This article isn’t going to provide a how to guide for what to specifically to buy, but here are the basics for how to do Astrophotography. Astrophotography is neither financially cheap, nor is it technically cheap. It takes a lot of time to get setup, take the pictures, and edit them to an acceptable state. The gear that is required to do the imaging isn’t cheap as at a minimum, one requires a tripod, mount, camera, and a lens. If using a telescope, then one will need to buy a mount to attach the camera to the telescope; moreover, buying a good lens for astrophotography can cost $300.
There are a few important things that limit the pictures:
Time–How much time used for capturing imaging?
Location/Light Pollution–Which images can be images and image quality
Camera–ccd, DSLR, cooled
Mount–Camera Tripod, Telescope mount, etc…
Telescope/Lens–Is a telephoto lens or telescope being used?
Editing Techniques–How is editing done?
There are certain images that can be imaged using 1 or 2 pictures, such as the Milky Way or the Earth’s Moon. (Show pictures) However, the more elaborate pictures of stars and galaxies such as the Andromeda Galaxy or Star Trails take hours of photographing the objects with the ideal conditions even before one can start editing. It is not unheard of for an astro-imager to have 5-10 hours of pictures over a few nights before feeling satisfied to started editing an image.
This sounds stupid, but it really makes a huge difference. Imaging in a dark sky location with no lights is an ideal situation. A perfectly dark sky does not require the use of manmade light pollution filters nor does the environment limit the image that can be taken. Light pollution and location does dictate to the imager how dark a star can be to image.
For example, a dark sky site can allow somebody with a DSLR to take a picture of the Milky Way with an unmodified DSLR, tripod, and a wide angle camera lens. However, in the city, to take a picture of the stars, one would definitely require a light pollution filter, which start at $40. Therefore, the site limits the potential targets.
Being the imaging capturing device, cameras are a way to bring out the colors and sights of the target. Whatever type of camera used, there are basic features that affect the image capturing device including ISO, megapixels, battery life, colors, features, and colors. ISO determines how much light the camera sensor takes in. The megapixels can determine whatever. Battery life is super important to tell how long one can take pictures for. The type of camera determines the colors, and features available.
There are different types of cameras, such as CCDs, DSLRs, cooled cameras, and many more. The camera can itself be modified to better capture red light or other types of light; however, it is important to note that that costs time and money. Somebody has to make those modifications which will void the warranty of the camera. These cameras all have different functionality and I won’t get into the deep dive in this article. Please do realize that cameras can get expensive quickly and require the purchase of a connector to connect the camera to the telescope.
The mount is crucial to the imaging process as the ability to track and quality of tracking makes or breaks an ability to image. Brighter objects such as the Moon and some planets can be imaged without a tracking mount using a few quick images. However, for Deep Sky Objects, it is crucial to be able to track as the object requires multiple images over several hours. A great purchase will be a remote or automatic shutter that will allow for the length of time of the picture to be programmed and repeated for periods of time. This will help make sure that the images can be captured and repeated consistently.
Without tracking, Deep Sky Object imaging will not be possible; moreover, a poor mount can also restrict the time that can a camera can image for. A bad tracker can limit the time per picture to 30 seconds or less; however, a more expensive mount can allow for up to several minutes of shutter time. Therefore, it is crucial to Polar Align, know how to use the mount properly, and make sure to get the gear working in the dark to be able to handle the process of imaging before even taking a picture.
The telescope or lens will also determine how large of an object can be imaged as well as the maximum exposure time. A camera lens with a focal length of f/2.8 and 11 millimeter diameter can typically get around 25 seconds before the stars start trailing. There is something called the 500 rule, more info here, can help determine how long of an exposure can be done before the image loses focus. A shorter focal length means that a longer picture can be used before star trails become an issue. Using tracking can help extend the time before the stars start trailing, but that is only part of the equation.
The lens or telescope also determines how wide a field of view one gets. A telescope will get a more detailed view of a star that a DSLR with a wide angle lens. A great website is astronomy.tools to determine what an object will look like when taking a picture or viewing an object.
When doing photo editing, it is important to know what tools to use and how many pictures to use when editing. For Deep Sky Objects, simple techniques that are used on a single photo such as dehazing, will not be enough. Deep Sky Objects require stacking of multiple photos and other techniques for editing to create a sharp image. This requires taking darks, reducing noise, and making sure that the shots align.
Editing software can be the difference between good and great photos. Using free software can really help and make the difference or it can be the thing holding back the astrophotographer. Making sure to buy a software such as Lightroom not only helps support the tools but also can unlock the full potential of an image. Unlocking the best from a picture requires the use of the best software, regardless of price and one should use tools within their budget.
Astrophotography has a lot of variables and many different steps that are crucial before one can master the art. One has to also research targets, be willing to spend the money to get the parts, and spend the time to get everything working. Astrophotography is not an easy, simple, or cheap hobby. Each type of telescope has its challenges and should be carefully considered. Happy Hunting and Thanks for reading!