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Summer in the AstroBackyard

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This is one summer that I will never forget.  The addition of my new telescope, the growth of AstroBackyard and the explosion of my YouTube channel has given me an astronomical boost in motivation and passion for astrophotography.  This has not come without hard work, it has been extremely busy in terms of both astrophotography and my day job.  The common sacrifice between the two has been sleep, of course.  The battle between day and night is a struggle astrophotographers know all too well.  I take comfort in the fact that the winter season will have many cloudy nights that will force me to catch up on my sleep, and maintain a healthier lifestyle balance.

How hard did you go this summer? Did you opt for sleep instead of imaging time?  Let me know on Facebook

Astrophotographers are not normal!

I recently created a short “trailer” for the AstroBackyard YouTube Channel:


AstroBackyard on YouTube

We have a burning desire to capture the wonders of the night sky each and every night.  We check the weather constantly and plan most social activities during the full moon, or during stretches of bad weather.  A stretch of clear nights surrounding the new moon means getting less than 4 hours of sleep during the week. For me, my health takes priority over all, so this is an issue that I am still trying to properly address. A more permanent deep-sky equipment setup and a dedicated observatory will help me optimize my setup time. These dreams are on my radar, and will become a reality in the not so distant future.  Which leads me to my next point;

 

The social following from this blog and my youtube channel have added another level of pressure to regularly produce quality astronomical images. This is a huge motivator for me, and a challenge I am honored to have in my life.  The AstroBackyard following has already grown much faster than I anticipated. I have big plans for the future of this venture.  

New Photo: The Trifid Nebula

Deep-Sky Nebula in Sagittarius

Tridi Nebula - DSLR astrophotography

M20 – The Trifid Nebula

Messier 20 is one of my all-time very deep-sky objects.  I remember one of the very first times I saw an image of the Trifid Nebula in a book called: The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater.  The dynamic color combination of blues and pinks had me looking into astrophotography equipment so I could capture it for myself.  I realized that dream in April of 2013, and have continued to soak camera time on it ever since.  The image above was achieved by shooting over 3 separate nights in early August.  Complete photo details below:

M20 – The Trifid Nebula

Photographed on: August 2, 3, 8, 2016

Total Exposure Time: 2 Hours, 54 Minutes (58 x 3 Minute Subs @ ISO 1600)
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ-5 Pro
Camera: Stock Canon Xsi
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF

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

Autoguiding telescope package

I documented my night under the stars for my third and final installment on the Trifid Nebula in video form.  The video discusses the specifications of my new Explore Scientific ED 102 CF, the Field-Flattener I use, and some simple tips for backyard astrophotography.  Thank you to the (now over) 1000 subscribers to the AstroBackyard YouTube Channel!

 


 

New Photo: The Summer Triangle

Wide-Field Image with Tracking and Autoguiding

Milky way stars from backyard

The Milky Way including stars in the “Summer Triangle”

This was a very exciting experiment was finally actualized the night of August 2nd, 2016.  I have always loved wide field camera lens astrophotography. Whether it’s a constellation full of stars with hints of nebulosity through a 14mm lens, or a complete portrait of the North America Nebula shot with a 200mm; camera lens astrophotography is responsible for some of the greatest images ever taken.

I mainly shoot deep-sky astrophotography through my 102mm Apo Refractor, with a focal length of 702mm. This is a great distance to photograph many deep-sky objects. It fits the entire object in the frame, yet is close enough to reveal some solid detail.  However, this is far too “deep” for a number of large nebulous regions and star clusters.  In instances like this, a camera lens anywhere from 50mm – 300mm will execute your plan better than any telescope.  That’s great news for anyone who already owns a lens or two!

Here’s the catch. You need 2 things to produce long exposure astrophotography images with no star trails:

1. A tracking mount

A German equatorial mount will allow you to capture a much longer exposure without star trails. Your camera can then pick up deep-sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies.

2. External camera control

You will need to take exposures longer than the 30-second maximum your DSLR will take on its own. (Without holding the shutter button down!) A camera remote or laptop comtrol will allow you to choose exposure length, and automate the process.  Autoguiding will create an even better image.  However, you may be able to get away with 1-2 minute exposures without it – depending on your mount.

An astrotrac or iOptron sky tracker was meant for moments like this. Not only to they simplify the polar alignment process and accurately track the sky, but they are MUCH lighter and more transportable than a full-blown GEM. If I ever plan on diving into travel astrophotography (I do!) I will certainly invest in one of these ingenious devices.

Back to my Experiment…

Mounting a Canon DSLR to a telescope with a Gorilla Pod

I have everything needed to execute a coveted wide field camera lens astrophoto, but I rarely opt for this method over shooting deep-sky through the telescope. Not to mention I must find a way to securely fasten my DSLR and lens to my astrophotography rig while maintaining a proper balance, and a functioning auto guiding system.  I used a small gorilla pod meant for a GoPro and wrapped it around my telescope.  This kept my existing alignment and guiding from an earlier deep-sky session.

 

The bendable legs of this sturdy little tripod firmly grapple onto my scope, so much so that I can leave the camera running in this position for hours with confidence.  I should mention, that this photo was acquired during the night of new moon. I can count on one hand the number of clear new moon nights I have experienced. I have had many clear nights leading up to and following my favorite day of the month, but to bask in the glory of our night sky on a summer new moon? That’s the stuff I live for.

 

I used BackyardEOS to automate my imaging session:

Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Mode: Bulb
ISO: 800
Exposure: 120 seconds
Dithering: Enabled

I ended up taking about 15 x 120-second exposures at ISO 800.  I also shot a few dark frames after my session, so I could stack the images into Deep Sky Stacker for a better SNR (Signal to noise ratio)


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I often tweet during my imaging sessions:

AstroBackyard on Twitter

Results from the 2016 Perseid Meteor Shower

The weather was a bit iffy the week of the Perseid Meteor Shower (August 8-12).  The skies were clear the night before the peak (August 10th) so I took a shot at capturing some decent meteors on that night.  When thundershowers are in the forecast, I am weary of setting up my astrophotography equipment, even if the conditions are currently clear!

I piggybacked my Canon 7D onto my telescope using a gorilla pod as per my previous session so that I could have a wide-field eye on the sky.  I pointed my wide-angle camera lens (Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L) towards the constellation Perseus over my house.  This arrangement worked extremely well.  I was able to capture sharp images that revealed an impressive amount of detail of this area of the sky by taking 2-minute exposures.

 

Perseid meteor photo from my backyard

Perseid Meteor photographed from my backyard the Night of August 10th-11th

 

What’s Next?

I have realized that my current DSLR camera is holding back my astrophotography.  Despite the fact that my Canon Rebel Xsi is modified for astrophotography, I think I would be better off with a newer unmodified, stock Canon camera.  I have my eye on a used Canon T3i camera.  This will give me much better noise performance, increased ISO capabilities, and a higher resolution than my ancient 450D’s 12.2 megapixels.  Yes, a full-frame Canon 6D would really take my images to the next level, but that is a much bigger investment than the reasonable cost of a used Canon T3i DSLR.  (Under $500!)  I can then modify this camera for astrophotography myself using the tutorial by Gary Honis. 


I would like to thank you all for the continued support of this blog for the AstroBackyard YouTube channel.  Please follow me on Facebook for the latest news about my on-going astrophotography journey.  I wish you all the best in your own efforts and hope that I have inspired you to keep going.

AstroBackyard on Facebook

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New Astrophotography Telescope

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I am thrilled to announce the purchase of a brand new telescope for astrophotography, and one that I’ve had my eye on for some time. Those of you looking to dive into the hobby of deep-sky astrophotography for the first time should see my post a choosing a telescope for astrophotography. I break down my top 5 choices for a beginner, which includes the 80mm version of the telescope mentioned below. Spoiler alert, they’re all refractors!

It’s a very exciting time of year for astrophotographers with the return of the central bulge of the milky way in our night sky (in the Northern Hemisphere). I’ve got astronomy camping trips booked for June, July, and August – as well as some time off at work so I can spend more time in the backyard under the stars.   With that being said, I’ve decided to invest in some new astrophotography equipment that will hopefully lead to some incredible new astrophotos this summer.  Let’s start with the most exciting purchase I’ve made this year.

Explore Scientific ED102 Carbon Fiber

102mm F/7 Triplet Apochromatic Refractor

 

Explore Scientific ED102 CF

Explore Scientific 102mm Triplet Apochromatic Telescope – Carbon Fiber Edition

That’s right, I loved the Explore Scientific ED80 so much that the next logical move was to step up to the slick black carbon fiber 102mm version.  Many of you are like me and do not have a large budget for astrophotography gear. With so many astrophotography telescopes available, you better believe I did my homework first!   This triplet “apo” has received top marks from many deep-sky astrophotographers and was even my number 1 choice on my old “Top Astrophotography Telescopes Under $2,000” post.

This telescope from Explore Scientific is considered to be a wide-field instrument, but the increased focal length of 714mm is a big step up from the 480mm on my 80ED.  So what finally provoked me to take the plunge?  Well, the team at Explore Scientific reached out to me after finding this blog!  I was invited to provide a testimonial about my beloved ED80 Apo as well as share some of my astrophotography images on their website, social media networks, and Sky’s Up Magazine.

Related Post: Explore Scientific ED102 CF Review

 

Explore Scientific ED102 CF

 

 

Telescope Specifications

Focal Length: 714mm
Focal Ratio: f/7
Resolution: 1.14 arcsec
Diameter: 120mm
Weight: 7 lbs
Dovetail: Vixen

New Astronomik 12nm Ha Filter

This is another long-time coming item that I have had my eye on for years. I will now be able to capture some Hydrogen Alpha data through my light-polluted skies in the backyard. This filter also blocks out the glow from the full moon, so it will be interesting to see how much extra imaging I will be able to get in!  The Clip-in version for Canon EOS DSLR’s will fit snugly into my Modified 450D, replacing the IDAS LPS filter.

I will shoot my regular RGB data using the LPS filter, and add in some powerful Ha data to overlay in post-processing.  I am really excited to see how it reduces the star glow in my images as well. I ordered this filter from OPT telescopes today, and it should be arriving in as early as two weeks. Some of my favorite astrophotographers from around the web have used this filter and gotten impressive results.

Below, you’ll see my photo of the Soul Nebula using the Astronomik 12nm Ha Filter clipped into a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera.

Soul Nebula in Ha

 

AstroBackyard on YouTube

 

I am blown away by the response from my YouTube channel.  In the latest video posted from my backyard, I mentioned how I couldn’t believe that I had almost 70 subscribers – that number has since jumped to almost 450 in about 1 month’s time.  Needless to say, I couldn’t be more inspired to make new astrophotography videos and share them with my YouTube audience. The comments and feedback from the videos have been very humbling, and confirm my efforts of making this website. It is already becoming hard to keep up with all of the astrophotography questions I am receiving on YouTube, which leads me to my next point.

AstroBackyard on YouTube

Frequently Asked Questions Section

I now receive anywhere from 3-10 e-mails a day asking different astrophotography related questions. I am always happy to help beginner astrophotographers get started, but my time is very limited. I have decided to use this opportunity to build out a Frequently Asked Questions section of this website.  This way, we can all learn from each other. This will also build out a helpful resource page that includes many of the most commonly asked questions about astrophotography.  I will likely divide the page up into subsections including equipment, software, acquisition, and processing questions.

NGC 4631 Whale Galaxy

Latest Imaging Session

I am currently taking my last number of images using my trusty ED80 – Is it weird that I feel emotional about that? My deal with Explore Scientific includes exchanging the ED80 for the new 102mm. This means that I will likely do my imaging with the 8″ Orion Astrograph while I wait for the ED102 to arrive. I did not shoot any deep-sky images during the last new moon because of an annual birding trip my Fiance and I go on. However, I have begun shooting some frames on NGC 4631 – the Whale Galaxy from the backyard. My first set of frames are not pretty, as they were shot under the bright glow of a 89% illuminated waning gibbous moon.  I am hoping to capture another hour or two of this object tonight if the weather cooperates.

2016-06-01 – Update!

I have imaged the Whale Galaxy for 4 nights (totaling 3 Hours and 52 Minutes of Exposure) The signal to noise ratio has improved greatly, and you can view my final image here.

Related Posts:

Explore Scientific ED80 Review

How a DSLR Ha Filter can Improve your Astrophotos

Deep Sky Astrophotography Beginners Guide

 

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What’s new in 2016?

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I usually like to wait until I’ve got a new astrophotography image to share before I make a post, but today I just felt like sharing some thoughts about where I am at with this blog. Astrobackyard.com is still in it’s early stages, but I have had quite a few vistors as of late and I am truly honored that you have decided to take a moment out of your busy day to view my astronomy images.

Cold winter night with stars

The Winter Blues

The skies have been painfully clouded over for what seems like the last 3 months, and I really haven’t got any decent imaging done since photographing the Horsehead Nebula in December.  There have been 1 or two frigid clear nights, but they have been flooded out by a bright full moon, or close to it.  On the bright side, these cloudy nights have given me the perfect opportunity to work on astrobackyard.com, and re-process some of my old astrophotography images.

Staying Social

I have been spending a fair amount of time connecting with fellow astrophotographers on social media.  There are so many amazing astronomy photos being shared on a daily basis all over the world.  I especially like the connections I have made on twitter and instagram as of late.  I have finally figured out how to comfortably use Google+, it was a long time coming.  There are some fantastic astrophotography communities over there that I would highly recommend joining.  My favourite communities would have to be Astrophotography and Night Photography.

Here are some of the night sky photos I have shared recently on Google+

Astrophotography Communities on Google Plus

Astrophotographers Everywhere

It’s funny, once you spread your “brand” across all of the available platforms, you notice a lot of the same names involved in your hobby.  I have had an unbelievable response to my new YouTube Channel, earning over 20 subscribers in just a few months.  I can’t wait to shoot and edit my next video for that channel, I already have some ideas, I just need the weather to cooperate.  My lonely Facebook page could use some love, so if you are a Facebook user, you may like to keep up to date with me by liking that page.

Office by Day, Backyard by Night

I really respect every night sky photo I see shared online, because I know first-hand how much work is put into each one.  It means staying up late during the week, overcoming technical difficulties and battling weather conditions, all for your passion for photography.  Having a clear vision for your end result is a powerful mindset that can carry you through the toughest of setbacks.  Astrophotography can also keep you away from your family and friends, as you can’t expect them to sit and wait outside with you for the perfect image. (I’ve tried)

If you work a 9-5 job like I do, you have to sacrifice a lot of sleep to keep both your hobby and career healthy. A dream of mine is to one day support my family by pursuing my photography passion.

 

Wide field image of the Pinwheel Galaxy

Recently Re-Processed – M101 – The Pinwheel Galaxy in Ursa Major

iOptron Sky Tracker

Plans for landscape astrophography in the spring

iOptron Sky Tracker MountOne aspect of my photography that I will be focusing on this year is landscape astrophotography.  I hope to capture some interesting and dynamic landscape images that include the night sky, weather it be the milky way, the constellations or the moon.  A true landscape image includes elements like foreground interest, composition and lead-in lines.  These touches are more difficult to execute when shooting at night!  I hope to purchase a small travel mount this year, such as an iOptron Sky Tracker Camera mount.  A lightweight, portable camera mount like this will open up new options including being able to shoot from multiple locations on a single night.  I hope to add this piece of equipment to my arsenal by spring.

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