Astrophotography is the practice of photographing planetary and celestial bodies, typically we tend to think of astrophotography taking place at night as you photograph the moon, the planets or even more distant objects.
A DSLR camera will obviously be a key piece of kit and the part any photographer will be most familiar with. For some truly stunning photos of the night sky try taking photographs through a telescope to take advantage of its magnification.
You can buy adapters that allow you to couple your DSLR camera to the telescope; I would recommend checking that cameras can be attached to the telescope when you are choosing a scope.
A T-Adapter is one accessory that can be used to attach a 35mm SLR camera to the prime focus of a telescope. One set-up is to combine a Celestron NexStar 6SE computerised telescope (a Schmidt-Cassegrain scope) with a T-Adapter and then a T-ring (for your SLR camera, e.g. Nikon or Canon) – the result is your camera attached directly to the prime focus of a high quality telescope and ready for action.
If this is not possible then the option available is to use an Afocal set-up where the camera is held up to the telescope’s eyepiece; set-up could be more tricky and one that you might not want to be doing in the cold of the night.
Shopping for a telescope can be confusing especially if you are new to astronomy as there are a huge number of different types and models of telescopes available. As a tip I would recommend determining what your budget is before you start shopping and then to buy the best model you can afford, try to avoid the temptation of picking up a cheaper model and having some money left over. For those who are photographers ahead of astronomer you may find that GoTo telescopes could be a big help.
I mentioned GoTo telescopes in the last paragraph but what are they? GoTo telescopes are computerised scopes (http://www.picstop.co.uk/telescopes/goto-telescopes) that are mounted on software controlled mounts that align themselves and can be used to find specific stars or celestial bodies (they do require some calibration).
GoTo telescopes are particularly good investments for photographers who want to move into astrophotography but have no strong astronomical knowledge. If your budget will allow it a GoTo telescope from the Celestron NexStar SE range will make the matter of orientation incredibly simple. The computerised mount uses their SkyAlign technology to determine its position; all you need to do is to point it at three bright stars.
The advantage of this investment for the astrophotographer is that it will leave you with more time for photography, and with the quickly changing weather in the UK this is always beneficial!
To see more head over to the Celestron Images site (http://www.celestronimages.com/) for hours of inspiration – nothing gets a photographer’s creative ideas flowing like seeing what other people have achieved and then trying to beat it!!
Another tip is that for the best results you may need to leave the town and city. Light pollution has become an increasing problem in the UK and so for the best pictures head into the countryside or seek out a Dark Sky area.
Look for a telescope which highlights the quality of the tripod, with longer exposure times needed you will want your telescope tripod to be as sturdy as possible. The last thing you want is it wafting around in a gentle, evening breeze! The Celestron NexStar 4SE GoTo telescope includes the description; “Ultra sturdy steel tripod features built-in wedge which allows 4 SE to be used for astrophotography” – this kind of information is worth looking for when shopping.
Once you have the basic set-up the next step is to get out there and start experimenting; digital photography has offered us the fantastic ability to take a huge amount of pictures without having to worry about developing costs. Take notes of your camera settings as you take your pictures and work out what works best for closer, high-resolution images of the moon and what works for more distant, clustered bodies – they won’t be the same!
My last tip is to take care when out photographing at night, take a good torch with spare batteries and keep the area you are working in tidy and don’t leave objects (trip hazards) lying around.