Why I’m finally calling it a day on telescope astro-photography

It’s been a long, at times frustrating journey. Certainly, the lows outweigh the highs by quite some number and when a hobby starts to feel like that it’s maybe time to re-examine it and why you’re doing it.

When I first got a notion for astro-photography I was under no illusions. A quick initial bit of research showed it to be a complex discipline with a lot to learn so I don’t think I underestimated it but what I did do was seriously underestimate the financial aspect and the worse still for a photographer, the lack of creativity.

I first noticed the writing was on the wall when I started to ignore clear nights and not feel like I was missing something. Before the new year any clear night I was out, imaging the Moon, Jupiter and anything else I could get too. By this time though I had already realised that with the kit I had deep space objects were going to be beyond reach but I figured I’d be happy trying to get as good as I could with lunar, solar and planetary images.

This was true for a while but once you’ve done the best you can with Jupiter 20 or so times it’s gets slightly “samey”. You see, one of the main issues with astro work is that there is no opportunity to be creative. Astro-photography is all about capturing what it there, as it is. It’s about making the most of every available photon of light. There’s no opportunity to try and be creative with what you have, it’s more a never ending fight to get more light.

It’s hard to explain.

If you were to take a picture of a flower, how many ways could you take that picture? There’s an almost infinite number of ways to interpret the scene, be it with different lenses, artificial light, angles etc etc etc… You simply cannot do that with astro work.

And now we come to telescopes. I’ve had 3 in the last year and I’ve never really liked any of them. They are fiddly to set up, tempremental to operate and lets be honest here, in all but the biggest of scopes, the views of anything other than the moon or planets is shall we say, disappointing. Those pictures you see of majestic clusters or colourful nebula are visually just grey fuzzy patches. The knowledge of what you are looking at is far more exciting than the actual view in reality.

Now we come to cost. It’s a bottomless pit. Even at the bottom end of the market it’s a massively expensive hobby. Don’t be fooled either into thinking you can do it on the cheap, you simply can’t. If you can be happy with poor to average results then yes, you can but if you really hanker after those wonderfully detailed images of planets and deep space objects be prepared to re-mortgage the house. Nothing is cheap and if it is, then it’s not up to the job. Simple. You hear of people getting “wonderful” results with £3 webcams. The results are not wonderful, they are acceptable for a £3 webcam. Wonderful is what Damian Peach puts out and he simply does not use a £3 webcam.

I can look at landscape images taken with say, a Nikon D4, Lee filters, expensive Nikon lenses and I don’t think, wish I could do that. I can do it, and at a fraction of the cost too. If you look really close, and I mean really close then yes, the image maybe isn’t quite as good but you can as near as damn it do as good as the pro kit for a lot lot less. The difference between the pro kit in astro work and what might be termed as “reasonably affordable” is massive. Don’t even think of looking at the planet images in the Astro-photographer of the year competition and think you will get to within even a million miles of that on cheap kit, you simply won’t, the best you can ever hope for it something YOU are content with.

And at the end of the day, therein lies my root problem. I wasn’t happy with the results I could get. I wasn’t prepared to plough in any more money so I hit a brick wall. Lets be honest too, the British weather didn’t help either!

So what next?

Well, I’ve steadily found I get more enjoyment if I can take astro pics using just normal photographic kit using normal photographic processing techniques. None of this Registax or Deep Space Stacker stuff, just Photoshop, nice and simple. So that leaves me with lunar, solar, comets, widefield, ISS to name but a few. Really the only thing I’m going to miss out on is deep space which I’d already decided wasn’t for me and planets, and talking of planets, only Jupiter and Saturn and really worth looking at anyway.

For now, the binoculars will keep me satisfied and at some point in the future I might look to get a 10” dobsonian scope but I’m in no hurry to do that. The sale of the astro kit will hopefully fund a nice big Sigma 150-500mm lens which I’ll be able to use to good effect on the moon and sun as well as a myriad of other uses!

I suppose this post seems like the whole thing was a very negative experience and it’s wasn’t. There were times of great excitement and feelings of satisfaction. I’ve learned so much too but I also learned that in the end, I’m a creative photographer at heart and that’s where I’m happiest. I’ve also gained massive respect for the guys who do produce these great space images, I’ve dipped a toe in there and know just how hard it is and can now fully appreciate what they do.

So, if after that, anyone fancies a full lunar, solar and planetary imaging kit in Edinburgh, get in touch!

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7 responses

  1. Andrew

    It’s too bad that you are throwing in the towel. I looked at your images and found them to be really good!. I especially like the ISS image. That is something I have been patiently waiting to get a shot of. Well,I did get a image of it as it transited the Sun . Guess I am going to have to convince you to re think your decision?!. If your mount has guiding ability. Perhaps you could tweak your finder scope and use it as a mini guider. Lots of people do that!. Then, use your dslr as a primary weapon of choice in the main scope. With that combo, you could take really long exposures and nail some unseen targets ;).

    March 19, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    • Honestly Andrew, I couldn’t think of anything worse than trying deep space photography. The scope is totally unsuited to it, the mount even more so. I honestly would never use an EQ mount, it’s really not for me. Unless of course I can’t sell the kit then I might as well use it!

      March 19, 2013 at 7:37 pm

  2. Andrew

    Yeah, having a sturdy mount is key!. Have you thought of shooting video?. I know from your post that you are not a fan of registax,but it does do a good job at stacking. Then you enhance with PS. I just started shooting solar system objects with a Neximage 5 and love the results. Just a thought 🙂

    March 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    • I’ve got a DFK21 CCD camera Andrew, I must have 50 odd video clips of Jupiter and the Moon sitting unprocessed as I simply can’t face mucking about with stacking software anymore!

      March 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm

  3. Hi Grant,

    Astronomy and astrophotography isn’t for everyone…but at least you tried it and enjoyed the experience…sometimes! On the plus side you’ve found out where your heart really lies. I can’t say I’m surprised Grant, your “day time” photography is excellent. I really hope you manage to sell your astro gear so you can buy that new lense. I’m sure you’ve already got some great plans for it. I enjoy following your blog and hopefully you’ll still keep an eye on the sky and include an astronomy post or two in the future.

    All the very best

    Carol

    March 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm

  4. Aww, disappointing to hear as I always enjoy your space pictures, but I can see why you’re a bit fed up with the discipline. It’s important to do what you enjoy, and if you’ve lost the love for the planets I’d say you’ve made the right choice.

    Also, now you’ll be much warmer at night!

    March 20, 2013 at 9:37 am

  5. Grant,
    I have been following your blog for some time,
    and am disappointed to see you go,
    enjoy your retirement from Astrophotography,

    this new chapter is to be of great interest too you,
    so enjoy the challenge, I know you will,
    so I look forward to the new Blog when it happens,

    I have been Astro imaging for a short time & have
    learnt a lot from your entries,

    I reside in Australia and travel all over where the skies are dark
    and the Astro imaging is good,
    my imaging takes in Solar, Milky Way, Lunar, Planets,
    and the general night sky,
    I try too keep away from RegiStax etc, too complicated
    and one mistake, back too the drawing board,

    this is my first entry too you,
    so make every post a winner,

    regards,
    Peter.

    October 25, 2015 at 5:53 am

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