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NSAAC Class 2010

Experiment and Learn

Astrophotograpy is a journey into learning Be willing to experiment with equipment and software Be patient takes several sessions to get equipment, software and camera to work Are several digital photo processing methods to learn

My Book References



A Guide to Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras, Jerry Lodriguss The New Astro Zone System for Astro Imaging, Ron Wodaski The New CCD Astronomy: How to Capture the Stars With a CCD Camera in Your Own Backyard, by Ron Wodaski.

Useful Websites

Cloudy Nights DSLR forum: reads.php?Cat= Catching the Light: (Jerry Lodriguss) Stark Labs PHD guiding software: Imagesplus 3 software:

Scenic Photos Planetary Alignment

Planetary alignments Composition

Reflection in still lake

Equipment : digital camera + tripod + delayed release (minimize movement) Exposure: ISO 1600, White balance = sun, 10 sec, F/5.6, focal length 34 mm Picture ref: Jerry Lodriguss:

Scenic Photos - Moon

Crescent moon (earthshine) Equipment: DSLR camera + tripod Exposure: 1 sec, ISO 400, focal length 135 mm, F/2.8, White balance = sun Picture ref: Jerry Lodriguss: Note moon all white due to over exposure Correct exposure for moon 1/1000 sec (craters)

Scenic Photos Meteor Showers

Equipment: Olympus E20 + tripod Exposure: Not listed. Composite of 4 photos showing radiant of Leonid Meteor Shower 2001

Scenic Photos Sun Dog

Wikipedia: sun dog or sundog (scientific name parhelion, plural parhelia, from Greek parlion, (), (beside) + (sun), "beside the sun"; also called a mock sun) is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun.[1] (formed by ice crystals) Sundogs may appear as a colored patch of light to the left or right of the sun, 22 (or more) distant and at the same distance above the horizon as the sun, and in ice halos. T Sundogs are best seen and are most conspicuous when the sun is low.

Scenic Photos - Aurora

Equipment: Tripod + Sony Cyber shot DSC S85 Exposure: F/2.2, 8 sec

Scenic Photos Star Trails

Equipment: DSLR + tripod Experiment to determine exposure

Point towards Polaris Frame: Focal length (as desired) and focus to infinite Set F stop at full open to three stops down from full open Start at ISO 400 and white balance= sun Expose from 1-2 min (suburban light polluted area) to 3 or 5 min (dark sky) Examine histogram Combine many short exposures (Photoshop)

Scenic Photos Star Trails (cont)

Exposure: 8 min, ISO 400, F/2.8 combined 6 images

Moon (Jet Flies by Gibbous Moon)

Correct exposure depends on lighting Exposure 1/1000th sec, F/4.0, ISO 250, focal length 200 mm
Ref: A Guide to Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras, Jerry Lodriguss

Moon - Exposures

Moon Phase Full moon Gibbous moon Quarter moon

Exposure 1/250th sec at f/11 at ISO 250 1/125th sec at f/11 at ISO 250 1/60th sec at f/11 at ISO 250
1/250th sec, F11, ISO 400 focal length 560mm

Wide 1/30th sec at f/11 at ISO 250 crescent Thin Crescen t Earthshi ne 1/15th sec at f/11 at ISO 250

2 sec at f/2.8 at ISO 250

Ref: A Guide to Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras, Jerry Lodriguss

Sun Use Safe Filters



Use same exposure rules as moon

Color balance altered by filter Center image color balance corrected to white in Photoshop Right image colorized in Phtotoshop Ref: A Guide to Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras, Jerry Lodriguss


Tracking not needed Exposure time limited by star movement trails Expose 5 30 sec Longer focal length shorter exposure Experiment with ISO settings and exposure length Compromise between faint detail and star trails Frame with interesting foreground scene Tracking will give access to faint detail

Constellations: Camera on tripod

Orion increasing exposure time camera on tripod at 24 mm

4 sec

8 sec

15 sec

30 sec

Ref: A Guide to Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras, Jerry Lodriguss

Constellation Example

Focal length 35 mm, ISO 1600, 30 sec exposure, F/2.8 Ref: A Guide to Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras, Jerry Lodriguss

How Digital Cameras Work

Image sensor is a charge couple device (CCD) left image Image sensor is a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) right image Sensor converts light (photons) into electrons Sensor reads the value (accumulated charge) of each pixel Sensor made up of 2D array of pixels A CCD transports the charge across the chip and reads it at one corner of the array. An analog-to-digital converter (ADC) then turns each pixel's value into a digital value by measuring the amount of charge at each photosite and converting that measurement to binary form. CMOS devices use several transistors at each pixel to amplify and move the charge using more traditional wires.

Digital Camera Sensors

The advantage of DSLR camera versus film is that the sensors respond to ~70% of the incoming light More sensitive than film, which captures ~2% Not all photons that hit are captured. The number of captured photons determines the quantum efficiency CCD (CMOS) sensors contain a grid of individual pixels Each pixel continues to absorb light through out the exposure until the well is full The number of electrons a well can capture determines the dynamic range

Digital Camera Sensors Cont.

The charge is small and is amplified by the analog to digital (A/D) converter.

The sensor's output is called an analog-to-digital unit (ADU)

ISO settings are changes in the gain of the camera Dynamic range is the range of brightness from light to dark in which detail can be recorded.

Bit depth is the number of steps that the dynamic range is broken into.

16 bits
My Nikon D60 is 12 bits or 4056 tonal steps

Black and white to color

CCD and CMOS sensors are only black and white Digital color cameras generally use a Bayer mask over the CCD. Each square of four pixels has one filtered red, one blue, and two green The result of this is that luminance information is collected at every pixel, but the color resolution is lower than the luminance resolution.


Signal and Noise

Signal is current that is generated by electrons that get counted and converted into numbers by the A/D converter. Noise is unwanted signal that comes from several sources that are dealt with by correcting the photos Noise can never be fully removed The correction process increases the signal level relative to the noise Astrophotography key is signal to noise

Noise: Dark Frames

Frame that corrects for the thermal signature of the sensor Depends on exposure time increases as time increases Depends on sensor temperature decreases as temperature decreases The thermal environment for each pixel is slightly different

Noise: Nikon D60 Dark Frame

180 sec exposure, ISO 800 at 23F Cropped and brightened in Photoshop

Noise: Dark with Amp Glow

Depending on camera design, a second dark source is the electro-luminescence signal from transistors on the sensor mother board Amp Glow

Noise: Dark Frame Correction

Lens covered with lens cap plus a dark hood to ensure light is excluded Take photo at same time (sec), temperature (within ~5 F) and ISO setting I usually take at least five dark frames prior to each DSLR photo session Combine each photo into master dark frame (use software such as Imagesplus 3) Subtract the dark frame from the normal light frame using software (Imagesplus 3)

Noise: Bias Frame

Corrects for underlying sensor noise (bias signal) Corrects for readout noise, which is mainly increased dark current that occurs during the process of reading sensor data (A/D converter) Nikon D60 Bias: 1/4000th sec, ISO 800, 27F, lens cap + hood

Noise: Bias Correction

Lens covered with lens cap plus a dark hood to ensure light is excluded Take several photos (>25) at shortest exposure time allowed for camera at same temperature as normal light exposure Combine photos into master bias frame (Imagesplus3) Subtract master bias from light frame

Noise: Cosmic ray hits

Sensor randomly hit with cosmic rays through out exposure Creates Hot pixels Removed with software

Signal: Light Frame Corrections

In addition to correcting for dark noise, light frames are also corrected for the shape of light generated by the optics, dirt and dust on the optics and distortions due to the optics Light frames are also corrected for sky fog (light pollution gradients) Use software (Imagesplus 3) to correct light frames

Evaluate Photo: Histogram

Histogram is a plot of the number of pixels at brightness intervals Dark pixels on left Light pixels on right Mid-tone in center

Evaluate Photo: Color Balance

Digital Photo made from combination of red, green and blue channels Nikon D60, Raw Orion, Andover, 180 sec, ISO 800 and white balance = sunny day
Not balanc ed red bias

Evaluate Photo: Color Balance Cont

Correct photo for balanced color (red, green and blue channels overlap in histogram) Color balance corrected (levels corrected) Nikon D60, Orion, Andover, 180 sec, ISO 800 and white balance = sunny day

Evaluate Photo: Vignetting

Can be caused by actual blockages of the light from the corner and edges of the sensor chip by adapters and focusers that are too small. It can also be present for geometrical reasons due to the optics of the imaging system.
Tree branch

Vignetting: Darking in corners

Evaluate Photo: Optical Distorsions

Stars at center of photo (100%)

Stars at left corner (100%)

Evaluate Photo: Flat Frames & Gradient

Sky fog: Light Pollution Gradient Left to right gradient

Darker area

Lighter area

Evaluate Photo: Gradient Removed

Gradient Partially removed with GradientXTerminator: Photoshop plugin ($50)

Evaluate Photo: Flat Frame Example

Uneven illumination Dark spot are dust on sensor glass

Evaluate Photo: Flat Frame

Actual Flat frame from Nikon D60 Used home made light box for uniform white light source

Problem red, green and blue channels not balanced same as normal light frame photo
3 sec exposure, ISO 100, full open F/4.0, ambient temperature and same focal length as normal light photo

Black & White Nikon D60 Flat Frame

Flat Frame Correction with DeBayer and White Balance

Correcting DSLR photos with DeBayer layers and white balance differences in flat frames is done with software designed for this purpose Raw images are converted to Bayer basic raw data

white balance Without applied scale Used for read noise and gain calculations Used for precise dark, flat and bias calibration

Software for DSLR Cameras

I use Images Plus 3 Use for camera control during photo session

current with new cameras Each camera model has different built in software Each camera has different sensor/DeBayer Layer

Use for processing normal light sub frame exposures


Bias and Flat correction Align and stack images

Cassiopeia: Raw image to Final Image