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Capture the Cosmos

Dennis Mammana

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Astrophotography
As fascinating and fulfilling as sky photography is, those with a telescope may wish to shoot more deeply into the cosmos, and enter the realm of astrophotography. The first place to begin is the moon, a bright planet, or even the sun—with a proper sun filter attached to the front of the telescope, of course. Since these subjects require very short exposures, we can get by with a telescope that doesn’t automatically track the sky’s movement.

Perhaps the easiest trick is to use your camera and tripod, positioned right above the telescope eyepiece. Open your lens aperture all the way, focus on infinity, and position the camera so that it’s looking right down the center of the eyepiece. Now focus the telescope so that the image appears sharp in the camera viewfinder, taking care not to bump the lens with the moving eyepiece.

Another, less Rube-Goldberg-type method uses an “afocal” coupler that slips into the telescope eyepiece holder and a “T-ring” adapter that couples it directly to your camera. T-ring adapters are made for most camera major brands, but they require that the lens be removed—and that means that relatively inexpensive point-and-shoot type cameras will not work. With this method you can use the telescope’s eyepiece to project directly onto the film or digital sensor.

A third technique uses the telescope itself as the camera “lens”; it’s called “prime focus”. For this you’ll need a T-ring as well as a prime-focus coupler that inserts into the eyepiece tube. While it doesn’t produce as large an image other methods, by eliminating both the eyepiece and camera lens from the light path you’ll produce a much sharper and crisper image.

Whichever method you use, make sure your camera-telescope setup is balanced properly and that you use an electronic remote control or cable release to reduce vibrations. And if your camera has a “mirror-lockup” setting, use it. This will lock up the mirror so that when you trip the shutter only the focal plane actually moves.

Get Shooting!
Few things are as wondrous as watching the glorious sky, and capturing it to share with others. And, since the sky is constantly changing, every photo you take will be unique. There may never be a perfect exposure in sky photography—so “bracket” your exposures by taking several around what you think will be the right one and choose your favorite later. In fact, now that you’ve completed this entire article, I can share with you the well-guarded secret to taking one amazing sky photo: shoot 100 and discard 99!

Remember… if you can see it, you can photograph it. So get out there and start shooting. With the right gear, preparation and effort, you’ll soon be creating spectacular celestial portraits of your own.

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