|All About Astro.com
Philosophy - Theory - Big Picture Stuff
In the mid-oughts, I began writing a book, All About Astroimaging, which never really got finished. Being a comprehensive and detailed look at the hobby, driven by my own sense of thoroughness, there became no way to ever call it "finished." So, instead of hoarding away the material while persisting toward an end that would never come, I decided to begin converting the chapters and topics into the articles below.
Keep in mind that many of the articles are lengthy. There will be stories and humor and illustrations. I like to write, so the articles might even come across as being a bit pretentious. But remember, they were once chapters of a book.
Thus, take your time with the articles and try to imagine you are reading your favorite novel. Hopefully you will find the writing both illuminating and enjoyable...
Imaging Theory - Resources for Learning - Casual Reading
How to Learn Astrophotography - A great introduction and jumping off point for those wondering how to tackle something as hard as our hobby.
Space is a Landscape - Looking at a central philosophy for your images and why it is important to have great S/N.
Developing a Plan for Our Images - From start to finish, how to develop a vision for your image and how to execute until the end.
DSLRs and Unity Gain - How to properly set the ISO on your DSLR camera.
How to Build a Roll-Off Roof Observatory - Theories and considerations for a DIY observatory and details my own build.
Data Acquisition - Equipment - Techniques
Best Data Acquisition Practices - Data acquisition skills are identified and prioritized, ultimately saving you valuable time under the stars.
The Beginner's Telescope - What does such a telescope look like and what do I recommend?
Choosing a 35mm Film Camera - A legacy article written way back during the age of film astrophotography, just so you can appreciate how far we have come!
Processing - Software - Techniques - Tips
The Task of Image Processing - A useful glimpse into the steps of going from RAW data to finished image. Includes example workflow and reasons why we do what we do.
Astronomy - The Night Sky - Observing
Astronomy and the Weather - Taking a close look at weather and how we should respond.
Where to Setup Your Telescope - How do we choose the optimal place for our enjoyment of the hobby?
Do Dark Skies Really Matter? - Getting deep into what we should expect with various telescopes in differing skies.
Globular Clusters: The Cosmic Rebels - A look at the life and times of these stellar beauties.
"Astroimaging Tricks of the Trade"
Fort Worth Astronomical Society, January 2004 - A good guide for showing the capabilities for today's amateur imager and some tips for making amazing astroimages.
"How to Build an Astroimager"
NEAIC 2014 - Originally presented in 4 sessons, this is the most comprehensive treatment of astrophotography that you will likely find.
Texas Star Party, April 2014 - Steps you through the Photoshop Workflow, including processing tips, philosophy, and art advice.
"Math in Astronomy"
Mansfield ISD, June 2014 - Given to district Astronomy teacher providing ways to connect to math outside of textbook instruction.
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.
Amazingly, these same technologies have now funneled into the hands of amateurs, who currently possess the tools to take over much of the 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, exo-planet detection, and even all-sky surveys are NOW 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 a newbie who's just getting started. Or perhaps you are reading this page because you desire to produce better pictures? Maybe you just 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 now the James Webb Telescope) 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 space images, 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 interpretation; 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, artists like us 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 tutorials, and this site, is for those who hope to change the world by doing what the Hubble has done - make kids and adults alike choose lifelong vocations (and avocations) where their inquiries will yield wonderful advances to their understanding of both themselves AND the universe, ultimately giving us, the astroimager, more reasons to do what we do.