If you are passionate about Astrophotography, then this article is for you!
Astrophotography had a modest beginning a way back in 1840 when John William Draper, a professor of chemistry from the New York University, captured a photograph of the moon using a reflective telescope.
Two years later, in 1842, Italian physicist Gian Alessandro Majocchi took a stunning photograph of a total eclipse, which in those days turned out to be an inspiring photograph for all those who were a novice in this field.
It is true that astrophotography is a hobby that asks you to spend some amount of money.
If you are a novice, you can go for a used telescope & pre-owned accessories to gain some experience in astrophotography!
You can procure any used telescope in an excellent condition at half the cost than the original one from the same company and model. This will save you a good amount of money that you can spend in crucial accessories such as mount, camera and autoguiding device.
I will discuss autoguiding device later!
Once you have purchased necessary equipment such as telescope, mount, camera and some other accessories, you can certainly not only enjoy watching the sky but follow your hobby of collecting unique photographs of celestial objects.
You may think of capturing photographs of a variety of objects such as the moon, planets in our solar system, clusters of stars, the Milky Way with your telescope and SLR.
For nice astrophotography, you need to move to a dark area where light does not dazzle you.
Nowadays, light pollution is so much in cities that it can mute the joy of astrophotography. If you cannot do that, then use a ‘Deep-Sky’ filters also known as nebula filters that will help reduce light pollution as they filter out a wide range of wavelengths.
A professional photographer will sometimes spend considerable time to find a location that is pitch-dark so that the lights of nearby towns don’t spoil photographs! It takes a lot of patience to have noise-free images!
If you want to have a photograph of our own galaxy, it becomes absolutely necessary for you to scout a location that can provide you panoramic astrophotos of the Milky Way Galaxy.
You can always begin with piggyback photography, but you may be wondering what do we mean by piggyback photography?
As an amateur photographer, you use the scope’s mount to track the object, but the imaging takes place through the camera lens and not through the scope. In short, your camera does the imaging job piggybacking your scope!
The advantage is that you can simply relax once the mount’s setup is correct to track the object without any vibrations. You can keep the camera’s lens open and simply roam around and watch the sky.
While no expensive guiding gear is necessary, an extremely high-power eyepiece is a must for piggyback guiding.
Do remember that with piggybacking photography you can’t get close-ups of relatively smaller ‘deep-sky’ objects such as the Nebula in Taurus, or the Ring Nebula in Lyra constellation. The higher magnifying power of a telescope is crucial to obtain clear imaging of these objects!
With piggyback astrophotography, you can gain valuable insights and lessons that could be helpful later when you indulge in more serious forms of astrophotography.
For professional astrophotography, you need to have three tools for good astrophotography: A good telescope, an excellent camera, and a good tracking mount. Some other accessories may be helpful but are not mandatory for this purpose.
A good telescope is a must for sensational astrophotography. However, a lot will depend on the type of photography that you are interested in! A large aperture telescope with long focal length will be needed if your focus for photography is on planets or moon.
You may want to go for deep-sky imaging; in that case, a telescope with lower focal length would be more appropriate.
As such, refractors and reflectors both are fine for astrophotography, but you must consider backfocus while selecting a telescope. Why? Because when your telescope has enough backfocus, it will be able to accommodate the imaging objects perfectly.
Still, I will recommend you to select your telescope based on the kind of imaging that you want to take on. Your telescope must be fitted with a rich focuser without which you may have a frustrating time for imaging the objects.
For narrow field planetary imaging, you are likely to have excellent results with Celestron EdeHD 11 telescope. For wide field imaging, Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ medium focal length can give you some nice astrophotographs!
As an amateur photographer, do you know that a telescope can be attached with your existing digital camera too? You just need an attachment kit available in the market. Kits contain eyepieces, T-mount adapters, and some other accessories. Ensure that your camera is compatible with the telescope that you want to use!
If you want to work as a professional photographer, your selection of the camera will largely depend on the kind of astrophotography that you want to do. If you are interested in planetary imaging, then you need to have a camera capable of taking a high number of frames per second but with small pixels.
In contrast, deep-sky photography will need CMOS or CCD cameras capable of snatching the faintest details on your disc.
We need to know that results from CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras are superior to those provided by CMOS. Why? Because, being more sensitive to light, a CCD camera captures higher quality images than those captured by CMOS cameras. That is the reason professional astrophotographers would always go for CCD cameras when they plan for ‘deep-to-very-deep’ sky imaging.
For deep-sky imaging, we recommend an autoguiding instrument too!
But you might be wondering what the autoguiding device is!
When you go for deep-sky imaging, you always want to go for longer exposures meaning capturing more light in a single shot. From your previous experience in photography, you may have experienced that a longer exposure (say 3-5 minutes) will get you much more signal than an exposure that lasts only for 30-60 seconds.
By resorting to a longer exposure, we can have more details about the objects that we are focusing on. But, at the same time, it becomes challenging for us to track the movement of the sky with accuracy. A slight error in this is sure to spoil our imaging! That is why all professional photographers invariably go for an autoguiding device!
How Does the Autoguiding Device work?
The main job of autoguiding system is to focus and lock onto an object or objects (for example, the galaxy or nebula that you may want to take a photograph of in the telescope’s field of view. The autoguiding system will continue to maintain fine corrections to the tracking allowing you to have a long exposure of the object for a photograph with great details!
If you want to go into greater detail of astrophotography, I would recommend the book “Astrophotography for the Amateur” written by Michael Covington. You can buy a used copy if you are low on your budget. This book is a good guide to have nice imaging of the moon, meteors, comets, galaxies, stars, nebula, and constellations.
And finally, always remember that astrophotography is a hobby that you need to nurture through a great deal of efforts!