Easy pretty pictures

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, November 05, 2007

Many amateur astronomers enjoy visual observing. A growing number, however, want to take their hobby a bit further and venture into astroimaging. Currently, amateurs distinguish "astroimaging" from the old term, "astrophotography." It's all photography, of course, but the "-imaging" suffix refers to digital pictures and not film. Soon, perhaps within the next 5 years, the two terms will be interchangeable as imagers go 100 percent digital.

If you're just getting started, however, check out Making Beautiful Deep-Sky Images by Greg Parker (Springer, 2007). This book carries the subtitle Astrophotography with Affordable Equipment and Software, and it contains a wealth of information for would-be imagers.

You'll encounter one of this book's strong points as Parker details equipment choices. Most authors go for a generalized approach. Not Parker. He mentions specific telescopes and telescope/accessory/camera combinations. Within those descriptions, he outlines both the strengths and weaknesses of the setups.

For example, when Parker talks about using Celestron's Hyperstar system, he touts the fact that altering a telescope from an f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain to, essentially, an f/1.85 Schmidt camera allows for incredibly short exposure times. He goes on to point out, however, that such a system requires super-fine optical alignment to produce good results.

Parker shows lots of examples of his work, and he suggests a variety of objects to get you started. One of his best chapters is "Differentiating Your Work." Here, he gives you a choice (and there's no wrong choice): You can produce pretty pictures for yourself or you can push the envelope, and he gives several paths to choose.

I really like one of his suggestions — to get off the Messier and Caldwell lists. This is the same advice I give imagers when they write to me (as photo editor), "What's the best way to have an image published in Astronomy?"

If you're new to astroimaging, or if you want to read up on the basics before taking the plunge, check out Making Beautiful Deep-Sky Images. Then, when you get images you're pleased with, send them to me. The easiest way is to go to here. As long as you choose Astronomy as the magazine, I'll receive the image.

You never know. Your image could appear in a future Reader Gallery.

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