Discovering Astrophotography I

This week features a guest post from Xanthe who came over last week to get stuck into some Astrophotography with me. Here is what Xanthe had to say and some of the raw images we took. There will be a followup post on the power of image processing soon…

Hi everyone,

I’m Xanthe; some of you may have met me at school sessions late last year. I’m a photographer, currently studying fine art photography at the Victorian College of the Arts, this year being my final year.  I’ve been working the last 6 months or so on an art project that incorporates images of space as part of a bigger installation. I’ve been lucky enough to become involved with the Telescopes in Schools Program and with the help of Jacinta’s expertise and encouragement I’ve been navigating the early stages of understanding Astrophotography, a fascinating area of Astrophysics that you will all be experimenting with this year.

Last Wednesday I went to Jacinta’s place and took some photographs through the telescope of the Orion nebula and the Moon. Despite windy conditions we were able to get some good shots. This was the first time I’d actually connected my camera onto the telescope, i.e., the telescope takes the place of the lens. I was just using my own digital SLR camera, which is a Canon 550D, a reasonable camera but effective for Astrophotography specifically because it has ‘live view’ mode, which allows you to focus and frame your shots with greater ease. (Ed. Note: Canon have also released a modified camera, model 60Da, specifically for astrophotography if you are planning on getting very serious) We initially had the ISO set to 800; the ISO determines the cameras sensitivity to light and 800 is generally the middle setting for most Digital SLR’s. For the moon shot we got the best results with the shutter speed set to 1/1250, as seen in the moon image attached to this post.

Waxing Gibbous Moon on 20th Feb 2013

Waxing Gibbous Moon on 20th Feb 2013

Because Orion is not as bright as the moon when we moved on to focusing on Orion we set the ISO to 6400, (so the camera is letting in as much light as possible). We got the best results this time when we left the shutter speed open for 4 seconds, leaving enough time for the light to be captured without too much camera movement or interference, see the Orion image attached. Of course the next step is editing the image to make them look the best they can!

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 1600 for one 4 second exposure.

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 1600 for one 4 second exposure.

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 800 for one 20 second exposure.

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 800 for one 20 second exposure.

I learnt so much so quickly in one night just by experimenting with the camera and the seeing what worked, with Jacinta’s help it was a really enjoyable night! I’m excited to take some more images soon – it is a very rewarding experience being able to capture these amazing space objects we are seeing through the telescopes and in the night sky! One you will all hopefully be able to enjoy later this year.

Xanthe and I both had a great time and decided the mosquito bites were well worth the effort. We would love to hear which image was your favourite, personally the Moon stuns me for detail and beauty every time, but the colours in the nebula are truly amazing. Please remember that these are raw images at this point (so yes the colours are real!) and next time we will look at some processing techniques you can try to improve the image. Wait till you see the before and after shots!

Thanks again Xanthe for sharing your images and story with us, we look forward to seeing more of your work.

For everything you ever wanted to know about astrophotography, Jerry Lodriguss has it on his site.

If you are after a good site for explaining camera settings and techniques, try Photography Life

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