Getting Started with Astrophotography: A Beginner's Guide

Intro

Are you interested in capturing the beauty of the night sky through astrophotography? If so, you've come to the right place! This beginner's guide to astrophotography will teach you the basics of this exciting hobby, including the different types of mounts, the equipment you'll need, and the skills you'll need to hone to become a successful astrophotographer. So, let's get started and learn about how you can take stunning pictures of the stars!

What is astrophotography?

Astrophotography is the art and science of capturing images of celestial objects with a camera and telescope. However, before delving into astrophotography, it's beneficial to experience visual astronomy to get a better understanding of the objects and what they look like. Often, purchasing a telescope is the entry point into the hobby of astronomy, but there is nothing like seeing the 'real thing' visually.

If you're interested in astrophotography, be sure to begin by observing and learning to operate a telescope, rather than jumping to astrophotography. Setting up the equipment and traveling with it, calibrating it, aligning the optics and figuring out how to use the telescope properly are essential for achieving the best results for astrophotography targets.

For beginners, it's important to spend time outside in the dark for an extended period to adjust to the darkness and to let the eyes adapt. When it comes to astrophotography targets, the objects you capture will depend on the type of equipment you have. Viewing planets can be brighter compared to faint deep space objects like galaxies.

So, the choice of equipment plays a crucial role in determining what you can capture. If you are wondering how to capture a photo of the moon, the easiest way is to attach a camera to your telescope and shoot through the eyepiece. You can also use a camera lens with a high focal length and take the image of the moon on a tripod.

Different types of astrophotography

There are a few different types of astrophotography that you can try your hand at, depending on your preferences and the equipment you have available. Here are some of the most common:

  • Visual astrophotography: This involves using a camera to take pictures through a telescope or binoculars, with the image being projected directly onto the camera's sensor. It's a great way to capture bright objects like the moon and planets, as well as some brighter deep-sky objects like star clusters.
  • Long exposure photography: This technique involves using a camera to take a picture over a long period, typically several minutes. The camera is typically mounted on an equatorial mount that is aligned with the rotation of the Earth, allowing the stars to appear as points of light rather than streaks. This type of photography is ideal for capturing fainter deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae.
  • Prime focus photography: This involves attaching a camera directly to the back of a telescope and using it as the lens. This allows you to capture the magnified image of the object you're observing, without the need for a separate eyepiece. This type of photography can be used for both visual and long-exposure imaging.
  • Afocal astrophotography: This technique involves using a camera to take pictures through a telescope or binoculars, but without directly attaching the camera to the instrument. Instead, the camera is held up to the eyepiece and the image is captured through it. This can be a great way to capture images of the moon and planets, as well as some brighter deep-sky objects.

Each of these types of astrophotography requires different equipment and techniques, so it's important to do your research and find the best fit for your needs. Whether you're looking to capture stunning images of the night sky or just want to document your observations, there's an astrophotography method out there for you.

Equatorial mounts and alt-azimuth mounts

Equatorial mounts are designed to move in one axis that is parallel to the Earth's rotation axis. This design allows them to track the movement of stars and other celestial objects accurately. With equatorial mounts, you can capture astrophotography targets such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters for longer periods.

Alt-azimuth mounts,on the other hand, move in two axes - up and down and side to side - similar to a camera tripod. While they are simpler to use, they cause field rotation, which occurs when the camera follows the rotation of the Earth and causes stars to appear as elongated trails during long exposures.

To avoid this effect, an equatorial wedge can be attached to an alt-azimuth mount, allowing it to function like an equatorial mount. Choosing between the two types of mounts depends on your astrophotography goals. Alt-azimuth mounts are ideal for casual observers, who may want to observe planets and stars. On the other hand, equatorial mounts are perfect for those who want to take long-exposure photographs of deep-sky objects.

By choosing the right type of mount and understanding how to use it correctly, you can capture stunning images of astrophotography targets that are out of this world.