Have passion, patience, planning, and perseverance – choose your day.
Yes, a lot of patience is required for any night sky photograph to finally appear on your camera screen. The happiness of getting the right exposure is always exciting and cheerful. I enjoy the celestial event as an astronomical festival. After all, we all are made up of stardust. Cheers!
Noise management is tactful and demands skill in night sky photography. Your homework is to search and read more on Signal to Noise Ratio.
Choosing The Right Telescope For Astrophotography
Choosing a right telescope is an important parameter to get into amateur astronomy. Buying a new telescope is always the first choice for most beginners. But they should rather first go for a binocular (10×50), screening the whole night sky using it and then go for a good telescope after 1-2 years. There are 3 main types of telescopes:
- Reflectors (Newtonian, Dobsonian)
- Catadioptric (SCHMIDT-Maksutov CASSEGRAIN)
Keep below parameters in mind while buying a new telescope.
- Size – Bigger the size, Harder to setup. Make sure you’re easy to carry & use it.
- Budget – Invest wisely and make smart choices.
- Transport – If you are going to observe from the terrace/balcony, then you may go for a bigger size, else decide according to your car capacity to go to remote dark place regularly.
Choosing a Dobsonian Telescope is a good choice for a beginner. Narrow FoV but higher aperture Schmidt Cassegrain is good for planetary and DSO.
Feel free to ask for any query. You can drop a message to below.
Instagram ID – https://www.instagram.com/Nikunj_Rawal
Facebook ID – https://www.facebook.com/NickAstrro
– Nikunj Rawal
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