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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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Essential Image Processing Video Tutorial

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This video may change the way your shoot and process astro-images forever. It covers the few simple steps needed to create an ultra high-resolution master frame with a high signal-to-noise ratio.  This tutorial covers the capturing, processing and production of gorgeous wide-field astrophotography images using a camera lens or small telescope. If you are a DSLR imager like me, many of the techniques you’ll see demonstrated in this video will make their way into your capturing and processing workflow.  Even if you focus more on deep-sky imaging with a large telescope, there is still much to take away from Tony’s practices. You might even learn a little bit more about about the way DSLR’s work, their limitations, and how to get around them to produce stunning images.

Self proclaimed “Lazy” Astrophotographer Tony Hallas discusses the basics of DSLR imaging and provides intermediate pointers for capturing and processing amazing images. In this video, Tony explains how he has learned to harness the powerful and sophisticated capabilities of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to handle the majority of his astrophotography image editing and processing. I will be implementing Tony’s techniques into my own workflow, and I will share my new images using his techniques as I capture them. Here is a Milky Way image processing tutorial that includes some of the methods Tony uses in Adobe Camera Raw. 

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)

The measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise.

DSLR Camera vs. CCD – Which is Better?

A DSLR and a CCD camera may seem similar, both essentially use a sensor to gather light photons.  However, there are several key differences that make these tools worlds apart. Each have their own benefits and downfalls. Some of the major advantages of a CCD camera over a DSLR are the specialized astrophotography features, such as a cooled and regulated chip temperature, and better handling of noise during long exposures.  The mono chip, combined with calibrated narrowband filters, provides extremely accurate colour control.

ATIK Mono CCD Camera for narrowband astrophotography with filters

In Tony’s opinion, narrowband imaging is the realm of CCD cameras, and not worth the time and effort of tackling with your DSLR.  It is not possible to produce an astronomical  image as deep and detailed with a DSLR as you would with a CCD. The major downside on CCD cameras is their steep learning-curve, and high price tag.  An entry-level CCD Camera will cost you upwards of $2,000.

What is the Best DSLR Camera for Astrophotography?

If you ask Tony, he’ll tell you it’s the full-frame, Canon EOS 6D. His was astro-modified by Hutech for astrophotography. My friend and fellow astrophotographer Phil owns this camera, and produces amazing results when combined with his ultra-portable iOptron Skytracker mount. You can view a photo he captured of the Milky Way at the bottom of this page.  I currently use my old modified Canon Rebel Xsi, but my next DSLR will definitely be full frame. Whether I spring for a used Canon EOS 5D Mark II, or the newer 6D, is yet to be decided.

Benefits of using a DSLR

The advantages of using a DSLR for astrophotography are many. The first is that it is easy to focus the camera using live-view. You can simply find a bright star, zoom-in by 10X and fine tune your focus whether it is through a telescope or on the camera lens. DSLR cameras do not use very much power.

I use an aftermarket battery grip that I purchased on eBay. These 2 small batteries will last an entire nights worth of imaging. You have the option of taking shorter exposures to adjust your frame and enjoy a quick preview of your subject. Instant gratification. The most important factor of them all is the fast setup, and minimal equipment.

If you plan on doing any travel astrophotography, chances are you will be using a DSLR and a lightweight tracking-mount. I believe that this is the reason DSLR astrophotography has become so popular around the world.

Image of the Andromeda Galaxy with a DSLR by Trevor Jones

Some of the drawbacks of using a DSLR for astrophotography are the lack of temperature regulation, the handling of colour using a bayer mask (RGB) and the primary noise source of “colour mottle”. 

Color mottle by Tony’s definition is horrible globs of red, green and blue artifacts that appear in a long-exposure DSLR frame.  In the video above he explains the steps he takes to remove the large amount of grain and noise in his long-exposure astro-photos. The process is known as dithering, which subtracts the noise data by taking frames slightly apart from each other, and then registering and stacking the data afterwards.

Best Camera Lens for Astrophotography?

The 4 camera lenses mentioned in this video that would make excellent choices for astrophotography purposes are the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 G, Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fish-eye (not pictured) and the surprisingly high-performing Rokinon 35mm f/1.4

Tony noted that the Nikon 14-24mm was the best wide-angle lens, that he uses an adapter to connect to the Canon body.  You can browse insightful performance statistics about each lens including the amount of vignetting and resolution on the Photozone website.

The Rokinon Lens is 1/3 of the price of the big-name brands and scores top marks in the categories of vignetting and resolution.  As Tony says, this lens is a total sleeper.

Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 Lens for Canon Cameras 
 

Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 lens for astrophotography
The Resolution of the Rokinon 35mm Lens scored top marks from Photozone

 

Different examples of camera lens choices for astronomy photography

I personally enjoy the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 lens for wide angle astrophotography. This lens is very affordable and can capture extremely wide swaths of the night sky with either a crop sensor or full frame DSLR camera.

So What Equipment do I Need for this Process?

As Tony describes in the video, there are some essential pieces of equipment and software to produce the high-quality images he is taking. Remember, you don’t have to jump straight to top-of-line equipment right away.  I certainly didn’t! This is merely a guideline for those wondering the exact equipment used in the video.

1.  Astro-Modified DSLR Camera such as the Hutech Modified Canon 6D
2.  High-Quality Camera Lens such as the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4
3.  Recent Version of Adobe Photoshop with Adobe Camera Raw
4.  Latest Version of the Registar Software

Adobe Camera Raw software and a Canon 6D DSLR
 

The Tony Hallas DSLR Processing Workflow

Tony uses Adobe Camera Raw for the bulk of his processing. He then combines the corrected images together using Registar, and back into Photoshop for final editing. His DSLR processing workflow is shown below:

1. Initial ACR batch processing and save as 16 bit TIFF to folder
2. Register frames in Registar and combine with median/mean function
3. High Signal-to-Noise ratio 16 bit TIFF imported into Photoshop for final processing

Chromatic Aberration and Vignetting

He begins his process by opening the first frame in a series of images and removing the chromatic aberration with the tool designated for this in Adobe Camera Raw. This is a powerful technique that can remove even severe chromatic aberration produced by inexpensive lenses. Next up is vignetting. The traditional way of dealing with vignetting was to shoot “flat” frames using an old white t-shirt to cover your camera lens or telescope, and shining a bright, evenly lit light into it. Try explaining THAT to your nosy neighbor watching you in your backyard. Tony simply uses the anti-vignetting tool in the Lens Correction tab of in ACR.

Noise Reduction and Colour Adjustment

The noise-reduction tool in ACR is comparable with powerful third-party plugins dedicated to this task. A liberal amount of luminance noise-reduction is applied in the example. He then opens the curves tab, selects the red colour channel, and reduces the amount of red (caused by light pollution) in his image. A small contrast adjustment is made next. Our instructor seems a tad rushed through this part of the tutorial, but if you are following along with the video it all makes sense.

A general rule of thumb when processing astro-images in ACR is to start from the right tab, and work your way left. Resist the temptation to start moving sliders in the far left tab right away.

Now that we have this one “perfect” frame with all of our adjustments, we can apply these settings to all of the frames at once using the “synchronize” command. This is the stage of the game Tony calls “halfway home”, where we have all of our images in the series with the exact same adjustments made.

Registar

I’ll start by saying that I have never used Registar. I use free software called DeepSkyStacker for registering my images, and Registar is listed at $150 US!  I will see if I can supplement this step with DSS before forking out 150 big ones for Registar.

In a nutshell, he tells Registar where to look for the image set, uses the default program settings, and goes for a coffee. (I like your style Tony!) Registar then goes through each image and accurately aligns each image star by star. This takes about 5 minutes. The next step is to click on “Combine Control” and select “Median/Mean” to average all of the frames together and create a neutral image. You can also take this process a step further by using the outlier rejection capabilities of Registar to remove unwanted objects such as a satellite trail.

The final combined image is created by Registar is impressive. The stacked image is smooth and free of grain, colour noise and spurious colors. This averaged image is now the Master Frame. A 16-bit TIFF with all of the adjustments made and a high signal to noise ratio.

An astronomical image with an improved signal to noise ratio

Final Processing in Adobe Photoshop

This is where your artistic freedom comes in to play. There are limitless ways to process your final astrophotography image, and this is definitely my favorite step in the entire process. The big difference this time is that you now have a very smooth, clean image to play around with. An image free of vignetting, chromatic aberration, noise, and properly colour corrected. I hope you got as much out of this tutorial as I did the first time I watched this amazing video from Tony Hallas.

You can visit Tony’s Website Here.

Wide-Field Astrophotography Image using Canon EOS 6D and Tony Hallas Processing:

 

Milky way galaxy photo taken with a Canon 6D and iOptron Skytracker.
The Milky Way – Photo by Philip Downey using Tony Hallas Processing Techniques

Phil is a member of my astronomy club and takes incredible astrophotography images using a Canon 6D and iOptron SkyTracker.  You can visit his blog here.

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Sadr Star – Intersection of the Northern Cross

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Photographing the Sadr Star in Cygnus

If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed that I was poking around in the middle of the constellation Cygnus last weekend, specifically centered on to the extremely bright Sadr star. I really wanted to post a really snazzy wide field photo of this region on this blog, but I was unhappy with my results.

I set my mount and telescope up for imaging in the South, at the far edge of my backyard. This spot was a poor location for shooting straight up overhead at the constellation Cygnus for me, as I ran into trees by 1:30am. The result, only 1 hour of total exposure on a hot night. Even the stacked final image including 15 dark frames was noisy after stretching! 

I was already sad about the trees, but after seeing my noisy photo, I was Sadr. (anyone?) Clearly, I need more time on it.

The night was not a complete waste. Aside from the mosquito bites and the ever constant worry from my neighbours “what is he doing out there!?”, I was able to snap this neat little photo of the Summer Triangle. The stars that make up this giant asterism are Altair, Vega and Deneb. For this shot, I used my Canon 70D and 17-40mm lens, riding on the Sky-Watcher mount.  15 – 40 second shots were stacked together for the final image.

The Summer Triangle

The Summer Triangle

 

Tonight’s the Night – Gamma Cygni

Location of the Sadr Star

With the almost first-quarter moon setting tonight around midnight, and clear, cool skies in the forecast for the Niagara region, it looks like I am set for round 2 tonight. Tomorrow night looks clear as well, will this be the weekend of the Sadr Star? That might be the nerdiest thing I have ever said.  That’s not true.

Tonight, I will position the mount for an all-night-long session in Cygnus. My plan is to frame Gamma Cygni directly in the centre. From the other images of this area, it looks like I should pick up a lot of nebulosity throughout the frame.

My 30-day trial of Backyard EOS is still in effect, so I am happy to use it’s handy imaging features for another free night before shelling out the $50 US for the full version. A fair price for this impressive software. See the star map to the left for an idea of where I will be shooting tonight. If all goes well, my next post will be a portrait of the intersection of the Northern Cross.

 
 

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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 friends 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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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 didn’t set until about 10:30pm, so about half of 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 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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