Astrophotography and the Digital SLR

I've been taking astrophotographic pictures for a few months now, and while I'm certainly no expert, there are a few things I've learned. I'd like to share some of the insights I've had taking such pictures with my Nikon D200. Most of the advice should be translatable to any digital SLR. To begin with, yes, you can take good photos of astronomical objects with a digital SLR. But, no, you're not going to get closeups of planets with such a setup. The longest lens you're likely to have is a slow 500mm. Not accounting for any crop factor your camera might have, that's only a 10x magnification. Most planetary observers use telescopes in the 20x to 30x range. That would be equivalent to a 1,000mm to 1,500mm lens!

Astrophotography: Moon-Venus Convergence, February 27, 2009

In what has become a busy week for astrophotography, the Moon and Venus danced close together this evening, with the Moon in its faintest mode and Venus in its brightest. Both were actually crescents. Unlike the Moon, which is in a crescent phase when it is least bright, Venus is at its brightest when it is a crescent. This is because it can only be a crescent when it is relatively close to us, and can only be full when it is on the other side of the sun from us (and thus fainter due to distance).

Astrophotography – Saturn and the Comet Lulin, February 24, 2009

Most people are unaware, but there's a comet in our neighborhood. Comet Lulin made its closest approach to Earth yesterday, February 24, 2009. While only viewable unaided in very dark skies, it was (and still is) viewable with binoculars. The wife and I decided to head out into the Texas Hill Country to see if we could find it, and maybe grab a picture or two. We went west on RR1431 until we found a spot off the road about ten miles east of Marble Falls, Texas.

Astrophotography – Venus, February 22, 2009

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had quite a few people ask me, “What’s that incredibly bright star in the western sky just after sunset?”

Actually, it’s no star. It’s our sister planet Venus, and she’s so bright because she’s relatively close to us right now.

We are still getting closer, so Venus will gain in brightness over the coming days, but I decided to get out and try to get a shot of her tonight. This was off the …

UT Tower Just After Sunset

This previous Saturday was a perigee full moon. This is a full moon that corresponds with the moon being at the closest point of its elliptical orbit. Such a moon is 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than a typical full moon. So, I headed down to campus to, well, shoot the moon. My hope was to frame the moon alongside the UT Tower. I got down there before sunset, in the hopes that I would get a nice orange sunset to shoot as well.

Astrophotography: Moon-Venus-Jupiter Convergence – December 1st

The skies Monday night were clear as could be for the convergence of the three brightest objects in the night sky, the Moon, Venus and Jupiter.

That’s Venus at six o’clock and Jupiter at four o’clock. Obviously, the Moon is at eleven o’clock.

I shot in a part of my Cedar Park subdivision that is only partially developed. Here are some more pictures.

The crescent Moon is coming through as a circle because it is so much brighter than everything …

Astrophotography: Venus-Jupiter Convergence – November 30th

For those that don’t know, there is an interesting convergence of celestial objects occurring right now. The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, have been moving closer and closer together over the last few weeks. Tonight and tomorrow night, they are only two degrees apart.

It was a tough night for astrophotography. The convergence occurs just after sundown, and only lasts two or three hours each night before it sets. As the sun was going down here in Austin, the …

Astrophotography: Venus-Jupiter Convergence

If you’ve been watching the skies for the last few weeks, you’ve seen an interesting show just after sunset. The two brightest stars in our sky, Venus and Jupiter, have been getting closer and closer.

The highlight will be December 1st when a waxing crescent moon joins the show.

I’ll be shooting both November 30th and December 1st, but I wanted to do a dry run tonight. Lots of digital noise given that the ISO was so high, but not …