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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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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 the way DSLR’s work, its 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 the 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 has 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 color 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 night’s 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 color using a Bayer mask (RGB) and the primary noise source of “color 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 astrophotos. 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 afterward.

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 color 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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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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Official Canon Astrophotography Video

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Astrophotography video from Canon

Canon shows you how to take great astrophotography and night sky photography 

The is the type of video I have envisioned creating for years now.  The video features award winning photographer Phil Hart, as he explains the basics of astrophotography in a simple and easy to understand way.  The video is extremely professional, and features stunning images and time-lapses throughout. Not surprising – seeing as how the video was published by Canon Australia!  If you are new to astrophotography, I hope you enjoy the video and maybe even learn a thing or two:

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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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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

Related Posts:

 

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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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