Back when I was a kid, when the Earth was young and dinosours roamed the land, I used to lay out at night, looking up at the stars, wanting to see
them more up close.
I had a lot of books then, showing these incredible images of objects in our sky, with mind boggling colors and shapes that intrigued me.
Then I became a teenager, living in Italy as a military brat and promptly forgot all about them.
Weeeellll.....not completely. Instead of being outside gazing up at the stars, I had people like Issaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven and Ben
Bova filling my imagination of them as I devoured the science fiction books they wrote.
Until I joined the US Navy and then promptly forgot about them. Hard to think about the stars when you're doing push ups over hot pavement, having
your head shaved, and being yelled at 24/7. But that ended after a few months, and after going through all these tech schools for radar systems, I
finally got to my first ship and put out to sea.
I thought I knew what it was to stand under the stars. I was wrong. On a crystal clear night back in March of 1986, over 100 miles away from any land
in the Gulf of Mexico, I stood under the stars with no Moon in the sky.
It was glorious. Thousands and thousands of stars, different colors, and all mine to look at. The aft look out was standing there and he knew I was a
noob, first time at sea. He told me I would get used to it.
I told him that I hoped to god I never got used to it. I decided right then and there I would find a way to put what I was seeing in pictures.
Well, that took a while. This thing called "life" got in the way. But one day I finally go to where I could start trying, and that was back in 1998.
I got my hands on a old Canon AE-1 SLR camera with a 50mm lens, a telescope with a heavy equatorial mount, and started taking images of the night
Now, right away I had a problem with this camera: it uses a battery to hold the shutter open. While that might not sound like a big deal, it is when
you're taking astrophotography shots with a film camera. The frame of the film needs to be exposed for long periods of time because the light coming
from the heavens is dim. Very dim, and holding the shutter open on this camera sucks the life out of the battery....which is not rechargable, and gets
damn expensive to buy...when you can find it. Remember, this was before the days of consumer ready digital cameras using CCD chips and the internet
was this thing they kept talking about, but all anyone had was America On Line, hehe.
Film was another issue:
It was an issue because: it get's expensive to buy the film, and to pay for it to be developed. If you were lucky, you had your own developing room
and knew how to do this.
Or, you were like me and had to take it somewhere, and hope that the people developing it understood you when you told them it was star shots.
Then of course there was the wait time. You took your pictures......then had to wait until you got those pictures developed, so it could take you days
to weeks before you would know if any of your pictures came out.
Agonizing to say the least!
I spent more time looking at horrible images and failed shots then I did seeing good ones. I think most would have given up, but not me. I was
encouraged by the very few successes that I had:
I even got some shots of a partial solar eclipse we had here back in 1998:
Can't wait for the total solar eclipse we're going to see this August.
After a while, life got in the way again, and it would be years before I ventured out again, only this time armed with this new fangled technology
called the CCD Chip (Charged Coupled Device) that digital cameras use.
I got my hands on a Canon T3 Rebel DSLR camera, with the stock 11mm-55mm lense that comes with it:
As hard as it was dealing with a SLR camera and film, I just knew this was going to be a piece of cake, and everything would get easy!
Well....it is nice that I do not have to buy film anymore, and my battery lasts for many hours, and I can see the image I took right away. Those
things are all wonderful.
But capturing the images turned out to be a challenge right away. First shots I took looked horrible, and I couldn't understand why the stars didn't
look like sharp points. I knew I was not over exposing the shots, allowing the stars to streak from the Earth rotating, but my stars looked like big
It was the lens. Specifically the EF lens that has a motor in it for the auto focus feature.
In the old days, when we actually had to use our hands and eyes to set up the lens, turning the focus ring all the way to infinity was where it
stopped. In the dark, I could turn it all the way to the stop and knew I was focused on infinity, perfect for star shots.
The new EF lenses have their stop located pass where infinate focus is located. The camera will not auto focus on the stars either: their light is too
dim. The focus will hunt around.
So, there are a couple of things you can do: use the "Live View" on the back of the camera screen, and try to zoom in on a very bright star like
Sirius or on planet Venus if it's out, and slowly turn the focus ring until you get your point of light.
Even then, you have to be very careful because the slightest bump or tap will put it out of focus again.
While that's a pain, it is still amazing to be able to take my images and see what I'm getting right away:
The Milky Way:
For the last couple of years I've been busy doing a lot of things, and had not gotten back to this. Too busy with life.......moderating here on ATS,
and other stuff. But I decided to get back into this.
So for the last few nights, here are some of the things I've been doing:
The constellation Perseus (looking towards the North West). That's the Pleiades towards the upper left hand corner. This is a stack of 5 frames, at
ISO 1600, f4.5, 15 seconds exposure at 18mm.
The Pleiades. Stack of 6 frames at ISO 1600, f4.0, 15 second exposures at 55mm:
Now look at the next two pictures. This is the constellation Orion. This first image is a single frame of ISO 3200, f3.5, 21mm at 15 seconds of
Here it is again using a "dark frame" to help remove thermal noise, and cleaned up with my imaging software:
Love how blue looking some of the stars are.