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Astrophotography for beginners

David Goldstein (dagoldst)

Keywords: astrophotography, equipment, budget, sky, dagoldst

This is the first part of the series on Astrophotography.

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


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Kevin Mooney (kevinlmooney) on July 31, 2022

Great article, just what I need. Thanks for sharing.

David Goldstein (dagoldst) on March 29, 2019

Russell, Marsha, thanks. This is just a very basic intro, but I hope it generates more interest on Nikonians in deep sky object imaging. :)

Russell Whittemore (rosewood_ltd) on March 28, 2019

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas. Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Thanks for a very nice introduction, David. AP is an area I hope to learn more about and hopefully participate in after I retire. Your article has given me some inklings as to where I need to be headed and for that, I thank you very much. Russ

Marsha Edmunds (meadowlark2) on March 27, 2019

Donor Ribbon awarded for her support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Fellow Ribbon awarded for her continuous encouragement and meaningful comments in the spirit of Nikonians. Donor Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for her in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.  Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Fascinating article, David - nudging me to think or should I say dream again of starting such an adventure in photography. Your article makes me appreciate the process even more and your images are profoundly stirring.