How we started
If you are reading this, chances are high that you are looking to do things similar to what you see on the subreddit. We were in your shoes once, and have plenty of anecdotal advice to give. This page focuses on how we got started.
How /u/Orangelantern[edit | edit source]
It all started when I was 15. I had just bought an Orion XT10i with my parents help, partly as a Christmas gift. I spent countless hours looking through my new telescope at all sorts of stars, completely clueless on what exactly lay up there.
I always thought nebulae and galaxies were too distant and small to be easily seen through a telescope, which I came to learn is only partially true.
One fateful night, I was moving my telescope around in the southern part of the sky. I lived at 40 Degrees North and it was December, so Orion was up front and center. I was scanning through the sky to see if I could find anything, when I came across a giant glowing cloud in my eyepiece. It turned out to be The Orion Nebula, or M42. I knew the constellation was Orion, and knew there were such things as nebulae, so I looked up "Orion Nebula" on my phone. Sure enough that was it. I was totally shocked.
Being 15 at the time, I lived with my parents, so I asked my dad to come out and take a look. He did, and had a similar reaction to me. He then asked me to try and take a picture with my phone, so I did. Not to be dramatic, but that sentence completely changed my life.
Dang, it looks terrible! What happened?
First, I learned that no, an iPhone, (especially an older one nowadays) will not take pictures similar to the ones you see online from people with dedicated setups.
So, I started snooping the internet and doing some research. This is when I discovered /r/Astrophotography, back when it only had around ~20k subscribers. Back then, there weren't anywhere near the same amount of resources available today. That said, Rule 5 was around even back then. This was incredibly informative, and I found that a lot of people were using DSLRs.
I set my sights on a Canon T3i, and bought one. I also bought a t-adapter and T-ring, which was to be placed in the spot where a lens would normally go, and allow you to attach the camera where an eyepiece would usually go. My 10" dob was now a massive lens!... Or so I thought. I hooked everything up, put it in the telescope, turned on liveview, and started trying to focus. Next thing I knew, the camera was hitting the edge of the focuser assembly, and would not go any further in. I still hadn't reached focus yet, and to do so would have required the camera to be inside the space the focuser and telescope tube occupied. This was obviously impossible. I quickly realized I would not be able to use the new camera I just bought with my telescope.
A few days of research later, (and the decision to use my summer job money) I purchased a CG-5 mount (Now the AVX) to take pictures through an old telescope my dad had. I set it up, and pointed it at Orion again. Here is my second attempt at imaging the Orion Nebula through a telescope. I also took some shots around Orions Belt, and found the Flame Nebula This persisted for a while. I learned a lot about polar alignment, and some of the brighter stars to do a 3-star alignment.
Within a few months, I decided to buy a AT6in (newtonian reflector), with a coma corrector. I found a used Canon T3 that was astro-modified to allow more Hydrogen alpha light through. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the incredibly noticeable issue with the T3, which you will see in a moment. DO NOT BUY A CANON T3.
I also bought an ST-80 guidescope (now discontinued, but a new version exists), and an Orion Starshoot Autoguider to do autoguiding.
I attached this to my AT6in, along with the Canon t-adaptor to the Coma corrector, and attached everything to the telescope, and the telescope to the CG-5 Mount. This allowed me to take photos like this one of M42 and this one of M78.
Not too bad, but notice the vertical banding in M42?
Anyway, some more time later and through the help of a friend, I bought an Orion Sirius, and sold my CG-5 shortly after. At this point, I also had acquired an Ioptron Skytracker for widefield shots. I had also purchased an ASI 120mc-s (color version) for planetary through my XT10i. I tried using it as a guidecamera, and that is what is pictured below, but it did not work as well as the Starshoot Autoguider for me. Still did some awesome stuff like this though! Pictured was my equipment after I was involved in this hobby for a year.
Still though, I wasn't very happy with the performance I was getting from my AT6in. Its 600mm focal length was proving a little difficult for me to accurately polar align, and collimation really sucks. (Refractor master race!)
So, i bought an ED80t-Cf, mounted my ST-80 on that, and used that for several years with my Sirius mount. I also went off to college, and brought my equipment with me. A huge part of choosing my school involved the proximity of dark skies. With my Sirius mount, ED80t, ST80, and SSAG, (Starshoot Autoguider) I managed to take pictures like this one of M42
In recent times, I would not recommend the SSAG. You could buy an entire autoguiding setup for less than the cost of a several year old camera.
Nowadays my equipment consists of an EQ6r-Pro, TS130 f/7 Refractor, 31mm Astronomik L-2 Luminance filter, 31mm Astronomik RGB (Deep Sky version), an ASI1600mm-Pro, 5 slot ZWO Electric Focus Wheel, Starlight Express Slimline OAG, Lodestar X2, and an SX-AO Adaptive optics unit. Quite the change since I first started! Most Recent Pic
So, in essence, this hobby takes a lot of time, money, patience, and effort to learn. It has taken me years to get to where I am now, and I had plenty of help along the way. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask someone for advice.
Good luck! Check out /r/AskAstrophotography and our Discord chat if you have any questions. We're happy to help!
/u/Harpage[edit | edit source]
Astronomy first interested me when I was about 8 or 9 years old, but I took my first serious steps when I was 12, and got my first proper telescope, a 5” tabletop Dobsonian. I remember the first time I used my scope and looked at the Moon, I was so amazed, and instinctively grabbed my phone and tried to take a photo (like pretty much any person in the world who has used a telescope before has done). As soon as I pressed that shutter button, I was hooked. My many photos of the Moon slowly turned into photos of the planets (mostly Saturn), and before I knew it, I was spending more time taking photos than looking through the scope itself.
But planetary season came to an end, and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to take any more photos. Or would I? I remember reading online somewhere (most likely Reddit) that with a DSLR and a tripod alone, you could take amazing images of the Milky Way and greater constellations - I didn’t believe that. If a camera captures what I see with my eye, and I can’t see the milky way with my eyes, then surely you couldn’t actually take photos of those objects with a plain old lens, right? Well I was obviously wrong.
Intrigued by this, I started watching tutorials on YouTube about how to take photos of stars and deep space objects. This was also the time when I discovered r/astrophotography, as well as the advice sub r/askastrophotography (which you should really check out!) and lurked around there for a bit. I probably watched about 10 videos before deciding “Hey, this is actually real. Maybe I should try this!”, and so I did. On a clear summer’s night, I set up my DSLR and tripod. The tripod I had was pretty poor, and I didn't really trust the pan head, so I remember extending the front leg up a lot to effectively point it to the sky (in hindsight, this actually seemed more risky but hey, it was a beginner’s mistake). I waited patiently for Orion to rise above the houses nearby, and when I could finally see the belt and sword, it was time to start shooting. I remember the exact settings - ISO 1600, 20” shutter speed (which was actually too long - yet another beginner’s mistake), f/4 aperture. I released the shutter and waited patiently for 20 seconds, and that’s when it started. Immediately, I saw all of these stars - stars which I have never seen before - and I just thought to myself, “Wow, all of this is actually just sitting out there, shrouded by the light pollution at my place”.
I never knew that all of this stuff was possible with just a camera alone.
You might notice that the stars look funny, and that was due to simple inexperience - I had my shutter open for too long, I didn’t use the right stacking settings, etc.
Once I decided that astrophotography would be my main priority, I got the money I saved up for over a year, and bought a Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro. I also switched to using a telephoto lens. While I struggled with polar alignment on my first couple attempts, I finally got this picture of the Carina Nebula.
It’s not perfect yet and there are still some star trails because I couldn’t nail my polar alignment, but it’s definitely a lot better than what I could’ve gotten with my older gear. I’m still learning every day.
My advice to anyone would be to do as much research as possible before purchasing your gear, because you don’t want to end up with a $1000 paper weight, or something which is just impossible to use. I probably spent about 4 months doing research before finally I clicked that Add to Cart button, and I have zero regrets about my purchase at all. I’d encourage anyone reading this to ask as many questions as they want about astrophotography on either r/askastrophotography, or the discord for this subreddit, and watch as many YouTube videos as possible. Take your time, because the stars aren’t going anywhere. My second piece of advice would be to just get out there and take photos. While it contradicts my previous statement about taking your time and doing heaps of research, there’s no point if you already have the gear, but are spending every clear night doing research on how to take that perfect photo. Just head outside and start snapping away! Hundreds of hours of tutorials will never equate to spending a few nights outside and taking photos yourself. Hands on learning is always the best way to learn, so I’d also encourage you to join a local astronomy club - there will likely be someone who does astrophotography and will be willing to help you out. My third and final piece of advice is that every night, realize what went wrong, and figure out a solution. On the first night I got my gear, I struggled with using the hand controller and found it kind of annoying, and I also got sick of pressing the shutter button each time. Solution? Hook up my gear to a laptop so I can have everything done automatically.
The only mistakes a person will make are the ones where they don’t learn anything from them.
/u/ltchestnut[edit | edit source]
Chester, 17 years old, New Zealand
I've always had an interest in space, and started to use my dad's old refractor telescope a couple years ago. It was horrifically unstable and did not give the best views, but that just made me want my own telescope more. After a few months of trying to decide if i should buy one myself, a second hand version of the telescope I was looking at got listed on a local site. January 2019 I got a 6inch dobsonian and got hooked. It might become the most expensive thing I've ever bought.
Astrophotography started by holding my phone up to the eyepiece and taking photos of the moon and planets, like many other astrophotographers.I then started to research on how to take images of deep sky objects (DSO) like nebulae and galaxies. I watched a lot of youtube, read articles and tried to absorb as much info as possible on the equipment and process required for astrophotography.
I came to the conclusion I should buy a DSLR/Star tracker, however I needed to learn photography first as I have never owned a proper camera. I got my second hand Sony A6000 in late August and got comfortable with using it over a few months. Next I got a vintage Takumar F3.5 135mm lens and a Star Adventurer star tracker, both second hand, One year after getting my dob. At this point I was finally starting to do deepsky astrophotography. I pretty much have the same equipment, however I now have an intervalometer (so i can leave it overnight to take images) and a Takumar F4 200mm lens.
Soon I'll have a guiding setup, which will allow me to take longer, sharper exposures which will ultimately let me photograph fainter objects.
Helpful tips you can give to get started:
Research, so much research. Astrophotography is incredibly technical, and it's incredibly overwhelming if you want to start out. I watched a lot of youtube (Especially Dylan O'Donnell and Astrobackyard) to figure out what exactly I needed and how to get there
Since I'm still in highschool, I am constricted to a tight budget. Many people think you need thousands to get into astrophotography, however you can do it much cheaper if you buy smartly. I bought all my gear used, and cut costs massively on my optics by using vintage film lenses. I have purchased my whole astrophotography setup for around 750USD, and since I'm in New Zealand I'm sure less remote areas can do it cheaper.
Not so much a tip, but you need to really want to really want to do this. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to get good results, especially when it comes to editing. If you're unwilling to spend the time researching, planning and editing you're going to get deflated when the results are not as good as you had hoped for, and that's just no fun. On the flip side, it's incredibly rewarding when you have an image you're proud of that others like.
Apps and tools I recommend:
The most effective tool is dedication, as that will get you the best images. No point in having thousands of dollars worth of gear if you can't be bothered learning how to use it the most effective way possible.
Seriously though, the best app/tool i have is stellarium. Free on both PC and mobile and is an amazing piece of software. The most important thing to me is that it allows me to check the framing on my photos. I can check if targets are too small for my lens, or where the nearest brightest star is so I can starhop and find my targets. My setup is very manual and often I have to find targets that I can't even see without editing, so having a good understanding of the surrounding star patterns is very important. I also use the Star Adventurer mini App to see which orientation my polar alignment scope should be.
/u/azzkicker7283[edit | edit source]
Ever since I was a kid I had an interest in space. Although I was on a pre-med track in college, I still decided to join my university stargazing club as a freshman. We ended up doing an outreach event for a local elementary school, and brought out our club's 16" Meade LX600 scope to look at Venus and Mars. As we were packing up after the event, the lights were off, our professor pointed the scope at the Orion Nebula, and it was that view that led me to where I am today. Soon after I bought a $20 telescope off of Craigslist for visual use, but I wanted to do more than just hold my phone up to the eyepiece. After another Craigslist scope (deal of a lifetime, IMO) I found /r/astrophotography and started saving up for a proper deep sky rig.
My first setup was based completely on the 'What Telescope' page on the wiki: a 6" f/4 Newtonian and used Orion Sirius, while using my mom's Canon T2i, and I shot my first DSO, M101. Since then I've slowly upgraded almost every component, adding autoguiding, my own DSLR, better coma correctors, monochrome/cooled astronomy camera, and narrowband filters, but that original scope and mount have been with me for almost 3 years now. I'm glad I have the resources of the subreddit and its Discord for giving me advice on what I should buy and how to make my images better.
My advice to those wishing to improve their astrophotography is to try to minimize setup time as much as possible. Speaking from experience it can be demotivating if it takes most of the night to setup my equipment, and that also means less time collecting photons. I've minimized my setup to just plopping my rig on my roof and plugging in two cables. Doing that has allowed me to take advantage of nearly every clear night I get, letting me get longer exposures, and better images. The best way to improve your processing technique is practice, and having tons of targets with several (or dozens) of hours of exposure each is a great way to get that practice. Sure, some nights will go bad, but that's okay. Every time one does I learn a little, and use the lessons to make the next clear night a little better.
/u/IKLYSP[edit | edit source]
My interest in space and astronomy began when I was still in my larval form, around the age of four to be precise. I recall being taken outside by my parents on a cold winter's evening, not to be left in the wilderness to perish but to gaze upon the spectacle of Comet Hale-Bopp. I can recall several other times in my childhood looking at the constellations with my father, viewing an eclipse in a bucket of water, and other such things.
As an insomnia afflicted teenager I decided that I wanted something to do at night that was more interesting than staying indoors and playing RuneScape. My first foray into actual astronomy was the purchase of my first telescope, Celestron's finest scientific instrument, the prize stallion of the Soochow stable -- the Astromaster 130EQ. This was a poor choice. However, despite the telescope's limitations I was able to achieve glimpses of Venus, Jupiter, the Pleiades and other bright celestial objects. I was hooked. I soon decided that the little 5"er was not filling me up, and moved on to a big black 12" dob (a Skywatcher 300P) - maybe the best visual scope I've had. Thankfully this isn't a subreddit about visual astronomy, so onto more relevant matters.
Astrophotography for me started as an accessory to the visual side. I saw cool things through my telescopes and wanted to show the cool things to other people. The very first astrophotography setup I had was a cheap webcam imager attached to my Celestron 130EQ. With this I took a picture of the moon. It wasn't very good, but people liked it. Normal people are very impressed by low quality pictures of the moon. I will link it here if I find it in the detritus of my picture folder, and maybe you will be impressed too.
It was in 2012 that I made the mistake of joining Reddit, and 2013 that I found this sorry sub (it was far better back before I was a mod). Seeing everyone's awesome pictures made me want to make awesome pictures, so I bought a DSLR and tried to shoot DSOs with an alt-az dobsonian. As you'd expect, my first try didn't come out well. I soon gave up on the dob and decided to buy a real astrophotography setup, which was a direct plagiarism of a setup I saw in the acquisition details of a much nicer M31 post.
Since then I've gone with the philosophy that bigger is better. Having gone through multiple scopes and two mounts I currently own a 12" newt and EQ6 for planetary imaging and 190mm mak-newt for deep sky. My gear is now too heavy for me to be bothered to take it out most of the time, and being a slave to The Man means I have less time to use it anyway. Such is life.
My biggest advice to past-me is to do your research. I've bought a lot of gear and sold it for upgrades months later because it wasn't what I wanted. Start off with a clear goal of what you want your pictures to be and work backwards from there. Don't just buy something because somebody says it's good, discover why it's good and why it may be nongood. Don't rush, there's time for the stars.