Astrophotography is a very interesting niche in the world of photography.  This unique form of photography is very different from what one would normally take pictures of and can be very expensive.

So far, I’ve only really dabbled in this form of photography, and have had some very limited success.  Although I have 3 telescopes, I’ve learned that they are not really suited for astrophotography.  Since none of them has a motor driven Equitorial Mount, (computer controlled, star finding, sky tracking mount) I’m limited as to what I can do.

There are a few different methods of using a telescope for astrophotography.  They are:

  • Afocal
  • Prime Focus
  • Piggy Back

Afocal is probably the easiest.  All you need to do is put you camera lens up to the eyepiece of the telescope and press the shutter.

Prime focus can be a little tricky.  Using an adaptor, you connect your camera body to the telescope and it becomes your lens.

And finally, the piggy back method.  To use this method you would mount your camera to the tube of your telescope.  The telescope should have a very stable Equitorial Mount, aligned with celestial north, and a motor drive.

I’ve only very briefly touched on some very detailed subjects, so I think it’s only fair that I provide some links that you can use to get more information:

Astronomy For Beginners,  Popular Photography How-To: Astrophotography, and Astropix

Here’s a picture I made of the moon, and the setup I used.  To make the moon photo, I connected my Canon 60D to my Orion 90mm Mak telescope (Prime Focus Method).  I also had the 60D connected to my 13″ Macbook Pro so I could use Canon’s EOS Utility program.  By doing this, I had the benefit of controlling the camera from the computer, and a much larger view screen to work with.

Close Up, Prime Focus Method 60D and Orion 90mm Mak

60D and Orion 90mm Mak

The Moon

There’s another aspect of astrophotography that I haven’t mentioned yet, and that is wide field astrophotography.  This is where you put your camera on a tripod, and using a remote shutter release, you make long exposures of the night sky.

Wide field astrophotography can be as simple or complex as you want to make it.  The simplest method is to attach the camera to the tripod, point to the sky, focus to near infinite, and release the shutter.  Unfortunately your results will be less than spectacular.

In order to properly perform wide field astrophotography,  you’re going to need to do a little more.  Some of the additional steps include:

  • Increase your ISO  – I use a minimum of 1600
  • Lock your mirror up
  • Attach and use a remote shutter release
  • Shoot in RAW
  • Spend time post processing

There is a lot of great information available online.  Rather than re-write all of it here, I’m going to point you in the right direction and you can do your own research.  To start off, here’s a great post in the Timescapes Forum – Ultimate Astrophotography Resource Thread 

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I’ve had some very limited success with astrophotography.  Part of the problem is my location.  The light pollution is off the scale here (in between Los Angeles and San Bernardino, California) and being able to see anything in the night sky is very difficult.  Because of that I don’t get a lot of practice.  But when I have the chance, I give it a go!  Here are some examples:

The Night Sky

The Milky Way

Both of these were early attempts at wide field astrophotography.  While they are not the greatest night sky images you’ll see, I’m pleased with them (flawed as they are).  I wasn’t really sure of what I was doing at the time, and to have any results at all was amazing.  And staying up to watch the Milky Way come into view is a breathtaking experience!

As for these 2 images, yes, there are quite a few things I could have done differently.  Using my Canon 40D, I had the ISO cranked up to 1600, and my Canon 50mm lens was wide open at F2.5, and finally my shutter speed was 30 seconds.  And there’s the problem, 30 seconds is too long with a fixed tripod!  That’s why the stars are little oblong pills instead of neat points of light.  But that’s ok because when I go out again, I will try shortening up the exposure time.  Trial and error yes, but that’s how I learn and figure out things for myself.  One of the things I’ve learned is I need a tracking mount for wide field astrophotography.  You could spend a lot of money and buy a commercial model, or build one yourself.  Here’s a link on how to build you own – Barn Door Tracker.

I’d like to leave you with a link to a website of someone who really knows what they are doing.  The site is GoldPaint Photography,  and in addition to some fantastic examples of wide field astrophotography, you’ll see some stunning time-lapse videos.  Check this site out and be inspired as to what can be achieved with a little knowledge and determination!

Until next time – Happy Shooting!