At present, we are in a golden age for astronomy. Technology has provided marvelous glimpses into our past by allowing scientists to capture photons and waves as perfectly preserved time capsules, a treasure chest full of our origins and beginnings. Large telescopes, both land-based and space-based, both optical and radio, have greatly enhanced our understanding of the universe. These same technologies have now funneled into the hands of amateurs, who now possess the tools to take over some of the types of astronomical science that is traditionally the function of major observatories. Measuring changes in the illuminations of variable stars, double star research, supernovae detection, asteroid and minor planet tracking, and even all-sky surveys are prominently the domain of amateur astronomers. There is something wonderful about connecting to the scientific community, a source of pride in being a part of the only real science that allows an amateur to make a meaningful contribution.
But let’s be honest here.
Despite the name, "All About Astro," this is a site about astrophotography. You are reading this page because you desire to produce better pictures. You want to make round stars with your CG-5-type mount - or understand more about Curves in Photoshop - or learn about the acceptable use of color in an image.
You want an answer to the question, "How artsy is too artsy?"
You are the essence of the modern day amateur astrophotographer - a person who was likely impacted by the visceral thrill of Hubble images and who has always loved both astronomy and photography - the merger was inevitable - and now, you, a most special breed of photographer, is looking to do it a little better.
Put another way - you want to create art, using science as a method or basis for an acceptable, satisfying, and artful result.
These articles, writings, presentations, and tutorials makes no pretense about that. We can spend veritable thousands on hardware and software that yield better data - this, in itself, is the essence of good science. But capturing that data, interpreting it, and then re-interpreting it in a visual display medium is purely art. As soon as you start your first non-linear stretch (Photoshop "curves") of the data, you will no longer be able to gauge anything about the relative brightness of an object. It is the beginning of a chain of image processing choices that will skew perception and color.
How image details relate to one another will forever be subject to interpretion; and thus methodologies will be highly debated. For example, a Google search for images of an object will testify that there is no "right" answer. But whether our chain of choices produces minor or severe changes in differences from other images, any end result should prompt further inspection, giving rise to an investigation into what caused those differences.
So, accept it now - as an astrophotographer, your end results will have little scientific validity in the eyes of the scientific community. But in truth, neither does a Hubble image, other than to yield a different perspective previously never seen in an already known object. Hubble images inspire more than they inform. Your images should too inspire more than they inform.
For me, this is the goal of an image - to show an object in such a way that hints at a real possibility, inspiring us, and others, to ask more questions.
Instead of real science, we will have to take solace in the fact that our APOD winning images tell a story. A story so important that it inspires professional astronomers, philosophers, and poets to do their jobs.
These articles, and this site, is for those who hope to change the scientific world by doing what the Hubble has done - make kids and adults alike choose lifelong vocations (and avocations) where their scientific inquiries will yield wonderful advances to our understanding of the universe, giving us, the astroimager, more reasons to do what we do.
Content related to taking good data with your gear...
What do you do with all that data once you've captured it?
If you want to get better, then you must know WHY you are doing what you are doing...