Astrophotography is a most rewarding hobby for many amateur astronomers. It is a wonderful way to capture and hold on to the beauty of the celestial objects we most admire, and provides us with a way to easily share them with friends, even when the telescope is not around.
It was once thought that astrophotography was something that only seasoned astronomers dare try. But, this is certainly not the case, and with the advent of digital cameras and eyepieces, astrophotography is becoming more accessible to more people all the time.
There are several types of astrophotography that vary in terms of difficulty and costs. Fortunately, some of the easiest kinds of astrophotography can be accomplished at the lowest cost. So, you donít have to break the bank to get off to a good start.
Astrophotography with Camera Lenses
Most people assume that astrophotography requires an expensive telescope, but this is not true at all. There are many forms of astrophotography and some require no telescope whatsoever. For instance, beautiful portraits of the nighttime sky can be obtained with nothing more than an old manual film camera and a sturdy tripod. With this combination, you can take pictures of constellations, record meteor showers, and capture stunning planetary alignments - to name a few.
This type of astrophotography is easy and relatively inexpensive to try. All you need is a sturdy tripod and a camera capable of doing exposures between 1 and 30 seconds.
When doing time exposures on a fixed tripod it is vital to use a sturdy tripod and shoot with a fast film or ISO setting on your camera.
Sunset by Jim Karr, Canada. Taken with SK 804AZ3.
Fixed Tripod Photo by Dr. Brady Johnson, Canada.
Nebula photo by Peter Roth, Canada. Taken with a 50mm camera piggybacked on a 15075EQ3
That way you can pick up the most detail in the shortest time. Remember, because your camera is just sitting on a tripod and not tracking the sky, you will need to limit the length of your exposures or you will get trailed (streaked) stars. The longer the focal length of your camera, the sooner the trailing will show up, so experiment to see what exposures work best for you.
Of course, sometimes you want long star streaks in the picture. These are called star trails, and they are recorded best with just a camera on a tripod. For star trails, even an old manual film camera can produce stunning results. Just set up your camera and tripod, and aim your camera at the North star. Then, use a bulb exposure cable and expose your film for several minutes or even an hour or more. You will produce a beautiful image that traces out large arcs in the sky. These arcs are produced by stars that leave long trails on the film or sensor as the earth rotates during the time you take the picture.
Tracked Astrophotography with Camera Lenses
Tracked astrophotography refers to astrophotography that is done with an equatorial mount. An equatorial mount is one that is set up to follow the apparent motion of the sky. Once set up properly, a camera attached to an equatorial mount will follow the apparent rotation of the sky, keeping near perfect alignment with the object being photographed. Tracked astrophotography can be done using your telescope as a big camera lens, or, by piggybacking your camera with its own lens on top of your telescope.
Piggyback astrophotography is relatively simple to do, and can produce stunning results. Even our entry level mounts can be used for this kind of tracked astrophotography. For instance, the EQ1 tabletop mount and tripod, equipped with the fixed-rate or single-axis motor drive can be set up to track the sky while carrying your camera on top. This will enable you to take images of several minutes duration to capture exquisite detail in then nighttime sky. Our EQ2 mount packaged with the 130mm Newtonian reflector is a great choice for beginning observers who also want to dabble in astrophotography. With the single-axis EQ2 motor drive and an illuminated reticle eyepiece, the SKP13065 package offers an outstanding platform for piggyback imaging.