# Affordable night sky photography

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As an amateur with limited budget, I'd be interested in taking photos of the night sky, trying to capture more detail than human eye armed with a lens of comparable parameters to what I have in my camera normally could see. I doubt I'd ever get down to details as fine as Jupiter's moons, but I'd hope to see detail of some nebulae I have a hard time seeing through my inexpensive telescope, stars too dim to notice in less-than-perfect conditions etc. I'm interested in taking full-sky images just as well as zooms on specific objects too.

Currently, I have a lower-end SLC camera, with two lenses - good sharpness though lower aperture with 50-120mm focal length, and a wide-angle, high-brightness one (about 12-50mm) currently. Firmware hacks allow me to take photos of arbitrarily long time, and I have the remote to start and stop it without touching the camera, and generally software-wise the camera is quite powerful. One of the lenses (the longer focal length) is of "standard professional" quality level too.

Is this sufficient to get started? If so, what kind of settings should I use? If not, what other kind of entry-level equipment would I need to obtain/build on budget to get started with night sky photography?

There are several options.

You can do star trail photos with just a tripod. If you have dark skies, Point the camera near the pole star, do a long exposure, and get star trails as the sky appears to rotate around the pole.

If you're in a light polluted area, then you'll find your maximum exposure time is limited by the light pollution - expose for long enough and the light pollution background will saturate one or more colour channels - which could prevent you using a long enough exposure to get long trails.

You can also take pictures of the moon - since it's basically a gray rock in bright sunlight, you don't need a long exposure at all for this. But you do need a long focal length to make the moon big enough to fill a decent part of the frame, and at 150 mm it's likely to be disappointingly small. (You need around 1500mm or so to fill most of an APS sized sensor frame).

You can also do constellation photography with just a tripod. The trick here is to keep the exposure short enough that the rotation of the earth doesn't cause significant star trailing. As a rough rule of thumb, divide 400 by the lens focal length to get the approximate exposure time in seconds (thus varies in practice depending on where you're aiming, and how picky you are about trailing, but should give you a starting point). Thus with a 50mm lens, you can get away with around 8 seconds, around 2-3 seconds with a 150mm lens, and around 33 seconds with a 12mm lens.

You can improve results by stacking several exposures in software - try the free Deep Sky Stacker - which will reduce noise and usually give you a cleaner result.

For longer exposures, you'll need some sort of tracking mount to compensate for the earth's rotation and prevent star trailing. You can either build a barn door tracker, as mentioned in other replies, which rotate a camera platform around a hinge whose axis points at the celestial pole, or look at a commercial solution.

There are several mounts designed for use with cameras, such as Vixen's polarie, Skywatcher's star adventurer mount (or similar from Vixen or Ioptron), or the Astrotrak system (or Kenko's Sky Memo (not sure if this is still available)). Note that with some of these you also need to budget for a couple of tripod heads - one to point the mount at the celestial pole, and one to point the camera.

Or you could look at a motorised german equatiorial mount - which would also let you use a telescope - but to get good long exposure images with a telescope usually requires a good mount, which range from expensive to very expensive - and may also require autoguiding (automatic correction using a second guide camera and software) to apply corrections for long exposures. Long exposure deep sky imaging is more accessible than it was, but is still expensive to do well (and easily capable of soaking up as much money as you want to throw at it.)

Note that popular go-to alt-az mounted are limited for long exposure imaging, as although goto alt-az mounts can track objects - which is fine for visual use - they suffer from an effect called field rotation which makes the field of view gradually rotate, causing star trailing after a while (around 30s or so - it depends on latitude and where you're pointing). German equatorial mounts, with one axis pointed at the celestial pole, don't suffer from this.

For planetary imaging, the planets are bright enough that you can capture video with a webcam (or similar planetary astro camera) and telescope, and then process the video to stack the best frames. This is a different type of imaging to the long exposure deep sky stuff.

For long exposure pictures you need to have a motorized mount for your camera. The earth's rotation will lead to streaks otherwise. An affordable way to do this is to use a standard tripod with a star tracker on top. There is a variety of products like:

They cost around 400-500 USD and are fairly small. You need to align them to the sky's north pole (using the star Polaris in Ursa Minor), and then they will rotate your camera as the earth rotates during the night.

Also, you may want to start with your 50mm lens first. The greater the focal length, the higher the magnification, and also the more visible the tracking errors and misalignments of the sky tracker and camera system will be. Be prepared to spend quite some time trying to get good results!

An affordable option is to build a "Barn Door Tracker", essentially two hinged plates connected by a threaded rod, with the hinge axis pointing at the north celestial pole, if you change the separation between the plates at the appropriate rate star trails will be cancelled out. The Springfield Telescope Makers have a long list of links to online instructions on their website . Gary Seronick's is a particularly complete motorized version while Noctilove is an example of a simple motorless design (with a moderate focal length lens, a clock and a steady hand, you can can manually drive the Barn Door Tracker).

Also keep in mind that building a barn door tracker yourself is going to be exciting, you'll spend time calculating at what speed the motor should be turning, find the proper gears, cut the wood. It's a lot of DIY excitement that I enjoyed myself. However you must keep in mind that:

• Motorizing it is going to cost your min 100• Using a door hinge is practical, but also imprecise, you must align the north pole to less than a degree while your pieces of wood would be misaligned. • You'll need to adjust precisely to motor speed to match earth rotation, this involves precise measurement of the distance between your hinge and the screw that drives your barn door tracker. Build a mechanically tracker will be challenging, but as I wend though I can give you a couple of clues: • The hinge must be as wide as it can practically be, this will reduce the angle error of the hinge itself. • The screw must be as far as possible so that your motor turns faster • It would be helpful to have a mechanical part on the opposite side of the hinge to take the sideways efforts and reduce the angular error of the hinge, otherwise take a 5-6mm screw, something large that can be rigid. The more heavy duty the better your alignment will be. Steppers are noisy, use at least 1/32th stepping driver or use a full sine wave 3 phases brushless motor to avoid vibrations and noise. • Using a belt drive reduces the noise: most of the noise coming out of my stepper seems to come from the spinning axle. Noises and vibration are getting transferred to the gears and then to the board where they resonate. Using a driving belt dampens the vibrations from the stepper. ## Astrophotography With A Smartphone: Zoom Lenses Astrophotography can be expensive and time consuming. But for those of us who can’t afford photography equipment or who can’t spend hours perfecting a shot it’s surprisingly easy to achieve some great images of the night sky using only a smartphone. In this three-part series we’re going to take a look at some simple techniques, free apps and affordable accessories that can get you using your camera. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to start taking photographs of the sky tonight. ## Analog Trackers Sky & Telescope contributing editor Gary Seronik of Victoria, British Columbia, built a lightweight, portable tracker that drives a simple 4RPM DC motor with an adjustable voltage regulator to dial the rotation rate, and a curved bolt to reduce tangent error. He’s shared his design and schematics in this great tutorial . “It’s hard to beat a DC motor and simple regulator circuit for simplicity and performance,” he says. Seronik went on to create an even more compact Hinge Sky Tracker using an 8″ strap hinge in place of the plywood doors. A straight bolt introduces tangent error, but he solves that by taking shorter exposures and “stacking” them in freeware called DeepSky Stacker. » For the best of both worlds, build Seronik’s new motorized Hinge Sky Tracker, with a curved bolt, DC motor, and regulator circuit. Find the project here. ## How to Shoot the Night Sky (Introduction to Astrophotography) Several people asked me to post a simple tutorial on how I took some night sky pictures. I am not an astrophotographer in any way, shape or form, nor do I have any expensive equipment. I simply read several tutorials, picked a dark spot on the beach and tried to do my best. Anyway, here is how I did it. ### 1. What you need: You need a camera that has manual exposure mode. Most SRL camera come with a feature called Bulb which does exactly that. You will also need a remote control or a shutter release cable in order to minimize shaking the camera when taking the pictures. You will definitely need a tripod ### 2. Selecting the spot to take your picture The darker the place, the better it is. Taking stars pictures in your back yard is possible, however for better results select a place away from city lights. Those lights tend to pollute the image and make the stars less visible. ### 3. Camera settings First, try to use a lens with a large aperture. In my case I used a Sigma 28 mm lens at f/3.5 Next, set your camera at a high ISO. I tried with both 1,600 and 800 ISO and I got good results. Finally, in order to avoid the star trail (that is avoiding capturing the movement of the stars as the earth rotates) you have to use the RULE of 600 which is very easy: Divide 600 by the focal length of the lens you are using. In my case I divided 600/28 = 21.42 ( I can leave the shutter open for 21 seconds and avoid capturing the star trail) Finally, put your lens in manual focusing and turn it to infinity focus (that would be the symbol at the end of the numbers on your lens) ### 4. Taking the pictures Set the camera in your tripod and take at least 5 consecutive images at the stars using the correct exposure time (using the RULE of 600) Do not move the camera to a different spot or change the settings unless you are done with that series of pictures. Tip: Every time I am done with a set of pictures, I place my hand in front of the lens and take another picture. That way I know that the picture where everything is black is where the series end. ### 5. Editing the images Don&rsquot be disappointed if you don&rsquot see any color in your images. This is normal. You will need to bring the colors up in PS or any other editing software. The first step is to stack the images. That is to superimpose one image on top of the others (not all the images, but pictures belonging to the same series). You can do this with a free software called Deep Sky Stacker. Just use the default settings on the software. The final image will be a large TIF file that you will use to bring up the colors in Photoshop. Next open your TIF file in Photoshop and edit the curves and levels. You can follow this easy tutorial on this video: I also edited the blue, red and green colors in the level in order to make the nebula more visible. ## Best cheap camera for deep sky, night photography? I have a Panasonic GH1 now. I'm really happy with it, but it sucks in long exposures, and high ISO-s at long exposures. Really ugly banding at high iso-s, mushy foreground, etc.. So I want to get a cheap camera for night shots, that is better than the GH1. How are the old cameras, like the Canon 30-40D, Nikon D70? Cheap: Olympus E-PM2 or E-PL5 pro: same sensor as OMD EM5 Canon 1100D is considered a good starting camera for astro The Sony Nex series is also good if your considering buying camera lenses for astro and not using a telescope. You can cheaply adapt good old film camera lenses for use on it (you can do the same for m4/3 but Nex are slightly better due to allowing more light gathering and slightly better ISO performance). On the Nikon side, I have used the D50 and D5000. The D6000 is much better for not too much more. And of course for more yet you can get the D5100 which I have also found to be very good with Astrophography. HollyBoni wrote: I have a Panasonic GH1 now. I'm really happy with it, but it sucks in long exposures, and high ISO-s at long exposures. Really ugly banding at high iso-s, mushy foreground, etc.. So I want to get a cheap camera for night shots, that is better than the GH1. How are the old cameras, like the Canon 30-40D, Nikon D70? I keep reading that Nikon do not give a "pure" RAW image, meaning that there is a bit of processing no matter what settings you use. Canon, on the other hand, give a very pure RAW with no processing. While Nikon are ahead on stills, Canon are more appropriate for astrophotography because they don't wipe out faint stars with NR. Something like that, anyway . So my guess is that a 20D would be a pretty cheap and rather decent solution. For example . By the way . if you are thinking about doing planetary work, apparently web cams are all the rage (although a readl CCD camera would do a far better job at a much higher price.) The point being that you processing tons of frames with registax etc and get a pretty decent planet out of it . Canon, on the other hand, give a very pure RAW with no processing. While Nikon are ahead on stills, Canon are more appropriate for astrophotography because they don't wipe out faint stars with NR. Not sure where you're getting that but that hasn't been true for a long time, especially with longer exposures. See for example here. Much better than the old Nikon star-eater, though. The real advantage with Canon is long-time support in the form of Backyard-EOS. Supposedly there's now a BY-Nik, though, so that's changing too. I think if you want true raw you'll need a dedicated astro CCD. Something like that, anyway . So my guess is that a 20D would be a pretty cheap and rather decent solution. For example . If by "cheap" the OP means <150 that's a good choice. So are the Rebels. If the OP wants Nikon, something later than the D70 -- that's a star-eater.

Ach, there goes my illusions - "RAW isn't raw. "

Astrophotographers seems to agree that Canon cameras have an edge when it comes to night sky photography (lots of tests out there, on the net and in astronomy magazines implying the same).

I am not a big fan of Canon myself but I got me a pair of Canon 60Da's for astrophotography and I have not had second thoughts about that for a second. Unmodified Canons are cheaper though.

Proof of the pudding? Below (Canon 60Da):

Southern Cross and 'The Pointers', captured by Phil Hart in April/May 2020
QHY367C camera and Canon 85mm lens at f5.6, 20 hours total exposure

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<"closeOnBackgroundClick":true,"bindings":<"bind0":<"fn":"function()<$.fnProxy(arguments,'#headerOverlay',OverlayWidget.show,'OverlayWidget.show')>","type":"quicklookselected","element":".ql-thumbnail .Quicklook .trigger">>,"effectOnShowSpeed":"1200","dragByBody":false,"dragByHandle":true,"effectOnHide":"fade","effectOnShow":"fade","cssSelector":"ql-thumbnail","effectOnHideSpeed":"1200","allowOffScreenOverlay":false,"effectOnShowOptions":"<>","effectOnHideOptions":"<>","widgetClass":"OverlayWidget","captureClicks":true,"onScreenPadding":10> I have been interested in photography for most of my life, but only in the past couple of years did I consider the possibility of photographing the night sky. Luckily, technology has advanced to the point where night sky photography is not only possible but it can be an affordable for many people. This posting is intended for those who are either photographers or who are just interested in photography, but have not yet explored the world of night sky photography. It is my hope that this will serve as a "getting started" guide for you. #1 - What kind of camera do I need for shooting the night sky? You will need either a DSLR, dedicated CCD or CMOS astrophotography camera, or possibly a Micro Four Thirds camera. The reason deals with the size of the sensor. Your camera phone and inexpensive point-and-shoot camera simply don't have large enough sensors to gather enough light to capture the night sky. There are many entry-level DSLR cameras available now for around$500 or less. You don't need to start out with a professional model that costs in the thousands at all. A Canon Rebel or something like a Nikon D3200 would do a good job. If you are interested in the Micro Four Thirds format such as the Sony Nex series or an Olympus E-M5, their sensors are not as large as a DSLR but they are large enough to do a decent job with dark sky objects. Still, a DSLR is the best kind of camera for shooting at night.

My personal cameras are the Canon 6D and Canon 60Da.

#2 - What kind of lenses should I consider?

Because you will be shooting in very low light, you will want fast lenses. That means you will want to look at lenses that have a large aperture so that they can let in as much light as possible. In general, a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or larger is recommended.

You will also want to consider what kind of targets you want to shoot. If you prefer shooting large portions of the sky such as the Milky Way, you will want a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 20mm or less. For the Moon and planets you will want a lot more zoom. I would recommend a minimum of 300mm for lunar or planetary photography.

Another consideration is the fact that you will be shooting in manual mode. This is because you camera will be unable to auto-focus at night. This means that you might want to consider some manual-focus lenses. Rokinon, for example, makes a 14mm f/2.8 lens that is very popular for wide-field night shooting. This lens retails for less than $350, while the Canon equivalent (which has auto-focus) checks in at over$2,000. I personally use the Rokinon lens and have had great success with it.

These are my primary lenses for astrophotography:

• Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 (This lens is often marketed under different names, You might see it listed as Samyang or Bower, but it is the same exact product as the Rokinon)
• Canon 50mm f/1.4
• Canon 85mm f/1.8
• Canon 100mm f/2.8
• Canon 135mm f/2
• Canon 200mm f/2.8

#3 - What other equipment should I consider?

After your camera and lens, the next most important piece of equipment is a sturdy tripod. If you think that a cheap tripod will work, you are quite wrong. Because you will be taking long exposures, you want a tripod that won't shake while you are shooting. Cheap tripods not only hurt your image quality, but they can be dangerous for your equipment. You don't want to lose a $500 camera and a$300 lens because your \$15 tripod got blown over by a slight breeze.

You might also want to get a tripod with an interchangeable head. One of my best additions was an Orion Precision Slow Motion Adapter for my tripod. This provides micro-motion altitude and azimuth control to any camera tripod. If you'd rather not have one of those, a ball head mount would be ideal so that you can adjust the camera position easily and safely.

Another possibility would be to use a telescope mount. I often connect one of my cameras to a computerized telescope mount so that I can take longer exposures. The Orion SkyView Pro GoTo mount is an excellent choice for this. If you decide you want to connect your camera to a telescope mount, you will need a 1/4"-20 Adapter for this. With this adapter you can connect virtually any camera to a telescope mount. Orion's Autotracker mount includes a 1/4"-20 adapter for cameras, allowing for long exposures.

#4 - How do I find good locations to shoot at night?

The general rule is to try to find the darkest location you can. City lights make it difficult to shoot at night because they wash out the sky. Even bright targets won't look as good in brighter areas because light pollution reduces contrast. Do a Google search for dark sky locations and you should be able to find something that hopefully isn't too far from you. If you can find a location that allows you to see the Milky Way, then you have found a great location.

#5 - What are some possible night sky targets to start with?

My first recommendation is to start with the Moon. Not only is it bright and easy to find, but it can provide you with some practice for shooting in manual mode. If you've been shooting in automatic modes until now, it will take a little time to figure out things like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Experiment with those on your camera with the Moon and try to get some really good crater detail. Here is an example:

This was shot with an Olympus E-M5 with a 300mm lens.
ISO 200
Aperture f/6.7
Shutter speed 1/160

After you've gotten the hang of using manual mode, another easy target (if you have dark enough skies) is the Milky Way. For this you will want a wide-angle lens and shoot with the widest aperture. Exposures of 20-30 seconds will yield the best results, depending on how wide your lens is.

This was shot with a Sony A99 and a 14mm Rokinon lens.
30-second exposure
ISO 1250
Aperture f/2.8

Once you've gotten some nice Milky Way shots I would recommend looking for some online star maps or even a very good free computer program called Stellarium. These will let you know what's in the sky at any time so you can decide for yourself what might be interesting to shoot.

Happy Shooting and Clear Skies!

Stephen is a native of Georgia and works in the field of instructional technology. He has been an educator for the past 24 years and is a lifelong admirer of the night sky. He took up astrophotography in 2012 and is still learning new techniques and how to improve them.

## Astrophotography: The Essential Guide to Photographing the Night Sky

A concise guide for beginner and intermediate astrophotographers.
Today&aposs amateur and professional astronomers take images of the stars using affordable digital cameras known as CCD (charge coupled devices). This improved technology has made astrophotography possible for everyone however CCD cameras have features exclusive to astronomy and so there is a learning curve.

A concise guide for beginner and intermediate astrophotographers.
Today's amateur and professional astronomers take images of the stars using affordable digital cameras known as CCD (charge coupled devices). This improved technology has made astrophotography possible for everyone however CCD cameras have features exclusive to astronomy and so there is a learning curve.

Astrophotography: The Essential Guide to Photographing the Night Sky features practical guidance from an astrophotographer with years of experience explaining astronomy to hobbyists. Mark Thompson, known as "the people's astronomer" in the UK, guides readers through the entire process, beginning with buying equipment and ending with processing images on a home computer using free software. From the humble mobile phone to high-end specialist cameras, Thompson brings it all to life with his experiences, and many of his own astronomical images.

Fully illustrated and clearly presented, Astrophotography: The Essential Guide to Photographing the Night Sky puts great astronomical images within the reach of even the most novice stargazer.

## Subjects for DSLR Astrophotographers

There is no shortage of subjects for astrophotography. There’s the Moon, Sun, constellations, stars, and countless deep-sky objects. You can keep yourself busy for many years to come.

### The Moon and the Sun

You can capture the Moon and the Sun with a long telephoto lens. You don’t even need a tripod if you have image stabilisation.

Warning! DO NOT attempt to observe the Sun or photograph it without using a properly designed filter. They are cheap and will save your eyes and your gear.

This article deals with Moon and Sun photography in detail. It’s a great place to start on how to take night photos.

### Stars and Star Clusters

Apart from photographing the Sun and the moon, you can also try shooting the stars. Sirius and Betelgeuse are ideal, especially if you have a long telephoto lens and teleconverter.

Some celestial pairs are famous in star photography. Pollux and Castor or Procyon and Gomeisa are a great example, where one star is orange (“cold”) and the other blue (“hot”).

Clusters of stars are beautiful too.

The Pleiades is a region of bright, hot (hence the blue color) and young stars soaked in dust clouds. They give it a classic blue nebulosity.

This cluster is very bright (apparent magnitude 1.6) and large (apparent size of about 2º). You can spot it from a large city.

### Constellations and Star Fields

With a wide-angle lens, you can photograph constellations at night with the Milky Way shining over a landscape. I discussed it in this article.

You can also take pictures of star constellations as part of wide star fields. The aim here is to capture the many nebulae and dust clouds that are part of the constellation.

If you are in the Northern hemisphere, one of the best targets is the Orion Constellation. Its shape is so unique that you can see it high on the winter horizon.

Thanks to the three stars in line forming the belt of Orion, this constellation is a great place to start taking stars pictures.

This region is rich and complex, with plenty of bright nebulae. There’s the famous Orion Nebula (M42). And then the Flame Nebula, Horsehead Nebula, Running Man Nebula, and Barnard’s Loop.

It also contains the bright and colourful stars of Betelgeuse (red) and Rigel (blue).

On the right of Rigel, there is the darker Witch Head Nebula. On the left of Betelgeuse, there is the Rosette Nebula.

With a 300mm lens on a full-frame camera, you can close in on the belt and sword of the Orion constellation. Like this, you’ll get a family portrait of the Orion, Running Man, Flame and Horsehead Nebulae.

Other notable targets are Auriga. It contains the Flaming Star Nebula, and the dense region of Deneb (here below).

You can see bright North America and Pelican Nebulae in the Cygnus Constellation.

Finally, we have a picture of stars containing the Pleiades and the California Nebula.

### Galaxies

There are many galaxies you can photograph. The easiest one is Andromeda and its M110 and M32 satellite galaxies.

The Pinwheel Galaxy and Triangulum Galaxy are bright. You can capture them without a telescope. They will be rather small in the field of view of a telephoto lens on a DSLR camera, though.

An Update On Our Meetings.

For the time being, all future meetings of the Delmarva Astronomy Society at Milton Library are on hold. The normal meeting contributors are unable to continue to volunteer due to new jobs, the demands of college, and other commitments. We will look at the possibility of restarting the meetings pending any changes to personal schedules and/or someone from DAS stepping up to run these meetings.

We still plan to hold local star parties, and this does not affect the Delmarva Space Sciences Foundation outreach events and/or commitments to NASA Wallops Island. We will continue to keep everyone informed with updates.

In the meantime, if anyone is willing to take on the responsibility of leading the monthly meetings, please let us know!

Welcome to the Delmarva Astronomy Society (DAS)! We are a group of men, women, and youth in southern Delaware who are passionate about learning more about our universe. Many of us own telescopes, but not all of us - a telescope is certainly not required for you to join us. We have no officers or dues. this is just a society of people with a common interest in astronomy!

Our monthly meetings are held on the 1st Thursday of most months at the Milton Library. Please check our calendar to confirm meeting dates, times, and presentations. Our meetings cover all aspects of astronomy, including the night sky, telescope use, astrophotography, and other topics related to space and the universe. Our society is open to the public.

We are associated with the local non-profit astronomy outreach foundation, the Delmarva Space Sciences Foundation (DSSF), and most of our public outreach events are done in conjunction with the DSSF. In place of dues, we urge you to consider contacting the DSSF and making a donation towards their outreach efforts. Society members also frequently get together to stargaze and do astrophotography amongst ourselves. public events don't allow the privacy needed to do more serious study and photography of the night sky.

The DAS was founded in 2000 by Brian Brengel as the Sussex County Astronomy Society (SCAS). We changed our name in 2016 to better reflect our growing footprint in southern Delaware, and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia.

Whether you are an expert astronomer, you just got your first telescope, or you just love learning about space, we hope you will come and join us!

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