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Astrophotography for Beginners in 2023 - the History and the Present

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Photography is a popular activity in the 21st century, with an increasing number of people learning the art of capturing beautiful images from memorable moments. Not only is photography a source of entertainment, but it can also serve as a source of income.

However, with its different categories and numerous tips, photography can be confusing for beginners. Photography, in its simplest form, is the process of creating images by capturing light with a photosensitive surface such as film or an electronic image. Photographers see it as a combination of vision and imagination, bringing their vision to life with the tools at hand. Now that we have a general understanding of photography, let's delve deeper into astrophotography.

Astrophotography is the photography of astronomical objects, celestial events, and areas of the night sky. It has the ability to record not only the details of extended objects such as the Moon, Sun, and planets, but also objects that are invisible to the human eye, such as dim stars, nebulae, and galaxies.

History of Astrophotography

The history of astrophotography can be traced back to 1839 when Louis Daguerre took the first photograph of the moon using the Daguerreotype method. However, in those days, most astronomers still used drawings to depict what they saw, and it was only a few who believed in the potential of astrophotography.

It was not until 1883 that Isaac Roberts, an engineer, and amateur astronomer, mounted a camera onto an equatorially mounted telescope and captured an image with details that were not possible to see with the naked eye. In the following years, astronomers around the world started using photography to view and capture the transit of Venus. In 1923, Edwin Hubble at Mount Wilson Observatory spotted a Cepheid variable star in Andromeda and proved that it was a separate galaxy.

In 1929, Clyde Tombaugh was tasked with finding the mathematically predicted planet X, which he found and named Pluto in 1930. In 1959, a Soviet spacecraft called Luna 3 was sent to capture pictures of the far side of the moon, and in 1969, the American spacecraft Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the moon and captured photographs of it.

In 1972, the astronauts on the US Apollo 17 mission took the first widely distributed photograph of the Earth from space, and in 1976, Viking 1 sent the first photograph from the surface of Mars. In 1995, Jeff Hester and Paul Scowden at Arizona State University captured the picture of the Eagle Nebula, and in 1997, NASA, ESA, and ASI launched Cassini-Huygens, which in 2004 arrived in Saturn's orbit and sent images that provided more information about Saturn and its rings.

In recent years, digital technology has made a significant impact on the quality of astrophotography. From 2010 to the present, NASA and ESA astronomers have tweeted their pictures from the International Space Station.

Astrophotographers have been using electronically controlled tracking mounts since the 1990s, but today, they are lighter and easier to use, making it easier for amateur astrophotographers to capture astronomical objects. NASA launched the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2003 and ESA launched the Herschel Space Telescope in 2009, both equipped with cameras capable of photographing the universe beyond.

Equipment for Astrophotography

When it comes to equipment, DSLR cameras are the most ideal for astrophotographers. They have the best quality and can be attached directly to a telescope by removing the lens. Here are some of the basic equipment for beginners:

  1. Camera: A camera with manual controls and a large sensor is ideal for astrophotography, as it will allow you to take longer exposures without producing too much noise. DSLR and mirrorless cameras are both great options.

  2. Lens: A wide-angle lens with a fast aperture (f/2.8 or lower) is ideal for astrophotography, as it will allow you to capture more light and create a wider field of view.

  3. Tripod: A sturdy tripod is a must for astrophotography, as it will keep your camera steady during long exposures.

  4. Intervalometer: An intervalometer is a device that will allow you to control the timing of your exposures.

  5. Star Tracker: A star tracker is a motorized device that will move your camera at the same rate as the stars, allowing you to take longer exposures without trailing.

  6. Filter: A light pollution filter will help to reduce the amount of light pollution in your images, giving you better results.

  7. Software: Editing software, such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, will allow you to adjust your images and bring out the best in your astrophotography.

Astrophotography is a challenging and rewarding form of photography that requires specialized equipment to capture the beauty of the night sky. But to take good photos requires specialized equipment to capture the beauty of the night sky and lenses are something that can definitely change how the photos turn out to be.

Beginners can start with their camera lenses, but there are many lenses that are specifically designed for astrophotography.

  • Wide-angle lenses: Wide-angle lenses with a fast aperture (f/2.8 or lower) allow for more light to enter the camera and capture more stars in a wider field of view.

  • Telephoto lenses: Telephoto lenses with fast apertures can be used for capturing detailed shots of celestial objects such as the moon and planets.

  • Rokinon/Samyang lenses: Rokinon and Samyang lenses are known for their fast apertures and affordability, making them a popular choice among astrophotographers.

  • Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM: This lens is a popular choice for Canon users, as it offers a fast aperture and a wide field of view.

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED: This lens is a popular choice for Nikon users, as it offers a fast aperture and a wide field of view.

  • Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art: This lens offers a fast aperture and a wide field of view, making it a popular choice among astrophotographers who use Sigma cameras.

It is important to note that lens choice will also depend on the type of camera being used, as well as personal preferences and budget.

A camera with manual controls, a wide-angle lens, a sturdy tripod, an intervalometer, a star tracker, a light pollution filter, and editing software are all essential pieces of equipment for astrophotographers. If you are thinking about going into photography professionally, consider taking up our diploma in professional photography course to be taken seriously by both your clients and potential hiring companies alike.

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