My First Astrophotography with a Telescope

Up until yesterday all of my star photos have been taken with my Canon 40D mounted on a tripod. I’ve read enough to know you can get fantastic images with just your DSLR, without a telescope. And in the process you learn a lot about exposure times, settings, and post-processing.

Last week I stepped up to a Celestron C8, a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with an 8-inch mirror. My thanks to the Seattle Astronomical Society for offering equipment check-outs to members. Exciting as it is to try out a great telescope, my family was thrilled to check out the moon the first night we set it up. That’s Jessica, eight years old, who just finished frosting the birthday cake for my wife Stephanie.

The Moon

September 22nd, 2012 was the International Observe the Moon Day, and here we were observing the moon. The moon was nearly a full quarter, with a great view of the crater shadows along the terminator. After taking turns being blown away by the moon at dusk, I took out my camera with the appropriate telescope adaptor. Lining up such a large, bright target wasn’t nearly as challenging as trying to capture stars without a telescope. But I took 60-plus photos anyway, bracketing settings, focus, and playing with the composition.

Of all the photos, this view was my favorite and I present it to you with minimal post-processing in Photoshop. What you see below is almost exactly as it was shot. I did adjust the brightness and contrast only slightly, and framed it for composition:

 

Jupiter

I spent the rest of the evening fighting with hazy viewing conditions, enjoying the stars that I could see. Around 2:30am, already far later than I’d planned on staying up, this showed up over the trees:

 

I grabbed my camera, and set about taking photos. By now I’d already moved the telescope to a clearer spot in my backyard which meant I had ruined my polar-alignment (the telescope was no longer aimed at the Earth’s point of rotation, meaning it would be difficult to track any object easily with the built-in motor). Undeterred, I went back to settings I’d learned while shooting stars without a telescope. Short exposure times, lots of them, stack and process the images later.
I took over twice as many individual pictures of Jupiter than I’d taken of the Moon – over 120. I could get ten photos shot before having to re-center Jupiter in the viewfinder – the Earth’s rotation is far more obvious when looking through a telescope. From those, I was able to do a first pass at processing the picture you see above, with ten of the best shots.
I’m quite happy with what I’ve accomplished so far, recognizing this is all part of a long learning curve. Next time it’s polar tracking and hopefully, with clear skies, some deep sky objects

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