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Astrophotography

Pacman Nebula – Stock Canon DSLR

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Below, you will see an image of the Pacman Nebula using a stock (non-modified) DSLR camera. A Canon EOS Rebel Xsi (450D) to be exact. I have often said that an entry-level DSLR camera is probably the best astrophotography camera to start out with.

DSLR cameras are affordable, versatile, and can be used for more than just astrophotography at night. They are also more user-friendly and don’t require additional software tools to use. The deep sky image below is an example of what you can expect to capture through a telescope without an astro-modification. Further down the page, I’ll show you what this nebula looks like using a dedicated astronomy camera and narrowband filters.

The Pacman Nebula using a stock DSLR

 Pacman Nebula

NGC 281, The Pacman Nebula – Imaged Monday., Nov 3, 2013
20 subs 5 Minutes Each totaling 1 Hour, 40 Minutes

PHOTO DETAILS

  • Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
  • 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: 1 hours 40 minutes (20 x 300s)
  • Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop CC
  • Support Files: 15 darks

This is a great time of year for astrophotography, with the nights beginning so early and lasting so long. The downside, of course, is the frigid temperatures. Luckily I have a reasonable winter setup for imaging that includes a small space heater and a lot of warm clothing. I am able to enter a small shed and hang out while my camera fires away. The temperature dropped to -3 on Sunday night, great for imaging.

I have never shot the Pacman Nebula before. To be honest, I had no idea a stock DLSR could pick up so much red in this object. Cassiopeia rises nice and high in the evening this time of year, so imaging NGC 281 is a popular target right now. I am very happy with the way this DSO has turned out so far, even with the limited time I have put on it. I was also surprised at its size, comparable to the Eagle Nebula in my 80mm scope.

Frozen astrophotography equipment cases

My frozen Cases at my Dark Sky Site

The Pacman Nebula in Narrowband

My latest photograph of this nebula was taken using an Altair Hypercam 183C color CMOS camera. I captured broadband RGB light frames on this target using a 2″ Baader Moon and Skyglow (Neodymium) filter. To add a boost in signal, I also captured images with a 12nm Ha filter and combined the two using the HaRGB method.

astrophotography camera

NGC 281 – The Pacman Nebula

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How To Take Pictures of Stars & Night Sky

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If you are wondering how to take pictures of stars and the alluring wonders of the night sky, look no further. In this article, I’ll share an absolute, bare-bones approach for capturing a spectacular photograph of the stars above the one below. 

This includes covering which camera to use, the exact camera settings I recommend, and the right conditions for a successful photo. I’ll also cover some of the next steps to consider for night sky photography, including recommended light pollution filters, and an introduction to star trackers

how to take pictures of the night sky

Anyone with access to a DSLR camera and a tripod (or a steady surface) can take stunning photos of the night sky with all of its glorious stars. You will even start to see some Nebulae, Galaxies, Globular Clusters, the Milky Way, Meteorites, Auroras, and more.

If you own a point-and-shoot camera, or are just using your smartphone, you will need to tap into the manual settings that allow you to shoot long-exposure images.

Smartphones like the Google Pixel 4 (with astrophotography mode), and newer iPhone, Samsung, and Huawei models are getting better at low-light photography, but the small sensors will limit your success. You may be able to get some decent pictures of stars in the night sky with these devices, but for the best results, you need to get your hands on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. 

Canon EOS Ra

Canon’s mirrorless astrophotography camera, the Canon EOS Ra.

The good news is, you don’t need an astrophotography camera like the Canon EOS Ra to photograph the night sky successfully. Even an entry-level DSLR camera (such as the Canon EOS Rebel T7i) can produce spectacular results. 

Take Stunning Pictures of the Night Sky

Taking pictures of a starry sky (nightscape photography) is a wonderful experience that may help you learn some of the constellations as well. A camera sensor, like the one in your DSLR, is capable of recording much more light than our eyes can see. This is why we are able to enjoy much more detail in a photograph than with our naked eye alone.

Whether you are just getting started with a new camera, or have just never attempted night photography before, the simple steps below should give you a strong foundation to put into action the next time you are under a clear night sky.

camera settings

Related Post: 7 Astrophotography tips to put into action, tonight

The process of collecting long exposure images at night is very different from regular daytime photography. Focusing the lens, keeping the camera steady, and choosing the right subject for your setup are critical steps of the process. 

The Basics: Camera Equipment

As I mentioned, there are plenty of suitable cameras for night sky photography, but some will give you more control (and better results) than others. For example, those of you that have access to a DSLR or mirrorless camera with detachable lenses have a huge advantage.

For this type of photography, remember to keep things lightweight and portable. For a great shot of the stars, you may find yourself traveling to a distant location.

Here is a promising, entry-level night sky photography setup:

Essential:

  • DSLR Camera (Or mirrorless body)
  • Wide-Angle Lens (24mm or wider is best)
  • Sturdy Tripod (Lightweight)
  • Red Headlamp (To see at night without ruining your “night vision”)
  • Memory Card (Easy to forget)
  • Spare Camera Battery (Especially in cold weather)

Extras:

  • Planetarium Smartphone App (to help you locate objects in the night sky)
  • Remote Shutter Release Cable (To avoid camera shake and set sequence)
  • Heated band and controller (To prevent moisture on the lens)
  • Light pollution filter (Depending on location)
  • Star Tracker (To take exposures longer than 30-seconds without star trailing)

Getting Started

Have you ever tried to take a picture of the moon at night? Chances are (if you are new to astrophotography), the results were less impressive than you had hoped. Well, taking a successful image of the stars in the night sky can be even trickier.

This is because night photography is unlike daytime photography, and creates many new challenges. Low light situations require a completely different approach to photography than you may be accustomed to. It is not possible to take pictures of stars using the “auto” mode on your DSLR camera, because it was not designed to record a nightscape image.

Instead, you’ll need to use a specific set of camera settings that allow you to capture long exposure images of the night sky and all of the wonderful treasures found within it. The cameras used for the images in this guide were all Canon EOS Rebel-series DSLR’s. 

Step 1: Camera Settings

Camera Settings for Astrophotography

The first thing you will need to understand is that in order to capture enough light for your camera’s sensor to pick up lots of stars in the photo, you need to take a long exposure photograph. This can range from 5-30+ seconds depending on your equipment and conditions. To do this, you will want to make sure your DSLR is in Manual Mode.

Manual mode gives you complete control over each internal camera setting, and it can be a bit daunting to shoot in this mode for the first time. Manual mode is indicated by an M on your camera’s dial (Canon or Nikon).

The camera settings available to customize in this mode include:

  • Aperture (F-Ratio) of the camera lens
  • ISO (Sensitivity to Light)
  • Exposure Length (How long the shutter stays open)
  • White Balance (Daylight, Auto etc.)night sky photography settings

These variable camera settings will change depending on the camera lens you are using. For example, if you are shooting with a lens that has a focal length of 18mm or lower, you shouldn’t see any star trails (due to the rotation of the earth) until you shoot an exposure of 20 seconds or longer.

Some photographers like to refer to the 500 Rule to determine the perfect exposure length for them to shoot using a particular camera and lens combination. 

Wide-angle lenses (such as the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8) have an extremely large field of view, which not only capture more of the sky in a single shot but are also more forgiving in terms of star trailing. A lens with a longer focal length (such as the Canon 50mm F/1.8) will capture a higher magnification image, but stars will begin to trail much sooner.

For the guide below, I used a Canon 18-200mm F3.5 lens, at the widest focal length of 18mm.

Exposure

The maximum exposure length you can shoot is generally limited to the focal length of your camera lens. Unless you are intentionally trying to capture a star trail image, this exposure will likely be under 30-seconds. If you want to shoot longer than that, a tracking camera mount is needed.

If your exposure time is limited to under 30-seconds on a stationary tripod, you’ll need to experiment with the other camera settings that affect the amount of light captured in a single shot. The focal ratio of your lens (eg. F/2.8) can make a big impact when it comes to collecting light in a short period of time.

This is called aperture, and it’s one of the most important camera settings to consider when taking pictures of stars.

Camera Settings for Night Sky Photography

Aperture

On my camera lens, that is a setting of F3.5. The lower the F-number, the more light the camera brings in.

ISO

The next setting you will want to adjust is ISO. This is the camera’s sensitivity to light, which is very important for our purposes! Generally, you will want to use the highest ISO your camera has, this may by 1600, or even 6400 or higher.

Increasing your ISO will introduce more noise to your photo, but the trade-off is more stars and more light-gathering ability. You may want to use a lower ISO if you are finding your photo to be too noisy. Modern photo-editing software tools like Topaz DeNoise AI do a great job of reducing noise in post-processing.

White Balance

For our purposes, Auto White Balance or Daylight White Balance works just fine. You also want to make sure that you are shooting your photos in RAW format. This gives you the opportunity to really bring out the images full potential in post-processing. You will need Adobe Photoshop to make these adjustments, so if you don’t have it, a .JPG photo will have to do!

Step 2: Setting up your camera on the tripod

Now that you have the proper settings for night-time photography, you are ready to point your DSLR to the heavens and capture more stars than you have ever seen with your naked eye alone!  Securely fasten your camera to your tripod via the removable mounting plate. Make sure that all of your adjustment knobs are tight before leaving your camera on the tripod.  DSLR’s can be heavy, and you will be angling the head straight-up in some cases.

Focus

To achieve a proper focus on the stars, do not use autofocus. Manually focus your lens to infinity, then focus back a hair. Take some test shots and try to get the stars to look as tight as possible. Another way to achieve focus is to use the live-view mode of your camera, and focus on something far away (like a street lamp). Zoom-in while in live-view to really get it right.

Star Trails

In a 30 second exposure, you will notice small star trails because of Earth’s rotation. (Yes, even in 30 seconds!) The star-trailing is subtle, and will not affect the overall look you are trying to achieve. If the stars are trailing too much for your liking, knock your exposure down to 20 seconds if you wish.

Step 3: Take the shot!

Drive Mode for Astrophotography

Activating the Shutter

Set your drive mode to a 2 or 10-second delay to avoid shaking the camera slightly when activating the shutter. You can find this option in the Even the slightest movement (like pressing the shutter button) can be enough to create a shaky shot! The drive mode option screen should look something like this:

Things to keep in mind

Make sure that your lens has not fogged up, or your shots will look blurry. A blow dryer will remove dew if necessary. Light pollution is your biggest enemy when it comes to astrophotography. Get as far away from city lights as possible for your star shots. If there is a city glow near you, point away from it. You may find that a shot in the city using a high ISO and long exposure produces a very bright, washed-out photo. If this is the case, bump your ISO down, and shoot a shorter exposure. eg. (ISO 800, 15 seconds)

Milky Way astrophotography image by Ashley Northcotte

Next Steps: Stacking Exposures in Photoshop

One of the most effective ways to produce an attractive image of the night sky is to take advantage of a technique known as image stacking. This involves placing multiple images on top of each other as layers in Adobe Photoshop. 

There are also a number of dedicated tools to accomplish this task including DeepSkyStacker, and Sequator. I recommend trying the manual method of image stacking first, to see the power of signal-to-noise ratio in action first-hand. 

To create the image below, I manually stacked 5 x 30-second exposures shot at ISO 3200 in Photoshop. The key is to step down the opacity of each layer gradually.

This picture was created by stacking 5 x 30-second exposures in Photoshop.

The next time you are out taking pictures of the night sky or the Milky Way, be sure to take a series of 30-second images rather than just one or two. Aim to capture about 10-20 pictures to realize the benefits of image stacking. 

Next Steps: Use a Star Tracker

A portable astrophotography setup like the one pictured below is capable of capturing incredible deep-sky objects in the night sky. The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro is capable of tracking the night sky with a DSLR camera and a telephoto lens for long-exposure images.

budget astrophotography setup

A portable deep-sky astrophotography setup.

A star tracker opens up the door to more ambitious astrophotography projects such as faint,  deep-sky nebulae and galaxies. The setup shown above was featured in one of my videos where I photographed the Horsehead Nebula from my backyard. 

The same basic principles of long-exposure night sky photography apply to this configuration. The only difference is that the star tracker allows me to shoot exposures of up to 3-minutes in length without worrying about star trailing. To see of the best photos I’ve taken using a simple setup like this, see The Gear Behind my Best Astrophotography Images

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IC 1848 – The Soul Nebula

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My Attempt at the Soul Nebula

ic1848 Soul Nebula

IC 1848, The Soul Nebula Imaged Weds., Oct 2, 2013
 32 subs 4 Minutes Each totaling 2 Hours, 8 Minutes

PHOTO DETAILS

Updated Version: The Soul Nebula


Scope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
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 8 minutes (32 x 240s)
Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop
Support Files: 15 bias, 30 darks

Okay, I realize that the image above isn’t very impressive. My darn unmodded Canon Xsi isn’t picking up the reds the way an astro-modded one would. I think another 2 hours would really help.  It’s always a delicate balance between pulling out data and keeping noise under control when processing an astro-image.

Thanks to a friend at my Astronomy Club, (RASC Niagara Centre) I have been given a few invaluable tips to progress my astrophotography knowledge further.  Namely by using the Backyard EOS software for acquiring images in the field.

Currently, I use Canon EOS Utilities to run my camera and has been working fine, but Backyard EOS has features catered towards astrophotographers.  The main feature I am interested in is dithering.

Another thing I am excited to try is stacking my raw files in photoshop rather than deep sky stacker. I have recently upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CC, and so far I am loving it. The updates to  Adobe Camera Raw (ACR 8.2) and improvements to the sharpening tools are outstanding.

Trevor Jones looking through a 20 inch dobsonian telescope at the CCCA Observatory

 

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Creating an Astrophotography Mosaic

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I have been spending a lot of time photographing the night sky towards the core of the Milky Way. My 80mm refractor has a focal length of 480mm, which magnifies many deep-sky objects in the area of Sagittarius

The Lagoon Nebula and the Trifid Nebula lie very close together in the night sky, as far as emission nebulae go. With the right camera sensor, and a wide-field imaging refractor (such as the Radian Raptor 61), you should be able to fit both objects within the same field-of-view. 

When the photo below was taken, my framing was a little off. I could have fit both objects in a single image frame with my Canon EOS 60Da DSLR camera with the right orientation.

lagoon and trifid nebula

I had quite a difficult time aligning these images up, as I did it manually in Photoshop. The hardest part was the fact that both objects were processed separately, under very different shooting conditions.

I now know the importance of framing the objects in my field, especially when planning a mosaic. Creating a mosaic is a great way to photograph a large area of the night sky in detail.

They allow you to create beautiful, high-resolution images that look great when you zoom in. You can use your existing telescope (and camera) to photograph large nebulae and galaxies that are just too big to fit in a single frame. 

mosaic

Large deep-sky objects such as the Heart and Soul Nebulae are often captured using the mosaic method.

Creating an Astrophotography Mosaic

At first, you might not understand why astrophotographers would spend so much time building an image piece-by-piece. After all, if you want to capture a large area of the night sky, you can simply use a shorter focal length,

The problem with that method is, the image will lack resolution and detail. The deep-sky objects may not appear sharp and well-defined up-close. If you plan to print a large format image, you may be underwhelmed with the overall quality of the image.

There are free mosaic tools to help you create your image including Image Composite Editor. This is a photo-stitching tool that allows you to “drag and drop” your images onto a single canvas, and it will automatically analyze and stitch them together. 

Reasons To Create a Mosaic

  • Capture a large field of view using a long focal length
  • Create large images showcasing entire nebulae regions and areas of interest
  • Create a high-resolution image suitable for large-format printing
  • Create detailed portraits of the Moon’s surface
  • Create a hybrid image by blending photos shot a different image scales

As you increase the overall size of your astrophotography mosaic by adding panels, you add resolution too. Many amateur astrophotographers state the overall megapixels of the image, which is the height (in pixels) multiplied by the width (in pixels) of the entire image.

For example, an image that is 6000 pixels wide by 4000 pixels tall is 24 megapixels (24MP).

Related: Get My Premium Astrophotography Image Processing Guide

How To Create an Astrophotography Mosaic

The act of creating a mosaic image in astrophotography involves capture multiple areas of the night sky and merging them into a single image. This is done when the field of view is too tight to capture an entire object (or interesting area of the sky), or when you want to capture a high level of detail over the entire image.

There are several fantastic examples of Mosaics on AstroBin. I must admit, I have not completed many astrophotography mosaics in my day. I usually opt to shoot large areas using a full-frame camera sensor (such as the Canon EOS Ra) and a wide-field optical instrument. 

However, this will never achieve the level of detail and resolution a large mosaic image will. Amateur astrophotographers will often create mosaics of the moon, to reveal ultra-high-definition details of the lunar surface.

Acquiring the Image Panels

To create a successful mosaic image, you must carefully plan your imaging session to collect each panel of your intended image frame. Plate-solving will help with this, and there are several tools in software such as Sequence Generator Pro (SGP), and TheSky to help you with this.

Sequence Generator Pro includes a handy Framing and Mosaic Wizard that allows you to fetch the target area, define the camera scale and pixels, and more. The level of automation possible with this routine is remarkable. 

The following video explains how to use the framing and mosaic tool in SGP in detail. 

If you’re not using the framing and mosaic tool in Sequence Generator Pro to plan your mosaic projects, you can still apply the same techniques on your own. 

When collecting your data, the key is to include an adequate amount of overlap area so that you can safely merge the panels together without creating visible “seams”. Most astrophotographers recommend at least a 10% overlap area to safely merge the images together without the worry of having to photograph a new panel. 

mosaic panels

Planning the panels of a large astrophotography mosaic.

Photographing the panels at the same focal length and aperture are important to match the image scale of the image. This part is easy, as long as you are using the same telescope or camera lens for the entire project. 

One of the more challenging aspects of creating an astrophotography mosaic is the ever-changing imaging conditions. Light pollution can be a factor, but also the moon phase. Frames shot during a full moon (even narrowband data) will look washed out compared to new moon data. 

It is possible to create a nightscape or deep-sky mosaic using images shot at varying focal lengths, but you will need to perform some careful scaling and alignment in Adobe Photoshop. I prefer to manually align and scale my mosaic images in Photoshop, using a soft feathered edge between panels. 

Building a Mosaic Image in Photoshop

Photoshop’s layer system was designed for tasks like this. Adjusting the opacity of each layer before applying it to the final image is a must. A transparent image will help you line up the stars at the edges of each panel with each other.

Bring all of your image panels into a single laid photoshop file as layers. You may want to use a reference image of the final framing to use as a base layer at the bottom

You can adjust the opacity of each layer (see below) to 50% to align the stars of each panel up with each other. When all of the layers are properly aligned, you can set each layer back to 100% opacity.

create a mosaic in Photoshop

The graphic above shows why capturing a healthy amount of overlap area is important. If there is a gap between image panels, you will need to go back out and photograph the missing areas.

Take advantage of the guidelines tool (View > New Guide Layout) in Photoshop to help align each panel together. In the example above, a full-color, processed image is shown. In reality, this stage should take place before any major processing tasks have taken place.

You may want to perform a simple stretch in PixInsight or Photoshop applied evenly to each panel before aligning the images. A mismatch in processing techniques between panels will result in an odd-looking image.

Enhance Detail and Resolution to Existing Images

If you have captured a wide-field image of an area of the night sky, you can photograph individual objects at higher magnification and apply them to the larger image. 

I would consider this to be a hybrid mosaic image because you are starting with the wide-field image first, and applying high-resolution details to it gradually. The technique isn’t perfect, of course, as you will still have large areas of the image in a lower resolution than the rest.

In the example below, you can see how I applied high magnification images of the Lagoon Nebula and Trifid Nebula to an existing wide-field image. 

astrophotography mosaic

High-resolution images are applied on top of a wide field image to improve details. (outlines for reference only).

The same technique can be applied to images of the moon. In the example below, I merged a high-resolution image of the moon (captured through a telescope), with a wide-field image of the moon with passing clouds all around it. 

This photo is a better example of HDR (high-dynamic-range) at work than creating a mosaic, but the sample concept of scaling images to increase overall resolution is at play. 

The Moon

A better example of the power of mosaics in moon photography is this incredibly detailed image of the moon by Andrew McCarthy. Massive lunar close-ups are fun to explore up-close and would look wonderful printed and framed on your wall. 

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This article was originally published in 2013, and updated on January 7, 2021.

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Problems with my Celestron CG-5 Mount Power Port

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Problems with Celestron CG-5 Mount

Up until this point, my Celestron CG-5 mount has been very good to me. Despite what I have heard, it has been a quality mount, capable of 5+ minute exposures, no problem (with autoguiding).  Recently though, the power has been cutting in and out.  Last Friday night, under clear, dark, moonless skies at the CCCA, I was forced to head home. Devastating! 

The frustrating part, is not knowing whether the issue is the power switch, the jack, or the entire power board itself.  The only thing I know for sure is that it is not the ac adapter, as I have tested it to work fine.

I have read many stories of similar issues online, and even got some great advice from some of the telescope retailers here in Ontario. Luckily, I was able to leave the mount with The Scope Store at Camtech Photo in Hamilton to repair the mount today.  I will keep you posted with the diagnosed issue and solution to help fellow CG-5 owners who may experience the same issue.

On a more positive note, I have recently ordered a Hutech IDAS lps clip-in filter for EOS Camera bodies.  The “lps” stands for “light pollution suppression”.  I have been wanting to get one of these for a long time, and finally coughed up the $250 and ordered one. My fellow astrophotography buddy has one and he swears by it.  I think it will make a huge difference in my photos, especially when imaging from the backyard.

Another handy addition to my astrophotography rig is a battery grip for my Canon Xsi. This will hopefully allow me to run the camera all night without switching batteries!

I hope to be completely back up and running by the end of the month, ready for all of the cool Spring/Summer DSO’s!

*UPDATE* – April 15th, 2013

My mount has been taken apart and fixed by Camtech Photo. I am very pleased with the service I have been given there.  I tested everything out on Sunday night by imaging M51 in my backyard.  SUCCESS! 

It appears to have been a loose connection to the the power input, and Camtech was able to fix the issue.

Everything is working great and even PHD has started working again.  I updated to the latest version, which seems to have corrected my problem.

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Photograph the Moon with a Point and Shoot Camera

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The moon

The full moon

Photograph the Moon with a point and shoot camera

You can take some incredible pictures of the moon through a telescope using an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera. Some of my very first astrophotography images were of the moon in its many phases using the afocal method (eyepiece projection does not use a camera lens) method.

The photo above was captured way back in 2010 through my first telescope, an Orion SkyQuest Dobsonian. Since then, I have photographed the moon countless times through a telescope. You can see my best moon photos in the gallery I dedicated to Earth’s natural satellite:

Moon Photography Gallery

In this post, I’ll share a few tips I learned the hard way through trial and error. Despite the limited gear and experience, I had at this stage, photographing the moon through my telescope created some of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had with this hobby.

The full moon is not the best phase to photograph if you wish to capture the detailed lunar surface. A first quarter or waxing crescent moon will showcase interesting surface details along the lunar terminator.

Afocal astrophotography

Taking your point-and-shoot camera (an example is a Canon Powershot SX720) and pointing it into a telescope eyepiece is known as the afocal astrophotography method. 

You simply line the camera lens up with the opening of the eyepiece and try to capture the view seen through the telescope at that magnification. In the early days, I shot many astrophotography images using this method through my Orion SkyQuest Dobsonian telescope.

This method of taking pictures through a telescope produces mixed results. In my experience, it’s most effective when taking pictures of the moon.

Here is a video I shot long ago, where you’ll see me using the afocal method with my point and shoot camera:


 

Afocal: How To

It can be difficult to properly align your camera lens to the eyepiece, but the idea is the get the lens up flat against it. Even a slight angle between your camera lens and the eyepiece is enough to make the image disappear.

To make matters even more difficult, the target will slowly move out of view unless you are using a tracking mount. This was the case with my Dobsonian telescope, but using a wider (lower magnification) eyepiece can reduce this issue. (I typically used a 25mm eyepiece when photographing the moon)

It’s easiest to practice on a bright target such as the moon, before trying to photograph one of the planets or a deep sky object. Many people will say that you “can’t photograph deep-sky objects without a tracking mount” using the eyepiece projection method, but you can.

The images will just be quite underwhelming!

I’d stick with shooting solar system objects only, as they are bright enough to capture in a short “auto” exposure from your camera.

Here are some of the night sky targets I shot using the afocal method:

  • The Moon
  • Mars
  • Saturn
  • Venus
  • Mercury
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • The Pleiades Star Cluster
  • The Andromeda Galaxy
  • The Orion Nebula

None of the deep sky objects I captured turned out very good, so set your expectations accordingly. To photograph deep sky objects you’ll need a tracking camera mount to compensate for the movement of the sky.

Remember, a wide field eyepiece will result in a slower-moving target. This a great for a large object like the moon, but Barlow lenses and eyepieces with higher magnification are better for photographing planets.

A high magnification eyepiece such as a 10mm Plossl will provide you with an up-close look at Saturn, but it will be moving rather quickly on a stationary telescope mount. Add a 2X Barlow lens to the mix, and it will zip by even faster.

Camera Settings

One of the main reasons point and shoot cameras are so popular among amateur photographers, is their ease of use. This idea is encapsulated in the ever-popular “auto” mode of the camera, which means that it will select the correct ISO, aperture, and exposure length for the current scene.

Related Post: Cameras for astrophotography

The problem with auto mode for astrophotography is that it was not designed for taking images at night without a flash. Using the auto camera mode pointing up towards a dark sky or through the telescope will result in the “night-vision-ruining” camera flash going off. Not good.

Instead, use manual mode, where you can select each camera setting yourself.

The moon is easiest, as it is so bright you can get away with a quick 1/1000 of a second exposure. Even auto may work, as long I have turned the flash off. Below, I list some generic settings for photographing the moon through your telescope eyepiece.

Point and Shoot Camera Settings for the Moon:

Mode: Manual

Aperture: F/5.6

ISO: 200

Exposure: 1/1000

White Balance: Auto

You’ll need to experiment heavily with settings on the eyepiece here. For dimmer targets, I found it best to use an exposure length of about 1/250, with an ISO of 800. Increasing the ISO too much will let you shoot faster shots, but will always increase noise.

Noise can be largely removed in post-processing, but it’s always best to avoid it when possible.

This was enough to pull in a little extra light on my target, but not so long that I couldn’t keep the camera still during the shot. This is how I captured photos of the Orion Nebula that actually showed color.

Point and Shoot Camera Settings for Planets and DSO’s

Mode: Manual

Aperture: F/5.6

ISO: 800

Exposure: 1/250

White Balance: Auto

Orion makes an interesting product for eafocal imaging called the SteadyPix Deluxe Camera Mount:

Orion SteadyPix camera mount

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