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Astrophotography

LRGB Processing Technique for Orion

Astrophotography LRGB Processing Technique

A useful guide to processing the Orion Constellation using a DSLR Camera and Tripod

From the very moment this video started, I knew I was in for a real treat. The motion control time-lapse of the Milky Way moving across the sky was the perfect primer for this high production, quality tutorial.  Lonelyspeck.com is an informative and beautiful website created by Ian Norman –  A full-time traveller and photographer. In the following video he will explain how to process a photo of the Orion Constellation using the LRGB processing technique. He stacks multiple exposures to reduce noise, corrects vignetting, and greatly enhances the contrast and colour of the photo.  The exact camera settings he used, including ISO, exposure length and aperture details are shared.

 
 
 

He uses nothing more than a regular tripod and a DSLR camera equipped with a standard prime lens. The location he chose for this tutorial was Red Rock State Park in California.  The initial processing steps take place in Adobe Lightroom, a different approach than I currently use. Based on this tutorial, I may need to incorporate Adobe Lightroom into my astrophotography processing workflow.

Another major difference in this photographer’s technique is the fact that he stacked the photos directly in Adobe Photoshop as opposed to a third-party software like Deep Sky Stacker. I have heard of a lot of astrophotographers who swear by this method. One thing to note is that stacking via “photomerge” in photoshop will consume a large amount of RAM on your system, and could result in a system crash. Be sure to have your work saved, and have some time set-aside for this process to take place.

One of the biggest factors in the amazing results Ian was able to achieve, was the pristine dark skies he was able to shoot in. It is not possible to bring out the faint details seen here from the city. I can’t wait to try this tutorial myself. I am amazed at how much detail he was able to pull out from such short exposures. I hope that you find this tutorial as invaluable as I did.

 
 

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Stargazing at Ontario Campgrounds

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One of the best ways to enjoy astronomy under a dark sky is to go camping. Campgrounds are usually well away from city light pollution, meaning that you will be able to enjoy many more stars in the sky than you are used to seeing at home.

In mid-summer, the sun sets very late at the campgrounds in Ontario, and most campers are settling in for cozy sleep in their sleeping bag. But if you’re anything like me, your night is just beginning. 

The parks listed in this article are some of the best stargazing sites near Toronto. Selkirk Provincial Park is only a 1.5-hour drive from Toronto and boasts spectacular dark skies for Milky Way Photography

Stargazing at Ontario Campgrounds

Stargazing at Ontario Provincial Parks

During the summer months, I like to leave my light-polluted backyard in the city and travel to some Ontario Campgrounds for some stargazing and astronomy.

My two favorite Ontario parks are Rock Point Provincial Park and Selkirk Provincial Park. They both offer fantastic dark skies looking south over Lake Erie, which happens to be the direction of the Milky Way core during July and August.

There are several dark sky camping locations along the north shore of Lake Erie, including Long Point Provincial Park. This park is a little farther away from Toronto (about a 2-hour drive).

Here is a photo I took of the Milky Way using my camera and a portable star tracker from Long Point Provincial Park.

Milky Way astrophotography

The Milky Way from Long Point Provincial Park. (2-hour drive from Toronto).

Camping Under the Stars

Selkirk Provincial Park is one of my favorite stargazing locations in Ontario. Like Rock Point Provincial Park, and Long Point Provincial Park, this park includes a beach on the north shore of Lake Erie.

However, there are often more campsites available at this park than the other two, because the beach is not quite as nice for day visitors. For astronomy and stargazing purposes, it’s absolutely fantastic. 

Selkirk Ontario Campgrounds

Dusk at Selkirk Provincial Park.

It boasts some of the darkest skies in Ontario, thanks to the large agricultural areas that surround the park. The closest city to this area is Port Dover, which is over 25 kilometers away. 

There is very minimal light pollution from this park, with only a faint glow on the horizon across Lake Erie. 

Here is a nightscape photo I took from Selkirk Provincial Park in 2020 using my Canon mirrorless camera and a 24mm wide-angle camera lens. 

Milky Way Photography

The Milky Way from Selkirk PP Campgrounds. 

Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

It is important to book your campsite around the time of the new moon, to ensure that you are taking full advantage of the limited light-pollution from these areas.  You will also want to make sure that you book a campsite that has an open window to the night sky, and is not blocked by the surrounding mature trees.

A useful website for previewing each site at Ontario parks campgrounds is Ontario Parks Campsite Pictures.  This way you can have a look at each site before you book!

The sky-window from my campsite:

I was hoping to have clear views directly south from my campsite (Site 85), but I ended up having a larger window to the West than expected.  This changed my imaging target from Sagittarius, to an object high up above in Cygnus.  The wispy nebulosity in NGC 7000 – The North America Nebula captured my attention once again.  

I settled on an area that included the Pelican Nebula – an object have not yet given a fair attempt at before.

Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

Our tents and telescopes are set up for a night of deep-sky imaging

My modified Canon Xsi DSLR did a good job at picking up the bright pink and red nebulosity of the Pelican Nebula. I wonder how many more shutter actuations my old 450d can handle?  

That old DSLR has been through every type of outdoor condition you could think of – including being completely covered in ice in the heart of winter. If I had to guess, I would say that this camera has at least a 60,000 actuation shutter count.  Maybe much more!

IC 5070 - Pelican Nebula

IC 5070 – The Pelican Nebula – Photographed from Selkirk Provincial Park

Pelican Nebula – Image Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Modified)
ISO: 1600
Total Exposure: 1 hour, 50 Minutes (22 x 300s)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 15 darks

As per my usual routine, I shot several exposures (In this case 5 minutes each) at ISO 1600. This is the max ISO for this camera and does produce a fair amount of noise.  Luckily, most of this noise is canceled out in the stacking process by using dark frames.  

Dark frames are simply exposures of the same length and temperature as “light” frames, but with the lens cap on the camera. I think of it as – Any data that the camera picks up with the lens cap on is noise. There are no photons to collect.  

With stacking software (Like DeepSkyStacker), the isolated noise data is removed from the final image. There are several tutorials online to better describe this process.  I will go over the stacking process and workflow in a future post, for anyone interested.  For now, I will share a link to the software I use; DeepSkyStacker.

It is currently the only program I use, and I am very happy with it.

Reviewing Light Frames in Adobe Bridge

Stacking my exposures to create the final version of the Pelican Nebula image

Stargazing at its finest

The Milky Way was clearly visible to the naked-eye, a sure sign of limited light-pollution and dark skies.  Aside from astrophotography, stunning views of the summer constellations and Messier objects are within reach to anyone with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.  An amazing surprise we had that night was beautiful pink aurora overhead to the North!  

I heard reports from back home in St. Catharines that it was quite a show around 2am. Rarely do I see the Northern Lights from Southern Ontario, so it is always a treat. A lazy yellow waning crescent moon rose out of the Eastern horizon around 2am, and with that, it was time to get some much needed sleep!

Northern Lights from Selkirk PP

The Northern Lights as seen from our campgrounds

Selkirk Provincial Park is a great place to go camping with your friends and family in the summer. What attracted me to this park was the dark skies to the South and the proximity to my home.

It was just over an hour’s drive from St. Catharines.  

This was my second time to the park this year.  Our visit in late May was a very wet experience as there were intense thunderstorms the night we stayed.  This time, however, I got the trip I wanted with warm, clear skies all night long. If you are also looking to enjoy some astronomy at Ontario campgrounds, I should remind you to check the forecast and moon phase calendar first.  

This way you can appreciate the advantages of having darker skies than you are used to in the city.

Here are some astrophotography tips that will help you understand what it takes to get a decent photo of the night sky. 7 Astrophotography Tips

Deep Sky Astrophotos taken at Ontario Campgrounds

North America Nebula

The North America Nebula – Rock Point Provincial Park.

DSLR astrophotography example

The Andromeda Galaxy – Rock Point Provincial Park.

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California Nebula Imaged with Modified 450D

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California Nebula

NGC 1499 – The California Nebula by Trevor Jones

 

Canon Rebel Xsi – Recently Modified 450D

I am proud  to say that I am now the owner of a Modified 450D.  My recentself-modification has really helped bring out the colour of this Emission Nebula.  If you are interested in modding your own Canon Xs or XSi, you can find the tutorial from Gary Honis below. The photo above was taken on the night of October 25th under clear skies in Wellandport, Ontario. I feel like I want to shoot every deep-sky object over again now that my camera records so much more red nebulosity!  I am excited to image some of the Winter objects that will be spending some time in our night sky over the next 2 months!

Related: Learn more about Cameras for Astrophotography

 

Image Processing NGC 1499

Compare the single frame to the stacked image of over 2 hours and processing

 

NGC 1499, or “The California Nebula” is a large emission nebula located in the constellation of Perseus.  It’s shape resembles the outline of the State of California.  The California Nebula is very difficult to observe visually because of it’s low surface brightness, but shows up well in long exposure photography.  It was discovered by E.E. Barnard in 1884.

California Nebula – Image Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Modified)
ISO: 1600 Exposure: 2 hours, 40 Minutes (32 x 300s)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 15 darks

Canon 450D / 1000D - Gary Honis Full Spectrum Mod

Gary Honis will take you step by step of how to remove the IR cut filter in your Canon XS or XSi in the video below. Removing this filter from the camera allows H-Alpha wavelengths to pass through for deep-sky imaging. I was able to modify my DSLR myself by watching this video. I performed the “full-spectrum” mod, and did not install any additional new filters to the camera. I only removed the IR-Cut filter. My clip-in Hutech IDAS LPS filter protects the sensor.

 

 
 

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Wizard Nebula through 80mm Telescope

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The Wizard Nebula through my 80mm Telescope

Clear August Nights

More consecutive clear summer nights have allowed me to put in some serious time on the Wizard Nebula!  In fact, this is the most amount of exposure time I have put into any object!  Over 7 Hours! Truth be told, I would have hopped over to a new subject, but this attractive nebula is in the sweet spot of the sky right now.

View an updated image of the Wizard Nebula using my current astrophotography equipment.

Wizard Nebula 80mm telescope

The Wizard Nebula using an 80mm Refractor Telescope

NGC 7380 – Wizard Nebula Details:

Total Exposure Time:  7 Hours, 15 Minutes (87 x 5 Minute Subs)

Telescope Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Camera and Telescope: Modified Canon 450D through Explore Scientific ED80

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

NGC 7380 (also known as the Wizard Nebula) was discovered in 1787 by Caroline Herschel.  It is an open cluster located in the constellation of Cepheus.  The large nebula is extremely difficult to observe visually!

Travel Astrophotography Equipment

I have recently moved into an apartment, so I cannot image from home. To get my imaging fix I have to set up my scope in a friend’s backyard across town.  I leave it unattended all night long and cross my fingers everything worked out in the morning!  It’s a bit nerve-racking thinking about my expensive equipment running all night with no supervision, but I have my procedure down-pat and can count on good results now.

View my updated portable astrophotography setup

explore_scientific_ed80_telescope

I have been using my small refractor a lot lately because it is just so darn easy to transport and setup!  Not to mention that there is no need to collimate it like a Newtonian.  My Orion 8″ Newtonian Reflector is in desperate need of collimation at the moment (Oval stars!).  Until I can use a friends laser collimating tools, I will continue to shoot wide-field shots with the ED80.

Orion has started popping up in the mornings now, a familiar sign that summer is coming to an end.  I am excited to shoot one of my favorite winter objects (M78) with the 8″ Orion!

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Cocoon Nebula with an 80mm Telescope

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IC 5164 – The Cocoon Nebula

Imaged with an 80mm Refractor

We have had a stretch of clear nights this summer, and I have been taking full advantage! This year I decided to spend some time in the sweet spot of the sky, Cygnus the Swan. This area of the night sky rises high overhead throughout the night, free from the Earths atmosphere.

My first target was IC 5164, The Cocoon Nebula. I have never attempted this object before because I heard it was quite difficult to image, and to be honest, I just didn’t like the look of it!

Cocoon Nebula 80mm

The Cocoon Nebula – Imaged with an 80mm Refractor Telescope

That all changed once I stacked my first night’s worth of images into DeepSkyStacker and saw the beautiful pink nebulosity and dust lanes start to appear. I became obsessed with adding as much time to this deep sky object as possible. I imaged the Cocoon Nebula for 3 consecutive nights, June 30, July 1 and July 2.

Photography Details

Total Exposure Time: 5 Hours (60 x 5 Minute Subs)

Telescope Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Camera and Telescope: Canon Xsi (stock) Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo
Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

NGC 6960 – The Western Veil Nebula

Western Veil Nebula

NGC 6960 – Western Veil Nebula

Next up is the gorgeous “Witch’s Broom” Nebula, or more specifically, NGC 6960 – The Western Veil Nebula in the constellation Cynus.  I haven’t shot this object since 2012, with lackluster results back then.  This time however,  I photographed it under darker skies, with better guiding and focus.

Photography Details:

Total Exposure Time: 4 Hours, 41 Minutes (61 Frames)
Camera and Telescope: Canon Xsi (stock) – Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo
Telescope Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

Canon Rebel Xsi: Now Modified

Now with a “Naked-Sensor” for better Astrophotography

I have some exciting news about the advancements in my astrophotography!  My next post will talk about my recent modification to my Canon Xsi to remove the IR Cut Filter. Stay tuned for a full post and description of this process!  I’ll give you a hint, I used the How to modify your Canon DSLR for Astrophotography tutorial video.

80mm Refractor Telescope

My astrophotography rig at dawn

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Black Forest Star Party

The unspoiled dark skies of Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania are a real treat to stargazers who attend the Black Forest Star Party.  Now, this is what our night sky is supposed to look like! 

Whether you’re a visual observer or an amateur astrophotographer, it’s hard to find a place as special as Cherry Springs State Park

black forest star party

Black Forest Star Party

Although I have been to Cherry Springs State Park several times, I attended my first Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) in September 2019. The Black Forest Star Party has been running since 1999 at the Cherry Springs State Park and is hosted by the Central Pennsylvania Observers.

The following video takes you along for the ride as I travel from Ontario, Canada, to the Black Forest Star Party.

The skies at Cherry Springs State Park are absolutely incredible. The Milky Way stretches across the park from end to end without any intrusion from city lights.  They have a strict policy about white light, which really helps preserve your night vision throughout the night.

As I mentioned to a fellow amateur astronomer at the park, the Black Forest Star Party is like a “car show” for telescopes. People from all over the US and Canada bring their prized astronomy gear and show it off.

20″ Dobsonian telescopes were commonplace at the park, and there are often telescopes with 30″ of aperture or more.  Giant refractors, heavy-duty mounts, and expensive CCD cameras as far as the eye can see.

I am always very impressed by the behavior of all the guests. It’s a little strange to be outside with almost 500 people all night without any loud music or yelling. It’s just a big group of people who have traveled many miles for the same reason, dark skies!

Dobsonian telescopes

A look at some of the large Dobsonian telescopes on the observing field. 

Where is the Star Party Held?

The location of this annual stargazing event is Cherry Springs State Park, which is one of the darkest sites in the state of Pennsylvania. It has even been designated as a Dark Sky Park by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

Cherry Springs State Park is an International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Park, and one of the best places in the eastern United States for stargazing. The park sits 700 m above sea level in the Susquehannock State Forest and offers largely unobstructed views of the night sky in a 360-degree field of view.

In the light pollution map below, you can clearly see why this location is so dark. The red and white areas are the brightest in terms of light pollution, and the blue areas are the darkest. Cherry Springs State Park is a Bortle Scale Class 2 site. 

light pollution map

The location of the Black Forest Star Party.

When is Black Forest Star Party?

The Black Forest Star Party is usually held in the early Fall at Cherry Springs State Park. To find out when the next BFSP will happen, you can visit the official website

There, you will also find directions to the park, as well as frequently asked questions and star party rules. Each year, this event hosts a number of interesting speakers. In September 2019, I was lucky enough to be one of them!

Astrophotography

The image of the Andromeda Galaxy below was captured under the pristine skies of this location. I set up my Canon EOS 60Da DSLR camera and William Optics RedCat 51 telescope on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro tracking mount. The photo includes 100 x 2-minute images at ISO 3200. 

Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy captured at the Black Forest Star Party, 2019. 

Here is a photo of the Triangulum Galaxy I captured at the Black Forest Star Party in 2019. Broadband galaxies are some of the most difficult targets to shoot effectively from home, which is why I tend to give them a lot of attention when I am at a dark sky preserve. 

Triangulum Galaxy

The Triangulum Galaxy captured at the Black Forest Star Party in 2019. 

Cherry Springs Star Party

Not to be confused with the Black Forest Star Party, the Cherry Springs Star Party takes place at the same location as the BFSP, but at a different time of year. This annual stargazing event happens when the core of the Milky Way is beginning to rise high overhead. 

Here is a photo I captured of the Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party in 2018:

The Milky Way

The Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party.

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Making the Most of it!

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Setting up my Astrophotography gear in the dark
Setting up my astrophotography gear at the CCCA Observatory using only red lights to preserve my night vision.
I had a long, eventful night at the CCCA Observatory this past Saturday. I wasn’t even planning on going, as a heart-breaking defeat of my Toronto Raptors at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets was fresh on my mind. I started packing up my astro-gear at 7:45pm. With the sun setting at 8:05pm, and a 45 minute drive ahead of me, I knew I would be breaking one of my own astronomy rules: Setting up in the dark.

By the time I arrived, it was pitch black, with only the stars and my red headlamp to light my way. I witnessed some amazing views of Mars and Saturn through my ED80 before setting my DSLR up for a night of astrophotography. I forgot a key element of any astrophotography imaging session, my guide scope. Forgetting something at home that is essential for imaging is always a frustrating experience. I knew my plans of taking 5 minute exposures of the Seagull Nebula were ruined.

Messier 3

Messier 3 – Globular Cluster

Messier 3 – Globular Cluster

I decided to take some 30-second unguided exposures of the globular star cluster known as M3. I have seen this cluster through a 20″ Dobsonian telescope, and to this day, it is still my favorite sight through a large telescope.

The Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 64 – The Sunflower Galaxy

Next, I chose to image a galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici known as M63, or, the Sunflower Galaxy. In hindsight, it was not such a great choice, considering it’s size and my limited exposure time.

The good news is that this was really a “bonus night” anyway, as the moon rose early at about 1:00am. By then, some friends had come to join me and were dazzled by views of Saturn.  The next 2 weekends are when I really plan to get some good imaging done!

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Rosette Nebula – Stock Canon DSLR

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How the Rosette Nebula looks with a Stock DSLR

Will an unmodified Canon DSLR pick up the red nebulosity?

Happy New Year! I was finally graced with some clear skies that showcased the beautiful winter milky way on Monday.

The moon was about 19% lit, and it didn’t set until about 10:30 pm, so about half of the data in the photo above was captured with the moon still out.

The sky conditions were so fantastic on Monday, it was a shame I had to leave early to get a good night’s sleep for work the next morning.

The Rosette Nebula (Caldwell 49) is a large circular HII region. The open cluster NGC 2244 (Caldwell 50) is closely associated with the nebulosity, the stars of the cluster having been formed from the nebula’s matter.

Rosette Nebula Stock

Caldwell 49 – The Rosette Nebula
Imaged Monday, February 3, 2014

38 subs, 3.5 Minutes Each totaling 2 Hours 13 Minutes

I used the Explore Scientific 80ED telescope for this photo because the size of this object is quite large. I am quite happy with my end result, although I plan on processing the photo several more times to try and pull out as much detail as possible.

I highly recommend Noel Caboni’s Astronomy Tools Action Set for Adobe Photoshop. I found it very helpful when processing this image, and every other image I have taken. For the price of a cheap filter, you can drastically improve your astrophotos. Well worth it!

Complete Astrophoto Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Tracking Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 2 hours 13 Minutes (38 x 210s)
Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC
Support Files: 12 darks

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