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Astrophotography

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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5 Visible Planets at Once

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I woke up at 5:30am this morning to attempt to photograph the 5 visible planets at dawn. This astronomical event is rather rare, and will only be possible for about 2 more weeks.

Seeing the 5 brightest planets simultaneously has not been possible since 2005! The first week of February is the absolute best time to see all five planets in the pre-dawn sky.

Mercury is by far the hardest planet to spot because of it never strays too far from the sun from our perspective. However, it’s proximity to Venus and the waning crescent moon makes it much easier to locate this week.

Venus, Mercury, Mars and the Moon

I was only able to capture Mercury, Venus and Mars this time…

I have to travel to a location about 5 minutes from home with a clear view of the horizon. The unseasonably warm temperatures have made the early-morning trek a little a little easier to justify this morning.

Unfortunately, the passing clouds covered up Jupiter and Saturn that were much higher in the sky. So instead I focused on the horizon to capture Mercury, Venus, Mars and the Moon. I stitched 3 photos together to achieve the final photo above.

The quest to photograph these planets has given me a reason to get out very early, and just enjoy nature and witness the rotation of our planet in real time.  

The planets and moon slowly drift across the sky frame by frame, as I gradually see the sky fill with more colour, and eventually watch our star rise above the horizon.  

This morning there was even a herd of deer that enjoyed the dance of planets with me.  You can see their silhouettes against the yellow street lights in the photo above.

Sky Chart: 5 Bright Planets This Week

Sky Chart for Early February from Sky and Telescope

The waning crescent moon will make the location of Venus and Mercury obvious. The moon sits alongside Mars on Feb. 1st, Saturn on Feb. 3rd, Venus on Feb. 5th and Mercury on Feb. 6th in the pre-dawn sky.

February 7th is the best time to see the Solar systems inner-most planet as it rises about 80 minutes before sunrise.  Binoculars will help you define the planet.

As it stands right now, I am running out of time to photograph all 5 of the planets in one shot.

Venus will soon disappear below the horizon, and I will be left with my 3 out of 5 shots until I get another chance in October 2018!  

The good news is, the weather looks like it may offer up at least one or two more opportunities for me to capture the scene.  The thin waning crescent moon will surely add to the beauty of the scene.

Mercury and Venus low horizon

See my tips for photographing planets (no matter which camera you’re using).

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Double Cluster in Perseus

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Perseus Double Cluster

NGC 869 and NGC 884

Date Photographed: February 1, 2016

Total Exposure Time: 30 Minutes (60 x 30″ frames @ ISO 800)
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Camera: Canon EOS 7D (stock)
Camera Lens: Canon EF 300mm F/4L

Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

The clear sky chart for my area stated that the skies were to be clear for approximately 2 hours on Monday night. That was all the inspiration I needed to head out to the backyard and do some experimenting. Nights like this are perfect for trying out new techniques and equipment. Anything I get is a bonus.

Wide Field Astrophotography

I’ve tried imaging using my Canon EF 300mm F/4 L once before, but it was prime-time milky way season, and I just couldn’t do any more testing on that short July night.  When time and opportunities are in limited supply, I always go with the tried-and-true system (Explore Scientific ED80 and Canon Xsi)

However, Monday night I gave my bird photography camera (Canon EOS 7D) a go at the night sky, with the 300mm lens in place of a telescope. But what target requires a nice wide field of view, short exposures, and is something I’ve never given any serious thought to?  NGC 869 and NGC 884: Open star clusters in the constellation Perseus.

These pretty star clusters are now almost directly overhead around 8:00 pm.

Double Cluster - Stars

Since I do not own an intervalometer for this DSLR, I was limited to 30″ exposures. Fortunately, star clusters tend to come out very nice using stacks of shorter exposure lengths.  The photos above are a stack of 60 x 30″ frames at ISO 800. The second image is cropped to frame the double cluster in the center of the image.

Canon 7D for astrophotography

I might have to try this setup for a full night of imaging on an area with interesting deep-sky treasures. A few of the obvious drawbacks of this system are the short exposure times, lack of light-pollution filter, and a non-modified DSLR. Not to mention, I am not automating the imaging session with BackyardEOS. For my laptop is in use, watching a Blu-ray in the garage;) (Wonders of the Universe)

Astrophotography with a Canon 7D

After capturing a respectable amount of photons on the double cluster in Perseus, I couldn’t resist trying this lens on the Orion Nebula. There it was, just taunting me in the distance.  I snapped some 30-second exposures off with the 7D and the telephoto lens. It was fun to see the colorful images of the nebula appear on the LCD display, every 30 seconds. The photo below is the result of my quick trial.

Wide field Orion Nebula image

Orion Nebula taken with Canon 7D and 300mm Lens

 

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Astrophotography by Trevor Jones

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What is Astrobackyard.com?

This astrophotography blog creates an outlet for me to share images, information and tips about my favourite hobby. I received lots of help when I began this hobby in 2011, and it’s my turn to pay-it-forward to the next wave of astrophotographers. I have watched the hobby grow in the short years that I have been involved. There are more options and information out there now than ever before. The one aspect that does not change is a love for the night sky. The story behind the sites name is that the backyard is where I began my journey, and where I still spend the most time under the stars. Travelling to new locations around the continent with much darker skies is great, but happens only once or twice a year at max. My backyards is my personal window to the heavens, and it’s where I connect with the universe.

 

Lagoon Nebula by Trevor Jones

The Lagoon and Cat’s Paw Nebula by Trevor Jones

Why should I come back?

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy reading about a fellow astrophotographers experiences.  You enjoy hearing stories from someone who shares the same love for astronomy that you do.  If you use similar camera and astrophotography equipment, you might even learn a thing or two from my mistakes.  Maybe you just like to sit back and enjoy the hours of hard work I have put into each and every one of my photos.  Whichever reason you choose, I sincerely appreciate your company.

What to expect

I have recently overhauled my site to it’s current design. Astrobackyard.com is now set to become an authority in the astrophotography community.  You can expect more astronomy related news and events, more astrophotography tutorials and equipment reviews, and of course, all of my astrophotography adventures from the backyard, and beyond.  I plan to share astrophotography processing techniques that have helped me pull the absolute most detail out of my images.  Later this year I will be creating a video tutorial series on youtube that should cover the basics of my current workflow.  I am not an professional photographer, image-processor or scientist, but I am dedicated to improving my skills.  I am an active member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, as the current webmaster and newsletter editor for the Niagara Centre. Please follow me on Twitter for the absolute latest news.

@astrobackyard on Instagram

I post new and old astronomy photos in Instagram quite regularly.  Feel free to connect with me over there!

 

Astrobackyard on Instagram

 

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Christmas Eve Moon 2015

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Full Moon on Christmas 2015

 

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of my fellow astronomy nerds out there!  2015 was an amazing year for me and my family with the purchase of a new home and the addition of a new four-legged friend named Rudolph. Next year will be even better as I continue advancing my skills in astrophotography, and sharing new tips and tutorials with my audience.  Thank you to everyone who has ever liked, retweeted, reblogged or double-tapped any of my images this year.  Merry Christmas!

So how did I get this shot?

I always seem to get a lot of comments about how interesting my moon photography is when it includes detail on the moon, plus the glow around it you see when there are a few clouds in the sky.  I’ve heard things like, “it looks like the sun!” and, “you can see the corona!”.  Well, the explanation is simple: I combine two separate exposures together.

Exposure 1: Short Exposure for moon details

 

Details on the moon shown in a short camera exposure

 

This was the result of a 1/400 shutter speed with the Canon 70D at ISO 100.  This was taken through my Explore Scientific ED80 Telescope riding on my Skywatcher EQ Mount. If you are taking the shot on a tripod through a long telephoto lens, you may have to use a higher ISO and a shorter exposure to avoid camera shake.  A telescope on a tracking EQ mount tracks the sky and moves with the moon, allowing me to take longer, steady exposures.

Exposure 2: Longer exposure for moon glow / corona

 

Moon glow taken with a longer shutter speed

 

As you can see, even a mere 1 second exposure completely blows-out the details on the moon, yet it picks up the beautiful glow produced by the weather conditions that night. The trick now is to overlay the shorter exposure that includes the details on the surface of the moon.  You will want to copy and paste the shorter exposure image as a new layer on top of the blown-out version.  Then, feather the edges of the detail version to blend the two exposures together. There are a bunch of different ways to accomplish this task, but being an old-school photoshop guy, I still like my old-fashioned eraser brush!

 

Christmas Moon 2015 - Combining Moon Exposures

 

It’s not for everyone, but I personally love the look of shots like these. It’s like the best of both worlds, you can see the a more natural looking moon in the sky under the current weather conditions, but can also enjoy the marvelous moon details. I hope this has been a useful tutorial for this method, and that you give it a try for yourself some day.

 

Here is another Example Using this Technique:

 

Moonglow rising

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