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Getting started in astrophotography

Matt BenDaniel's advice for burgeoning astrophotographers


Many people regularly ask Matt BenDaniel what kinds of astrophotographs they can create. Here is his advice for the beginning astrophotographer.

First, you can count the number of full-time "professional astrophotographers" on Earth with the fingers of one hand. The vast majority of fine-art astrophotographs are created by dedicated amateur artists like myself. (Professional astronomers are interested in data, not pretty pictures). My specialty is expansive views of nebulae (faint clouds of gas) that cover a few degrees of sky. Medium format film is still the best method for that.


BEGIN WITH STAR TRAILS

You can take beautiful star trail astrophotographs with equipment that you may already have. The best images require a dark, clear, moonless location.

  • Set up the film-camera (e.g. 35mm SLR) on a tripod.
  • Focus at infinity.
  • Open the shutter for at least an hour.
  • As in terrestrial photography, you want to use fine-grain (slow) film for best quality. On ISO 200 film (Kodak E200 is excellent), you would typically use f/5.6.
  • A lens shade helps keep away stray light and dew. If the location is dewy, you may need to use a dew remover.
  • Including trees, buildings, etc. usually livens up the composition.

Learn how to capture images of star trails as your first step to becoming an accomplished astrophotographer.
Learn how to capture images of star trails as your first step to becoming an accomplished astrophotographer.

Include Earth-bound objects in your picture to add interest and drama to your star trails pictures.
Include Earth-bound objects in your picture to add interest and drama to your star trails pictures.

If you have the means to get the film frames scanned and can manipulate them in Photoshop, you will get the best results. By the way, virtually all digital cameras are unsuitable for shooting star trails.

You can see star trail images in the wide field section of my web site.

THE NEXT STEP AFTER STAR TRAILS

After you master star trails, the next logical step would be an investment in a motorized equatorial mount for wide-field astrophotography of constellations and the Milky Way. Will you be ready when the next great comet comes along?


ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY REFERENCES FOR THE BEGINNER TO CHECK OUT

For more information, check out the book "Astrophotography for the Amateur" by Covington, or see "Catching the Light" at www.astropix.com.

HAVE A LOOK AT MATT'S GREAT ASTROPHOTOGRAPHS

For more examples of Matt's superb astrophotographs, visit his web site at Starmatt.com.
To contact Matt directly, his email address is matt@starmatt.com