First, let me begin by saying I am not an expert by any means. I have had some wonderful opportunities since I began venturing into astronomy (on a more serious level) and astrophotography around thirteen years ago. I was blessed to come into contact with people like Michael Covington who was on faculty at the University of Georgia which I had the honor to attend as well as a few others who helped me a long the way. Two of Dr. Covington’s books: “Astrophotography for the Amateur” and “Digital SLR Astrophotography” helped me immensely, however, I want to note that most of my “advancement” has always been through trial and error, and I think most people who take photos of the night sky would agree, that is the only way it is going to be. A not on these two books – yes, they are a little dated, however the principles in both remain the same today. I am also blessed to have a brother who was really into photography when I started my journey as well as now have a wife who is a wonderful photographer in her own right. I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank one of the larger influences, Dr. Richard Schmude, who opened up a door into astronomy that would have otherwise remained closed.
My journey into astronomy and astrophotography began at the end of 2007. I had just begun my collegiate career at the University of Georgia, after spending two years at Gordon College in middle Georgia. Going through some astronomy classes, along with my father suffering from a major stroke, I turned to astronomy and astrophotography as an outlet to cope as well as pass the time. I purchased my first telescope, an Orion 6″ Classic Dobsonian and I was armed with a Canon A75 point and shoot camera. From there I learned that it wasn’t as simple as simply putting the camera up to the eyepiece and taking a picture, but I also learned that you could take baby steps in both method and equipment and see huge gains. I stepped up to a Canon EOS 350D DSLR camera, buying adapters and lenses to enhance both my photography through the telescope and long exposure. I was personally overwhelmed with the idea of tracking mounts, CCD, etc but I made due with what I had, and had some wonderful help along the way with some people I met on Facebook and other social media spots.
Since I couldn’t do tracking, i stuck to pictures of the Moon, the Sun (with a filter of course!), planets (Jupiter, Saturn and Mars particularly, with some of Venus) and long exposures of constellations. I was lucky enough to live in a location that wasn’t too bright and had access to some locations that I was able to go to a few times that were pleasantly dark. My methods were crude, but I was able to achieve what I wanted through a lot of trial and error. When I get asked what is the hardest thing about astrophotography, I say there are two things. First, finding a location that suits what you want to do. Second, and maybe more importantly, being content with what you can actually do with the equipment you have and not expecting perfection every time or even at all.
I continued for several years taking long exposures, cataloguing the moon, searching out sunspots and trying to take pictures of planets with a 3 megapixel point and shoot. I got some good pics and a lot of bad ones, but most importantly, I learned a lot and had a ton of fun. In 2009 two things happened – First, in March I had a massive fire destroy my apartment, and thus, I lost a lot of my equipment. Second, in August of that year I moved to Rhode Island to be with my soon to be wife and soon to be born daughter. In the first few years of being in Rhode Island I bought a couple of telescopes, but with being in the city it was more of a novelty then a hobby. That being said, I never lost my passion for astronomy, astrophotography and photography in general, it just felt like good opportunities were few and far between. Seven children later, who are all home schooled, plus an pandemic, has given new life to a passion of mine that I had almost let slip away, and I am excited to be, in many ways, reborn into the world of astronomy and astrophotography.
I still don’t have tracking capability. I still use a trusty old Dobosonian telescope, but I hope over time not only will my capabilities grow, but I will be able to share some pretty neat pictures with everyone.
My next post will deal with what type of equipment I have, what I still want and how to use it.