Astrophotography is a fairly recent undertaking for me, although I have been interested in astronomy for a long time. Back in the ’80s I bought a very nice Meade 8″ f6 (Model 826) Newtonian reflector, with a few bells and whistles. Here is an early photo from 1982.
This telescope was amazing, and provided me with many nights of pleasure, gazing at the moon, stars, planets and galaxies. It even outperformed most of my friends’ bigger, fancier and more expensive scopes. One thing that am disappointed with is that I never did much with astrophotography at that time. Remember, we only had film cameras back then. The first digital camera to actually go on sale to the public was the 1990 Dycam Model 1. Using my Pentax 35mm, I tried a couple of times with the moon, which should have been relatively simple. Not having much success I gave it up, and now I regret it. I wish I still had that scope today, with the cameras I have now. Here is a sample image from my early years.
Not real good, but it was a start. Today I do not have a telescope anymore, but I do have some better camera equipment. Here is what I am using today.
This works OK for the moon and for wide sky photography like the Milky Way, but to capture planets, or deep sky objects, like galaxies, you do need a decent telescope. Here is another moon shot, this time using my Nikon Z7, with an AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, set to 300mm. It is a substantial improvement over my earlier attempt.
And here is the Milky Way, shot on February 20, 2020 from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, California. Same camera but the lens is a Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2, set to 15mm.
Not quite as impressive without a real telescope, but still pretty cool, here are my attempts at photographing Jupiter and Saturn, using my Z7 with the 300mm lens. You can see four of the moons of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn.
While a lot can be done from your backyard, like the above moon and planet shots, the best astrophotography requires that you get somewhere dark. Since few of us live in an especially dark location, this usually means traveling somewhere better suited to capturing those really amazing dark sky photos. To get some idea as to where the best locations are, you can check one of the various light pollution or dark sky finder applications. Personally I use https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/ which has both browser based and a phone based applications. Here is an example, which will show you just how hard it is to find really dark skies.
So, get somewhere dark, and you will be amazed.
Once you get near where you are going, you probably will need to do some hiking. And since we are talking about astrophotography, it will be a nighttime experience. This can complicate things substantially, and so you need to be prepared. Do your research before you get there. Use the various maps and apps to figure out the best places to go and the times you need to be there to capture what you want to photograph. Watch the weather, and learn to be flexible. Clear and dry weather is usually best, but don’t give up if your weather app says it will be partly cloudy. This may not hurt you at all, and may even enhance your photos in some cases.
Don’t go hiking around in the dark all on your own. Have someone else with you, just in case you trip and break a leg or something. Always scout out your location during the day. The location and the route to it needs to be safe, and make sure that you can safely navigate your way back and forth in the dark. You need to have a good flashlight AND a good head lamp, both with a red light option. Red light helps to protects your night vision.
There is a huge amount of information on the web that can help you with astrophotography. But be a little cautious, since there are quite a few sites just trying to sell you gear or software. To get started you don’t need to have a lot of these things. A decent camera and a sturdy tripod are the most important things to have. The rest of it can be added later after you figure out exactly what you want to do. You may love or hate astrophotography. Don’t spend a lot of money until after you decide where you stand. You might find that you don’t like being outdoors at night in the middle of nowhere, often either too hot or too cold. Or none of that may matter once you see what beautiful images you can capture of the vast night sky. More about the gear and apps I use are listed below.
Here is some of the gear I use for Astrophotography. Most was purchased on Amazon, but some was purchased directly from the manufacturer.
Camera, lenses and related gear
Nikon Z7 full frame mirrorless camera
NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S
AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR
Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2
Threaded Black Polymer Solar Filter for Camera
HiiGuy Camera Strap, Adjustable Padded Sling
JJC DSLR Camera Wrist Hand Strap Grip w/Arca Swiss Type Quick Release
GEEKOTO L-Shaped Quick Release Plate
USB Lens Warmer, Lens Defogging Heater
Pixel TW-283 Wireless Remote Shutter Release and Timer
Neewer Carbon Fiber 63″ Tripod/Monopod with 360 Degree Ball Head
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Pack
VILTROX L116T RA CRI95 Super Slim LED Light Panel
Endurax Video Camera Backpack
Lowepro LP36899PWW Slingshot Edge 250 AW pack
Vekkia Ultra Bright CREE LED Headlamp
Lenovo Legion Y740-15irhg laptop
Logitech G602 Lag-Free Wireless Gaming Mouse
seenda Backlit Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard
Datacolor Spyder 4Elite color calibrator
Wacom drawing tablet
Adobe Lightroom Classic
Topaz DeNoise AI
Acronis 2021 Backup software
TrailBuddy Trekking Poles
Merrill Moab 2 waterproof hiking boots
Check out My Gear page for a more complete list of my equipment, past and current.
You gotta eat! Even on the top of a mountain in the middle of the night. Since you may be there a while, make sure that you have something to munch on and some water to drink. But be careful. Be aware of your surroundings and the wildlife in the area where you will be. You may have some competition for your food. Bears are especially troublesome and can be quite dangerous. If you will be in an area with bears, either don’t take food with you, or buy yourself an approved bear cannister. Some parks will even require that you have one for your food and supplies. More research, but it could save you, so don’t overlook this.
Some other photographers I follow…