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Orion Image Gallery: Your Astrophotos

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As we approach the Full Moon in March, we have to accept the fact that the stunning winter deep-sky astrophotography objects have faded into the West for another year.  Galaxy Season is upon us, with new and exciting imaging opportunities for your camera and telescope.  Before I dive into some of the Spring deep-sky targets on my agenda, I’ve decided to honor the amazing images captured by fellow amateur astrophotographers from around the world over the winter.

astrophotography blogI reached out to the AstroBackyard community on Facebook, asking everyone to share their images of Orion this winter.  I am happy to report that I received a large number of submissions for this gallery. The images were shot of various regions of the Orion constellation, using a wide variety of astrophotography equipment and processing methods.

Orion Image Gallery: Your Astrophotos

The following images are from fans of the AstroBackyard Facebook page.  Please respect the photographers work by not using their amazing images without their permission.

Richard Hum:Horsehead Nebula and Orion Nebula wide field

Description: 

This is a blend of two captures, one for HH/Flame, and another for M42. Shot on my unmodified Canon 760D with a 70-200mm 2.8 lens on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer.
I love the Star Adventurer as a portable tracking setup, it tracks fairly accurately and has the option of autoguiding if I want in the future.

Scott Hartney:

Orion Nebula with 11" Celestron SCT

Description: 

New to astronomy, this is my first attempt at capturing an image. Taken with my Nikon D5100 through a Celestron 11″ SCT. It is a short 10-second exposure. I am still learning the scope and BackyardNIKON software.

Jason Smith:

Orion Nebula ED80

Description: 

This was my first trial with the Explore Scientific ED80 earlier this winter. View Jason’s AstroBin Profile.

Aidi Williams:

Horsehead and Flame Nebula

Description: 

This was the best of what I managed to capture. Sky-Watcher Esprit 120, EOS 600D, 0.6X Reducer.

Victor Van Puyenbroeck:

Orion Nebula - Orion ST80 Achromat

Description: 

Taken with a cheap Orion ST80 achromat, so the stars are not very pretty but the nebula is definitely there! Processed in PixInsight.  View Victor’s AstroBin Profile.

Tudor Vlad C:

Orion Nebula in Ha with QHY163m

Description: 

Luminance only HDR image. 3min, 30-second, and 10-second exposures. QHY163m and a 6 inch newt. 1.7 hours total. Full-resolution image on Flickr.

Tiago Narcisco:

Witch Head Nebula

Description: 

This is my attempt at the elusive Witch Head Nebula, taken with a Canon 600D and a 200mm lens on a Star Adventurer Mount.  View Tiago’s Astrobin Profile.

Description: 

Widefield shot of Orion, Running Man, Flame and Horsehead nebulas. 600D with 200mm lens on a Star Adventurer Mount.

Wade Smith:

Description: 

Ha-RGB-HDR, 5hrs, 45 min. 70-200mm with a 2x teleconverter, AVX mount, Lacerta MGEN auto-guiding (stand alone). 3:45 RGB – 2:00 Ha, a few 15 & 30 sec. No support data, the AG uses dithering. Looking back, I should’ve added more Ha time, flats and bias frames.

Description: 

Wide field at 200mm, about an hour of data.

Tammy Zorde:

Description: 

Only a single image/no dark (this was just a test shot before guiding started). 8″ Newt, canon 5dmkii, 30secs, iso1600, processed in Adobe Lightroom.

John Januszewski:

Description: 

Taken with a Celestron C8 with a .63 focal reducer and a Canon T4i camera.

Manuel Cortez:

Description: 

Mount: Celestron AVX,  Camera: Canon xs (unmodded), Guider: Orion StarShoot Autoguider with 50 mm scope, OTA: 80mm Sky-Watcher.

Mike Aitken:

Max Beier:

Cris Cros:

Description: 

Jan 19th 14mn d330 Celestron Nexstar 4se.  View Cris’ Time Lapse Video on YouTube.

Nazame Anuar:

Description: 

Jan 22 single shot, lots to learn!

Kurt Zeppetello:

Orion Nebula - Kurt Zeppetello

Description: 

Click here for full-resolution image and description on Kurt’s Website.

If you have questions about any of the photos in this Orion image gallery, feel free ask on the AstroBackyard Facebook page.  The community of backyard deep-sky astrophotographers continues to grow, with a focus on positive feedback for beginners. This is also where I share my personal experiences in astrophotography as I learn more.

View my latest version of the Orion Nebula

Desire, Dedication, and Determination

I know how much work goes into producing images of deep-sky objects like the ones above.  Not only does it require technical knowledge and patience, it requires cooperation from the weather.  It also means spending time alone in the dark for hours on end!  The fact is, we weren’t really alone, we were all photographing the same area of space together.

Orion Nebula through a telescope

My first “real” attempt at M42 vs. my latest version (2017)

Latest Blog Tutorial: Deep-Sky Image Processing in Photoshop

Thank you to everyone who participated in the post, and for sharing your hard work with those who wish to dive into astrophotography for themselves.  Seeing real results from amateurs using modest equipment is inspiring.  Your image may have sparked the passion in a new amateur astrophotographer.  If that someone is you, then I urge you to join the AstroBackyard.

Astrophotography should be enjoyable at every step.  Remember the feeling you got the first time you saw color from a nebula in your camera and hang on to it. 

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Astrophotography in the City

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Saturday Night Under the Stars

Astrophotography in the City

Last weekend I posted a new video to the my YouTube channel titled DSLR Astrophotography – A Night in the Backyard with my Camera. It is now Early-April, and we are in what amateur astrophotographers call “Galaxy Season”, as we transition from the Winter Constellations like Orion and Taurus, to the Summer Milky Way objects.  In between, there are some fantastic deep-sky objects to observe in the Spring Constellations Leo, Coma Berenices and Bootes.

The forecast called for clear skies on that crisp, cold Saturday night in Southern Ontario, and I was ready to image some deep-sky objects with my camera and telescope.  After a late dinner, it was a race against the clock to photograph my first subject of the evening, the Waxing Crescent Moon. If you want to jump straight to the video, you can find it at the bottom of this post.

Live-View DSLR Through a Telescope

Using the Canon 70D’s live view screen for telescope observing

Astrophotography in the Backyard

The Waxing Crescent Moon Setting in My Backyard

 

I barely had time to get the beautiful Waxing Crescent moon into my telescope’s eyepiece before it became obscured by the surrounding trees in my neighborhood!  I shot a live-view video of the moon (with Earthshine visible) with my Canon EOS 70D DSLR through the telescope.  This may be of interest to anyone wondering what the view is like through an 80mm refractor telescope.  You need an adapter to attach the camera to the telescope, which you can buy online here.

After I focused the Moon and experimented with different ISO settings and exposure lengths, I snapped a couple of shots before moving on with the rest of my night.  You can have a look at the equipment I use for astrophotography here.

 

A shorter exposure length reveals the detail of the moon, yet loses "Earthshine"

The sky from my backyard

Next, I wanted to provide some examples of the dark-sky quality from my backyard.  Living in the central part of town has its advantages, but dark skies are not one of them!  I experience heavy light pollution from all directions.  This makes using a light-pollution filter on my camera necessary for long exposures.  Currently, I use the IDAS LPS clip-in filter on my Canon Rebel Xsi DSLR.  This allows to me to capture exposures of up to 5 minutes from my backyard.

 

Astrophotography in the City

The night sky from my backyard on April 9, 2016

 

The Big Dipper Asterism

Looking towards the Big Dipper in Ursa Major

Deep-Sky Target: Edge-On Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices

NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy

Once the moon had set, I promptly prepared my deep-sky astrophotography rig for a night’s worth of photons on my photography subject.  I settled on NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy because of it’s size, magnitude, and current location in our night sky.  The Needle Galaxy is an edge-on spiral galaxy that resides about 30-50 million lights years from Earth.  This handsome galaxy is the current photo in my 2016 RASC Observer’s Calendar hanging in my office at work, perhaps that is what gave me the idea!

Astrophotography in the City - Needle Galaxy from my backyard

NGC 4565 – The Needle Galaxy

Photographed on: April 9/10, 2016

Total Exposure Time: 54 Minutes (18 x 3 Min. Subs @ ISO 1600)
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ-5 Pro
Camera: Canon 450D (modified)
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

This interesting NGC object shows up rather small in my 80″ telescope, as many galaxies do.  A larger telescope with a focal length of 1000mm or more would be a better choice for this DSO.  I also had a bit of a challenge evening out the background colour of this image.  Flat frames would have made this issue much easier to deal with in post-processing.  With just under an hour of exposure time, it is safe to say that I will need to add more time to this image to bring out the colour and detail.


AstroBackyard on Youtube

I am completely blown away with the response to my YouTube Channel has received.  Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to the AstroBackyard youtube channel.  I look forward to many new astrophotography videos in the future!

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Aligning My Newtonian

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Orion Astrograph is Ready for Spring

Aligning My Newtonian Reflector Telescope

 

The clouds finally broke (to a certain degree) last Saturday night, and being the die-hard night-sky photographer that I am, I skipped out on all of the fun social activities taking place that night in exchange for a lonely time by myself under the stars.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nowhere I would rather be, but when things go horribly wrong, you begin to question your decision to stay home. On a positive note, I learned a little more about my equipment, and how to deal with the challenging and sometimes frustrating scenarios that come with deep-sky astrophotography.

Newtonian Reflector Collimation

Orion 8″ f/4 Astrograph Reflector

While the sun was still up, I carefully collimated my Orion Astrograph to the best of my abilities.  The process of constantly collimating a newtonian reflector is a big reason I generally prefer to use my apochromatic refractor.  That being said, once tuned-in, the light-soaking power of that fast 8″ mirror is hard to ignore.  Not to mention that this telescope has a focal length of 800mm compared to the wider 480mm in the APO.

The process of collimation is actually quite a simple process, once you know what you’re doing.  The hardest part is learning exactly what you are looking at, when you position your eye over that open focuser tube.  Thankfully Sky and Telescope  has an extremely helpful tutorial on their website, with the necessary diagrams for my brain to fully comprehend the ordeal.  (I am a visual learner – go figure!)  The diagram below was an integral part of my collimation success:

 

Collimation Diagram

 

The 3 Step Process outlined by Sky and Telescope‘s Nils Olof Carlin really helped simplify the process.  Like I mentioned earlier, these steps are a lot easier to take once you understand each part of the telescope from the diagram above.

Step 1: Center the secondary mirror on the axis of the focuser drawtube

Step 2: Aim the eyepiece at the center of the primary mirror

Step 3: Center your primary mirror’s sweet spot in the eyepiece’s field of view.

It’s Galaxy Season!

Thanks to some suggestions on my Facebook page, I narrowed down my imaging choice to Bode’s Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy in Ursa Major (M81, M82).  The reason for this choice is that they are in a great position in the Northern sky from my latitude right now.  The lack of interesting nebulae and galaxies in the Southeast also swayed my decision.  I have imaged these two galaxies before with the Newtonian, but that was before modifying my Canon Xsi that can now pick up more of the pink nebulosity.

 

Galaxies in Ursa Major

M81 and M82 Galaxies – Photo from March 2014

 

Where it all went wrong

A thick cloud cover put a lid on my imaging until about midnight on Saturday.  I studied the weather forecast and satellite animations carefully, and sure enough the early spring constellations began to appear.  I napped for two hours beforehand, to make sure I had enough energy to image late into the night.  While carrying out the alignment process of my Sky watcher mount, I noticed that the guide stars appeared sharp and crisp.  They even had the reassuring, round donut shape when unfocused. Clearly, my collimation session earlier had paid off!

Once I was polar and star aligned, I directed the tracking mount towards M81 – Bode’s Galaxy in Ursa Major.  There it was in the eyepiece, along with it’s close companion M82.  A rewarding view, even in the heart of the city.  I so rarely view these objects visually, I spent almost 5 minutes allowing my eyes to adjust and get a deeper view.

Okay, so far so good.  Time to get focused, and start imaging.  I framed the objects perfectly within my field of view, and achieved sharp focus by using the handy frame and focus tab within BackyardEOS.  The last piece of the puzzle was to get PHD calibrated, and guiding on my object.

 

PHD Guiding Issues When Imaging Near Polaris

“Star Did Not Move Enough” Error

I have heard from fellow astrophotographers about PHD guiding not calibrating when imaging close to the North Star, Polaris.  I have experienced this first hand a number of times myself, including on Saturday night.  The West calibration step continued to fail, displaying the “Star Did Not Move Enough” error message.  I fiddled with multiple settings within the PHD Guiding “Brain” button, including the much-debated calibration-steps parameter.  I also closed down PHD, and unplugged the autoguiding connection cable, to rule that out.  I have lost countless hours under moonless, clear skies to this scenario over the last 4 years.  I desperately need to come up with a permanent solution for this problem.  I had no choice but to switch targets, and hope that PHD would began doing what it was designed to do.  Autoguiding.  Luckily, I moved to a target in the same region of the sky that would also lend itself well to my current configuration.

 

M101 – The Pinwheel Galaxy

Sure enough, PHD calibrated itself, and began guiding on my subject.  It was now 2:00am, and I took my first 3 minute sub at 2:09am.  That’s 2 hours of frustration and wasted clear skies!  Patience and a positive attitude is certainly needed for this hobby, but taking action to not repeat past mistakes is even more important.  I will have to research alternatives to PHD guiding, or at least narrow down exactly what is going wrong when trying to calibrate PHD close to Polaris.  Once the graph looked steady, I set BackyardEOS to take 30, 210 second exposures on M101 and went to bed.

 

PHD Guiding Calibration

East Calibration – Finally! And a Steady Graph

 

Here’s the kicker.  Something wasn’t right with my guiding on M101 either.  I am not sure if it was because of the settings I had changed when trying to calibrate earlier, a conflict with the dithering I enabled within BackyardEOS, or a third unknown factor.  Either way, I captured 30 jerky frames of M101 while I slept.  I didn’t inspect the frames until I woke up again at 4:00am to review my results.  It was at this point that I realized that this blog post would not be a success story.

 

Autoguiding Issues

 

Conclusion – I had a Rough Night!

I came up empty handed, even after having such a well-planned out night with all my bases covered.  However, I did successfully collimate my Newtonian reflector, and now feel comfortable using this telescope more often for astrophotography.  I also came to the conclusion that I need to seriously address the on-going issues I have been having with PHD guiding to avoid more wasted nights in the future.  Thank you for your continued support of my astrophotography journey, and if you have any solutions for me, I would love to hear them!

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