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Wednesday, 14 January 2009


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Just as a diversion from photography, the Kennedy Space Center has a schedule of it's shuttle launches and you can buy tickets to go and see one. You aren't that close, it's still little more than a blob in the distance, but given the sheer amount of heat and noise that's probably for the best.

My wife and I worked on a space telescope and we were able to watch it launch. It was a night launch and that was really spectacular. As far as you could see, everything was lit up orange by the blast from the shuttle. It's pretty impressive, and they dump something like a quarter million gallons of water onto the launch area to keep it from slagging from the heat.

Well worth it if you can squeeze it into a trip in the area.


"The four most popular moving objects to image are meteor showers, the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station (ISS) and Iridium flares."

Don't forget the lost tool bag of the ISS! I heard it should still be visible… ;-)

Anyway, great article!

Thanks for the great article, I have tried on and off for the last year or so to get good quality images of the moon and space images in general. I have shot at night through a couple different telescopes. I agree with you that it is quite difficult at first, but that is part of what makes it so satisfying when you actually get a good image. Here's a link to my first attempt to capture the space shuttle during a night launch this past November.


It's certainly not National Geographic quality, but it was fun to shoot and see the launch. I hope to capture a better image during the next launch - now that I have some idea what to expect. It sure happens quickly, so you have to be prepared in advance and use a high enough ISO/shutter speed to hope to capture it without too much shake and telephoto induced blur. I used a ball head and tried to pan it up, but next time I'm taking a heavy telescope tripod to try for a more rugged and vibration free shot. I'm going to try to utilize a bit more "foot zoom" too, I can't afford the 800mm Canon lens for the rare hobby shot. I debated trying to use my 8" telescope, but I'm not sure I could get critical focus on something that's moving that fast...In fact I'm sure I couldn't.

wide-field astrophotography isn't all that expensive. you just need a wide to normal lens that's really good at wide apertures, and a barn door tracker to avoid star trails. i remember one web page featuring a sophisticated, exquisitely machined barn door tracker that operated at or near the theoretical maximum accuracy, but a simpler device will still do the job.

unfortunately, at the time i couldn't reconcile technical constraints with artistic desires. there was always that tradeoff between sharp heavens or a sharp earth, and i wanted both - without resorting to photoshop.

just the other day, daniel bayer made a very interesting post on rff. it shows a mountainscape with a well exposed milky way above it. the exposure time was 30 seconds, so there's no problem with star trails! what made it possible? he used a 35mm ZF wide open on a nikon d700 set at ISO 6400.


found it!

this double arm drive was made by evan williams in 2002.


Dear Chip,

As always, it depends on what you mean by the word, "expensive." There's lots of casual discussion in this forum of buying digital camera bodies that cost $2500-$3000. Many people here don't seem to think that's unreasonable (although most of them do balk at the $8000 -$10,000 stuff).

That kind of money will buy you a VERY decent astrophotography rig, fully functional and ready to go (assuming you already have sufficient computer to process the images). If you just want to get started at a decent level, some savvy shopping will push this to well under $2000.

Astrophotography has benefited more from the advances in electrooptics than any other field of photography. As one who has been doing this, very casually, for 40 years, I can tell you that the changes are breathtaking.

But one thing that hasn't changed is that astrophotography is dependent as much on knowledge and technique as any other kind of demanding photography. Equipment counts, but learning just how to use it counts for more. If you know the craft really well, you can obtain remarkable photos with VERY little expenditure. Just time and patience (lots of those!) and dark skies.

This photograph, for example:


required only a few hundred dollars worth of equipment beyond my regular camera. I bought the cheapest telescope I could that had a motorized clock drive with a manual controller. I piggybacked my camera on the scope and used the telescope as a guide scope for making this five-minute exposure on ISO 400 film.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Aizen,

Sometimes, if you've picked a subject where most of the "motion" is parallel to the horizon, you can fake a sharp horizon well enough. I made this 10-minute exposure of Comet Hyakutake in the same fashion as my Comet Halley photo:


Fortune provided me with said horizontal motion, so rather than crop out the horizon as I'd originally expected to do, I left it in. At first glance, it looks sharp (enough); anyway, people don't notice that it is in fact smeared. Greatly improves the 'presence' of the subject matter.

An aside: sharp-eyed viewers may notice that the stars are slightly elongated rather than being pinpoints. That's not sloppy tracking on my part. I was tracking on the nucleus of the comet, and Hyakutake was so close to Earth that over a 10-minute exposure it moved measurably against the background. In fact, looking at it through my guide scope, I could actually see it moving, very slowly, relative to the stars. It's very strange to look at deep space objects and watch them move!

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Another cool hobby: shooting Mother Earth from outer space. Check the incredible results this guy is getting by shooting his Pentax K10d DSLR at 98,514 ft. above Oklahoma:

Here's the link to his Flickr sets:


What I prefer is his first post on PentaxForums.com:


He posted the above picture accompanied by the following text without any other explanation:

"Took this shot yesterday with a k10d at over 104,000 ft altitude. The k10d performed flawlessly in the harsh vacuum of space at temperatures below-60F"



Dear Abbazz,

Shows how lousy Pentax lenses are. Look at that distortion-- the horizon line isn't even CLOSE to being straight!


Seriously, thanks for this link. My jaw dropped when I opened the first jpg.

pax / Ctein

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