Page 1

TWEAK YOUR DSLR SETTINGS FOR BETTER RESULTS

Practical

ATIK383L Review & Test

Astrophotography NEW SKILLS FOR BETTER

DEEPSKY IMAGES

SHOOTING THE

MILKY WAY BACKYARD EOS 3.1 FOR THE BEGINNER GUIDE TO EDITING A MILKY WAY PHOTO POLAR ALIGNMENT MADE EASY


BehindTheShot Heart Nebula Dave Moulton

Imaging telescope: SkyWatcher MN190 Imaging camera: QSI 583 ws Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro Focal reducer: Televue TV-2008 Software: Photshop Cs5 Filter: Astrodon LRGB and narrowband 5nm


Contact us

Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ practicalastrophotography Follow us on Twitter: @practastrophoto Visit us on Flickr: www.flickr.com/ groups/practicalastrophotography Visit us online at: www. practicalastrophotography.com Find us on Instagram: Practical Astrophotography . Email us: enquiries@ practicalastrophotography.com SUBSCRIPTION QUERIES: subscriptions@ practicalastrophotography.com Editorial Editor Gene Michaels editor@practicalastrophotography.com Contributors Zalman Wainhaus Derek Bill Mike Israel Matthew Green Megan Solusky

Practical AstroPhotography is published on the second Tuesday of every month. Practical AstroPhotography is published under license Practical AstroPhotography is a registered trademark. © Copyright Yukon Media Group which Practical AstroPhotography is a trademark of Yukon Media Group Practical AstroPhotography is printed in the USA The publisher makes every effort to ensure the magazine’s content is correct. All material published in Practical AstroPhotography is copyright and unauthorised reproduction is forbidden. The editors and publishers of this magazine give no warranties, guarantees or assurances and make no representations regarding any goods or services advertised in this edition. No responsibility can be accepted for images or correspondence lost or damaged in post or transit.

4 Practical Astrophotography

WELCOME Welcome to the premiere edition of Practical Astrophotography, this magazine concept has been on the back of my mind for several years now and after much persuasion by fellow astrphotographers I have finally put all the pieces together. I have been involved in astronomy and astrophotography since I was 18 years old over 22 years ago and purchased my first Meade telescope during the famous passing of comet Hale-Bop and Comet Hyakutake. I started with an Old Canon AE-1 with a manual shutter release. Since then I have acquired countless hours of experience and spent countless hours in the cold imaging, but as any imager knows its a labor of love and the results are well worth the effort. This magazine is not only for those just starting out imaging but for those who have been imaging for years and want to take their images to another level by using processing skills and techniques they might not know of. Try out our tutorials and be sure to enjoy a great month of astoimaging. Clear Skies!

Join a growing community OVER 5,000 FOLLOWERS AND GROWING! Get Online and interact with the experts at Practical AstroPhotography. You can follow us on Facebook(facebook.com/ PracticalAstrophoto),tweet us on Twitter(@practastrophoto), join us on Flickr (flickr.com/ groups/practicalastrophoto)or email us (inquiries@practicalastrophotography.com)to keep up to date with all that’s going on in astophotography.

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Photographer: Gavin Hardcastle Location: Devils Garden, Utah Equipment: Sony A7RII

You can get your monthly fix of Practical AstroPhotography direct to your in box or mobile device by subscribing to our digital edition. For details, see the website

At the Devils Garden in Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah


Practical

Astrophotography

Contents practicalastrophotography.com

FEATURES

HOW-TO

10

Shooting the Milkyway

12

Tweak Your DSLR Settings

14

Beginners Guide to Backyard EOS

18

A Guide to Editing a Milky Way Photo using Lightroom

22

New Skills for Better DeepSky Images

26

Polar Aligning your Equatorial Mount

Practical Astrophotography 5


DEPARTMENTS

REVIEWS

5 Astrophotography Gear

32 ATIK 383L +

6 Destinations 7 Astrophoto Apps 25 Featured Astrophotography Target

34 Recommended Reads

ASTROPHOTO OF THE MONTH M45 The Pleides by Scott Reading

12” Astrotech Astrograph, Skywatcher EQ8, Canon 70D Modified

I traveled outside the city limits to get to a suitable dark location with clear skies. This was the result of about a 3 hour imaging session, as I had to wait for M45 to get high enough to get the best shot. The telescope and camera combination was not what I normally use but because of some malfunctioning equipment it was what I finally used to capture this image.

Send Us your Astrophotos if you’d like to see your work published in Practical Astrophotography, here’s how to send us your images: Email a selection of low-res images (up to 5MB of attachments in total) to appicturedesk@practicalastrophotography.com. Via our Online communities Post your pictures into our Flickr group, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or the gallery on our website.

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Astrophotography Gear Opt Telescope Triad Narrowband Filter The OPTtelescope team has Introduced a brand new OSTRIAD filter. This is an OPT exclusive that we are very excited to introduce. This tri band narrowband filter now allows full narrowband imaging from a color camera regardless of light pollution. We will be testing these new filters to ensure they preform optimal and we will be putting this on the site shortly there after. These will be available in 1.25 inch and 2 inch at the moment. Specs: 493nm/@ 18nm transmission 656.3nm/ @ 3nm transmission Available: Coming Weeks Price; TBA OPT Telescopes www.optcorp.com

Stellina Next generation telescope Stellina, the first innovation of Vaonis is a next gen telescope dedicated to star photography (deep sky objects, sun, moon). It is the first all-in-one instrument to integrate the image sensor, the optics, a motor and an embedded computer in a one piece device. The telescope is easy to use. It points and tracks automatically the stars. The image processing software is also integrated in the instrument. According the level of the user, the parameters can be customized (ISO, exposure time...) It’s compact and can fit a suitcase so it’s easy to use. The design is completely disruptive. AvaIlable: 2018 Price: €2199 vaonis.com/en/products

SkyFi III is a WiFi-to-Serial adapter, designed for wireless telescope control. If you have a computer-controlled GoTo telescope, SkyFi III can use the WiFi capabilities built into your computer and your iOS or Android device to point your telescope in the sky. SkyFi III is the only WiFi device on the market specifically designed for telescope control, and it now includes a built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery for up to 12 hours of field use! SkyFi III includes both USB and serial ports - this means that it can control the latest USB-only telescopes from Meade as well as other telescopes with RS-232 serial interfaces. Available: Now Price: $189.95 US www.skysafariastronomy.com

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DESTINATIONS making the park perfect for astro-photography. • The astronomy field offers excellent 360° view of the night sky. • All lighting in the park is shielded and all of the white light is converted to red. Come and visit a Star Party. A star party is actually a gathering of amateur astronomers and stargazers. You will find telescopes, guest lectures, camaraderie, astronomy equipment vendors plus an evening of public stargazing.

Cherry Springs State Park

Coudersport, Pennsylvania

Location

Weather

Cherry Springs State Park is a 82acre (33 ha)[a] Pennsylvania state park in Potter County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. The park was created from land within the Susquehannock State Forest, and is on Pennsylvania Route 44 in West Branch Township. Cherry Springs, named for a large stand of Black Cherry trees in the park, is atop the dissected Allegheny Plateau. The Dark Skies Preserve at Cherry Springs State Park. Unquestionably a national treasure, it is only one of two gold level dark sky parks in the USA On clear nights you will see the sky as you never have before. The Milky Way, The Aurora Borealis, Meteor Showers, Planets and constellations.

As a result of it’s exceptionally dark skies, Cherry Springs State Park is the foremost place on the eastern seaboard for stargazing and the science of astronomy, Recognizing that the unique resource had to be managed and guarded, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declared Cherry Springs State Park the first Dark Sky Park. The dark sky experience-a blend of attributes making Cherry Springs State Park perfect for stargazing • The Star gazing Field is located at the top of a 2,300 foot high mountain. The encompassing state forest is actually comparatively undeveloped and nearby communities are typically in valleys, shielding any light that could impact the park. • The positioning of the park at, 41.6501° north, 77.8164° West, provides a great view of the nucleus of the Milky Way galaxy. • The airspace above the park has little commercial air traffic,

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Cherry Springs Star Party, takes place each June and it’s sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg. The Black Forest Star Party, is held during the fall and is sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Observers of State College.


ASTROPHOTO APP

Polar Scope Align By Dimitrios Kechagias Price: FREE Platform: iOS, Android Polar Scope Align will calculate the position of Polaris or σ Octantis in your Polar Scope reticle for your location (using your phone’s GPS), allowing a quick and accurate polar alignment. It is one of the few programs that are accurate even in lower latitudes by correcting for atmospheric refraction (so expect results to agree only with precise software and not most simplistic “polar align” apps - see the “Accuracy” section in the website). It will even allow you to correct a centering error of the reticle - very useful for polar scopes that are not easy to adjust (e.g. iOptron ZEQ25). In the settings you can also select from a collection of reticles, one that matches your own - currently iOptron, Astro-Physics, Takahashi, Orion, Skywatcher, Celestron, Meade, Vixen, Astrotrac, Losmandy, Kenko, Avalon Instruments, Tuthill, Telrad reticles are available. Feel free to contact the developer with any questions, feature requests, extra reticle requests and any problems you have with the app. If you like Polar Scope Align, please consider leaving a review on the app store. Main features: • Accurate Polaris / σ Oct position calculation, including atmospheric refraction. • Automatic Time/Location. • Calculation and correction/compensation for off-center reticles. • Supports a multitude of polar scopes: iOptron, AstroPhysics RAPAS, various versions of Takahashi EM10/11/200/400/500, NJP, PM-1, P2-Z, the latest Orion / Skywatcher, the Classic Skywatcher / Orion / Celestron / Meade, the Telrad, a couple for Astrotrac / Losmandy / Kenko / Avalon, the Tuthill Precision Polar Finder, the Meade 9x60 Polar Viewfinder and the Vixen SX/SXD/SXP/ AXD/GP/GP-DX/Polarie Polar Axis Scopes. • Remember zero position on Celestron / Skywatcher / Orion etc reticles. • Full app in red-color night mode. • Moon phase. • Messier, Caldwell and Bright star database. • 6 calculators useful for observing and astrophotography. This free version is ad-supported. You can also try the adfree Pro version with the following extra features: • Ability to manually enter time/date and location (including saving favorites, list of recent locations, loading from world location database, searching online). • Zoomable reticle view. • Alt-az alignment error display for mounts that calculate it after star alignment (e.g. iOptron iEQ45, CEM60).

• Polar alignment when your scope is not in zero position (for mounts on which you can always access the polar scope). • Lunar Calendar with solar/lunar rise/set and twilight times. • Approximate daytime / no polarscope polar alignment tool. Great for solar imaging (including eclipses). • Bubble level (using either gyro or accelerometer) and Compass heading, as well as magnetic declination reading. • GPS accuracy & elevation data. • Red/White/LED light control. • Deep Space Object Database with 13000+ objects from several catalogs (Messier, Caldwell, NGC, IC, Herschell 400, Sharpless 2). The database is searchable and fully configurable with filters, various sorting methods etc. • Over 20 calculators useful for observing and astrophotography, from eyepiece magnification and field of view, to imaging resolution and reducers. • World astro-weather report based on 7Timer! data. • Access to the latest water vapor satellite images. • List of visible ISS passes and Iridium flares. • iOptron Named Star list, Meade LX200 star list. • Screen dimming slider.

Practical Astrophotography 9


A Beginners Guide

SHOOTING THE MILKY WAY THERE IS NOTHING QUITE LIKE CAPTURING THE MILKY WAY IN A PHOTOGRAPH. THE ROAD TO GETTING SUCH AN IMAGE FOR THE FIRST TIME, HOWEVER, IS LONG AND FULL OF MANY STEPS AND PROCESSES.

I

still consider myself a beginner for this sort of photography, but I’ve spent much time researching and learning how to take photos of the Milky Way. In the following

10 Practical Astrophotography

By Zalman Wainhaus

paragraphs, I will walk you through my process, from the preparation and tools used to helpful tips when out in the open, capturing your shots.

First, a reality check: In order to capture a photo of the Milky Way, there are some must-have items you’ll need. The first is a dark sky. This is actually not such a simple thing to


Practical Astrophotography 11


achieve for most people who live under bright city lights. Because of light pollution in large cities, it won’t be possible to see or capture the Milky Way unless you venture out far away from those city lights. I use a website called DarkSiteFinder. com, which contains a useful map of the world that shows the amount of light pollution in any given area. The darkest skies are in the green, blue, purple and black areas, while the most light polluted areas are gray, red orange and yellow. Obviously, you’ll want to be in the green to black areas to capture the best Milky Way shots. But another crucial point to consider is where the Milky Way is located, and in

what direction you are facing. You’ll want the area of the Milky Way you are shooting to be in a direction that is a green to black area. So, using the map of Phoenix as a reference, if you want to capture the Milky Way facing south, you don’t want to be set up directly north of the city, even if you’re in the green, because the area you’re shooting is much more light polluted. You’ll want to be east, south or west of the city. So where can you find the Milky Way? There is a great free program I use called Stellarium (available for Mac and PC). Using it, you can determine where the Milky Way will be on any given night, in any year.

12 Practical Astrophotography

Generally speaking, in the US, the Milky Way is visible between March and October, with it rising in the east during the Spring and setting in the west during the Fall, with the core of the Milky Way (the galactic center) appearing in the south portion of the sky. However, when the moon is visible at night, the brightness of the Milky Way is greatly reduced. It is therefore best to photograph around the new moon. Another consideration, of course, is the weather. You’ll want generally clear skies for optimal results, though using the clouds can create some beautiful images. So, you know where to find the Milky Way, you know exactly where you’ll be set up to capture the Milky Way away from city lights, and you’ve got clear skies and no moon. Now that you’ve got all the initial planning out of the way, let’s talk about the required tools. One item that is essential is a sturdy tripod. You’ll be creating long exposures, so you must ensure your camera doesn’t shake or move at all. In conjunction with this, to ensure your images come out sharp, you’ll want to use either a timer to take your shots (two seconds should be fine) or a remote cable release. Secondly, you’ll need a DSLR that is capable of shooting long exposures with fully manual settings. And finally, you’ll want a good lens with a wide aperture to allow in as much light as possible. Generally speaking, for a shot that captures a good portion of the Milky Way, you’ll want a 24mm lens or wider, with an aperture of at least f/2.8. An optimal lens would be a wide angle 17mm at an aperture of f/1.4. I use a Tamron 17mm lens with an aperture of f/2.8, and I get good results. Now, let’s discuss the camera settings. The most difficult part about capturing the Milky Way is retaining a long enough shutter speed to let in as much light as possible, while keeping your ISO down as much as you can for maximum sharpness, while also not

USEFUL KIT FOR MILKY WAY TRIPOD One item that is essential is a sturdy tripod. You’ll be creating long exposures, so you must ensure your camera doesn’t shake or move at all.

REMOTE RELEASE The slightest camera movement will cause blur, which is why we recommend using a remote release rather than risk pressing the shutter release button.

WIDE ANGLE LENS A good qulaity wide angle lens will help you get that perfect composition but it will also help you achieve shorter exposures and avoid star trails.

FOCUSING AID A good bhatinov mask created for use with a DSLR will help in focusing your image and achieve pinpoint stars. These help you achieve spot on focus in a shorter time.


using a shutter speed that causes star trails. Star trails are a result of the earth’s rotation, so if your camera’s shutter is open for, let’s say, a minute, the stars appear to move through the sky enough during that minute to cause streaking in your image. There is something called the 500 rule that astrophotographers use to make sure the stars in their shots aren’t trailing. You divide 500 by focal length of your lens, and that is how many seconds you can leave your shutter open for the stars to remain points. So for my 17mm lens, dividing 500 by 17 gives me about 29. So I could keep my shutter open for 29 seconds before star trails appear. I tend to err on the side of caution, and use a shutter speed of 20 – 25 seconds, just to be sure I’m getting pinpoint stars. In terms of the ISO, the better the camera, the higher your ISO can be while still retaining sharpness. I generally use an ISO of 2000 to 2500 on my mid-range DSLR. On top of the line cameras, you can boost that to 6000 or more. Try it out and see what works for you. Another difficult task in capturing the Milky Way is getting it in focus. Because it’ll be absolutely dark, your camera won’t be able to autofocus, so you’ll have to switch over

to manual and focus on infinity. I usually use Live View, zoom in on a bright star, and adjust my focus manually until the star is it’s smallest size, which tells you it’s in focus. I’ll then leave my focus alone the rest of the night. To recap, for a typical Milky Way shot, my camera settings will be the following: 17mm at an aperture of f/2.8, with an ISO of 2500, shutter speed of 20 seconds and focused manually on infinity. And, of course, you’ll only be shooting in RAW format to retain as much information as possible. Of course, being out in the dark is very different from being in a well lit, comfortable studio, so there are some other things to keep in mind that will help you on your nighttime journey. First of all, bring a small flashlight with you, preferably one with a red bulb. You’ll be fumbling around with your gear in the dark, so a small light source will be extremely helpful. The catch is, you want your eyes to be well adjusted to the dark so you can compose your shots exactly the way you want, so the light you bring shouldn’t be too strong. Red light doesn’t disturb your dark adjusted eyes, which is why it’s ideal. Another helpful tip when composing your shot is to first take some

This shot was taken about 60 miles east of Phoenix off of Highway 87, in mid June, facing southeast. 17mm, f/2.8, ISO 2000, 15 second exposure. Post processing was done in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop.

images with a really high ISO, like 10000, so you’ll get a good idea of what your composition looks like. Yes, it’ll be noisy, and won’t be your final image, but it will give you a preview of your shot without having to wait for that long exposure to be over. With an ISO of 10000, you can keep your shutter open for just a few seconds and then review your shot. Once you’ve got your shot, you can celebrate! But the battle is only half won. You must now work on processing your image, because a RAW image straight out of the camera never has the right amount of brightness or contrast to be considered a finished product, and this is especially true when dealing with a subject as difficult to resolve as the Milky Way. For post processing, the general rule is you’ll want to boost brightness and contrast as much as possible without making the image too grainy or unrealistic. Also, you may need to adjust your color balance since very often some greens or magentas will appear in your image where there should only be a deep blue or black. Correctly processing a photo of the Milky Way is in itself an art form, and different photographers will choose to enhance their Milky Way photos differently. I personally like to show as much contrast and brightness as I can while maintaining a realistic view of the Milky Way. Capturing the Milky Way is an exhilarating, memorable, yet difficult process. But the difficulty of it all and the amount of preparation involved is what makes it so rewarding. So, get out there (ideally, waaaay out there) and start capturing photos of the galaxy we call home! About the author: Zalman is a landscape and nightscape photographer and digital artist from Phoenix, Arizona. You can reach him at zwainhaus@gmail.com, and see his work here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ zwainhaus/ https://dribbble.com/zwainhaus

Practical Astrophotography 13


HOW-TO The Beginners Guide to Using BackyardEOS

The Beginners Guide to Using BackyardEOS Version 3.1.x

BackyardEOS has proven to be a powerful image acquisition tool for those images who want to use their Canon Digital SLR this program will do the job and do it quite well.

T

he Following guide is by no means an exhaustive tutorial on the use of Backyard EOS but will be sufficient to get you started imaging with your canon DSLR. This guide does not go into the settings needed on your camera in order to connect your camera to BackYard EOS. For further details on camera settings please consult the help guide. Backyard EOS is a good starting point for anyone wishing to use their DSLR for long exposure

01 Main Screen

astrophotography or who want to be able to image using their laptop or Desktop remotely without the added learning curve of a Intervelometer. many beginning Astrophotograhpers use BackYard EOS to learn the basics of long exposure imaging. You can use it for Deep-Sky imaging as well as Planetary, so it is a good all around software. So lets get right into the basics of using BackYard EOS.

This is the main screen seen after you start up BackYard EOS. From here you can either chose to start your imaging session by connecting a camera by using the upper left corner icon of the camera or if you have the Premium version you can choose to preview images by using the preview button next to the camera icon. Before connecting ensure your camera is set to Manual Mode and you have sufficient battery life.

14 Practical Astrophotography


02 Camera Connect

This is the camera connect screen you will see after clicking on the camera icon in the upper left corner. here you can choose what DIGIC Sensor Chip your camera has. Once you click on the corresponding button your camera will be connected. If you have trouble determining what version of Digic Sensor your camera has you can consult your cameras manual for further help in choosing the proper chip.

03 Settings Screen

This is the default screen you will see once you have connected your camera. You can choose to Image, Frame & Focus or do Planetary imaging. The first task we recommend is opening the settings screen and set the desired download location to save your images to. You can also set the desired filename information.

04 Frame & Focus

We recommend that if you are planning on doing Deep-Sky imaging you choose a star around 5th magnitude so that you can easily get the star in pin-point focus and then move to the object you want to image. You can use the Full Width Half Max (FWHM) focus aid to get your object in focus. by double clicking the screen on a star. You can lock the box in place and watch the # as it changes, the lower the # the better focus you have. This can take some time to get a decent focus.

Practical Astrophotography 15


HOW-TO The Beginners Guide to Using BackyardEOS

05 Start Imaging

This Now that you have your camera focused you can begin your imaging session. You can choose to Do Deep-sky imaging or Planetary imaging. In step 4 you focus your camera or scope on a star it makes more sense to start Deep-sky imaging. If you decide start Planetary imaging you may have to refocus your scope on the planet.

06 Imaging Screen

This is the main screen seen after you have connected your DSLR camera and is also the screen you will use to do deep-sky imaging. On the left hand side of the screen is the Imaging control center and capture plan. Here you can set the name of your target, set the exposure(Backyard EOS calls this Shutter), camera ISO and # of exposures as well as any pause you wish in between.

07 Planetary Screen Part 1

This screen is where you can use Backyard EOS as a video camera so to speak and take Hundreds of images stacked together into an AVI file. The camera is set to bulb mode, you can then adjust your ISO, Aperture and image count to your liking inorder to achieve the best results based on your preview window. Once you have completed setting your Planetary Capture Plan you are ready to start your AVI recording.

16 Practical Astrophotography


08 Planetary Screen Part 2 Once you have set your Planetary Capture plan you can click on the record button in the lower right hand side of the planetary screen as shown in the screen shot to the right. When you start a recording BackyardEOS will take a few seconds to calculate the speed, in frames per second, in which your camera can deliver live view images. This is also dependent an your computer’s ability to process live view images. A typical value here would be anywhere between 18 and 24 frames per second.

This gives you a very basic rundown of the features that a beginner might use, it takes time and patiences to learn the software and discover all the features it has to offer. Backyard EOS can be used to help drift align your scope. It can also be used to automate your setup by connecting it to your focuser via Ascom drivers. there is also a weather station that can help you in adjusting your focus throughout the night as the temperatures change. There is much more to the Software than has been explained here, and depending on what version you purchase there are many more “premium” features available at your dispense to help you in obtaining those long sought after astro images.

Practical Astrophotography 17


Image modes - here you can choose between various modes to capture your desired object.

Image Preview - here you can scroll through images taken and select to fill the screen or use the full screen mode to inspect the quality.

18 Practical Astrophotography

Camera information center - here you can see the current settings of the camera connected to backyard EOS


Modes and settings - here you can change the screen to red to save your night vision or click on the settings button to view the settings panel

Histogram - The Histogram center provides a graphical representation of the distribution of pixel values in the current image.

Imaging center control and capture plan - here you can set the desired shutter, duration, ISO and target name.

Practical Astrophotography 19


HOW-TO The Ultimate Guide to Editing a Milky Way Photo

Before

Image by Mike Israel

20 Practical Astrophotography


The Ultimate Guide to Editing a Milky Way Photo using Lightroom Essentials Works with

What you’ll learn How to use Lightroom for editing the white balance, contrast, exposure and noise reduction Time taken 30 minutes - 1 hour

Expert Megan Solusky is an avid landscape photographer based in Montana. She has taken hundreds of Milky Way photos and primarily uses Lightroom for processing.

21 Practical Astrophotography

Many Astrophotographers lean toward using Photoshop, but Lightroom can be easier and more intuitive to edit your Milky Way shots. by Megan Solusky

The 3 Main Pillars of Milky Way

P

Post-Processing

ost-processing is an extremely subjective part of any astrophotographer’s workflow. By putting in days of practice, each astrophotographer eventually develops a characteristic look that can be seen throughout many of their photos, whether that be high contrast, low contrast, highly saturated, monochrome, bright exposures, dark and moody exposures, or anywhere in between. While there is no correct way to process a photo, most landscapes scenes can be readily viewed with the human eye. Because of this, viewers of an image can, in theory, compare the image to the real-life scene to know how far post-processing techniques moved an photo away from “reality.” However, since the Milky Way cannot be seen with the human eye like it can be with modern day digital cameras, the range of different nuanced looks that can be applied to a photo of the Milky Way without being restrained by what it *should* look like is endless. So, with this tutorial, in order to finish off my comprehensive guide to planning, photographing, and post-processing Milky Way photos, I want to take a close look at the potential effects of some of the editing tools that can used to process an image of the night sky, instead of showing only one specific way to process an image.

There are essentially three main pillars of post-processing that will affect the appearance of the Milky Way: White Balance, Contrast & Exposure, and Noise Reduction. So, I want to take a step-bystep look at each of them to show how different settings can affect the look of the Milky Way with regard to these three pillars. While any RAW processing software can edit a Milky Way photo, for this tutorial I’ll be using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. For the first part of our tutorial, we’ll be taking a look at the RAW file below, which was shot on a Canon 5D at 24mm, 3200 ISO, and f/2.8 for 30 seconds. I originally took this shot with the intention of stacking it with similar exposures, which is the reason for the high ISO and short shutter speed. This base file already has the lens profile correction for my lens added to it, which reduced some vignetting (darkening) that was visible in the corners of the image. Based on how I processed the photo to my personal taste, the image below was my final result using only Lightroom. As we go through the editing process, I’ll try to show step-by-step how each adjustment affects both the base image and the final results. Keep in mind as we go along, however, that there is no incorrect way to process an image, and no correct order of operations when going through the editing process.

Practical Astrophotography 21


HOW-TO The Ultimate Guide to Editing a Milky Way Photo

01

Import your Photo

File>Import photos and Video to select The folder where your images you would like to import reside. Select the Milky Way photo you would like to import. This will bring the image into a Lightroom Catalog.

02

Select your Photo

Once you have imported the photo into a Lightroom catalog you will see the library of photos you just imported. From here you can navigate to it and select the photo you would like to start developing and highlight it by clicking on the Thumbnail.

03

Start Developing Photo

After selecting the photo click on the Develop tab in the top menu. This is the tab you will remain in while adjusting the photo. Lightroom calls this tab the “Develop’ tab. When you become more familiar with the use of Lightroom you can use presets and go back to previous edits using the “History” feature.

22 Practical Astrophotography


04

Adjust White Balance

At this point if your camera was set at the correct White Balance you may skip this step and leave the WB(white balance) “as Shot” If the White Balance is not to your liking you can change it to “Auto” which usually does the job. This can be found under the Treatment heading. If you don’t like the look of the “Auto” White Balance you can choose “Custom” and drag your “Temperature” and “Tint” to the desired location based on your liking.

05

Adjust Exposure & Contrast

This is where Light Room can fix your image if you didn’t quite have enough exposure You can drag the “exposure” to the desired location based on your liking. Just don’t overdue it here as you can wash your image out, as seen to the left if you boost ir too much. Now drag your contrast to the right until you start to see the desired effect.

06

Adjust Highlights & Shadows

To bring out more detail in the image you can drag the Highlights and Shadow bar to the right until you see the details in the image begin to come out. From here you can also work on your Whites and Blacks and adjust until they look appropriate. This is where you can use your creativity or keep the colors realistic as these will change based on the users own “eye”.

07

Finally Adjust Clarity

Clarity will really sharpen your photo and make the Milky Way stand out, you can drag the bar to the right and you will immediately see how much clearer the image becomes. This really make the Milky Way “Pop”. Drag the bars for Vibrance and saturation to the right until you get the result you like. Be careful in dragging the saturation too much as this will give you false color. Save the image. Practical Astrophotography 23


New Skills for Better DeepSky Images Many Deep Sky Imagers can benefit from a few tips that are overlooked very easily. by Matthew Green Getting started in Astrophotography is easier than one might think but mastering it will take far longer and sometimes a life time. These tips are not only for beginners or people with a small amount of experience., but can be used by those who haven’t quite gotten those images they see on the Internet. 24 Practical Astrophotography


1

Use a Modified Camera

Imaging with a modified camera can help with Deep sky images There are a number of individuals whom you can purchase modified cameras from(I recommend Gary Honis) or you can send your camera and have it modified. They modify the camera by replacing the infrared cutoff filter that sits in front of the sensor with another filter that still cuts off IR but lets through more of the deep red visible spectrum. This is important for picking up the photogenic red nebula’s that dot the Milky Way. With a stock camera (the image at far left here) most nebula’s will appear pale and dim. But a modified camera really snaps them up (as at right in the example here). Modded DSLRs are compromised for daytime use but can still be used by creating a Custom White Balance to counteract the pink caste these cameras lend to all images.

Unmodified

3

2

Find Dark Skies

Night scape photography benefits from moonlight. Not deep-sky photography. We also need skies as free from light pollution as possible. While some light pollution filters can reduce the effect sky-glow to some extent, there is no substitute for imaging under dark skies. Plan on getting away on New Moon weekends to a lakeside cottage, a favorite campsite, or the local astronomy club’s “dark site.” If you already live in a rural area free of light pollution, you’re all set to shoot from your backyard. The best accessory you can give your cameras and telescopes is a dark, moonless sky.

Modified

Take your time to get Focus, Use a Bhathinov mask.

Stars are the most merciless subjects for revealing poor focus. As with night scape shooting, it’s worth the taking the time to precisely focus any lens or telescope. Live View makes it easy. Set the camera’s Live View options to “Exposure Simulation,” with the ISO set to high, the aperture set to wide open, and the shutter to set 30 seconds or Bulb. Aim at a bright star and manually focus until the star is as pinpoint and color-free as possible. With lenses even the slightest turn of the focus ring will bloat stars or add colored halos. With telephotos and telescope refocus through the night. As the air cools and tubes contract, the focus can shift. Clever image processing can cure a lot of imaging ills, but it cannot make up for poor focus.

4

Take Dark Frames

For deep-sky images I always turn on Long Exposure Noise Reduction, so the camera takes a dark frame to reduce noise. Some photographers prefer to take dark frames separately at the end of a session (by capping the lens or telescope), then subtracting the dark frames in “post-production.” In A-B tests I’ve never found that procedure as effective as having the camera take a dark frame at the same time as the exposure. The reason is that only then is the sensor at the same temperature for both the dark and “light” frames, essential if noise levels are to match and subtract accurately. Yes, this increases the time it takes to acquire images, but the results are better. But here’s a tip: If you are using Canon full-frame cameras (5D and 6D models) and you control them through the shutter port, not the Practical Astrophotography 25


USB port, you can take 4 or 5 images in quick succession before the dark frame locks up the camera. One dark frame then gets applied to each light frame, shortening total exposure time. however most will argue that you should take your Dark frames at the end of your imaging session as they are not dependent on the weather. This way you can maximize your imaging time.

5

6

Shoot shorter sub-frames

There has been a lot of discussion on the optimum sub-exposure length here lately. There are multiple factors in setting sub exposure length beyond read noise impacts and maximizing S/N. Factors include seeing, wind and tracking errors, along with having enough frames for stacking to reject unwanted things like airplane and satellite tracks. These factors limit the long exposure time side of the sub-exposure efficiency trade. The short side is impacted most by the time delay between exposures, especially in today’s very low read noise cameras. Keeping exposures short certainly has its benefits. For one, you get more images shot in a night, especially when you are limited to the amount of clear skies with good seeing. With shorter sub-frames you avoid excessive noise from your Chip that is not cooled. You can stack 20-30 images or even hundreds and get the same results as taking fewer but longer sub-frames.

Autoguide!

When shooting with focal lengths over 200mm and exposures over 1 to 2 minutes, most mounts will require guiding. Yes, they have motors that follow the sky, but minor errors in the gears, among other sources, will trail stars slightly during long exposures. To eliminate tracking errors we employ an “auto-guider,” a little CCD camera looking through a small guide scope. It watches a guide star and sends a pulse to the motor to counteract every time the guide star wanders off. Autoguiders vary, but most require a laptop to run guiding software (the free PHDGuider program for Windows and Mac is popular). The QHY5LII works very well – it is sensitive enough to find and reliably guide on stars looking through no more a compact 50mm guide scope. Once set, an Auto-guider allows exposures of any length, all perfectly guided, while you nap.

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Practical Astrophotography 26


Featured Astrophotography Target M42 – The Orion Nebula Mag: 4.5

M42 is an incredibly bright object which can make it a good target for beginners and suitable for a huge range of setups. The real challenge is balancing the incredibly bright core with the surrounding nebulosity and dust. The most common approach to this is to take a variety of short and long exposures that can be carefully combined in post-processing. Because of its brightness, M42 makes a great target for one-shot color cameras as well as RGB filters, while narrowband imaging can bring out the finer details in the surrounding nebulosity. Use a short focal length refractor if possible Practical Astrophotography 27


HOW-TO Polar Aligning your Equatorial Mount

Essentials Compact level A level will make your job easier and help you to ensure your Tripod is level, a Compact level can be had for less than 10 US dollars. Compass A silva compass will also aid your Polar Alignment process greatly by getting you very close to the NCP. Polar Alignment App another useful item is a Polar Alignment application on your smart phone. 28 Practical Astrophotography

Polar Aligning your Equatorial Mount Since Most astrophotographers use an equatorial mount for their imaging we will explain our process of polar aligning

F

or a telescope to accurately track the sky motion of any celestial object like planets, stars, and deep-sky objects, precise polar alignment is needed. This is true for any equatorial telescope, both for manual and electronic types. Without proper polar alignment, objects will always drift out of view making it impossible to perform lengthy and detailed observations. In astrophotography, poor polar alignment would mean sadlooking star trails in captured images. This guide will give you the basics you will need in order to get your polar alignment close enough for auto guiding, the more time you spend getting precise Polar alignment the less work will be required from your auto-guider. The more practice you have in doing Polar Alignment the less time it will take you to perform.


Point your mount toward North

01

Ensure your Tripod is pointed to true north by using a compass and aligning the tripod post to match the offset of your location. To find your True north offset you can use this website calculator https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag-web/#declination

Level mount using built in Bubble(optional)

Level your Tripod legs

02

Ensure your Tripod is level by adjusting the lengths of the 3 tripod legs before placing your mount on top of the tripod. You can also skip this step and just level the mount and tripod in one step using the built in bubble level on your mount

Adjust your latitude setting

03

04

Level your mount in Declination

Level your mount in RA

You can use the built in bubble level on your mount if it has on to double check the accuracy of your tripod. if you leveled the tripod the bubble should be in the center of the circle.

05

Make sure your mounting plate is level before placing your Telescope.. You can also skip this step and just level the mount and tripod in one step

Once your tripod and mount are level the next step is to set your mount latitude using the latitude adjustment bolts on either side of your mount. You can use this calculator to find your latitude - https://www.gps-coordinates.org/

06

Make sure your mount is level in RA, place the level on the counterweight rod and adjust as needed. You can then set your RA settings circle to 1800, this will help you later on if you ever need to make adjustments and need to do them manually.

Practical Astrophotography 29


Rotate Declination axis so polar reticle is visible

Remove the Polar Finder cover

07

08

Find Polaris in your polar finder reticle

Rotate the mount in Right Ascension

In order to see through the mount and allow the polar finder to be aligned you need to rotate the declination axis so there is no obstruction.

09

After completing the previous steps Polaris should be in the field of view and only minor tweaking to get Polaris aligned correctly in your reticle should be needed.

Use the Polar finder reticle to set Polaris’ location

11

Depending on your brand of mount the finder reticle will vary. Use the polar finder application on your phone or computer situate Polaris in the correct location based on the diagram. Use the azimuth adjustment knobs as needed.

30 Practical Astrophotography

On the other end of the mount you need to remove the polar finder cover which will give you access to the use of the polar finder reticle for further aligning of your mount.

10

In order to align your scope with NCP or the North Celestial Pole (in the Northern Hemisphere) you will need to rotate the right ascension axis until the view through the finder matches what your App displays

Once you position Polaris to match the diagram in the Polar finder App, you are now set to mount your telescope. This alignment technique will take some time to get acquainted with, but over time you will be able to Polar align your tripod and mount in a matter of minutes. This will get you close enough that when you use an auto-guider your accuracy should be pretty spot on and in turn create less adjustments for the autoguider.


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Practical Astrophotography 31


HOW-TO: Tweak your DSLR settings for better results

TWEAK YOUR DSLR SETTINGS FOR BETTER ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY RESULTS

When shooting astrophotography or even nightscapes you will see many benefits by tweaking your DSLR settings. Here are some tweaks that will help make your next night under the stars more enjoyable when processing your images.

Set your camera mode to Manual

01

Ensure your Tripod is pointed to true north by using a compass and aligning the tripod post to match the offset of your location. To find your True north offset you can use this website calculator https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag-web/#declination

32 Practical Astrophotography

Turn off auto-focus

02

Ensure your Tripod is level by adjusting the lengths of the 3 tripod legs before placing your mount on top of the tripod. You can also skip this step and just level the mount and tripod in one step using the built in bubble level on your mount


Set your white balance to daylight

Set your drive to one shot

03

04

Use Higher ISO

Turn off long exposure noise reduction

Set to Daylight or use a custom white balance (especially if your camera is modified).

05

Yes, it’s true that a higher ISO does indeed produce more noise in a photo. Increasing exposure in post-processing produces a large amount of noise. Expose properly in camera to avoid it, and that often means a higher ISO.

Ensure your Tripod is level by adjusting the lengths of the 3 tripod legs before placing your mount on top of the tripod. You can also skip this step and just level the mount and tripod in one step using the built in bubble level on your mount

06

Long exposure noise reduction, in theory, is a magnificent technology. When it is activated in camera, the camera takes a normal exposure and then goes blank as it takes a second, invisible exposure that you never see. Shooting a photo with long exposure noise reduction and then processing the photo in Lightroom or Photoshop will yield no benefit.

Shoot Raw + Large File Format

07

Ensure your Tripod is level before placing your mount on top of the tripod. You can also skip this step and just level the mount and tripod ain one step

Practical Astrophotography 33


REVIEW: ATIK383L+ Monochrome CCS Camera

ATIK383L+ Monochrome CCD Camera SPECIFICATIONS Price: $1,995.00 Sensor Type: KAF-8300 17.6mm x 13.52m Resolution: 3354 x 2529 Pixel Size: 5.40µm x 5.40µm Interface: USB 2.0 High-Speed Power: 12V DC Cooling: ∆T = -40˚C max Weight: 700g

Atik 383L+ Monochrome CCD Camera w/ Kodak KAF-8300 Sensor The Atik 383L+ CCD Camera enables enthusiasts to achieve stunning wide field images of the sky at high-resolution Operates a front-illuminated Blue Plus Kodak KAF-8300 Sensor and delivers highly efficient setpoint cooling to a 40 degrees max below ambient

Atik 383L+ CCD Camera Monochrome Features: •

Ultra low read-noise for great sensitivity

8.3 Million 5.4 µm square pixels for high-resolution imaging

Includes superb software for image acquisition and preprocessing

Lightweight - no flexure of the telescope focuser tube

Features a memory buffer to reduce readout artifacts, externally accessible desiccant plugs, and a high-quality mechanical shutter as well

Highly efficient set point cooling to 40 degrees max below ambient

High-Quality mechanical shutter

Externally accessible desiccant plugs

Great software for image acquisition and pre-processing

Memory Buffer to reduce readout artifacts

The platform on the 383L+ CCD Camera features a USB 2.0 interface for fast readout, low weight, and highly efficient cooling

Redefining mid-range astroimaging, the new Atik 383L+ is an 8 Mega-pixel camera featuring the Kodak KAF-8300 CCD. This design by Atik makes it easier for enthusiasts to access multimegapixel, cooled cameras more easily with its irresistible price. The 383L+ is a fantastic CCD with a huge number of good-sized pixels. ATIK provides cameras with very high image quality but at affordable prices. The ATIK 383L+ is no exception, offering the same high quality at reasonable cost. The Platform 3 by ATIK is featured with the 383L+ and it supports the Kodak KAF-8300. The advantages of this design provide very low read-noise circuits and reliability. 34 Practical Astrophotography

The camera can be used with either the EFW-U or our new EFW2 and Off Axis Guider (coming soon). Standard 1.25 filters can be used for focal ratios of f/5 and above without vignetting. Faster focal ratios will need flat-field correction or 36 mm filters.

For data acquisition and camera control, the acclaimed Capture software is included as well as plug-ins to allow use with Maxim DL, Astroart, and CCDSoft. Designed for a wide range of image sensing applications, the Kodak KAF-8300 Image Sensor is a 22.5 mm diagonal (Four Thirds Format) high performance monochrome or color full frame CCD (chargecoupled device) image sensor. Digital imaging can be conducted as well


with the KAF-8300. Each pixel contains blooming protection by means of a lateral overflow drain thereby preventing image corruption during high light level conditions. For the color version, each of the 5.4 µm square pixels are patterned with an RGB mosaic color filter with overlying microlenses for improved color response and reproduction. Several versions of monochrome devices are available with or without microlenses.

Kodak KAF-8300 Imaging Sensor Features: •

High Resolution - High Dynamic Range - Low Noise Architecture

Quantum Efficiency, color: R(600 nm), G(540 nm), B(480 nm) 33%, 40 %, 33% - Quantum Efficiency, monochrome: Microlens, clear glass (540 nm) Microlens, no glass (540 nm) Microlens, AR glass (540 nm) No Microlens, clear glass (560 nm): 54% 60% 56% 37%

Dynamic Range: 64.4 dB Linearity Error at 12C +/- 10%

Active Image Size: 17.96 mm (H) x 13.52 mm (V) 22.5 mm (diagonal) - Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Blooming Protection: (1ms integration time) 1000x saturation exposure - Maximum Data Rate: 28 MHz

The following images were taken from dark skies using the ATIK 383L+ on a NP101 telescope. We used the Sky X as capture software and Deep Sky stacker and Photoshop CC to process the images. You can see the details the camera is able to pick up under darks skies. Overall this camera is a very good performer and will be a great asset to any budding astrophotographer or seasoned professional looking to add a camera to thier lineup.

Practical Astrophotography 35


REVIEW RECOMMENDED READS

The Deep-sky Imaging Primer Charles Bracken Simply superb, exceeds even inflated expectations. It wouldn’t be the first book I’d buy if you know *nothing* about astrophotography, but if you have a little bit of understanding this book will catapult you from “look I got an image with blurry stars and maybe a DSO somewhere” to pictures that come close to what you see in magazines. More than that, you’ll know what you’re doing, always a plus. The book emphasizes processing with Photoshop, which is not inexpensive, but then nothing about even remotely serious astrophotography is inexpensive. The section on processing is worth the price of the book and then some, as is the section on Signal and Noise, and the explanation of the importance of Flats, Bias and Darks. The equipment section is current as of 2015 or so but (unless there are revisions) will get outdated, but that’s not that important-most people will begin with a GEM and a small refractor and if they need to go up from there they’ll keep current by utilizing Internet sites. What is important is the understanding of what goes into taking a picture set, combining and developing it, and doing all three well, and *that* you will not find elsewhere presented as clearly and thoroughly as here. I have many books on AP, and every day this one sort of pushes itself up a notch. Don’t balk at the price, it’s a bargain.

The full chapter list is below. I’m also happy to answer 19 Color synthesis and any questions at deepskyprimer@gmail.com. adjustment 20 Sharpening and local Part I. Understanding Images contrast enhancement 1 Electronic sensors 21 Star adjustments 2 Signal and Noise 22 Noise reduction 23 Composition Part II. Aquiring Images 24 DSLR Processing example: 3 Mounts and alignment The Witch’s Broom Nebula 4 Cameras 25 CCD Processing example: The Rosette Nebula in narrowband 5 Optics 6 Image scale: matching sensor and optics Appendix A. Exercise Answers 7 Choosing appropriate objects to image Appendix B. Moonless hours 8 Focusing and autoguiding 9 Setup and accessories 10 Filters and narrowband imaging 11 Taking the exposures 12 Atmospheric effects 13 Diagnosing problems and improving image quality Part III. Processing Images 14 Color in digital images 15 The calibration process 16 Principals and tools of post-processing 17 Stretching: reallocating the dynamic range 18 Background adjustments and cosmetic repairs

36 Practical Astrophotography


Practical

Astrophotography

Find us online at www.practicalastrophotography.com Practical Astrophotogrpahy is a FREE Digital Magazine dedicated to Astrophotography. Do you have suggestions for future articles? Do you want to see certain equipment reviewed? Do you want to see certain topics convered or explained? e-mail us your ideas! Want to see your image on the next over send us your astrophotos.

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ASTROSHOTS North American Nebula (Mexico) by Derek Bill Atik 460EX Mono Celestron C14 Here is an image of a portion (Mexico) of the North America Nebula, or NGC 7000. It is part of a massive nebula complex comprising NGC 7000, IC 5070 (the Pelican Nebula) and IC 5068. It is an HII emission cloud of interstellar gas, located near the tail star (Deneb) of the constellation Cygnus.

Andromeda Galaxy by Sam Hughes Takahashi FSQ130 Skywatcher EQ8 QHY 163 Shots: 50x300�

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Practical Astrophotography 35


Veil Nebula by John Messina 12inch RC Astrograph ATIK 383L + LRGB 25 x 180�

Michigan Nightscape by J. Robert Kirkham Camera: Canon 6D Tripod: Manfrotto Lens: Rokinon 14mm Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter: 30 sec. ISO - 3200

36 Practical Astrophotography

Practical Astrophotography 39


Moon by Irimia Teodorian Imaging telescope: Takahashi Mewlon 250 Imaging camera: ZWO ASI 178MM Mount: Takahashi EM200 Temma 2M

NGC 281 - Pacman Nebula by Dave Hudson Imaging telescope: Celestron C14 Imaging camera: Atik Horizon OSC Mount: Celestron CGX-L

40 Practical Astrophotography

Practical Astrophotography 40


The Fish Nebula by Juan Ignacio Jimenez RC10 “to 1515mm focal QHY9M Mesu 200 mount Shots: 32 x 900 “from Ha to bin1 The OIII and SII retrieved it from a mosaic a couple of years ago, 10 shots of 900 “of OIII and SII to bin2.

M8 and M20 Robert Wengewicz William Optics GTF-81 CGEM Mount Canon DSLR T2i Modified Shots: 28 x 30 seconds

41 Practical Astrophotography

Practical Astrophotography 41


IC434, M42 Matt Fulghum AstroTech AT72ED CGEM Mount Fuji X-T20 Shots: 120x30s @ ISO 1600, 61x60s@ ISO 800

Send Us your Astrophotos if you’d like to see your work published in Practical Astrophotography, here’s how

to send us your images: Email a selection of low-res images (up to 5MB of attachments in total) to appicturedesk@ practicalastrophotography.com. Via our online communities Post your pictures into our Flickr group, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or the gallery on our website.

42 Practical Astrophotography


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Practical Astrophotography Volume 1 Issue 1 2017  

This is a Preview of Practical Astrophotography - if you like the magazine head over to our website at practicalastrophotography.com.

Practical Astrophotography Volume 1 Issue 1 2017  

This is a Preview of Practical Astrophotography - if you like the magazine head over to our website at practicalastrophotography.com.

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