Astrophotography patience and persistence

Apr 5

Written by:
4/5/2012 3:32 PM  RssIcon

Seriously, I'm still not very good at astrophotography.  But it probably doesn't hurt that the camera on my smartphone isn't half bad (it's an HTC Inspire, for anyone wondering).  Or that I take A LOT of photos, and don't post / upload about 90% of them.  Can I just say, "Thank goodness for digital!!"?  I bought a film SLR camera about 17 or 18 years ago (I still have it).  I burned through A LOT of film, and with truly mediocre results, at best.  And of those shots?  Probably 98% of them were junk.

So again, thank goodness for digital.

And I have not mastered (nor even really tried) much prime-focus astrophotography.  That's where you hook a camera up to your telescope at the focal point and use the scope as a giant telephoto lens.  No, what I do is far simpler: I hold my smartphone up to the eyepiece, and snap a shot.  Or, I've taken our 5 or 6 year old consumer-grade, point-and-shoot camera and used it's "Night Sky" setting (it's a Sanyo Lumix, I think?) at 15, 30 or 60 seconds on top of a motor-driven equatorial mount (usually on top of a telescope).

That's it.

The Sun

But when I start taking pictures like this one, of the Sun, on the second shot (the third shot was not as good), I guess there's something to what I'm doing.  Again, I'm not taking great shots - these are nothing special in the astrophotography world.  Mostly it's me making sure I go outside - again and again and again - and try.  Set up the scope, hold the camera up (or slap it on top) and take shots.  See what I get.  

Granted, I process these a little tiny bit in Photoshop (Elements 2.0, at that!).  I little bit of brightness and contrast correction, mostly.  Nothing more.  It brings out some of the detail better - things that are already there, like the sunspots in this picture.  Those are real.  I didn't enhance them in any way.  I just let the software bring them out a little more clearly.

What I'm saying is: If I can do this, you can too.  Give it a shot.  It takes practice.  I get frustrated sometimes.  Yes, I have a smartphone.  But my wide-field astrophotos are just an old point and shoot.  You could make a barn-door tracker and get tracked shots as well, if you wanted.  

Give it shot (pun intended).  You might be surprised - and impressed! - with what you get.  And when you are, share it here with me.  I just might even put it in the credits section of an "Eyes on the Sky" video, to encourage others to try too.

Clear and dark skies!

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.