TRAC: Astrophotography brings the night sky into sharp focus

“Have a digital camera? Shoot the night sky!”

How amazing have the night skies been of late? Bet you wished you could capture a piece of them. Don’t have a telescope or big fancy camera? 

Have you wanted to get into astronomy but don’t want to jump in the deep end and purchase a telescope that you probably won’t use because you don’t know how?

You’re not alone. Most people interested in astronomy fear purchasing the wrong telescope or buying one that does not meet their needs or expertise. 

There is an answer to this problem - it’s called Astrophotography!  Astrophotography has been around since the camera was invented but was difficult using traditional film since the images could not be viewed until after the film was developed.  

With the advent of the digital camera however, it is as simple as point, shoot, review, modify and shoot again. Subsequently, you can perform practical amateur astronomy and explore the night sky with only a digital camera, tripod and lens.

With these three key pieces of equipment, the world of Astrophotography is at your fingertips – and you haven’t had to spend a fortune getting set up.

Any digital camera will be able to take photos of the night sky. A digital SLR camera would be ideal as they have a manual mode in which you can manipulate the settings and become more familiar with your camera. Most tripods on the market will serve their purpose at a budget price.

Whilst it may be possible to compromise on expense to some extent, the lens has a dramatic effect on the image your camera will take and is therefore something to consider more carefully.

With the right lens, you can take panoramic vistas of the Milky Way and get up close and personal with a nebula or galaxy.  

If you have an 18-55mm or 24-105mm lens you can take wide angle shots to capture the Milky Way at 18/24mm or zoom in to 55/105mm to capture your first stellar object such as the Large Magellanic Cloud or the Saucepan, which contains Orion’s Belt and the famous Orion Nebula.

Mystery of the night: The Milky Way photographed by Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club's Craige Watson.

Mystery of the night: The Milky Way photographed by Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club's Craige Watson.

Don’t forget to utilise technology too - there are many apps on the market, such as Stellarium which can help you navigate the night sky and the stellar objects you want to photograph, or identify objects you have photographed. Similarly, photo-stitching programs such as PTGui can automatically create a panoramic image from many shots.

I recently attended a course delivered by the astrophotographer, Alan Dyer, and was amazed at how simple it was to take professional looking shots of the night sky.  

You don’t need to be an expert, but knowing one certainly helps!  

We are fortunate at the Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club to have the skills and knowledge of Stuart Goff, Garry Copper and our newest member, Craig Watson.  

Come along to our one of our monthly meetings and get in contact with us via our webpage at www.tamworthastronomy.com.au or our Facebook site.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Digital: While photographing the night sky can be done on a budget, the lens is something to consider more carefully.

Digital: While photographing the night sky can be done on a budget, the lens is something to consider more carefully.

Sky Map: Sky of the Tamworth region about 8pm for mid-August. Image SkySafari, skysafariastronomy.com

Sky Map: Sky of the Tamworth region about 8pm for mid-August. Image SkySafari, skysafariastronomy.com