PixInsight – Interview with Harry Page (Harry’s Astro Shed)

In my last blog post, I interviewed Juan Conejero of Pleiades Astrophoto, S.L. Juan is the principal developer of PixInsight. While discussing the learning curve for PixInsight, Juan mentioned Harry Page and Harry's excellent series of PixInsight video tutorials. I contacted Harry to see if he would be interested in talking with us about PixInsight and his videos and I'm delighted to say that Harry graciously agreed to an interview. Included below is our conversation.

What motivated you to create your first PixInsight video tutorial?
Finding that PixInsight helped me transform my images and offered many things that I personally thought were unique or difficult to recreate in other packages, I became a PixInsight Disciple trying to spread the word to others of how PixInsight could help them. But, I soon came across the "too difficult for me" scenario, which I did understand as PixInsight looks different from some other packages (ok I will say it Photoshop) even though given a little time and effort you will soon be wondering what all the fuss was about.

After watching the first official PixInsight tutorial video using my M42 data I thought what a great idea, as I had learnt more in a video tutorial than I would of spending hours looking through written instructions. I did however, think it would be too much for a newbie to take in as it presumes that you already know a little bit about using PixInsight. With this in mind I came up with the idea of doing some fairly simple video tutorials taking one subject a time and introducing basic use so hopefully not drowning the newbie with too much information and easing them into the world of PixInsight gently.

My aim was to show that good results can be achieved with only a little bit of effort. I find most people soon become PixInsight converts once they get to see some results.

Do you have a background in education and/or training?
I am afraid not, I am only a carpenter who left school at the age of 16 and went straight into the world of work and construction. Saying this I have trained my fair share of apprentices over the years and perhaps some of the things I have picked up along the way have helped me, including a couple of my favourite sayings:

  • There is no such thing as common sense; they only know what you teach them!
  • Just because you know does not mean they know!

With these in mind I never presume anybody knows anything and yes it does get me into trouble sometimes.

How many videos have you made?
There are 9 newbie videos covering basic image processing which should provide enough info so people can get good results without to much difficulty, also there are 3 intermediate videos covering some more topics in a little more detail and finally half a dozen quick demo processes of other peoples data.

Are you planning on making more videos?
I think I have created a beast and there will always be a need for more videos and I have a long list of customer requests. Unfortunately my free time has been short recently but I will do more when time permits, even though some of my existing ones need updating to keep up with the fast and furious development of PixInsight. I do not want them to become obsolete.

How did you get started with PixInsight?
I can't remember how I came across it, I just thought it was worth a try as it looked interesting and I was not wrong.

The first tool I learnt in PixInsight was ACDNR (noise reduction) and I was impressed with it and by the time I got DBE (gradient removal) I was and still am amazed at what it could do. And there was all this other stuff to learn as well, that's part of the fun to me. PixInsight can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I found without PixInsight extracting decent data out of the orange glow that contaminates most of my images was nearly impossible. I became a PixInsight Addict. A disease there is no cure for.

Your web site has an area called Harry's PixInsight User Guide. How is the material here different from the material in your videos?
Some people have complained about the lack of written info and documentation so this sounded like another challenge. The user guide, (still under construction) goes into more detail about the parameters in each of the tools with suggested settings and information on how to use them. Again my idea was to try and make the guide as user friendly as possible.

What hardware and software do you use to create your videos?
I use my 3-year-old core duo laptop running vista 64 and use a £10 headset with mic I bought from Ebay, the hardware was not the problem, but finding the right software was more of a challenge.

To start with I used a package called Replay Video Capture which was very basic but created good quality videos with a small file size. The only problem was it directly recorded WMV files and you cannot edit these files very well so the first 2 or 3 videos were 1 take videos, a lot harder to do than it first appears and there are many versions on the cutting room floor with the odd expletive in them.

I now use Camtasia Studio, an excellent piece of software that records in the AVI format which you can edit to your hearts content and also add a few video tricks to make the whole thing look a bit more professional. When I have finished editing the video and removed any small words of naughtiness that may have crept in, it will produce a finished video in whatever format I choose, and I chose to stick with the WMV format as they create high quality small files to make downloading as easy as possible.

You're an imager (with some beautiful images) and you use PixInsight for image processing. As a user, how does PixInsight compare with other image processing software?
Thank you for the compliment, a bit overgenerous perhaps but who am I to disagree. PixInsight offers you a lot from image calibration, stacking and advanced image processing for a very competitive price, I also like the fact that new tools seem to appear every few weeks without any additional costs, a lot of them directly influenced from user requests. I try and avoid comparing the use of PixInsight with other software particularly Photoshop, because people fall into the trap of trying to replicate their Photoshop workflow in PixInsight. Approach PixInsight with an open mind; be willing to learn new things and you will be rewarded.

All of your recent images appear to have been processed using just PixInsight. Do you ever feel the need to use other image processing software in addition to PixInsight?
I manage 99% of my processing in PixInsight and occasionally use Photoshop for the use of its layers function (don't tell anyone), but that's about it. I would not rule out using other software if it offered something I could not do in PixInsight. If I ask people to have a open mind using PixInsight I must be the same if something new came along, but I expect Juan to be at the front of development of new techniques for quite a while and if he does slip I will prod him in his ribs and remove his wine rations.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start creating video tutorials?
Making the videos was a lot harder and consumed more time than I first thought, I thought I could just knock one up off the cuff and soon found I was not that clever. You need to make a video as concise as possible while getting the message across, this requires planning and I had to write scripts for all my videos and practice the on screen action (honest). I personally would not try and get too much in a video, explaining every nook and cranny of a tool is not what a video is for, they are great for showing techniques, tips and tricks. Please do not be put off by me saying they took a while to do. Have a go, people are hungry for your help.

Editor's Note:

You can find Harry Page's PixInsight video tutorials at: http://www.harrysastroshed.com/pixinsighthome.html

The PixInsight Home Page is: http://www.pixinsight.com/

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