Looking up at the night sky is one of those things that does not get old for me. On a clear night, there is so much to see and wonder about and there is so much to learn about our place in the universe as one studies the cosmos. If you’re like me, you may have watched great documentaries, such as PBS “Seeing in the Dark”, where the subject is astronomy from a very personal perspective of Timothy Ferris, a former NASA consultant. In fact, it was that show that got me really thinking about where to go with my photography as I wanted a new challenge - I most definitely found it.
The technology and software available today for one to participate in astronomy and astrophotography ("AP") is, to put it mildly, vast. The idea behind this article for Nikonians is to introduce that vast world with the emphasis on astrophotography. The focus of this article will be DSLR-centric and Nikon oriented since that is the basis of my experience.
When I first started thinking about AP five years ago, I knew nothing about how to start, had no idea what I was getting into, but as I read more of the many outstanding online and print resources and watched many of the excellent videos that have been produced, I realized there are so many options open to a beginner as to be confusing and intimidating. This can make purchasing decisions difficult. So, in this article, I am going to express opinions based on what I learned, mistakes I made as well as suggestions to simplify getting started.
The first thing I suggest you think about is what you might want to take pictures of in AP. Deep Sky Objects ("DSO") such as the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, and other large Messier objects, are what photographers generally want to image when they start and it can be the easiest. That can help provide a definition on equipment required.
As it turns out, programs like the free software Stellarium (see their website) can help a lot. I wish I had known about it when I first started. In its software, you configure your intended telescope parameters and sensor parameters for your camera, pick a DSO and allow the program to frame the object as it will appear in your telescope - it is an unbelievably useful software tool for a beginner.
Below is a screenshot of Stellarium with my D5300 sensor and my current Telescope. It is outlining the field of view of the Orion Nebula
Screenshot of Stellarium
Click for an enlargement
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