No, not the kids from Jersey Shore. The other stars…the ones in the sky. You know, the ones people should care about more than the those people who are famous for nothing more than being famous. But, I digress…
Noun: The use of photography in astronomy; the photographing of celestial objects and phenomena.
Following up on my previous post, one of the benefits of not relying on photography for my livelihood is that I am able to explore other areas of the craft, including some that are really outside of my “bread & butter” portrait photography. While the industry says to specialize so that you get those magical 10,000 hours in one specific discipline, I say expand your exposure and experience to other areas so that you can see the world in a different way from all of those people doing exactly the same thing you were doing, day after day.
Will astrophotography help me be a better portrait photographer? Probably not, at least not directly. But working through the troubleshooting process for an entirely different discipline can’t hurt when I’m trying to figure something out on a portrait shoot. Besides, that’s not what this is about. It’s about using the camera to explore our universe, and if I happen to learn something about myself or about my craft along the way, that’s all the better.
Why astrophotography? I’ve had a long-standing fascination with the cosmos, and episodes of The Universe or Through the Wormhole have served to cultivate a sense of wonder. Seeing the images on those shows, along with images from amateur astronomers and astrophotographers, I wanted to learn about what was involved to start making images of my own. Lucky for me, I had a telescope sitting tragically unused in my garage for some time, so last weekend, I started my journey…
To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before!
Oh wait, plenty of other folks are doing astrophotography, which is really nice when you’re looking for resources…
To Boldly Follow In The Footsteps Of Those That Have Done All Of This Before…
Nikon D7000 DSLR. The “Live View” mode is really handy on this once it’s attached to the telescope so that I can move things around without needing to look in to the viewfinder, which isn’t always practical.
Celestron Nexstar 60 GT Computerized Telescope. The telescope is a few years old and was one of their entry-level models, but it was available and it has a tracking mode, which is important if you want to capture long or multiple exposures of particular objects. Without the tracking mechanism, say just on a tripod, exposures over 30 seconds or so start to show the rotation of the earth in the stars…those “star trails” as seen here:
Ok, so I have a telescope and a camera. Now what?
Connecting The Camera To The Telescope
From my research, the best way that I found to connect the camera to the telescope is to buy the appropriate mounts between the two. For my camera, that meant a Nikon T-mount and a Celestron T-adapter. Before you go clicking on these links and purchasing the items…
Houston, We Have Problem
This is one of those lessons that I missed in my reading and it really only became apparent when I actually tried to connect the camera to the telescope and take a picture. Connecting the components was easy enough. The T-adapter screws in to one side of the T-mount, and the other side of the T-mount snaps in to the camera just like a lens does. Then the business end of the T-adapter slides in to the telescope where the eyepiece fits. I put everything together, tried to take a picture, but I couldn’t get the image focused. It felt like I needed to slide the focuser further towards the lens of the telescope, but I couldn’t.
It turns out, that is exactly the problem. The length of the T-adapter and the T-mount put the sensor in the camera too far away to allow proper focus. I believe the problem is specifically the inclusion of the Universal T-adapter, and I’ve purchased what I think is a smaller camera-to-telescope adapter specifically for my equipment, and I hope that will make the difference. In order to test the theory, though, I did some unofficial tests removing the universal adapter from the equation and I was able to find the sweet spot to get relatively decent focus, but since the rig was unstable the way I had it, the images were still blurry. But in the image below, you can see some of the craters on the bottom left of the moon.
Ok, here’s what I learned so far:
- Astrophotography is awesome.
- Astrophotography can be expensive if you don’t have a telescope in your garage already.
- The sensor in the camera needs to be close to where the eyepiece normally fits, so make sure the adapter you use is as narrow as possible and provides stability between the camera and the telescope
- Live View is your friend when trying to align and focus a shot.
- Use the new adapter to see if the rig is able to focus and is more stable
- Upgrade the firmware of the telescope computer
- Take a tracking shot
- Take and assemble a multiple-exposure shot
About This Series: While you can shoot plenty of stars with just a camera, a lens, and a tripod, this series is about going beyond that and making images using my DSLR and a telescope. As you can tell by the posts, I’m starting from scratch with no experience in astrophotography and documenting my journey to (hopefully) some day make an image of the stars.