Astrophotography – referred to as astronomical imaging, is all about the use of photography in diverse fields of Astronomy.
No one can deny the fact that astronomy has been revolutionized by photography. Hundreds and thousands of astronomical and celestial discoveries wouldn’t even be possible without it. Likewise, humanity might not be aware of millions of Astro-entities, i.e., stars, nebulas, galaxies, et cetera, without photography.
What is Astrophotography?
Today, there are two major fields of astrophotography.
Firstly, on a professional level, i.e., sky surveys, Astro discoveries, collecting scientific data, and multiple akin things by NASA and similar institutes or individuals.
Second, habitual astrophotography is commonly referred to as amateur astronomy.
This is all about capturing the sky and astrological objects as a hobby. In this article, we will discover the later one; what is amateur astronomy, aka habitual astrophotography, tools and equipment used in it, and how you can take great astrophotographs using simple tricks and techniques.
Astrophotography pursued by casual astronomers or hobbyists is referred to as amateur photography.
It is trendy and differs greatly compared to the sub-form of astrophotography, which deals with collecting scientific data of astronomy.
Casual astrophotography can be done using a simple smartphone with a camera power of few megapixels, unlike the former, which requires very high power telescopes, guide scope, auto guiders, cameras with very high ISO, systems to control and store data, and a lot more.
Research institutes related to this field, i.e., NASA, spent billions of dollars for these set-ups compared to the equipment of amateur astrophotography, which is much more chipper.
The primary difference between professional and habitual, as the name indicates, is pretty obvious. Professionals usually have a degree in astrophysics or some related subject, and they use it as the source of their income. Thus, astrophotography is directly or indirectly part of the jobs of these professionals.
Hobbyists are clearly distinguished from professionals as neither do they earn active income from astrophotography nor look forward to making scientific discoveries while shooting the sky and celestial objects.
Though the habitual astrophotography end goal isn’t conducting scientific research or collecting data, oftentimes, it has contributed to scientific work.
Quoted by an encyclopedia, some of the contributions of amateur astrophotographers’ are: “monitoring variable stars, double stars, sunspots, or occultation of stars by the Moon or asteroids, or by discovering transient astronomical events, such as comets, galactic novae or supernovae in other galaxies.”
Astrophotography is a super-fun and awe-inspiring niche of photography. There are enormous amounts of wonders in the sky and outer space hidden to the naked eye but visible to those who are curious enough to make a camera lens as a gateway to delve into the otherworldly objects in the sky.
Basic equipment for astrophotography:
As this niche of photography is slightly different from other niches, the gadgets required are also slightly different. The basic equipment required is a camera, telescope, night light filters, mounts, tripod, basic software, guide scope, and guide camera.
All this stuff is more than enough for beginners to explore the sky, but you can always invest in more gadgets depending upon your interests and requirements.
Once someone gets interested in astrophotography and starts exploring, there is a great temptation to get more stuff related to astronomy and photography. Well, it is your money and your passion, but we recommend sticking to basic equipment until you master it and are ready to step up your game with advanced equipment.
Invest in fewer but the best available gadgets as per your price range and requirements.
Astrophotography mostly involves long exposures as most of the objects in the sky are faint. Therefore, another aspect that matters a lot in this niche is wide-angle lenses and using telephoto lenses.
While hunting for a perfect camera for your Astro adventures with a camera, check about these aspects in the camera’s specification and read customers and professional reviews about that camera.
A DSLR camera works perfectly for astrophotography. Firstly, there is a wide range of these cameras available in the market regarding features and price range. Secondly, no other type of camera is as flexible as these cameras; a single DSLR camera can support a wide-angle lens, night light filters, telephoto lens, zoom lens, and several other tools you will frequently use in astrophotography.
Besides, modern DSLR cameras are very well crafted and come with brilliant built-in features which assist greatly especially shooting the night sky.
Lenses are an integral part of this journey. The lens of prior recommended cameras is enough for beginners. Start with the lens that comes with the camera. Go for telescopes or specialized lenses when you develop an ample understanding of this sort of photography.
Some types of lenses which come in handy for astrophotography are:
- Wide-angle lenses. Best for exploring milky ways, nightscapes, and meteors. I prefer at least 16-24 mm for best results.
- Telephoto lens. These lenses are relatively heavier but with super zoom capabilities. These are mostly used in advanced astrophotography, i.e., exploring galaxies and nebulas.
- Regular lens. These lenses can be used for astrophotography as well as regular ones, i.e., shooting landscapes.
As a beginner, do not go for a telescope no matter how much this idea tempts you.
As you keep advancing in astrophotography, you might need to advance your telescope too. If you look forward to getting a telescope as a hobbyist, <- Affiliate Link 🙂 consider the one with a 65mm or 80mm refractor.
Astrophotography involves a lot of wide-angle and long exposure photography – always a threat of blur.
While buying a tripod for astrophotography, make sure that it has a good load-bearing capacity. The telephoto lens and other lenses used in this niche add significant weight to the camera. Instead of buying different tripods, buy a good tripod <- Affiliate Link 🙂 with good height and load capacity and use it with different cameras. Buy different mounts instead.
Light Pollution filters
The naked eye cannot see it but the sky, especially the night sky, has a lot of light pollution. It can ruin your footage no matter how good the equipment or your astrophotography set-up is.
These filters reduce light pollution and make images clearer.
DSLR does not have built-in storage. So you need to keep a few storage cards to save your footage. Camera manufacturers recommend SD cards for their cameras in the specification section.
Astrophotography for Beginners Tips:
- Learn about camera manual settings. Astrophotography involves a lot of long exposure, adjusting ISO settings, adjusting camera angles et cetera. Therefore, besides knowing basic astrology and the night sky, i.e., different stars and galaxies, you should also explore and learn manual camera settings.
- Always shoot multiple long-exposure photographs at one angle.
- Must use Night Light filters. Astrophotography is all about capturing and exploring objects which are not visible to the naked eye. Night light pollution, i.e., from street lights and different light sources, also reduces the sky visibility for the camera the way it does for the human eye. NP filters will make the view clearer for your camera. You can also use them to add special effects to your footages.
- Habitual astrophotography is a field of its own – there are multiple sub-fields. As a beginner, explore your area of interest. It will also help you greatly while choosing the equipment you need and master specific techniques.
- Avoid exposure settings longer than 30 seconds. It might result in a star trail.
- While shooting, I always prefer the brighter star insight to focus the camera.
- As prior mentioned, astrophotography involves a lot of long-exposure and higher ISO settings. Unfortunately, the camera shakes are very high on these higher settings ruining the footage. Make sure to use a tripod for clearer, blur-free results.
- Don’t shy away from post-production to enhance your images. Using some image-processing software or built-in camera settings, you can brighten images, increase/decrease contrast and color, reduce image noise, bring out faded objects, filter out night pollution, subtract dark frames, negate tracking issues, and do so a lot more. As a beginner, you can start with Photoshop or Lightroom.
- Find shooting sites with minimal sites around. Places away from cities are a great spot for astrophotography.
Astrophotography helps to explore a world not visible to the naked human eye. Where regular photographers pack their stuff and wrap, shooting when the sky grows dim, astrophotographers start capturing wonders of the night sky.
As a photographer, if you are still not doing astrophotography, you are missing out a lot. All it requires little effort and dedication to achieve awe-inspiring output.