So my wanderlust for stardust has officially begun.
I can remember wanting to photograph the night sky as far back as my early twenties. I think I moved from one excuse to another over the years, which is completely against the nature of the man I’ve become, but settled on a favorite: something, something, light pollution. Living in the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area by population and arguably the largest by geography can only mean one thing… a lot of humans with a lot of lights turned on. The constant onslaught against the night rages from street lights, porch lights, never-ending construction, and citizens that never sleep. I suppose I simply figured that it wasn’t to be until I had retired into the serene countryside where the only terrestrial lights were from the flicker of fireflies across the field.
It was a friend of mine expressing interest in learning to photograph the Milky Way over scenic night landscapes that made me reevaluate my position. As a long time photography enthusiast, my desire to help him learn and accomplish his goal gave me enough knowledge of this largely misunderstood hobby to set aside my own reservations and start.
I spent some time learning the barrier of entry requirements and did an enormous amount of research online to determine the best way to dip my toe in the water just enough to clarify my direction. My personality lends my behavior more toward all-in when it comes to doing. Dabbling never really set well with me. I believe in life and love, we should grab the goblet with both hands and drink deep. If some spills from the edges of our mouth and down our chest, such is living. No one truly lives suckling experiences from a sippy cup. I digress.
More on gear in the next post, but suffice it to say, I learned that due to our rocketing through space at over 1000 miles per hour, the most important foundational piece of any deep space astrophotography rig is the mount. You need a special mount type, called a German Equatorial Mount, to counteract for the field rotation (in the telescope’s field of view) caused by the spin of the Earth on its axis. In other words, something to prevent the stars from trailing. “Don’t skimp on the mount“, was a common phrase of sage advice. So it started with a mount and some basic accessories to allow connecting my existing camera and telephoto camera lens to the GEM. I had read that the key to photographing DSO’s (Deep Space Objects) was to take many long exposure photographs and use specialized “stacking” software to mash them together like a virtual Dagwood panini and then “stretch” them with more specialized software to bring out the details in all that juicy data accumulated while spending hours out in the mosquito laden, soupy, humid atmosphere sweating like a whore in church (or freezing the digits off your extremities composing a marching cadence with your chattering teeth, depending on the season). I acquired some free software off the interwebs and armed myself. I slapped it all together with nary a clue and took a few photographs of what I thought was a celestial body in the deepest corners of space. I downloaded these subs (that’s what the townfolk in the AP world call the individual frames in a larger set that make up the integrated data… oh, and AP is suave for astrophotography) and ran them through my freshly installed free software with all the default settings and…
Behold! This is my very first “official” astrophotograph.
There will be more, but this is the first.
(Full disclosure: Today is July 14, 2014 and I have, until now, only posted “progress pic” along this journey on my already-cluttered Facebook feed. I decided to install WordPress and start this blog on this old, dusty URL today. Mostly to have a single point to track my growth and small victories as I improve, but also in part due to my long spell without writing. There are reasons, but let’s focus on spacetime ahead. I’ve moved some of the early pics here and added some commentary. Moving forward, updates will be in real time.)