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Astrophotography Video Tutorial

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Astrophotography Video Tutorial

Astrophotography Video Tutorial

In my first ever astrophotography video tutorial, I take a crack at the Rosette Nebula using data collected in February 2014. I have plans of shooting a video about light frame acquisition in the future, but this one is about what happens after you have already captured your data.  This astrophotography video tutorial may be useful to anyone who has questions about the stacking process, and processing the created .TIF file in Adobe Photoshop.

I must admit, I learned a lot about how I could improve upon these videos in the future during the process.  Putting together an online tutorial video using a particular piece of software is harder than it looks!  Nevertheless, I believe new astro-imagers will find some useful information in my video.

My astrophotography processing techniques

In the video, I discuss the importance of organizing and inspecting your raw image files before you dive-in to Deep Sky Stacker.  The application I find most useful for this stage is Adobe Bridge.  I subscribe to the Adobe Creative Suite that includes all of the Adobe applications, so using Bridge as my default image viewer was a no-brainer.  I know that Adobe Lightroom is another popular choice for this purpose as well. Alternative methods for viewing RAW image files on your PC are Faststone Image Viewer, Canon EOS Utilities and installing the proper codec on your particular version of Windows to preview the files.  I have used Faststone Image Viewer and Canon EOS Utilities, but I have not tried the Windows Codec option.


Video Summary

Using DeepSkyStacker, I register and stack over 2 hours worth of 3.5 minute light frames I captured of the Rosette Nebula with my Canon Xsi and ED80 Telescope. As always, dark frames are subtracted from the final image to produce a final image with a higher signal-to-noise ratio.  I then locate and open the 32 bit Autosave.tif file into Adobe Photoshop CC for further processing using helpful astrophotography plugins including Gradient Xterminator and the Astronomy Tools Action Set.  The order of the actions I make when processing an astrophoto from the RAW image files to the final result are as follows:

  1.  Stack and register light and dark frames in DSS
  2.  Open Autosave.tif file in Adobe Photoshop
  3.  Slight Image Crop to remove stacking artifacts
  4.  Removal of gradient and vignetting via Gradient Xterminator
  5.  Levels Adjustment
  6.  Convert to 16-bit/channel image
  7.  Curves Adjustment
  8.  Astronomy Tools Action > Local Contrast Enhancement
  9.  Astronomy Tools Action > Enhance DSO and Reduce Stars
  10.  Astronomy Tools Action > Increase Star Colour
  11.  Astronomy Tools Action > Make Stars Smaller
  12.  Balance neutral background sky colour
  13.  Increase Saturation
  14.  Final Curves Tweaks

The Learning Curve

Up until this point, I’ve been the student, not the teacher.  I want to show beginners how I process my astrophotography images, but my presentation skills leave much to be desired. I have always been an artist at heart, so my methods may seem unorganized and random to the general public.  I am more likely to “trust my eyes” rather than a set of numbers and graphs, although I recognize their value.  I feel that through the process of teaching others how to capture and edit photographs of the night sky, I will gain a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the hobby for myself.  Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to my YouTube channel so far.  I am just getting started.

 

AstroBackyard on YouTube

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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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M33 Galaxy – The Triangulum Galaxy

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M33 Galaxy

M33 – The Triangulum Galaxy

The Triangulum Galaxy

The M33 Galaxy is the third-largest galaxy in the local-group of galaxies, behind the Milky Way and Andromeda.  Its large size from our vantage point makes my wide-field astrophotography 80mm telescope a great choice for imaging this target. Despite it’s size, the Triangulum Galaxy appears much dimmer than M31 – The Andromeda galaxy.  If you are new to astrophotography, chances are that the Triangulum Galaxy is one of the first few galaxy names you have learned.

M33 Galaxy 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 (Modified)
ISO: 800
Total Exposure: 7 Hours (84 x 300 seconds)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 20 darks, 20 flats, 20 bias

Target Acquired – Messier 33

I have managed to image the M33 Galaxy from my backyard for multiple nights over the course of nearly a week. I can’t remember the last time we have had such a long stretch of clear night skies in the Niagara region. Mind you, these clear nights occurred during weekdays, and I have to be up early for work (and to walk the dog) early each morning. Needless to say, I haven’t been getting much sleep lately.  Luckily my astrophotography equipment can be set up and ready for imaging in about 30 minutes. This includes polar alignment, calibration, focus and guiding.  

M33 Galaxy - Astrophotography

My Telescope pointed at the M33 Galaxy

But first, the Elephant’s Trunk

My first imaging session was on the night of September 16th. Smack-dab in the middle of the work week. I didn’t originally intend to shoot the M33 galaxy that night, I started with IC 1396. The Elephant’s Trunk nebula is a concentration of interstellar gas and dust within IC 1396, located in the constellation Cepheus. You can view the results of this project below.

This area of the night sky is in a perfect spot for imaging at this time of year from my location, almost directly overhead. I captured 38 frames on this DSO on Wednesday night. The subs were 4 minutes each using ISO 800 on my aging modified Canon Xsi.

IC 1396 – Elephant’s Trunk Nebula

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

IC 1396 – Elephant’s Trunk Nebula – A tad noisy!

IC 1396 – Astrophotography Image 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 (Modified)
ISO: 800
Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 24 Minutes (36 x 240 seconds)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 15 dark frames

The Elephant’s Trunk nebula can be seen in the top center-right of the photo above. It is a dark patch with a bright, sinuous rim. The rim is the surface of a dense cloud that is being illuminated and ionized by a very bright, massive star. Faint objects like this are difficult to image from light-polluted skies in the city. I found myself battling with horrible gradients and noise when processing this image. I will likely add more time to the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula during the weeks that surround the new moon in October. Another 4 hours should help me pull out more detail with less noise.

Canon 450D attached to my telescope

Canon Xsi 450D for astrophotography – attached to my telescope with the William Optics 0.8 FF

On to the M33 Galaxy…

After achieving a steady graph in PHD guiding, and a tight-focus on my reference star (Alderamin) I set BackyardEOS to take 50 frames, and I headed to bed.  I set my alarm for 2:00am, and managed to stumble back out to the patio to check on my results.  The Elephant’s trunk nebula was too far west, and my telescope would soon by aiming directly at my garage!  Because the sky was still crisp and clear, I figured I would add some time a second object for the night.  I imaged the M33 Galaxy back in 2012, but that was before I self-modded my 450D for astrophotography.  The Triangulum Galaxy contains some beautiful pink nebulosity within it that I knew I could now capture.

The following 2 nights of the week were also clear, and I took full advantage. This time, I shelved my plans for the Elephant’s trunk, and focused all of my efforts on Messier 33. I captured an impressive 49 subs the following night at 5 minutes each, and then I added another 17 light frames the night after that!

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M33 Galaxy

M33 – The Triangulum Galaxy

My total number of frames on this object was now over 100! That’s a lot of imaging in one week. All that was left now was to stack and process all of the data acquired. I set Deep sky stacker to use “the best 90% of frames” to register and stack, which resulted in a final stack of 84 images total, or exactly 7 hours. I even had success with my creation of flat and bias frames. I shot the bias frames through the telescope with the lens cap on, at the fastest shutter speed my camera allows (1/4000 of a second). The flat frames were created by shooting through the telescope, pointed at the early morning blue sky. These were shot with the camera in Av mode. I shot separate bias and flat frames for each night, except the first. Only dark frames were used for that imaging session.

Processing a photo with 7 hours worth of data is quite enjoyable.  There is less noise, and more detail than I am used to.  As with all of my astrophotography images, I am sure I will re-process my photo of Messier 33 several times until I feel like I have done the galaxy justice. Everyone has their own taste, and at the end of the day, you have to be happy with it.

BackyardEOS 3.1

I finally purchased a copy of BackyardEOS 3.1 Classic Edition. My trial period has ended, and I am very happy with the software. The focus and framing tab, dithering control, and file organization features are my favourite, and make me wish I had upgraded to this software a lot sooner. I always had a hard time getting accurate focus using the live-view function of my DSLR. The focusing function built-in to BackyardEOS allow you to view a digital readout of the star size in real-time as you focus your telescope. The lower number you see on-screen, the better your focus! The filename for each sub lists the ISO, object name, exposure time, date and even the temperature! This is extremely handy when stacking a large number of frames from multiple nights.

BackyardEOS

Screenshot of the BackyardEOS 3.1 Software

I would love to hear what you think of my results for this galaxy image.  You can also follow me on twitter to see more of the “behind-the-scenes” stuff from the backyard. As always, if you have any questions about the equipment I used, or my processing techniques, please leave a comment below.  Thank you so much for visiting my website.

Backyard Astrophotography

Another night under the stars in the backyard

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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 1:30 am. 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 neighbors “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 center. 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 friend’s backyard across town.  I leave it unattended all night long and cross my fingers everything worked out in the morning!  It’s a bit nerve-racking thinking about my expensive equipment running all night with no supervision, but I have my procedure down-pat and can count on good results now.

View my updated portable astrophotography setup

explore_scientific_ed80_telescope

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

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

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