Beginners' Astrophotography (or astro-imaging)

Not so long ago, astrophotography was something done by serious amateurs using film cameras. Some of us have been there, and can regale you with various stories of pain and frustration.

These days, digital cameras have made the whole process vastly simpler, to the point where any beginner can "avago" and produce something satisfying on the first evening. With this in mind, LVAS has instituted a two night "introduction to astrophotography program". Typically, there is an "introduction: night, with members giving an overview of the process and the techniques they use, displaying their equipment, and giving some demonstrations. A second night will be a public observing night specifically dedicated to getting the cameras out. You are welcome to attend either night, but the best introduction will be to attend both.

What to photograph ?
"Entry Level" astrophotography is relatively wide-angle - whole constellations. You will capture stars - lots - more than you can see. You might find some nebulae or star clusters, but they will be fairly small. You can add local surroundings (trees, etc) if you like - "starscapes" taken for their artistic merit is becoming a genre in its own right. You won't, I am afraid, be producing images of the "pillars of creation" to rival Hubble at a first attempt. (Actually, not ever, in terms of truly rivaling Hubble - there are good reasons why NASA spent a lot of money to put Hubble up there! But with experience and modestly expensive equipment, it is very impressive what amateurs can do these days)

What equipment ?
You can have a first go with just about any digital camera and a tripod. However, the more automatic the camera, the harder it is to convince it to do what you want, when that is not what the manufacturer had in mind - low end cameras are designed to take pictures of people in reasonable light. You need to be able to set the shutter and aperture manually, and very preferably be able to manually focus as well. Just about any digital SLR will qualify, and probably many up-market non-SLRs.

You also need something to mount it on. Again, just about any tripod is worth a first go, but a good, stable tripod will be better, and if you have a telescope - however small - that has a reasonably stable, equatorial mount and a motor (or "computer") drive, you can mount the camera on that, which will let you take longer exposures with out the stars "trailing".

Image processing Software ?
Serious astrophotographers use quite an array of software, but you don't need any initially. Whatever you use normally to download your pictures will get you started, and the software that came with the camera or various free-download packages will take you quite a long way. If you get "bitten", you may eventually want specialised impage-processing software, but the emphasis is on "eventually".

Keeping the observing site dark

Darkness is important for astrophotgraphy, because any stray light will detract from the photos we are trying to take. Any light other than dim red torches will affect other peoples night vision, and ANY light shone on a camera while the shutter is open will probably ruin the image. Please follow the rules below strictly, and be particularly careful to not shine ANY light on someone else's camera: