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Astrophotography - 101: How to get started.

dave.gt

Well-known member
Somehow, I feel that this question will lead down a long expensive road.:bugeyes:

But I have you guys to ask how to get started if one wants to test the waters of Astrophotography. There are so many questions about where to start; how do you learn?; equipment, etc.

I wish there was a course or a structured curriculum for someone wanting to learn just enough to get a Milky Way image or three to start out. Maybe there is?

Any thoughts on getting started would be much appreciated!:):):)
 

Shashin

Well-known member
Dave, there are tons of resources. I would start with the subfield of wide-field astrophotography, which is using a camera and photographic optics on a tracking mount of some kind. Just google books on astrophotography to get started. There are plenty of online resources, which you can google as well. One of the best forums for astrophotography is Cloudy Nights (being if it were not cloudy, you would be outside under the stars, rather than on a forum).

A quick into to wide field (this book also covers film):http://www.willbell.com/new/pdfs/widefieldchapter01.pdf

Another resource: https://www.lonelyspeck.com/astrophotography-101/
 
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Leigh

New member
Hi Dave,

Your main problem will be finding a location with sufficiently low ambient illumination that you can see and photograph the stars. Atlanta is a very large metropolitan area, shooting lots of light upward. That masks the stars.

Do you expect to travel for your photos or do it locally?

Astrophotography can be divided into two broad general categories...

1- Short exposures - Hand-held or tripod makes little difference. You need fast film or high-ISO digital sensors to enable reasonably fast shutter speeds. A common subject in this category is the moon, using longer focal-length lenses.

2 - Long exposures - Often called "star trails", with times measured in minutes or even hours. Any such exposures require a tripod with a "tracking" mount that emulates the earth's rotation. You commonly use normal to wide-angle lenses for these, although any focal length can be used that captures the desired image.

Regardless of the type of exposure, the equipment is generally the same. Regular cameras with fast lenses and high film/sensor speed.

- Leigh
 

jerome_m

Member
Astrophotography is not a MF question. Actually, MF cameras are not well suited for astrophotography:
-telescopes are not designed to cover a MF sensor
-MF lenses are not very fast.

Of course, it is possible to practice astrophotography with a MF camera, it just is more difficult than needed. If you want to practice the easy way, get yourself a Pentax K1 and a fast 35mm or 50mm lens. The K1 has a built-in autotracking function: http://gippslandimages.com.au/pentax-k1-astrotracer-review/
 

D&A

Well-known member
Dave, now we all know why it's so much fun "initially" to follow Dante...LOL! When I was in my pre teen/early teen years (and we are talking about the earliest Pentax Spotmatic film body days), I was an avid amateur astronomy buff and would venture out in sub 15 F temps at 2am in the early morning hrs, hooked up my Spotmatic body to my relatively large refractor telescope and shot away...from closeups of the moon (esp when a lunar eclipse occurred), rings of Saturn and sometimes one or two of the bright planets and nearby stars. If it was on a weekend, I ran into the house upon 1st signs of daylight to develop and print my images. A few years later, I went wide field, sans telescope in a nearby park, first with brief exposures without a tracking device and later on tried longer exposures with rudimentary tracking. As mentioned by others, the issue is avoiding urban light. Where I lived, that proved more difficult than the actual photography itself.


Obviously, all I described was very rudimentary compared what is done today but just getting out there with what you have already and maybe along with a small investment (tracking device or possibly a lightly used Pentax K1) , it can be the beginning of very satisfactory and satisfying results. It will be trial and error and of course, and if using digital, there is little to loose and you can make adjustments in very short order. Its easy to get hooked on just going outside and shooting some frames and see what you obtained and take it from there. Combine this with excellent advice you'll receive here in the forums and from those who have extensive experience. Keep us posted on your choices and experiences, as its an area of photography I would love to find more time to invest in...especially combined with interesting landscapes. Just have fun and dress warm :).

Dave (D&A)
 
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Shashin

Well-known member
Astrophotography is not a MF question. Actually, MF cameras are not well suited for astrophotography:
-telescopes are not designed to cover a MF sensor
-MF lenses are not very fast.

Of course, it is possible to practice astrophotography with a MF camera, it just is more difficult than needed. If you want to practice the easy way, get yourself a Pentax K1 and a fast 35mm or 50mm lens. The K1 has a built-in autotracking function: http://gippslandimages.com.au/pentax-k1-astrotracer-review/
I have used my old MF camera for astrophotography. Yes, other cameras may be easier, but not in any fundamental way. Yes, few telescopes (mostly from Takahashi (and fortunately, very expensive)), but starting with a telescope is not the easiest or cheapest approach. Yes, MF lenses are slower than other formats, but they are faster than telescopes and most photographic optics need to be stopped down, making the benefit of smaller formats less clear. And once you are on a tracking mount, the speed of the optics become even less of a problem. The K-1 tracking function is limited in that sense. But you can get Milky Way images on a static mount.
 

drunkenspyder

New member
Astrophotography is not a MF question. Actually, MF cameras are not well suited for astrophotography:
-telescopes are not designed to cover a MF sensor
-MF lenses are not very fast.

Of course, it is possible to practice astrophotography with a MF camera, it just is more difficult than needed. If you want to practice the easy way, get yourself a Pentax K1 and a fast 35mm or 50mm lens. The K1 has a built-in autotracking function: http://gippslandimages.com.au/pentax-k1-astrotracer-review/
[OFF TOPIC] As a guy with an 8-inch Go To reflector, a Hyperstar attachment, ATIK CCD, and more telescope gear than I have a place to keep, I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know about the Pentax Astrotracer functionality. While the Pentax doesn't replace the viewing pleasure of looking at deep space objects, it does appear to make certain types of astrophotography much easier. And, if I am understanding what I am reading, especially the review you linked here, it has a major benefit compared to add-on trackers of working equally easily in Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Polar alignment of trackers in the NH is not that difficult, especially if you have any scope experience at all. But south of the equator is another story.

What's also nice about the K1 is that, while built like a tank, it is not a 1-trick pony like a tracker & mount. Traveling with that rig takes up valuable pack &/or luggage space/weight. The K1 can take the place of many other DSLRs, depending on one's shooting goals. Lens selection is not large but, again, for travel, doesn't really have to be. The K1 plus a Sigma 35/1.4 Art would be a decent combo. Intriguing. Thanks for this Jerome. I know that some older Nikon F-mounts can be mounted on K mounts without locking; anyone know if that's true of any of the Zeiss Distagons or Otus/Milvus? What a great combo they would be for this purpose. [/OFF TOPIC]
 

Paul2660

Well-known member
Pentax, K1, came so close. I have used one for 2 years now for Milkyway work. But have slowly moved to the D810A.

Biggest issue with any camera/lens is coma, and most fast wides have it, and many P1 not so fast wides have it. Coma ruins the individual stars towards the edge of the frame, with butterfly wings and other aberrations.

Pentax, with the K1, since it has IBIS, allows for tracking the stars for up to 5 minutes. This allows you to get past your F 1.4 to F 2.8 range and move to more like F 3.5 to F4, much less coma. There are two issues however:

1. retofocus lenses (most wides) only track in the center of the frame
2. White dots.

The first issue really effects the shot as you still get trails towards the edge of the frame. Center, when in good focus is amazing, both with details and clean files, but you still see normal trails with 14mm, 20mm, 25mm and some even on 35mm with a 50mm, not an problem. In my area you can't get much with a 50mm lens, and you need a 14mm, so much of the astrotracker, feature of the K1 is ruled out by distortion.

White dots, which Nikon quickly resolve on their D810 (uses same sensor as K1), sadly Pentax never fixed this with firmware, so the longer you go the more the white dots appear. Capture One can remove a lot of these without star removal but many times I want to use LR and nothing on the Adobe side will get rid of it.

The D810A has a cleaner base ISO, and can get similar results, and since your exposures are max 17 sec, few to no trails.

If you want to do traditional star trail work, which I prefer since you can use the moon for illumination, any camera works well. Just need a good work flow and clear night sky. You can read more about that workflow here, in a article I wrote a few years back.

http://photosofarkansas.com/2014/09/23/092314-using-stacking-for-better-night-photography-results/

Lot of fun, but a lot of work in post, and most folks seem feel it's all fake anyway (and much of the current Milkyway work does involve some near fakery with the combinations, but it does look nice.

To me MF is totally overkill. Even star trail work, (due to the stacking required and huge file sizes which create a massive smart object). But I have respect for those like Craig Stocks who have taken the time to create a workflow and have produced some really nice shots, (some of his have been posted on this site). Overkill for me as MF wides are not fast enough, F 3.5 being the fastest P1 I know of and the gear is just harder to work with at night in total darkness, unlike 35mm gear.

Paul C
 

drunkenspyder

New member
Hmmm. I have an 810A, which has mostly been gathering dust, I hate to admit. This is good info Paul, thanks. I have not read much yet about the K1, and was not aware they had not addressed the white noise problem.

And thanks for your link. Extremely instructive.

Pentax, K1, came so close. I have used one for 2 years now for Milkyway work. But have slowly moved to the D810A.

Biggest issue with any camera/lens is coma, and most fast wides have it, and many P1 not so fast wides have it. Coma ruins the individual stars towards the edge of the frame, with butterfly wings and other aberrations.

Pentax, with the K1, since it has IBIS, allows for tracking the stars for up to 5 minutes. This allows you to get past your F 1.4 to F 2.8 range and move to more like F 3.5 to F4, much less coma. There are two issues however:

1. retofocus lenses (most wides) only track in the center of the frame
2. White dots.

The first issue really effects the shot as you still get trails towards the edge of the frame. Center, when in good focus is amazing, both with details and clean files, but you still see normal trails with 14mm, 20mm, 25mm and some even on 35mm with a 50mm, not an problem. In my area you can't get much with a 50mm lens, and you need a 14mm, so much of the astrotracker, feature of the K1 is ruled out by distortion.

White dots, which Nikon quickly resolve on their D810 (uses same sensor as K1), sadly Pentax never fixed this with firmware, so the longer you go the more the white dots appear. Capture One can remove a lot of these without star removal but many times I want to use LR and nothing on the Adobe side will get rid of it.

The D810A has a cleaner base ISO, and can get similar results, and since your exposures are max 17 sec, few to no trails.

If you want to do traditional star trail work, which I prefer since you can use the moon for illumination, any camera works well. Just need a good work flow and clear night sky. You can read more about that workflow here, in a article I wrote a few years back.

http://photosofarkansas.com/2014/09/23/092314-using-stacking-for-better-night-photography-results/

Lot of fun, but a lot of work in post, and most folks seem feel it's all fake anyway (and much of the current Milkyway work does involve some near fakery with the combinations, but it does look nice.

To me MF is totally overkill. Even star trail work, (due to the stacking required and huge file sizes which create a massive smart object). But I have respect for those like Craig Stocks who have taken the time to create a workflow and have produced some really nice shots, (some of his have been posted on this site). Overkill for me as MF wides are not fast enough, F 3.5 being the fastest P1 I know of and the gear is just harder to work with at night in total darkness, unlike 35mm gear.

Paul C
 

dave.gt

Well-known member
Time to narrow the discussion for me, although others may prefer different equipment.

My equipment is MFD. The Studio is kind enough to allow me to use it when I need it and there is no option for other gear, regardless.:)

So, yes, I can figure out how to use it for Astro Photography, but I need to understand the technical aspects of well, heck, simply finding the Milky Way at various times of the year. And stars. And planets ... etc. It is somewhat complicated.

I need to start with the basic information. That is how embarrassingly ignorant I am of the subject.:(

But with your help to locate resources and locations to use for shooting, maybe I will get there, LOL!:cool:
 

Paul2660

Well-known member
Best way to find it is a app like SkyView. iPhone. Assuming same for android

Shows it in the sky at all times and as earth moves during the night where the Milky Way will be.

Best times in North America are between March and October. Winter skies not so good.

Find a clear night away from city lights then wait on total darkness then look up. Jew is amazing but the camera will capture so much more.

Check out Adam Woodworth. I believe that is his name. Has done more than most on bringing such photographic work to the popularity level its become.

Paul C
 

sc_john

Active member
So, yes, I can figure out how to use it for Astro Photography, but I need to understand the technical aspects of well, heck, simply finding the Milky Way at various times of the year. And stars. And planets ... etc. It is somewhat complicated.
Hi Dave,

I would +1 Sashin's suggestion of checking out https://www.lonelyspeck.com/astrophotography-101/. The tutorials on the site range from basic to heavy duty. While they are primarily about FF digital, much of the info is sensor agnostic. It also contains info on software such as "Starry Landscape Stacker" that would be at least as useful for MF as FF, perhaps more so.

Regarding finding constellations, planets, there are a lot of good IOS apps (I don't have Android) such as Star Walk, Sky Guide and Dark Sky, just to name a few.

Best way to learn is probably to do some research and then get out and have at it. Speaking from personal experience, even if first attempts are less than stellar (pardon the pun), you still have the experience of being out under the night sky.

Good luck!

John
 

Don Libby

Well-known member
I had mixed results while I was using Phase One getting the best results with the IQ1-100. I now use the GFX50s which has been a huge upgrade in Milky Way shots.

There is the rule of 500 when shooting night shots and wanting crisp stars. Divide 500 by the focal length in order to get a shutter speed long enough to capture the stars. This works well on any full frame sensor. What I've done is factor the 80% crop into the equation.

Full frame at 24mm I works out something like 20.83 seconds so I use 20-seconds on a Sony A7rIII beginning the ISO at 800 and working up and down till I like it.

The GFX is a tad more complicated - that same 24mm forks like this. Divide 500/24=20.83*80%=16.666 seconds. I would use 16-seconds and since I'm using the GFX I'd set the beginning ISO at 1000 and work upwards. It works for me.

Look for the darkest nights of the month which usually begin a couple days prior and after the new moon. Clear cool nights works well and expect to be outdoors between 2 and 4 am.

I've stabilized a camera on a telescope (XF/IQ) I've also used a small tracker using the Sony/GFX all of which allow for long shutter times while tracking. I reduced it all to just a tripod, no sleep and the 500 rule.
 

Shashin

Well-known member
These are with a Pentax 645D and tracker. I think the exposure was about 3-5 minutes and simply using the 55mm normal lens.





And this is just shooting under moonlight with the 645D



But the Milky Way is not rocket science: this is with a Sony RX-1 and fixed tripod:



There are really two Milky Ways available to you, the winter and summer. The summer in the southern sky is the more impressive, but the winter has some wonderful detail--if you see Orion, you are looking at the winter Milky Way. In reality, you just need a few fairly well-known constellations to find your way around the sky. It also help to know the direction to look, so know which way is N, S, E, and W is useful (my wife has a hard time with this). There are lots of places on the internet to tell you what is up in the evening, for example: https://in-the-sky.org/skymap2.php But a search for night sky charts or what is out tonight will get you hits.

But as the joke goes, how hard is it to observe the stars; don't you just go outside and look up?
 

dave.gt

Well-known member
Best way to find it is a app like SkyView. iPhone. Assuming same for android

Shows it in the sky at all times and as earth moves during the night where the Milky Way will be.

Best times in North America are between March and October. Winter skies not so good.

Find a clear night away from city lights then wait on total darkness then look up. Jew is amazing but the camera will capture so much more.

Check out Adam Woodworth. I believe that is his name. Has done more than most on bringing such photographic work to the popularity level its become.

Paul C
Checked out the Skyview app! I was wondering if it would be good to use. Thsnks, Paul!:):):). Now to look up Adam Woodworth!:thumbup:
 

dave.gt

Well-known member
Will,

Nice images, thanks so much!:)

The links you gave me have been keeping me busy this afternoon!:)

Looking up around here means looking into the light dome from the megalopolis 40 miles north of home. That being, of course the 120+ mile urban sprawl of Atlanta.:mad: But I can drive an hour south or three hours north of Atlanta to Brasstown Bald, but not too excited about the hundred of deer along the way. I need a cabin somewhere. Or a beach condo. Hmmmm...

This could be fun depending on where we wind up....

These are with a Pentax 645D and tracker. I think the exposure was about 3-5 minutes and simply using the 55mm normal lens.





And this is just shooting under moonlight with the 645D



But the Milky Way is not rocket science: this is with a Sony RX-1 and fixed tripod:



There are really two Milky Ways available to you, the winter and summer. The summer in the southern sky is the more impressive, but the winter has some wonderful detail--if you see Orion, you are looking at the winter Milky Way. In reality, you just need a few fairly well-known constellations to find your way around the sky. It also help to know the direction to look, so know which way is N, S, E, and W is useful (my wife has a hard time with this). There are lots of places on the internet to tell you what is up in the evening, for example: https://in-the-sky.org/skymap2.php But a search for night sky charts or what is out tonight will get you hits.

But as the joke goes, how hard is it to observe the stars; don't you just go outside and look up?
 
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