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A Beginners Guide to DSLR Astrophotography

First allow me to make a brief introduction of myself. My name is Tim Kerr and I’ve
always enjoyed looking up to the stars for as long as I can remember. I am in no way an
expert on the subjects of astronomy or photography. As a matter of fact I don’t even
consider myself an Amateur Astronomer or Photographer. I am merely a Stargazer and
Photography enthusiast, about as amateur as they come. When it comes to the sciences of
astronomy I often find out that much of it is higher over my head than the stars we see in
the night sky.

People often ask questions and I try to find the answers for them. Rather than having
them scattered all over the place I thought why not round them up and put them in one
easy to find spot. I am going to try to answer as many as the most common questions, and
do it without using all that high tech mumbo-jumbo most really don’t care about
anyways. Just tell me how it is suppose to work and what I need to do!

Anything I am about to tell you here will be enough to get you on your way to enjoying
the night sky with a camera, that is my hope anyway! If you desire to become an expert
on the subject then you’ll have to get out and do that on your own. When you do, perhaps
then you can come back and teach me some more tricks; I could certainly use some.
I won’t be discussing the various methods of astrophotography or the equipment used at
any depth or detail; instead I will be directing the majority of this topic toward
Astrophotography using a DSLR camera. But, nevertheless I will mention the importance
of a good foundation. As with an home or any building, it is only as good as its
foundation. Without a good sturdy foundation the whole thing can come tumbling down.
When it comes to astrophotography that foundation is the mount that we use. The
mechanical quality and structural integrity along with the instrument load capacity of the
mount can make the difference in whether or not you produce a substandard image or an
image of great quality worthy of publishing in a magazine or framing for your wall of
pride. I wouldn’t recommend anything less than an EQ5 (CG5) even if only using a small

Much of the information I am going to include here can be found from various resources
almost anywhere on the internet by people more qualified than I am. Some of it will
however be from my own experiences. My personal experiences work most of the time
and might or might not work for you; nonetheless, I certainly hope it helps anyways.
Additionally, since my personal experience is only with a couple P&S digital cameras and
a couple Canon DSLR’s, most of what I will be referring to when discussing DSLR’s will
relate to almost any brand or make but more so my experiences and little bit of
knowledge with the Canon EOS DSLR’s than any other.


What is a DSLR? ………………………………........................................ Page 4

What is a DSLR Like Camera? ………………………………................. Page 5
What is a P&S Digital Camera? ………………………………................ Page 5
What is Afocal Photography ………..……..……….……………………. Page 6
What is Prime Focus Photography ……………..……….......................... Page 7
Choosing a DSLR ………………………………........................................ Page 8
What will I need so I can use my DSLR with my telescope? ………….. Page 10
How do I set up the camera for astrophotography? …………………… Page 16
What camera settings do I use? ………………………………................. Page 16
What ISO Should I Use? ………………………………............................ Page 16
What exposure/shutter speed should I use? .…………………………… Page 17
What image format should I save my images, RAW or Jpeg? ………… Page 18
How can I focus the camera? ………………………………...................... Page 19
Now that we have the camera focused and ready, what next? ………… Page 22
How many exposures should I shoot? ………………………………........ Page 23
My camera has Automatic Noise Reduction, should I use that? ………. Page 23
What are Dark Frames? ………………………………............................. Page 24
What else might I need to produce a good image with my DSLR? …… Page 24
What are Flats, why do we need them, and how many do I need? ……. Page 25
How do I subtract the Darks, Flat Frames and Bias from my images? . Page 26
When I stack my images it turns out dark and monochrome. ………… Page 27
How do I know what magnification I am getting? ……………………… Page 28
Can I image the planets with a DSLR? ………………………………...... Page 29
Can I use a DSLR for Afocal photography? …………………………….. Page 29
What is Eyepiece Projection photography? ..…………………………… Page 29
I can’t get my DSLR to reach focus ………………………………........... Page 30
What is the best kind of telescope for DSLR Astrophotography? …….. Page 31
Should I use filters with my camera and telescope? ……………………. Page 31
Creating and Using Darks, Flats, and Bias frames. ……..……………… Page 32
Do I really need a telescope to enjoy astrophotography? ……………….. Page 37
Creating a Time Lapse Animation ………………………………............... Page 40

Digital Cameras used for astrophotography are the DSLR, DSLR Like, various P&S
digital cameras, and Purpose built CCD Cameras. Because this topic is going to be
directed more specifically toward DSLR Photography, and since my personal experience
with Purpose Built CCD cameras is limited we won’t go into those.
With that said, let me first break this down and hopefully clarify what each kind of
camera is.

What is a DSLR?

Digital Single Lens Reflex

A camera which allows you too see the image you are going to shoot through a (TTL)
Through The Lens view finder on the back of the camera. Some DSLR’s also have a Live
View on a small LCD screen on the back of the camera which will allow you to see and
focus the object you’re about to shoot. SLR’s/DSLR’s use a mechanical flip mirror and
pentaprism that directs the light coming in through the camera lens to the view finder.
Typically what you see is what you are shooting with that lens, unlike a (TLR) Twin Lens
Reflex system where the view finder is separate and usually positioned above or off to
one side of the lens and magnified to appear as close as possible to what you will be
shooting. Because they do not share the same optical path these often suffer from parallax
(framing errors/differences), especially as you get closer to the object. In other words the
field of view you see through the view finder won’t match what is seen through the lens
and won‘t be what you get in your picture. The TLR type system is common in cameras
like the Kodak instamatic or disposable film cameras.

A DSLR will typically use interchangeable lenses attached to the camera body by an
Interlocking lens bayonet mount. Other types of mounts you probably won’t see are
Friction lock and Threaded screw type. These aren’t typically found on the average
consumer grade equipment like the Canon EOS models I use.

Digital SLR’s are more versatile with many more functions and settings. They allow you
to make manual adjustments to be more creative than with the more simple P&S digital
cameras, and for that they can also be a more complicated to learn and often more

What is a DSLR Like Camera?

A DSLR Like is much like a regular DSLR in that they look like a DSLR and they use the
TTL view finder system. Many DSLR Like cameras do have many of the same functions
available to the user that a DSLR has. E.g. Various automatic modes and then the creative
and manual modes. The primary difference is they do not have interchangeable lens
systems. The lens that is on the camera is the lens you are stuck with. You cannot remove
it to change to a different lens or attach it to a telescope for prime focus astrophotography.

What is a P&S Digital Camera?

These come in various sizes with a variety of looks and feels to them. But many are the
popular small compact, relatively inexpensive digital cameras that are usually thin flat
and small enough that it can fit in a shirt pocket. These have a small fixed lens system,
and often employ a kind of TTL Live view system so you can view what you’re shooting
on a small display screen on the back of the camera. Some will have an optical as well as
a digital zoom. These days many Cell Phones include a camera which allows them to fit
into this category of digital camera also. Generally all you need to do is point at the object
you want a picture of and line it up (frame it) the way you want using the view screen
then snap the shot. Unlike a DSLR where you can adjust many of the setting to get more
creative, there is very little you will need to do to get the picture you want. Small
Compact and very simple!

Although the DSLR Like and Point and Shoot digital cameras cannot be used for Prime
Focus long exposure Deep Sky Astrophotography, they can still be used for Afocal

What is Afocal Photography?


An optical system in which an image is transferred without having to bring it to a focus

with the camera. Afocal photography, for example, involves pointing a camera, focused
on infinity, into the eyepiece of a telescope whose image also appears at infinity.
You just bring the telescope to focus and hold your camera over the eyepiece and snap the
shot. You will want to get the camera centered and positioned at the right distance from
the eyepiece before you take the picture. This can be difficult holding the camera in your
shaky hands. For that purpose you can purchase a special camera mount that attaches to
the eyepiece and holds the camera in position over the eyepiece.

What is Prime Focus Photography?

A fixed focal length lens system with no secondary optics in the light path to the point of
primary focus where the image is acquired.

For astrophotography purposes the camera is attached directly to the telescope in place of
the eyepiece and the telescope essentially becomes the lens for the camera. A large prime
focus fixed focal length lens as can be seen on the larger telescope below

One important thing we will first want to do is to decide which camera is best for our

Define your budget then ask yourself; what do I want to achieve with the camera?
If your goal is simple afocal lunar imaging then any point and shoot camera will suffice,
even a cell phone camera. If your goal is planetary imaging then a point and shoot will
work as well, however you would do better to shoot short videos if your camera is
capable, or use a web-cam instead.

If your goal is to shoot Hubble Space Telescope like images then this topic is not for you.
On the other hand if you want to shoot nice presentable prime focus Deep Sky images
then you have the choice of getting a DSLR or a purpose built CCD camera.

A CCD has many advantages for astrophotography, but do I choose a (OSC) One Shot
Color CCD or a Monochrome CCD Camera? Do I want a cooled CCD? Do I want a duel
chip CCD for imaging and auto guiding? What filters should I get? The list of questions
goes on. All that will probably depend on your experience and technical savvy. Either
way it still isn’t as versatile as a nice DSLR.

Provided you don’t have the camera modified for night sky photography, if your
photography interests are other than the night sky, you can still use a DSLR for daytime
terrestrial photography as well, E.g. Weather, Birding, Family and Vacation pictures, etc.
There are other photographic applications you can use a DSLR for such as Time Lapse
photography of the Sunrise or Sunset, the Clouds or Stars in motion. These things you can
have fun with and don‘t even need a telescope or expensive heavy duty mount. You can’t
do all that with a purpose built CCD camera.

Choosing a DSLR?

That’s a very good question since most DSLR’s that I am aware of have a Manual (M)
Mode with (Bulb) exposure setting and therefore should work. However! That does not
mean that all makes or models are up to the task.

There are various name brand DSLR’s on the market and all are very nice cameras. When
it comes to low light work such as astrophotography some of them don’t do as well as
others. Too much electronic noise, not enough color saturation or too much saturation of
one color more than the others and so on.

Two of the more common brand names you will hear used for astrophotography are
Nikon and Canon. Nikon DSLR’s excel where most other DSLR’s won’t when it comes
to daylight terrestrial photography, and you might hear that many professional
photographers prefer Nikon DSLR’s over all others for their performance and image
quality. But! They still lack where it’s important for astrophotography. That is where the
Canon DSLR’s excel and is why they are more often the top choice for DSLR
Astrophotography. It is the patented Canon Digic Logic processor technology which sets
them apart from others for astrophotography applications.

Any of the Canon EOS models dating back to the Original Canon EOS Digital Rebel
work very well for astrophotography. Where some of the Canon EOS DSLR’s do
however lack is in the (H-alpha) Red sensitivity, especially the older models. I have a
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT/350D which I really have to work on in post processing to
bring out the reds to look more like they should. I also have a Canon EOS 50D and that
does a much better job on its own with all the colors.

Some people have paid out extra money to have the camera modified for
astrophotography to increase the sensitivity. However, this can render the camera useless
for daylight photography.

There is a Matrix of Color filters (Bayer Matrix), and an IR filter just in front of the
CMOS sensor that captures the image data. It is this matrix of filters that helps create the
resulting (real) color image once it has been processed by the cameras internal processor.
Without those filters you would have a nothing more than a monochrome camera.
When modified, the IR filter is removed and replaced with an IR Pass filter or Enhanced
Ha filter to increase sensitivity, especially the reds. This is great for astrophotography and
recommended if you are only going to use the camera for night sky astrophotography.
But, if you plan on using it for daylight photography as well then I don’t recommend the
modification. You can still get enough red exposure with the help of capturing enough
image data and good post processing in Photoshop where you can enhance it if needed.

What will I need so I can use my DSLR with my telescope?

There are a few items you will need for the camera that are necessary and a few others
that will certainly make life easier for you.

First, the necessary items: A T-Ring and a T-Adapter, or Visual Back if you own a SCT.
The T-Ring replaces the camera Lens and is mounted to the camera body the same as the
lens with the bayonet mount. Since Bayonet Mounts are not standardized throughout the
industry you will have to buy a T-Ring for your specific Model DSLR.
This T-Ring is what will allow you to adapt the camera to a telescope in one of two ways.
If you’re using a Newtonian reflector you will need a T-Adapter (photo adapter) along
with the T-Ring. This adapter threads directly to the T-Ring and has a barrel size the same
diameter as the eyepieces you use. They come in both 1.25” and 2” just like your
eyepieces, and you just insert it into the focuser like you would your eyepiece. You can
even find Barlow lenses that double as T-Adapters.

When using a DSLR I recommend a 2” T-Adapter if your telescope has a 2 inch focuser,
this will result in less mechanical Vignetting around the outer edges and corners of the

If your telescope is a SCT you will want a Visual Back that threads to the T-Ring just like
a T-Adapter and then also threads directly to the back of the telescope.
If using a Refractor, the 1.25” adapter in the 2” focuser of many is already threaded so
you can thread the T-Ring directly onto the focuser without using a T-Adapter.
However, I still recommend using a T-Adapter.

Why you ask?

To protect the cameras image sensor chip!

Whatever size T-Adapter you get for yourself you will want it threaded for filters. Using a
night sky or some other kind of filter along with the T-Adapter not only suit’s the purpose
of the filter for the image, I.e. light pollution reduction, but also prevents dust particulates
that might enter into your telescope somehow from falling onto and accumulating on the
sensor chip when exposed during the exposure. I especially recommend using a filter on
the T-Adapter when using a Newtonian Reflector where the sensor would be exposed to
the open air entering into the telescope. I wouldn’t dare use a DSLR or CCD camera on a
Newtonian without a filter in place.

Canon EOS 50D, T-Ring, T-Adapter with filter attached.

Canon EOS 50D with T-Ring and T-Adapter attached in place of camera lens
Next you will want a Remote Shutter Switch. This switch can be used for more than just
astrophotography so I recommend getting one whether you use it for astrophotography or
not. Using a remote shutter switch keeps you from having to come into contact with the
camera in order to trip the shutter. Using your fingers to press the shutter button can cause
the telescope to shake which will be detected by the camera and show in your image
causing things to blur. (Refer to your camera instruction manual for model/part/item

When out in the field away from home you will want extra batteries, (note the plural),
especially in cold weather that can drain a battery quicker than normal. You’re already
operating the camera under other than normal operating conditions so you will want to be
prepared ahead of time.

If you’re at your home and/or have access to an AC Power outlet I highly recommend
using an AC/DC adapter for the camera.

You might also want extra memory cards if you’re not interfaced with a computer.
Other than the obvious equipment requirements such as telescope and mount, that’s about
all that is really necessary to use a DSLR for astrophotography. However! To make life so
much easier there are a few other things you might want to get yourself. You will
probably want an easier way to control the camera, auto-guide the mount and store the
image data.

(Since I know and use Canon DSLR’s I will be referring to what I have or currently use).
I am sure other DSLR cameras are capable of the same or similar, but not all are. When
you buy a Canon DSLR you should have included with the camera a CD which has some
basic image processing and viewing software along with a utility program which includes
a Camera Settings and Remote Shooting program for your computer, and a USB Interface
cable to connect the camera to the computer. This can be used to change the settings and
control the camera via your personal computer. Therefore I recommend getting yourself a
Laptop PC that you can take with you out doors.
Note: Not all DSLR Brands are capable of interfacing with a computer to control and
capture images.

Off course if you use a Laptop Computer you will want to make sure you don’t run out of
power in the middle of your imaging night. Back up batteries for the computer are
essential, unless of course if you have access to AC power, then you can just plug it in
and save on your battery.

The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi/400 D and older models will require additional
accessories not included with the camera to control the shutter for computer controlled
pre-programmed multiple bulb exposures that will be longer than 30 seconds. The one I
use with my Canon Digital Rebel XT/350D is made by Shoestring astronomy.

You will also want to use a different shutter control program that can be used in bulb
mode. For that I used DSLR Shutter by Stark Labs.

If you don’t take exposures exceeding 30 seconds you can use the EOS Utility Camera
Setting/Remote Shooting program supplied with the camera.

Note: If you use DSLR Shutter by Stark Labs you will still have to be running the EOS
Utility Camera Setting/Remote Shooting program as well. It is that program that actually
interfaces with the camera. DSLR Shutter only controls the shutter switch.

If you get a Canon EOS DSLR model more recent than the XTi/400 then you won’t need
those additional items. You will only need the USB Interface and the EOS Utility
software supplied with the camera.

If you don’t like the idea of manually guiding the telescope during the exposures, you will
also require a computer for auto-guiding also. For that you will also need additional
accessories which might include a Guide-Scope, usually a small refracting telescope. Or
instead you might want to use a (OAG) Off Axis Guider. You will also need an additional
camera; an inexpensive CCD or certain Web-Cams will work.
Ok, so we have our camera set up on the telescope, what do we do now?
Take Pictures of course! ;-)

How do I set up the camera for astrophotography?

Remove the camera lens and attach the T-Ring and T-Adapter then insert it where you
would normally insert the eyepiece. ;-) Ok, that’s just the start, there is a little more to it
than that, so I will try to cover as much as I can remember.

What camera settings do I use?

Since most deep sky astrophotography has to be done with long exposures we want to set
the camera on the Manual Mode (M).

What ISO Should I use?

First what is ISO? ISO is an organization, International Organization for Standardization.

You might think that it should be IOS Then, but it’s not, and don’t ask me why. As far as
we are concerned it is for Gain or Sensitivity to light. Higher ISO equals greater
sensitivity to light decreasing the length of exposure necessary. However there are side
effects to using high ISO Settings that we want to avoid as much as possible, Noise! Ugly
Grainy Blotchy looking Noise!

Since cameras may vary each will have its own optimal ISO. Some of the things that
determine that optimal ISO Include the Camera itself of course, Efficiency of the sensor,
the aperture and focal length of the telescope you are using, the ambient temperature, and
the amount of sky-glow in your location.

If you want all the technical aspects of ISO settings I will refer you with web links to
locations you can get in depth explanations of ISO and CMOS or CCD Chips among
other things. What I will tell you is that my experience with Canon EOS Cameras is that
ISO 800 is the optimal setting, and I believe it is the optimal setting for most telescopes
and most situations.

What exposure / shutter speed should I use?

That is a great question that I really can’t answered for you. My equipment and sky
conditions probably aren’t the same as yours, and neither is my knowledge. I apply a lot
of trial and error when necessary.

Obviously you want to get as much exposure as you can without over saturation
exceeding full well capacity, and without acquiring too much noise. Most often you might
just find the length of exposure will often be dictated by the conditions of your sky. E.g.
The Sky Glow Limit. That is something you will have to take test exposures (bracketing)
to determine what works best for you in your area.
Beside Sky Glow there are obviously other factors determining your exposure time. Some
of the things that will play a role in determining the length of each exposure are:

- The ISO you're using. Higher ISO (Gain) generally means more noise. (The (QE)
Quantum Efficiency, the measurement of the CMOS or CCD electrical sensitivity to
different wavelengths of light). When using a high ISO/Gain you will usually be forced to
shorten your exposure. It's best to experiment and find the optimal ISO setting for your
camera and your environment.
- Full Well Capacity, the saturation charge capacity limit for each pixel. You don't want
to over-saturate. Doing so can cause unsightly effects, for example blown out stars or
galaxy cores.
Another thing to consider between exposures so you don't continuously saturate the same
pixels over and over is to dither your tracking by a pixel or two in one direction or
another. Do this periodically throughout your imaging run. In short it's like allowing your
telescope to drift by one or two pixels between shots.
- The external temperature and internal operating temperature of the camera. Warmer
external and internal operating temperature will also add noise. Obviously longer
exposure will cause your electronics to get warmer, and is why you should allow time
between each exposure for the camera to cool down a bit.
- And then there is your telescope: Aperture of the telescope can make a world of
difference. The larger the aperture the greater the light grasp, which generally equates to
shorter exposure requirements. Larger aperture also equates to greater detail / resolution.
It does not equate to a larger image scale. That, like magnification, is an effect of focal
- The tracking and guiding accuracy of your mount. Especially if you're not auto-guiding
you may have some declination drift or some other form of periodic error. If these errors
or drift occur frequently then you will have to keep your exposures short. Additionally,
longer focal lengths will have the same effects as high magnification and amplify the
effects and the frequency of those errors.
- Then there is also the brightness of the object. Obviously a brighter object won’t require
as much exposure as a fainter object would.

Well then what about dynamic objects like the Orion Nebula complex with faint and
bright nebulous areas? How can I shoot objects like that without one area being over
exposed and blown out, while the other areas are under exposed and too faint? Sometimes
taking two sets of images at two different exposures/shutter speeds will work in those
situations. Then you can merge them in post processing using whatever processing
technique required for producing a nice evenly illuminated image. However, that in itself
is getting into advanced image processing which is a whole new topic for discussion that
we won’t get into here. Besides, image processing is one area my skills and experience is
definitely still in the learning process.

What image format should I save my images, RAW or Jpeg?

Quick and simple answer; RAW!

A Jpeg file is the familiar standardized smaller compressed image format widely used at
home, in business, and all over the Internet. It is an image created out of the raw image
data through various processes within the camera using the settings you have preset on
your camera. Once the jpeg has been created the raw image data is more or less dissolved.
In comparison it is a developed picture. What you see is what you get.

A RAW image is essentially no more than the digital equivalent to a film negative. It
contains the entire image data required to develop into a nice colorful image. You will
need specialized software to view and process RAW images, and then it’s up to you how
you want to use all that raw image data and develop it into your nice image. For this
purpose we want all the image data available for post processing so we save our images
in the RAW format.

It’s difficult to see anything through the view finder how can I focus the camera?

There are some items you can either buy or make yourself that can help make focusing
easier. Things like a Knife Edge focuser which is one of the most precise, or a Hartman
Mask which you can make yourself, or something as simple as shoe-laces.

The idea is to pick a brighter star in the sky and aim the telescope at it. You want a star
that you can see through the view finder, and then adjust the focus until the star is a nice
sharp point source of light. I’ll usually move the focuser back and forth a couple times to
determine where the best point of focus is.

Your eyes must be dark adapted when you attempt focusing through the view finder.
If you’re using a Hartman Mask, adjust the focus until the image of the star you are
focusing on merges into a single point of light.

If using shoe laces or some kind of string (aka, Diffraction focusing) you will tie it across
the front of the telescope where it will act much like the spider veins of a Newtonian
Reflector. If you’re already using a reflector you obviously won’t need the string. Adjust
the focus until the diffraction spikes are single lines coming off the star rather than
splitting like a snake tongue. If they are splitting like a snake tongue you’re not focused
properly. Taking a test shot so you can look at it in your image makes this easier.

Some DSLR’s to include the new models of Canon utilize a very handy feature known as
Live View where you can use the LCD Screen on the back of the camera to see the object
you’re focusing on. If you have the camera interfaced with your computer you can
activate the live view using the EOS Remote Utility. For that you’ll want to increase the
ISO as high as it takes for you to see the stars. Then adjust the focus until the stars come
to a nice clear and sharp point of light.

Note: Make sure you readjust the ISO back down to whatever you shoot your images

Regardless of method used for focusing you should always shoot a test image or two at
different exposures (30 to 60 seconds) and look at the image carefully on your computer
screen. That is of course if you’re using a computer. Otherwise you will have to use the
small LCD view screen on the back side of the camera. But, that won’t always look the
same, and when you do get around to looking at the images on a computer you might find
you weren’t as focused as you thought.

Once you have the camera focused on the telescope you can create a short cut for the next
time you are out for a night of astrophotography. This will only work if you use the same
equipment each time.

Make yourself a Parfocal eyepiece!

For this you will need two things. First is an eyepiece that you won’t need for observing,
with a focal length that will get you close to the same focus as the camera without re-
adjusting the focuser. You will want one that will need outward focus adjustment if any is
needed at all.

Secondly you will need a Parfocal ring. You can buy one or use your imagination and
make one yourself. This is a thin ring that clamps around the barrel of the eyepiece to
change the distance to the focal point. You fine tune the focus by sliding the eyepiece out
until the image comes to focus. Where you reach focus is where you will lock the
Parfocal ring in place so the eyepiece won‘t slip back down into the focuser.
Now the next time out all you need to do is pop that eyepiece in the focuser adjust the
focus then remove it and attach the camera in its place. Although you should be in focus,
I still recommend taking a test shot or two to make sure before jumping off on your image

Note: You will probably want to know what focal length eyepiece to use for Parfocal
focusing. To figure that out you will need the diagonal measurement of your cameras
sensor chip. For example the Canon EOS 50D that I use has a 26.8mm diagonal. That
diagonal measurement equals the eyepiece focal length. Unfortunately they don’t make a
26.8mm eyepiece, but they do make one that is close enough. For that I should be able to
use a 25mm eyepiece with a Parfocal ring.

Now that we have the camera focused and ready, what next?

Ok, now we are starting to get into the fun stuff.

Are you going to take a single shot of the shutter like you would in the daytime? No! I
seriously doubt it.

Night sky photography requires much longer exposure (extremely slow shutter speeds) to
allow enough light to gather on the sensor in order to form an image of those faint objects
in the dark of space that we‘re trying to capture for our permanent memories.
Typically we want as much exposure as we can get, but there are limitations we are
confined to. Sky Glow as mentioned above is just one; too much exposure and everything
will be washed out.

Other than Sky Glow we might also be limited by the telescope and mount we are using.
Unless you invested a fortune into your mount you can expect periodic errors. There are a
few things that can cause a mount to have periodic errors. Gear meshing/Back lash,
Manufacturing imperfections, the drive motors, and then there is the wind, and more
importantly Polar alignment.

Even if using some kind of auto-guiding set up there might be small otherwise
insignificant periodic errors detectable by the camera that we can’t see with our eyes.
With proper telescope balance and Precise Polar alignment along with Auto-guiding those
periodic errors are minimized so you can shoot longer error-free exposures, however, if
you‘re not auto-guiding you‘ll want to limit your exposures to match the periodic error
frequency of the mount so it won’t show in your final image. Mechanical Errors are pretty
consistent and can be timed. Some mounts have (PEC) periodic error correction built into
the electronics where you can train the mount to correct for those errors when they occur.
Other errors that are not so consistent such as wind effects or declination drift that can’t
always be electronically trained out you‘ll have to approach differently. Shorter exposures
or sort out the bad frames when you are done for the night.

For all these reasons even if we are auto-guiding we take multiple exposures rather than
only a few or a single long exposures. We then take all those individual exposures, (Light
Frames) and stack them one on-top the other to combine the image data. For that we use
some kind of image stacking software. One of the more popular is (DSS) Deep Sky
Stacker which you can download and install for free.

How many exposures should I shoot?

When I first started astrophotography I was using film. When I stepped up to the Digital
age with my first DSLR I was one who would try to see how many Deep Sky Objects I
could capture in one night. I would shoot 15 or 20 exposures of 30 to 60 seconds then
move onto the next object. Well I got lucky sometimes and could produce a somewhat
presentable image, but most of what I shot was useless and went to the recycle bin
eventually to be permanently deleted, and me being frustrated. Not only wasn’t I allowing
myself time to do other things required to produce a nice smooth image, but I wasn’t
allowing myself enough time on each object to collect enough image data to really bring
it out with any amount of brightness or detail. Trying to crank up the brightness in
Photoshop when the data isn’t there to work with would only make it look worse.
The best thing to do is pre-plan your evening and concentrate your efforts on as few
objects as possible. One is best! Spend as much time on that one object that you possibly
can. The more image data you can collect will result in a much better image you would be
proud to present to the world. More exposures (light frames) equals a greater SNR (Signal
to Noise Ratio) Signal = good - Noise = bad. Using a lesser amount of light frames will
result in a lower SNR.

More is better!

My camera has Automatic Noise Reduction, should I use that?

Simple answer is NO!

You can if you want, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it.

Reasons being is that it takes up more of your time reducing the total amount of image
data you could be collecting. (Quantity of light frames) And Secondly the cameras
automatic noise reduction cannot recognize the difference between tiny stars and cold or
hot pixels and might end up removing many of the smaller stars within your image
thinking they are noise or cold or hot pixels. The advantage of a Canon over a Nikon is
that you can disable the automatic noise reduction.

If using automatic noise reduction, the time it uses between each light frame exposure
will be equal to the length of your light frame exposure. In other words if you are set up
to shoot 120 second light frames you will have to allow 120 additional seconds between
each exposure plus the time it takes to download the image from the camera to the
computer which is usually a few more additional seconds. So if you spend 2 hours on a
target object, less than half that amount of time will be actually capturing real image data.
There is a better method of Noise Reduction for astrophotography that we use called Dark
Frame Subtraction. Using Dark frames allows you to use a shorter interval between each
exposure allowing you to capture more image data increasing your SNR.

Note: you still want to allow enough time between each shot giving your cameras
electronics a chance to cool back down. That amount of time doesn’t have to be the same
as your exposure saving you time and allowing you to spend more on the object collecting
valuable image data.

What are Dark Frames, how do I create them and how many should I create?

Basically a dark frame is an image you shoot with the lens cap on. You’re only taking an
image of the noise generated by the camera and any cold or hot pixels. You want to shoot
them at the same ISO and same exposure/shutter speed. Preferably, you will want the
same operating temperature or at least as close as possible as well. Some people will
shoot Dark Frames prior to beginning the imaging run and then more at the end of the
imaging run so they will average out better.

How many you shoot depends on the camera and conditions. For all practical purposes
when using a DSLR you are better off if you shoot a 1:1 Ratio of Dark frames to Light
Frames. If your image data is good and you have shot a lot of light frames and have good
SNR you might be able to get away with ½ to ¾ as many dark frames to light frames. I
wouldn’t recommend any less than half and only if you have shot a lot of light frames.
More is Better!

What else might I need to produce a good image with my DSLR?

There are a few other types of exposures/frames we want to shoot that will improve our
image and make corrections for certain optical errors.
One would be Bias/Offset frames. Bias Error is when the CMOS or CCD chip of the
camera generates a signal that is created by the internal electronics of the camera just by
reading the content/data collected by the CMOS or CCD Chip. This signal is pretty much
consistent in each image/light frame and we will want to remove it from our image. To do
this all you need to do is place the lens cap on and set the exposure/shutter speed to the
fastest possible on that camera. For example my Canon EOS 50D can shoot at speeds of
1/8000 of a second. Other cameras might only shoot as fast as 1/4000 of a second.
Whatever yours is set it at that. Generally for most applications you will want to shoot a
1:1 ratio like you would with your dark frames. Remember “More is Better”

Since the bias/offset is for the most part constant you can shoot a bunch of them and save
them on your computer hard drive for use with all your images, now and in the future.
However I do recommend as the camera gets more use and gets older to shoot fresh ones

The other type of frames we want to shoot gets a little more complicated than Darks or
Bias frames. These we call Flats or Flat field frames.

What are Flats, why do we need them, and how many do I need?

Most often, especially when using a DSLR, the large size of the chip and the telescope or
lens you use might cause the field illumination across the entirety of the imaging chip to
be uneven, brighter in the center. This is often referred to as one form of vignetting, but
unlike mechanical vignetting it is instead actually a hot spot around the center area of the
image where the light is more concentrated. This is different from mechanical Vignetting
where there is an actual obstruction in the light around the edges and corners such as you
would get when using a small(1.25”) T-Adapter rather than a 2“ adapter. Or when
shooting afocal images with the camera held up to an eyepiece.

Additionally, you might have dust or a water spots on the lens, or even dust on the sensor
that would show up on your image. Generally if you see ghostly looking circular spots in
your image then you most likely need your sensor cleaned. Those are reflections of dust
moats on the chip. For that I recommend having the cleaning of the chip done

To make corrections for all these errors you shoot flat frames. There are two different
kinds of flats that we need to use. Light Flats and Dark Flats.

To do this you need to keep the camera on the telescope focused the same and in the same
position/orientation on the telescope that you had it for shooting your light frames. Don’t
move it!
There are a couple different methods used to accomplish the creation of a flat.
One way is to build yourself a light box to fit around the end of your telescope. Refer to
building a Flat Field Light Box.

Another method, and is one I often use, is to use a clean white t-shirt and stretch it tightly
over the end of the telescope to diffuse the light. Making sure there are no wrinkles in the
t-shirt aim it at a source of light such as the dawn sky or an artificially created light source
with even illumination. Not a light bulb!
I have used a reflective tarp or white sheet with drop lights from behind and below
reflecting light off and back toward the telescope.

With the camera in AV Aperture priority mode allow the camera to determine the shutter
speed. Sometimes I might either slow it down or speed it up some to achieve the flat field
image that reveals any defects or errors I want removed from the image.
You might want to use a 1:1 ratio of Flats to Light frames; however with a DSLR I find
most often 2:1 is plenty as long as I have created good flat frames.

Creating flat frames will take some practice. You don’t want to under expose/saturate
where it won’t help correct those errors, at the same time you don’t want to over
expose/saturate. This will take some practice but you’ll eventually get more familiar and
produce good useful flat fields.

Once you have determined the exposure/shutter speed you will want to shoot a series of
light flats which will reveal any optical errors such as dust. Once you have accomplished
this you will want to shoot a series of dark flats as well. To o this you replace the lens
cap/dust cover to block any incoming light just like you did for shooting dark frames.
Then you will shot them at the same exposure/shutter speed as you did for your light flats.
You shoot as many dark flats as you did light flats and bias.
If you’re using DSS to calibrate and stack your images it will automatically subtract the
bias from your flats. Other software requires a little more hands on approach and you will
have to do that yourself.

If you want to get into all the technical issues of creating Darks, Flats and Bias frames
including all the mathematics then I will refer you elsewhere. If you’re imaging with a
monochrome CCD camera you will probably want to learn all that, but for the average
astrophotography enthusiast using a one shot color DSLR camera that isn’t all that
necessary. It might be nice to know anyways, so I will be providing links to where you
can learn all kinds of useful information pertaining to photography and astrophotography
at the bottom.

How do I subtract the Darks, Flat Frames and Bias from my images?

That is something that can be done using Photoshop by using your stack of each set of
frames as a separate layers then extracting them by using one of the types of blending
change. Advanced Image Processing that I would rather not cover at this moment,
Or you can simply load them all along with all your light frames using your stacking
software such as DSS and have it done automatically. I recommend the latter to simplify
matters, especially if you’re just getting started.
Other stacking software such as Nebulosity by Stark labs requires more hands on when
pre process calibrating and extraction and stacking of your images. When just getting
started I recommended you stick with the simple automated and efficient Deep Sky
Stacker (DSS). Once you are more comfortable then you can step up to the more
advanced software. Nebulosity is good and inexpensive; MaxIm is probably much better
but is also much more expensive.

When I stack my images it turns out dark and monochrome. Yikes! I can’t see the

Don’t worry this is normal. Hopefully you used your RAW files rather than converting
them to jpegs prior to stacking. You want to keep them in RAW format to maintain the
integrity of all your image data giving you something to work with in post processing
after stacking.

Using DSS as an example, when it finishes the calibration and stacking of your entire
collection of image data it will load a file titled autosave.tif. When it finishes loading that
file it looks dark and totally absent of any color. Don’t worry all the color data is in there
just waiting for you to bring it out. To do this you don’t need to use DSS to make any
color or luminance adjustments. You can make some minor adjustments, but I
recommend that you leave it as you see it. Instead Click on Save Image to File in the left
hand column on DSS. When the save file window opens select a directory to save your
image and give it a name, usually the name of the object, e.g. The Orion-Nebula. You
will see that you have a couple choices of how you want to save your image. You will
want to save it as a 16 bit tiff image to maintain your image data. You also want to save
the image with “Changes Embedded“, DO NOT save your image with Changes Applied.
If you do that you will lose your color image data and what you see is what you will have
saved. Save it with the Changes Embedded and finish the processing using Photoshop or
similar application software.

If you do make any color or luminance adjustments using DSS, make small adjustments,
and, again you want to save the image with Changes Embedded, DO NOT save with
changes applied.
Sometimes what I will do is to save a copy without making any adjustments with DSS,
and another after making minor adjustments. Then once I load them into Photoshop I
will make similar adjustments such as the initial histogram stretch then see which looks
better. Most often it’s the one that I have not made any adjustments to in DSS.

Now that you have saved your dark ugly looking stacked image you will want to bring out
the color that you know is in there hiding somewhere. For this you really must have a
good photo editing and processing application. If you plan on getting into any kind of
digital photography and take it seriously you should really consider Photoshop. It comes
in a few different flavors starting with the least expensive Photoshop Elements on up to
the more expensive more complicated Photoshop CS (Creative Suite). More than most
other applications available this is probably the best all around image processing software
that is also astrophotography friendly. Additionally you will find most astro-imagers use
Photoshop, and there are all sorts of plug-ins or add-ons developed just for
astrophotography to be used exclusively with Photoshop. E.g. Noel Carboni’s Astronomy
Tools Action Set is just one of the more popular that will make your image processing so
much easier and faster.

Gimp is a freeware open source clone of Photoshop but it has too many type restrictions
as far as I am concerned and I didn‘t like it. Image quality results are much better from

If you want to communicate on the same level as other astro-photographers you really
should get Adobe Photoshop.

How do I know what magnification I am getting with the camera on the telescope?

Magnification is a product of focal length. Such as the focal length of the telescope and
the focal length of the eyepiece we use to observe the night sky through our telescopes.
We know when we divide the focal length of the telescope by the focal length of the
eyepiece we come up with the magnification for that particular eyepiece. So how do we
figure that out for the camera? Well, with a digital camera attached to the telescope your
not really getting magnification, not exactly that is. Instead we refer to it as the Image
Scale and Field Of View. (Size of the object within the field of view) Nevertheless there
is a simple method for comparative purposes that you can apply to your camera by
knowing the dimension of the sensor chip.

First of all take a look in your instruction manual where it should list the chip dimensions
in the camera specs. Then you will have to apply a little math, or if you have the right
kind of calculator you can use that to make it easier. A simple construction calculator
used for calculating the length of a roof rafter works great. But if you don’t have one of
those the formula looks like this: A^2+B^2=C^2 or A squared plus B squared equals C
squared which is your diagonal measurement. That diagonal measurement is what you use
as the equivalent to the focal length of an eyepiece, and then divide the focal length of the
telescope by that.

To make things much easier you can download this CCD calculator and use the necessary
data for your camera and telescopes. This will give you a visual reference using images
giving you a much better idea of what you can or cannot fit within your field of view.

Can I image the planets with a DSLR?

Yes you can, But! With the camera attached for prime focus photography, unless you
have a telescope with a very long focal length the image scale will be such that the planet
will be very small within the field of view. Typically when observing the planets we want
clear stable skies and higher magnifications, generally above 250x. For imaging you want
the equivalent to probably 4 times that amount or more.

Can I use a DSLR for Afocal photography?

Yes you can! Just as you would with a P&S digital camera you just focus the telescope
and focus your camera to infinity and shoot the image projected through the eyepiece.
This is easier said than done and you will probably delete more pictures than you will
even consider saving.

What is Eyepiece Projection photography and can I do this with a DSLR?

Yes you can!

Eyepiece projection requires a special adapter to use in the place of your T-Adapter.
Generally called an EP Projection Adapter or Universal EP Projection Adapter. Some are
a fixed length while others are adjustable so you can vary the distance from the eyepiece
to the camera sensor which will vary the image scale.

You insert an eyepiece into the adapter then attach it to the T-Ring on your camera and
attach to the telescope just like you would for prime focus astrophotography. What you’re
doing is increasing the image scale by effectively increasing the magnification with the
use of your eyepiece. The only problem with this is it is more prone to mechanical
vignetting. Another problem is that you better have a sturdy and precision mount because
this will reveal any tracking errors rapidly.
The adapter in the middle of this image is the Orion Adjustable EP Projection adapter.

35mm SLR, T-Ring, EP Projection photo-Adapter, and 1.25” T-Adapter/insert

Note: You could use either the Afocal or EP Projection methods to get a greater image
scale for planetary imaging, however, that is easier said than done.
Planetary Imaging is best reserved for web-cams or purpose built Planetary CCD

I can’t get my DSLR to reach focus on my Newtonian reflector or short tube


Unfortunately this is not uncommon with fast focal ratio mass market telescopes. All too
often someone will get themselves a nice DSLR for astrophotography only to find they
cannot use it with their telescope. Reasons for this include the distance from the point of
primary focus to the camera chip, and the size of the imaging chip is such that it’s
equivalent to an eyepiece with a focal length too long for your telescope. If my 80mm ED
refractor were any shorter then f/7.5 I would not be able to focus my Canon EOS 50D.
There isn’t much you can do for a Refractor with the exception of changing the focuser to
one the will allow you that little more inward travel to achieve focus or get you closer to
the objective lens.

With a fast Newtonian reflector there are a few things you can do, one of which might
require some serious modification to the Optical Tube Assembly that might not be so
good if you still want to use it for visual observations.

First is to try a zero profile T-Adapter. If that alone won’t work then you will have to
replace the focuser with one that has a lower profile to the OTA. If this also fails you will
have a serious choice to make. Abandon the idea of using that telescope for
astrophotography, Get a CCD camera with a smaller chip and shorter distance between
the chip and the point of primary focus, or adjust the focal length of the OTA. The latter
requires a serious and irreversible modification. You will need to remove the primary
mirror assembly and cut away at the OTA shortening it a few centimeters to move the
primary mirror closer to the primary focal point. Would I recommend this, No! Not unless
you are confident and comfortable with what you’re doing, one little mistake and you’ve
ruined your telescope.

What is the best kind of telescope for DSLR Astrophotography?

As with any astrophotography or even visual astronomy there is no best all around
telescope. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately it boils down to
what you can afford and what is your personal preference. But, I will say IMHO although
many people use APO Refractors, a SCT is probably more versatile than most others.
However, if you can afford it a nice Ritchey–Chrétien Telescope (RCT) will do a much
better job when it comes to astrophotography.

Should I use filters with my camera and telescope?

Other than the reasons already mentioned previously, that will depend on your needs. If
you have light pollution you might want to use a light pollution filter. IDAS LP reduction
filters are among the best. I often use a Baader Moon and Sky Glow filter which does
very well. You will need to increase your exposure by about 10% when using a LP filter.
You can use a contrast booster which is one that will also double as your dust protection.
With a DSLR or (OSC) One Shot Color CCD camera that uses a Bayer color matrix filter
system already you don’t want to use color filters unless you want a pretty color blue
moon or something. You don’t want to use a UHC or OIII filter that you would use for
observing; they are meant to block light.

The filters used for astro-imaging with a Monochrome CCD camera are not the same and
are not intended for use with a DSLR or OSC camera. If however your DSLR has been
modified you might be able to. I know of some people who have experimented with using
CCD filters on an OSC camera with some success. But I haven’t nor would I want to try
it myself with my DSLR’s.

Creating and Using Darks, Flats and Bias Frames
We've been up all night shooting our light(subs) on a DSO or two and we're getting tired.
So what do we do? It's now time to shoot all the other frames needed, i.e. Darks and Flats.
Then we still have to put everything away for the night. This is going to take up more
time and the thought of your bed is beginning to feel more comfortably pleasing. So we
take a few short cuts, then later when the time comes we can complain that we are having
a tough time processing our image data.

Plan ahead allowing yourself ample time to collect ALL the necessary image data.
Because I do get lazy and tired like anyone else, I don't always feel it is necessary to use
the same quantity of darks and flats as Light Frames (subs). As long as my light frames
look like they're good clean shots, and I have collected plenty light frames to achieve
what I think might be a good SNR I'll cut the amount of darks and flats that I use in half..
Not always a wise move! Not if you want a cleaner better looking image.

Just because that's how I do it sometimes doesn't make it right; it's not!

More often than not I will shoot a 1:1 ratio. For every light I will shoot a Dark a Flat a
Dark-Flat and a Bias/Offset. You will find that the common recommendation by people
with much more experience than I is that you should shoot a 1:1 Ratio to Light
frames(subs). This will allow your stacking software to get a better overall average to
properly calibrate your light frames giving you a much cleaner smoother image which
will be easier to process.
As a matter of fact by using only a small number of frames (darks, flats, and bias) can
actually multiply rather than reduce the amount of noise in your calibrated light frames.

More is better!

Using Flat frames can make your image worse if not done correctly!

So why shoot flat frames?

Because it can make your images much better when done right.

Many of us have found, as will many more that the field illumination across the sensor
chip of your DSLR isn't always even therefore leaving the corners and the edges darker
and the center of the image brighter. This is referred to as a hot spot or vignetting. To
correct this along with other possible optical anomalies such as dust on the lens or sensor
we shoot what is called a series of Flat Frames.

Along with the Light and Dark frames we should also shoot and use Flat Frames along
with Dark Flats and Bias/Offset. However, if this is not done correctly you won't be
helping your image, in fact you can actually make things worse ruining all that valuable
image data you invested so much time and effort in collecting. It is important that you do
not over expose or under expose your Flats for them to be of any help to your image. If
the exposure isn't right you risk destroying what might have otherwise been a good image
giving you nothing but headache trying to process.

To do this you Must Keep the camera at the same position/orientation on the telescope
and the same focus that you had during the light frame (sub exposure) run. In other
words, don't move it, don't change the focus, and don’t change the position, leaving it on
the telescope exactly as it was for your image run.

You can build yourself a light box to fit over the end of your telescope, or just use a Clean
White T-Shirt to diffuse the light, and a flat evenly illuminated light source such as the
Dawn Sky just before Sunrise, or a couple drop-lights or portable spot-lights shining
against a reflective backdrop.

A Clean White T-Shirt is easier for those not so crafty with tools. Stretch the t-shirt
across the front end of the telescope using a strap or bungee cord to hold it in place and
tightly stretched. Make sure there are no wrinkles or spots on the t-shirt.

Next step, you can either wait for the dawn sky and aim at that, or you can set up some
kind of evenly illuminated field of light using a reflective backdrop. I have used a white
bed sheet hanging about 6 feet in front of the telescopes with a couple lights shining on it
giving me a nice evenly illuminated surface that's not excessively bright. I have also used
a Tarp with a silver/gray side that is good for reflecting light.
Then Set your camera in AV mode and allow it to select the correct exposure. Take note
of the shutter speed/exposure time. Shoot as many Flats as Light (sub) Frames.

Note: If you use the dawn sky make sure there are no obstructions off in the distance, or
bright stars still shining. You don't want any of that showing in your flats.
Wait! You’re not done making a set of Flats yet.
Next you will need to shoot Dark Flats. These are done the same way as shooting regular
Dark frames for your light (sub) exposures. Remove the white t-shirt, or light box if that’s
what you used, and place your lens cap/dust cover on the telescope and shoot darks the
same exposure/shutter speed that you shot your light Flat frames. Shoot just as many dark
flats as light flats.
When using Darks and Flats calibrating and stacking your images you really must use
Bias frames as well.

Bias Frames:

Bias Error is when the CMOS or CCD chip of the camera generates a signal that is
created by the internal electronics of the camera just by reading the content/data collected
by the CMOS or CCD Chip, and is in all your image data, Lights as well as Darks. Unlike
noise generated from high ISO's long exposures and thermal noise which aren't
consistent, the Bias Error signal in a DSLR is pretty much consistent and is something
you will also want to subtract from your image.

Bias/offset frames are used to create a master bias/offset and a master dark from all your
darks, a master flat and master dark flat from your flat frames, which are all used in
calibrating and cleaning up your light frames for stacking.

Note: If using automated stacking software such as Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) this will be
done automatically as long as you have loaded them all accordingly.
But, what most people don't realize is, you should shoot and use At Least as many Bias
frames as Flats and Darks. In other words if you shoot 30 Light frames of your Deep Sky
Object you will also want to shoot 30 Darks at the same exposure, then additionally you
will also want to shoot 30 flats, 30 dark flats and 30 or more Bias as well.

Bias are easy and the least time consuming of all to shoot. Just remove the camera from
the telescope place the dust cap on your camera body, set the camera in Manual mode and
dial the shutter speed to the fastest your camera is capable of shooting. For my 50D that
would be 1/8000s. Shoot a whole bunch and save them. Since the Bias is consistent with
your camera and you don't have to worry about focus and orientation you can save and
use them with future images. I still re-shoot them periodically as the camera has had more
use and is getting older.

Note: Bias/Offset Error is present in all your frames/exposures. (Lights, Darks, Flats and
Dark Flats). Some software such as Stark Labs Nebulosity It is not recommended that you
use Bias frames when you use Dark frames. I can only assume this is because it does not
subtract the Bias/Offset from the master dark when created, instead removes both Bias
Error and Darks which already contain the Bias Error when calibrating your light frames,
which in effect is the same as trying to subtract the Bias Error twice. Therefore you do not
want to use both darks and bias when stacking with Nebulosity, because if you do it will
create the unsightly effect of still noise which will ruin your image. If using Nebulosity
and you use Bias frames in the calibration and stacking then don't use Darks, instead you
will want to create a Bad Pixel Map from your Master Dark so it doesn't try to subtract
the bias twice.

As already mentioned above you won't have to worry about that with DSS and some other
stacking software. They will calibrate your Darks, Flats and Dark Flats with your Bias
when each master is created. I.e. Master Dark, Master Flat and Master Dark-Flat.

The Master Bias/Offset is created from all your Bias frames.

Next the Master Bias/Offset is subtracted from your Darks and a Master Dark file is

Then the Master Bias/Offset is subtracted from your Dark-Flats and a Master Dark-Flat is

Then the Master Bias/Offset and Master Dark-Flat are subtracted from all your Flats
when creating the Master Flat.

Finally the Master Bias/Offset and Master Dark are subtracted from each light frame and
the results are divided by the Master Flat then stacked into your final image stack which
you will save for post-processing.

Don't worry about it if you didn't catch all that. As long as you load them accordingly it
happens without you having to do anything else, except for the saving for post-

Some people will only use darks with their light frames, and some won't even use darks.
However, I recommend that you Do use Darks, as well as Flats, Dark-Flats and Bias
whenever stacking your images at a 1:1 ratio. It will make post-processing so much easier
on you.


Here are a few web links where you will find all sorts of useful information contained
within them to get a better understanding of Digital Photography in general.

Here is a short list of links for image processing that you might find helpful. Although
most use Photoshop, you can still learn from them and might be able to apply the same
principles using other software.

Do I really need a telescope to enjoy astrophotography?

Certainly not!
I get just as much if not more enjoyment shooting the dark night sky without a telescope
as I do with one.
You have a camera lens for your camera and if you have a simple camera tripod you
already have the essentials to shoot the night sky. You can easily shoot nice pictures of
the Moon. You can shoot wide field images of the various constellations and star fields.
You can shoot star trail image or, you can shoot time lapse animations of the sky in
Here are some examples of my recent work.

(PIC # 12)

(PIC #13)

You can also build yourself what is known as a Barn Door Tracker, aka, Scotch Mount.

Not everyone has a nice telescope and mount that would allow them to take nice images
of the planets, galaxies and nebulae. But more and more people are buying digital
cameras that will allow them to take images of the stars and constellations that can look
very impressive in their own right. If you own a Digital SLR like or similar to the one I
own you can take nice pictures of the dark night sky. Unfortunately if you live in the
urban or suburban light polluted areas of the world you will have to take trip out into the
country away from the city lights. Something I highly recommend anyways so you can see
what the sky and stars really do look like. Believe it or not there are people who have
never taken the opportunity to enjoy the night sky in all its glory. The closest they have
come to it is watching the Discovery or History channels on cable television. Others have
only seen pictures in magazines or on the Internet like those some of us have taken the
opportunity to take for you to enjoy.

I am going to refer to my Canon EOS Digital Rebel when describing what you can do. If
you only have a simple point and shot single shot digital camera, sorry the limitation of
the camera won't allow for what I am about to describe. You will need a DSLR, Sturdy
Camera Tripod, and a Laptop computer. You will also want a few other accessories for
the camera and laptop computer. i.e. ac/dc power adapters for both the camera and laptop
computer, And for single shots without the laptop computer a remote shutter switch can
come in handy.

For single shots exposures of the stars and constellations you will want a short focal
length camera lens. I use the 18-55mm that came with my camera set on 18mm for the
widest field of view. This is also more forgiving to the motion of the stars as they move
through the night sky. Set the f/stop as wide open as he lens will allow for that focal
length. For mine that is f/3.5, some lenses will allow for a shorter/faster focal ratio. This
allows the most light in so you can capture those fainter stars that you cannot see with the
naked eye. Set the exposure at ISO 1600 or higher if you camera allows for a higher gain,
and the shutter speed at 30 seconds. You can try a little longer with the camera set in
manual mode on the bulb setting, but if you set the shutter speed too long you will start
seeing motion in the stars making them look elongated rather than nice round points of
light. For the conditions of my sky and the modest amount of sky glow in my area, I
found 30 seconds at ISO 1600 is perfect with the lens at 18mm f/3.5. This will give me a
nice wide field of view showing a sky full of stars with recognizable constellations.
Here are a few examples of single frame 30 seconds exposures capture a couple meteors
as they streak through the sky.

Now for a more interesting and fun project you can try, if you dare!

"Time Lapse Animation"

Just make sure you have a full night and don't have to wake up for school or work the
next morning. This is a project that can take a whole night into dawn hours just prior to
the sun breaching the horizon.

If you have Microsoft Windows XP or Vista you probably already have the software
necessary to compile the multiple still images you're about to capture into a short
animation video. If not you can download Microsoft Movie Maker at the Microsoft
downloads site, or you can purchase your own Video software such as Pinnacle Studio
HD or Roxio. I personally am now using Pinnacle Studio HD Ultimate.

Hopefully, your camera came with utility software to configure and control your camera
for image capture via a laptop computer.

Set your camera just the same as you would when taking a single frame exposure, with
the only difference being that you are interfaced with your laptop computer to program
and control the camera over an extended amount of time.

Aim the camera at you favorite area of the night sky then lock the tripod into position.
Take a few test shots to ensure your exposure and focus is good. Once you have
accomplished that then figure how long you want to spend capturing the motion of the
sky, and how many frames per hour you want to shoot. I have learned that shooting about
72 frames per hour which is 30 second exposures with 20 seconds cool down between
each frame is best overall. I have spent more than 8 or 9 hours in a night right into the
morning dawn sky when doing this so be prepared for a long night. That might seem like
an awful lot of images to capture, but believe me when you're all done you will realize
that it really isn't. Most of my animations last around 1 minute with the longest only
lasting a couple minutes.

You can find copies of some of my images and animation videos at my Facebook profile.
However, you're welcome to download the video files to view at your leisure when off-
line where they will have a much more pleasing appearance than they do on-line. The
links for downloading the files are listed below.

Note: The more frames per hour, and/or the faster the frame rate when you compile the
image frames into an animation, the more fluid (smooth) the motion of the star will
appear. However, too many frames per hour can cause too much amp and heat noise in
the individual frames over extended periods of shooting.

I also take precautions to protect my laptop computer from the weather elements. I have a
large plastic storage container I turn on its side, and then cover the open front with a
small tarp or towel. This not only protects the computer, but also prevents stray light glow
from to computer escaping the container possibly intruding into my images.

With the camera control and image capture software on my laptop I set the shutter speed
that I want for the sequence (30 seconds), delay between each frame (20 Seconds), and
the number of exposures I want to take. That will depend on how many hours you want to
shoot. I like to shoot as long as I can, from first dusk to dawn if I can. (8 hours at 72
frames per hour equals 576 exposures).

I won't get into step by step instructions on how to use Windows Movie Maker or Image
to AVI, that's just something you will have to learn on your own experimenting with
everything to get the results you like. After-all it's your projects! It's not that difficult and
you can actually have a little fun with it. You can add captions, titles, credits, special
effects, and music if you like.

if you take 8 hours of images at 72 frames per hour that will give you 576 individual
frames representing the movement of the stars through the sky. Then if you compile 576
frames into a video to run at 4 frames per second, that will make a animation of about 2
minutes 24 seconds long. A lot of time spent for such a short animation!

With that said however, before you compile all those nice images you spent all night
capturing, get some sleep! You don't want to do any kind of image processing when you
are fatigued from a long night.

Enjoy what you do and have fun with it.

Equipment requirements:
Digital SLR Camera.
Short focal length camera lens.
Sturdy Camera Tripod
Laptop Computer.
AC adapters for both camera and laptop
Extension power cord.
Table to set the computer on.
Container or something to protect the computer from the weather elements through the
night, and to block any light projected from the computer screen.

Here you can find some of my work. The first two were compiled using Windows Movie

The next two were compiled using Image to AVI

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) 2009 Feb-01

If you don't want to download the video files you can view them at Vimeo or Youtube.


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