A Beginners Guide to Astrophotography



Astrophotography. The phrase is thrown about a lot these days, but what exactly is it? Photography of the night sky is the genuine definition of the term. Only at night can you see the sky.


However, as society and technology have advanced, the word has become more broadly defined and a contentious topic—and rightly so! Space has always evoked a sense of fascination, curiosity, and inspiration in our society, so it's no surprise that we'd want to save a piece of it for ourselves.


Even some phones may now participate in the hobby. With that said, the goal of this comprehensive guide is to serve as a one-stop shop for everything related to astrophotography. As you read more, you'll discover that astrophotography comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, all while being easier and less expensive to participate in than ever before.


One of the best things about astrophotography, in my opinion, is that there is something for everyone, regardless of price. Many individuals enjoy going on treks and photographing the Milky Way, while others prefer to stay in their backyards and put up a telescope.


Nightscape

Images of the Milky Way that include a foreground landscape aspect, like as mountains, aurora, or star trails.


Deep Space

Images of faraway nebulae, stars, galaxies, and other astronomical objects.


Solar System

Planets, the International Space Station, and satellites are all depicted.


Solar/Lunar

The sun, moon, and eclipses are depicted in these images.


Everything Else..

Comets, timelapses, and examples of light pollution.



Finding clear skies

First and foremost, there must be clear skies. For some, this will be simple, but for others, it will be a constant battle. Great news for people who live in the desert! But for those of us who live in a damp climate, such as myself, this is a doozy. In any case, let's see what we can do to find some clean skies.


Windy.com provides free sophisticated global forecasts with the option of paying for more detailed forecasts.


Clearoutside.com is another free global forecasting site with astrophotography-specific parameters.


Astrospheric.com also offers free forecasts for the United States and Canada, including visual graphs of cloud cover, smoke, and other astrophotography-related variables.



Avoiding light pollution

Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us live in cities or suburbs where artificial light is overused and misused at night. I live in the second brightest light pollution classification.


I'd like to divert from the intended programming and talk about light pollution for a moment, because current astrophotography and light pollution interact in a fascinating way.


While technology has advanced to make astrophotography easier and more efficient than ever before, light pollution has also advanced to become denser and brighter than ever before. The rate of increase in light pollution is twice that of the population.


LED lamps are replacing older sodium vapour bulbs, which are undoubtedly more efficient, but the difficulty is that they are not shielded to direct light where it is needed. Instead, the glare from these brighter bulbs has penetrated even deeper into the darker skies, posing a safety danger in many cases.


Darksitefinder.com shows a global map that depicts light pollution as well as dark sky zones around the world.


The globe map on lightpollutionmap.info likewise depicts light pollution data, however it goes into greater detail. It contains the Bortle scale, which is the most widely used categorization for measuring light pollution. You may also switch between data sets, which is useful for assessing localised light pollution in a specific area.



Camera gear

When you're starting off, my best advice is to make the most of what you have. This activity can be costly, so I think it's best to utilise whatever body and lenses you already have until you're sure it's for you. Your phone will suffice. Many phones now include a night mode that works remarkably well. Always remember that technique takes precedence over equipment.


A camera having a manual mode and the ability to shoot in RAW. It's also fine if you're on a low budget and only want to use your phone to get your feet wet and see whether this is right for you.


For the time being, use the lenses you have. Maybe it's the 18-55mm lens package. That'll do just fine. If you have quick glass, such as a 14-24 2.8 or some primes, such as a 24 1.4, those will also perform well.


There's a tripod. This is critical because you will be holding your camera steady for minutes at a time. A nice tripod will help you a lot. A ball head is also a good option.


A red-safety-light headlight. This will allow you to work with your gear hands-free while still maintaining your night vision. If you ever wish to shoot with a group or a star party, you'll need a red light.


Remote trigger or intervalometer are optional. This can assist you fire your camera and reduce wobble, but it isn't always the case. If you don't have a self-timer, you can use the one on your camera for now.


A portable star tracker is available as an option. Do you have any idea what this is? Those who want to take their astrophotography to the next level may choose to invest in one of these as we progress through this course.


Dew heater is an option. These low-cost USB-powered Velcro straps can be wrapped around the front of your lens to keep moisture from forming. In wetter areas where the dew point drops dramatically overnight, this is useful, but not necessarily necessary in a desert.



Techniques

Long exposure

We need to utilise long exposure settings to allow the camera to see anything because we're imaging at night.


Image stacking

When shooting an image stack sequence, you're constantly taking photographs for minutes or hours at a time. Then, using software to remove noise, you may merge all of the photographs you've taken to create a much clearer, more detailed, and noise-free image. Because each category handles this differently, I'll go over how to accomplish it for each genre separately.


Tracking

This is when you use an external piece of equipment on which your camera will sit to track the earth's rotation. This will allow you to shoot longer night sky exposures.


Mosaics

There's a lot of room, and you might want to zoom in for a closer look. You can acquire more information in a mosaic shot using a medium to long focal length lens, such as a 50mm, than if you just stack numerous exposures from a wide-angle lens.


Lucky imaging

This technique, like stacking, is more typically employed to image the Moon, Sun, and Planets. Instead of individual still photos, this is usually done in video mode.


Calibration frames

Flats, darks, and biases, also known as flats, darks, and biases, are more significant in some genres than others, but they are crucial to understand regardless of what you are shooting.