Hi Chris! Sorry for the late reply…I seem to not be getting email notifications of comments on my blog at the moment. I did not intend to ignore you. The cold can definitely be a challenge. I’ve imaged out well east of the Denver metro area during the end of December, temps 0F but more like -15F with wind chill. Brutal!
Regarding imaging the Pleiades more deeply. The biggest thing I can offer is: Stick with your target. Most beginners try to image quickly, getting only a couple of hours on a target at a time. Astrophotography, especially from any light polluted area, is all about the integration time. The total exposure time across all your individual light frames (subs). My last Pleiades image was hours of integration…in the end, I think it was around five or six hours. The critical point though, is it took me many nights to get that much data. I think I imaged that one target for several nights over a period of over a month. Just gotta stick with it. Even despite that much integration time…the image noise was quite heavy, and required some rather extensive noise reduction which softened a lot of detail. The only way I’ll do better is to drive out to where the skies are really dark, and get much longer exposures.
I also imaged unfiltered for this target. Light pollution filters block out certain amounts of light, and result in strange color casts. For your normal emission nebula, LP filters are fine, they pass the colors of the nebula. But for reflection nebula that just bounce back the light of nearby stars, which is what Pleiades is, LP filters tend to block out a lot of light, which results in strange colors for the stars. So, I did not use a filter for the Pleiades image. Because of the light pollution, I had to use short exposures, and because the exposures were short, I needed hundreds of them. (And, hence the reason it took multiple nights.)
As for the software I use, I use Photoshop and PixInsight. More and more, I use PixInsight for things. It’s the best software out there, by far, for astrophotography processing. It’s somewhat expensive, ~$250 depending on exchange rate. I believe it is well worth the cost if you are serious about astrophotography, though.
I use my Canon EF 600mm f/4 L II camera lens, and my 5D III, for imaging currently. You can actually do quite a lot with your basic camera gear if you can find a way to mount it to an equatorial tracking mount. You could use any prime telephoto and a DSLR, and get some pretty amazing results. I highly recommend starting that way, especially if you already have the camera equipment. All you need then is the mount. You can expand your kit as you go, once you learn the ropes, get into guiding, figure out all the nuances of tracking efficiently, learn how to process, etc. I’m finally to the point where I need a CCD to take my work farther…and I’m also contemplating some real telescopes so I can do more advanced things with my guiding, etc. It’s a long journey…there is a ton to learn. Just start with what you have, get an equatorial tracking mount, and start learning. 🙂
Jon, Beautiful. I emailed you through CR a while back. I have been out in my back yard a few times since then to orient myself with tracking, etc… That was a hurdle to overcome in -10 degrees! I don’t live in a dark site (10 minutes from Burlington, VT) so I have been using a LPS filter. My first images of Pleiades look just like your first attempts! Would you mind sharing how you made such a leap? If I am to interpret your post correctly, you took many more shorter exposures without the filter and as you added exposures the details emerged? Are you using photoshop or Images Plus (or similar)? Also, how did you get the diffraction spikes?? Are you using a telescope or a camera lens? Thanks in advance for sharing whatever you are willing to. You can email me if you don’t want to post publicly. Your blog on astro posts is a real inspiration to me. Thank you, -Chris