Up until recently my amateur astronomy activities were focused primarily on visual observing. However, I have decided to learn astro-imaging. This is bound to be an interesting and challenging endeavor. First, you need equipment and software (perhaps a surprising amount of each). Second, you need to learn to use that equipment and software. Once you are reasonably competent with everything, you can focus on becoming a quality imager. This process can take years or perhaps a lifetime – there's always something new to learn.
This blog post is the first in an occasional series of blog posts that will detail my experiences with astro-imaging. I imagine, like all good stories, there will be comedy (laughing) and drama (crying). Let's hope there's more comedy than drama! For those of you who aren't interested in astrophotography, no worries – my interviews and other blog posts will continue just like now. For those of you who are intermediate or advanced astro imagers and not really interested in the exploits of someone new to the hobby, don't worry. Share Astronomy will be enhanced soon with a new Articles Section featuring in-depth articles of interest to everyone including intermediate and advanced imagers. (I'm looking for more authors – if you're interested please email me at Ken <dot> Hudson <@> nealstreetdesign <dot> com. I'd love to talk with you.)
People wanting to learn astro-imaging have many possible options. Their choices will depend on several factors including what type of images they want to take, what equipment they already have, how much money they are willing to spend, what kind of a support system they have, how comfortable they are with technology, what their goals are, etc. Some people may want to take scenic photos of constellations or star trails with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera on a fixed tripod. Others may be interested in planetary imaging and attach a new webcam to a telescope they already own. Still others are interested in imaging DSOs (deep sky objects) with a DSLR or a CCD camera. There are many possibilities and I would highly recommend doing your homework. Talk to people in your local astronomy club, spend a lot of time on astronomy forums like Cloudy Nights or IceInSpace, and read imaging books like Jerry Lodriguss's excellent books on CD titled A Beginner's Guide to DSLR Astrophotography and A Guide to Astrophotography with DSLR Cameras. Some types of astro-imaging are easier to learn than others and there's a strong case to be made for starting out simple and moving on to more complex activities as your skills progress. However, some people just jump into the deep end of the pool.
As I said above, in order to do astrophotography you need equipment and you need software. I have made most of my equipment and software decisions. However, I'm going to keep them a secret for right now. In my next blog post in this series, I'll tell you which telescope I'll be using and why.