Welcome to the Astrophotographer’s Guide. Since I started doing astrophotography myself a little over a year ago, I have had a lot of people ask me how they could get started, or to share my experiences and knowledge. I have shared some things on my blog, some things on the Cloudy Nights forum, however I decided to create a special section of my site dedicated just to astrophotography tips, insights, techniques, etc. I can then link to my site when such information is requested, and not have to write something new. Hopefully this will serve as a repository of information for both the beginner, the guy or gal who would like to get into astrophotography but has never done anything like it before, possibly has never even done astronomy before, and needs to know the basics to get rolling, as well as for intermediate and eventually more advanced imagers who are looking to hone their talent.
This guide will be broken into several sections, and more may be added in the future. The Beginner’s Corner will cover all the basics, covering both how to get started in astrophotography with standard DSLR equipment as well as actual telescope equipment. Intermediate Intermission will cover a broad range of topics that intermediate imagers are likely to encounter and ask questions about. Advanced Analysis will cover more advanced topics, including processing techniques with PixInsight and Photoshop, as well as other topics (and this area will grow as I edge towards more advanced imaging myself…for now, I’m still an intermediate imager myself.) The Equipment Shelf will offer small articles covering specific pieces of equipment, or specific tasks that cover how to use, tune, or operate specific pieces of equipment, as well as equipment recommendations.
Astrophotography is one of the most complex forms of photography mankind has ever devised. The amount of effort that goes into the production of a single image tops every other form of photography I have encountered, including underwater photography (which is no simple matter itself). While I don’t have much experience with it, cinematography comes to mind as one of the few forms if imaging that rivals astrophotography in terms of complexity and the sheer volume of equipment necessary to accomplish well. That said, while astrophotography can be complex, there are many forms, and it can be started quite cheaply. If you already have a DSLR and some wide angle landscape photography lenses, you could dive in, technically speaking, “for free” by using your existing equipment. There are also a number of ways of wetting your feet and getting a taste for the murky astrophotography waters, before spending a lot of money on the hobby. It is my hope that this guide will help each reader find the kind of astrophotography they can do, are willing to do, and can be good at doing, within their own budget.
Speaking of budget. Astrophotography spans an extremely broad range of budgetary options. It can go from “free” for those who already have gear and simply wish to repurpose it for astrography, to a couple thousand dollars for those who wish to get into tracking and invest in some decent processing software, to several thousand dollars for the more serious hobbyist, to many tens of thousands of dollars for the die hard enthusiast or even semi-professional, to hundreds of thousands of dollars for professional observatories with fully automated equipment that can be robotically operated from a remote location. You can pick how much you want to spend and how far you want to go, however astrophotography is an endeavor that truly rewards those who invest the right amount of money for the kind of imaging they choose to do.
Well, without further delay, please enjoy this guide. You do not need to read everything. Just pick the section that you feel most likely addresses your needs, and you can go from there. Each article will be coded at the top with a color badge: Charcoal, Bronze, Silver, Gold. Each badge will have a rank. These can be used to quickly identify the general skill level required to understand that article. Charcoal articles are for true beginners who have no prior knowledge, and there will be no rank for such articles. For reference the badges are as follows:
Starter – For All Readers
Beginner – Levels 1 to 3
Intermediate – Levels 1 to 3
Advanced – Levels 1 to 3