Most people love to gaze up at the night sky and enjoy the beautiful light show that nature provides, the stars, galaxies and constellations seem so close. It is fun to imagine what earth was like millions of years ago when light from distant stars left on its journey through the universe, never stopping or slowing down, and finally reaching earth. Star gazing can be especially fun if you’re lying on a blanket next to your sweetheart and enjoying these beautiful celestial creations together! Observing the universe with the naked eye is fun but what if you want to capture these objects on film and in as much detail as possible? Well for that you are going to need a telescope. Choosing the right telescope doesn’t have to be complicated if you follow some simple guidelines.
- Lens Or Mirror Diameter. Assuming that this is your first telescope a 4 inch lens should fit your needs. Lens or mirror size is important because the larger the lens or mirror the more available light it will be able to gather and the higher the resolution will be. However the larger lens and mirror telescopes also cost more.
- Mounts, Bigger Is Better! Look for a telescope that has a sturdy and well constructed mount. This type of mount will provide stability on uneven or rough terrain. Poorly designed and flimsy mounts will wind up causing you nothing frustration.
- Eyepiece. This is a comfort issue. The better eyepieces will allow you to observe your target without having to literally press your eye against it, which can be very uncomfortable and almost impossible to view the object for more than a few seconds.
Now that you know some of the things to look for when shopping for a telescope lets take a look at getting the camera setup and taking some photographs!
- Photographing Distant Objects. If you are using an SLR camera than your best bet will be to use the Prime Focus Method. This requires you to remove the camera’s lens and the eyepiece from the telescope and using a T-Ring Adapter and T-Ring to reattach the camera to the telescope. What this does is turns your telescope into a camera lens! This technique works great when photographing distant objects that give off little light (as seen from earth) and require long exposures. The Prime Focus Method also works very well when photographing objects that create a large field such as Galaxies and Nebulae. Make Sure you purchase the correct T-Ring and Adapter for the make and model of your camera.
- Planets And The Moon. These can be photographed best if you use the Eyepiece Projection Method. Using an Eyepiece Projection Adapter attach the camera to the telescopes eyepiece and if possible use a remote trigger to take the picture, this will help to keep vibration to a minimum. Once again make sure you purchase the right adapter for your cameras make and model.
The above suggestions should get you on your way into the area of Astrophotography but just to make sure here are some tips and warnings.
- When shopping for a telescope don’t get to caught up in its magnification. While magnification is important it is not THE most important thing to consider. A telescope does its job by gathering light and the amount of light it collects is in direct relation to the size of its lens or mirror. To determine a telescopes magnification capacity you can do the following. Multiply the size of the lens, lets say it’s 4 inches, by 60 this gives you 240. This number will roughly represent the telescopes upper magnification limit.
- Pay Attention To Details. Always make sure the flash is turned off and that you use an ISO setting of at least 400. Use longer exposures for objects that are faint and shorter exposures for ones that are bright.
- Beware Of The Sun! Unless you are a trained professional photographer who has the proper equipment to photograph our nearest star than I would STRONGLY recommend that you not attempt it.. Even though the sun is roughly 150 million miles from earth and its light takes over 8 minutes to reach us don’t let these numbers fool you! The sun is a nuclear furnace that is constantly emitting Ultraviolet rays as well as X-Rays and extremely dangerous Gamma rays. The intensity of these different rays vary according to their wavelength but they are all present. NEVER EVER use a telescope, binoculars or any other piece of magnification equipment to view the sun, using your naked eye is not a good idea either. The sun can very quickly and permanently damage your eyes (especially the retina) so PLEASE leave it to the pros.
- Join An Astronomy Club. Star gazing can be much more fun if you enjoy it with others who share the same interest. They are also great places to have discussions and to learn from one another.
- Get To Know The Sky. The internet provides a wealth of information on our solar system and the universe as does your local library. Finding out where to point your telescope to locate your favorite celestial objects will make photographing them much easier. The links listed at the end of this article will assist you in navigating your way around the night sky.
I hope the information that I have provided will help you in your quest to photograph our beautiful and amazing universe. Just be patient and stay persistent and before you know it you’ll be taking pictures that will amaze you!