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How did you get started in astrophotography?

And......if you knew then what you know now, would you do it all over again?

I think I probably started like most of hand-holding a point & shoot, cheapo digital camera up to the eyepiece of your telescope, at the moon. In my case it was a 6" Dob. I think I shot 30 or more frames that first time. Most of them were out of focus or not centered right, but a few just knocked my socks off. I was amazed it could be done!

That lead to some ill-fated attempts to image Saturn and Jupiter than same way. They were pretty terrible, but I was hooked!!

Next I bought a $100 webcam (a Philips ToUcam Pro II 840k) and learned about Registax. I also acquired a Celestron Nexstar 4se. The thing didn't track very well, but good enough for short video clips. The results were incredible by comparison to the one shot attempts. I was totally hooked now.

Then the real fun began. I bought a $300 original Meade DSI and plugged it into the Nexstar. I could take about 30-35 exposures of 15 seconds each before the subject drifted out of the frame. Round, pinpoint stars? Are you kidding? I was totally thrilled with these early pictures........even with stars that looked like fat, bloated eggs. But hey......there was M27 and M57 and something that sort of looked like M51.

I over-processed everything, using Paint Shop Pro Photo. Noise??? Oh yeh.....but hey, what's a little noise when you just took a picture of M51 from your own driveway. Auto guiding? Polar Alignment? Huhhhhh??? What's that? Gradient? Vignetting? Oh, heck yes......these pictures had it all, and then some.

It's been over 4 years now, and I still have more to learn than many of you have forgotten, and I have spent WAY more money that I anticipated.....even for fairly bottom of the line equipment. But it's been fun.

I still get the question, "Why do this to get mediocre pictures when you can just download beautiful Hubble images from the net?" The answer is, the enormous satisfaction you get from doing something that is difficult. "We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." John F Kennedy

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Comment by Barry Brence on May 16, 2011 at 7:55am
My son (11 years old) goes to star parties with me. I think he likes being with me more than he likes the views, but maybe some of my fascination will rub off, and some day he will pass along this fascination to his own son. It is difficult for the night sky to compete with the whiz bang graphics and sounds of today's video and computer games.......difficult for a telescope to compete with an XBox, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Gamefly, Netflix, and Core I7 computers.

How times change. My little 4 1/2" Tasco Newtonian on a cheap EQ mount seemed awesome in 1970, until I started reading Sky & Telescope, and began lusting after a 6" Criterion Dynascope with tracking. I would have felt like I had died and gone to heaven to own the scopes I own today, and they are light years from the multiple thousands of dollars in high end equipment that some amateurs use now.
Comment by Steve Coates on May 14, 2011 at 5:38am
No doubt I was psyched with that image. But I was bummed when I tried it a second time and had difficulty reproducing it. That was straight up beginners luck!! I took it by taking 100+ single images in .jpeg and stacked them in Registax "just to see what happens".

My advice for beginners would be to learn your equipment first and then upgrade as you "out grow" your outfit. As I began imaging long exposures I'd spend entire nights with a remote shutter for my Nikon d40 and a stopwatch. I really admire the folks who guided with a reticle and their eye to the eyepiece before autoguiding became the gold standard.
Comment by Barry Brence on May 13, 2011 at 11:54pm
I guess it's those rare moments of beautiful clarity that keeps us coming back again and again hoping for more of them. I have two long time, intelligent and very tech-savy friends who still find it hard to believe that you can produce pictures like these with very modest equipment from your own driveway or back yard. It still amazes me too.
Comment by Barry Brence on May 13, 2011 at 11:47pm
I am with you, Trevor. If I had gotten an image like Steve's on my first try, I would have been whooping and hollaring and doing back flips all over the back yard. THAT is a super first rate image of spot and all. I haven't managed anything as good yet!!

I recall one night of near perfect seeing. I had a 3.5mm eyepiece in my 1500mm Dob (428x). Saturn was about 1/4 of the FOV and just spectacular in detail. I ran into the house shouting to my wife.....come out, you gotta see this. My wife couldn;t have cared less about astronomy, but even she said, "Oh my God.....". It was that good. Haven't seen it that good since, but I keep hoping.

One night a couple of years ago, with the same 12" Dob and a 10mm eyepiece, I saw M51 in unbelievable detail, I must have stared at for over an hour. This was from a super dark sky in the central Oregon high desert!
Comment by Trevor Woodrow on May 13, 2011 at 10:20pm
Hi Folks,

How did I get here? Star Wars. Sad but true. Have always been in love with the sky since I was a youngster and saw Star Wars for the first time. Got my first scope around that time. Little build your own job with plastic lenses and moon map. I was hooked.

Like Steve love love affair with the sky was put on hold while life happened. School, career, marriage...then one day my wife surprised me with a little department store 60mm refractor. That first night, I found Saturn and was blown away. Spent hours looking at it. Well, actually looking, losing it, finding it again, refocusing, looking, losing it motor drive, no polar align you get the picture. Over the next few months I found object after object and none of them looked like they did in the books. Little disappointed, and of course it is hard to share with others when the object is out of the FOV before you can get them to the eyepiece.

Couple years back tried my hand at imaging. The image is posted here. When the first image popped up on the screen I literally gasped. I ran inside, woke the wife and dragged her out to see what I'd done. She liked the color. Me, I could not believe that I was able to get this from my backyard! I was all downhill from there.

Steve,that is your first image? Incredible! I probably would have stained my shorts with excitement if I had produced that coming out of the gate.

Barry...someone made that Hubble comment to me too. I just responded, " It's the difference between watching the game on t.v. and actually getting out and playing yourself."

Comment by Barry Brence on May 13, 2011 at 4:36pm
I too got a small refractor (probably 50mm) for my 9th or tenth birthday. 30x with a push/pull focuser. I spent hours looking at the moon with it. Years later in 1970, by wife bought me (as a gag gift) a little 3" cardboard tube reflector from Montgomery Wards catalog. With it, I got my first view of Saturn. I was totally blown away!

That prompted me to buy a 4 1/2" Tasco reflector on a real EQ mount.......for $110.00 That poor scope got packed and unpacked so many times over the years is was dented and looking pretty ragged by the time I finally replaced it in the mid 90's. The mount was semi-useless, but the optics were terrific.
Comment by Steve Coates on May 13, 2011 at 4:18pm
Wow, excellent topic Barry. I bought my first telescope in August of 2009. I had a small department store scope I got as a kid and could not find #$@% with it. The moon was cool but that was it. Time goes, military, college, marriage then kids. As things started to settle down I decided it was time to buy a "real" telescope. I plunked down dough for a CG-5 and an 8" SCT. I had never looked at anything past the moon before. So needless to say looking at Jupiter for the first time was breathtaking. I actually thought there was something wrong with the lens because these was a "pepper flake" showing up on the planet that turned out to be the shadow of a Jovian moon.

I wanted to capture this on "film". I bought all the correct adapters to connect a Nikon d40 to the scope and started imaging Jupiter. This was my first "AstroImage" . Next was learning how to image deep sky objects. I wish this site was around then, but I learned from other sites how to stack and process. I initially used GIMP but wanted to process in higher bit rate and bought my first copy of PhotoShop in May 2010. The Nikon was retired and a Canon T1i replaced it.

I find great satisfaction showing friends, family and co workers my AstroPhotos. This is something unique that we do, not many people realize how much can be done from ones backyard. I've learned quite a bit about the night sky, photography, optics and processing in PhotoShop. I hope that I can provide a little "elastic band" of knowledge to this LARGE rubber band ball.

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