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Introduction to Astrophotography

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    Astrophotography, is the imaging of the night sky, including the Moon, Planets, Stars, and Deep sky objects.

    The idea of shooting objects in the sky, must have been realized by many early photographers, in the early 1800's.

 Because the photographic process was so 'slow' it was not until 1840 that the first daguerrotype of the moon was

 made by American physiologist J.W. Draper, involving a full 20-minute exposure. The first star was not recorded

 until 1850, when American director of Harvard Observatory W.C. Bond and Boston photographer J.A. Whipple

 took a daguerrotype of Vega.  Henry Draper, J.W.'s son later became the first person to photograph the Orion

 Nebula in 1880, which was essentially the first deep sky astrophoto.

        As technologies regarding film, optics, and tracking mounts progressed, so did the astrophotos. By the 1920's

professional observatories were shooting deep into space, and getting results, that would lead to better

understanding the universe. It was not until the early 1960's that amateurs started to get what you would call

'good' results.  Even then the process was expensive and very time consuming, and laborious. The 'fast' 

films of the day, still required very long exposures, and manual guiding, was the only way to track the stars,

so they didn't trail.

        CCD imaging, and the computer age changed astrophotography forever. Now even a beginner can 

get results, that better professional images from just 10 years ago!  In this introduction page, we will explore

some of the terms, and types of Astro-images, so you can get on you way to becoming a Astrophotographer. 

Click on a subject :


What do you need to get started :

Your First Astrophoto : Shooting the Moon

Glossary of Astro-imaging Terms : 

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What you need to get started in Astrophotography


        To get started, you will need a few basic items, some you may already have, if you are into standard  daylight photography.

 Here is a list, that will no doubt grow as you delve further into the Hobby;

1. Camera :

        Be it your old Manual film camera or the latest Digital SLR, your camera should have the

        following functions, so you can take a wide range of Astrophotos;

            A) Manual setting that includes a 'B' (bulb) or 'T' (timed) setting for exposure

            (Note : Some Digital point and shoot cameras have manual shutter speeds,but often times max out

                    at 15 or 30 seconds, this camera can be used to a limited extent for Astrophotography, but will not

                    be able to shoot 'Deep' , as 30 seconds, may only record a few of the brightest stars)


            B) A cable release, so you can lock the 'B' or 'T' setting for the exposure time you want

            C) Mirror lock up : This function is not a must, but will help in taking photos of the moon and planets.

            D) Manual Focus : Cameras that have auto-Focus only will have a hard time focusing on the night sky.

            E) If you have a digital camera, or are looking to purchase one, make sure that it has an ISO of 400 or


2. Lens :

                Almost any standard photographic lens can be used for astrophotography, but here are some points to 

                note regarding Lenses:



            A) 'Prime' Lenses (A lens with only one focal length, i.e. 28mm 50mm 135mm ) will veld better results

                    for 2 main reasons 1. Prime lenses are 'faster' than most zoom lenses, and will require shorter exposure

                    times. 2. Most prime lenses are sharper than Zooms (unless you have a professional zoom lens, and these

                    can get very expensive.) Zooms may also 'slip' or change in focal length when pointed up to the sky, this

                    will be a problem when shooting any astrophoto.

            B) Chose the correct lens for the subject you want to shoot;

                    Wide angle lenses are great for shooting a large portion of the sky,

                    Standard lenses are good for shooting a constellation, or part their of.

                    Telephoto lenses are used for shooting the Moon, or detailed images of large objects like Galaxies,

                    and Nebula.

3. Tripod :

            For your first Astrophotos, you will need a heavy-duty tripod, with a head that can point to

            all parts of the sky. Some Tripod heads will not point straight up, and this can be a problem.

            You will not need to spend a mint on a tripod, Bogen makes a few for under $150 that will

            work well, and include a good quality head. A case for a tripod is a good option, making it

            easy to carry to the top of a hill or the like, and will also protect your tripod. This part of the

            system, if you take care of it will last a lifetime.


With your Camera, Lens, and tripod, you are ready to take your first Astrophoto.

Pick your First subject below :

        Shooting the Moon ( If you have a telephoto-Lens of 200mm or longer)

        Star Trails : ( Wide or Standard lens will be used for these photos )

        Un-tracked Constellation shots : ( Requires a wide or standard lens, 400-1600ISO film (Film Cameras)

                                                            or 400ISO setting or Higher (Digital Cameras)


Shooting the Moon 



Equipment check list :

    1. SLR Camera

    2. 100 or 200 ISO film or Set your Digital to 200 ISO

    3. Cable Release ( use your cameras self timer if you don't have a cable release yet )

    4. Telephoto lens (200mm-400mm)

    5. Tripod


The moon is a bright object, and doesn't require a long exposure time, nor high speed film (setting)

and can be  considered a ' snap shot ' photo, as the exposure time is about the same as a regular day-time 

scene. If you used your exposure meter, you will find that it will show an under-exposed reading, because

there will be a lot of dark sky around the moon, and this will ' trick' your camera.


So set your camera to Manual - and try these exposures :


Aperture / Time

f5.6 @ 500th   -  f8 @ 250th   -  f11 @ 125th   -  f16 @ 60th


Things to note :

Use your Mirror lock up function if you have one, and fire the camera with your self timer or cable release.

If you use long exposure times, i.e. 1/125th or 1/60th you may get a blurry image because of;

Camera shake - The longer the lens the more chance of camera shake, even on a tripod

A Telephoto lens is magnifying the moon many times, so the longer it is the more steady your shot has to be

(200mm = 4x 400mm = 8x and 500mm = 10x magnification on a standard 35MM camera)

Also if your exposure times get too long, the ' soft ' image may be from the fact that the earth is rotating

on its axis at about 1000mph, and the moon is moving too (12 degrees a day!) across the sky.

Shoot a lot of shots, and check and recheck focus, as only a small change can effect the sharpness of

your images. 

If you are using a 200mm-300mm lens, you will want to enlarge the image (Film - Make an 8x10 print) 

    Digital users can open there images in Adobe Photoshop, and 'Crop' the extra night sky out.

To get the best details, try a longer lens 500mm-1000mm to fill as much of the frame with the moon as you can.



Here are some images taken with a 600mm lens :

Image Data : 

    Camera : Canon EOS Digital Rebel (6.3mp) 

    Lens : Celestron 80ED f7.5/600mm 

    Bogen Tripod and Head

    Exposure time : 125th sec. / 100ISO

    Processing : Adobe Photoshop / apconstruction.net processing techniques


Lunar Eclipse Image : same as above, ex. 1/2 second exposure at 800ISO setting.



Good Luck in taking your first Images of the Moon, and remember if  you need any help, call us toll free 888-427-8766

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