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NGC 869 (half of the Double Cluster) mini-Tutorial

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#1 WadeVC



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Posted 23 September 2007 - 11:58 AM

This mini-tutorial was kind of "Frankenstiened" together well after I completed the original digital sketch. Some elements may be inconsistant (such as the date/name shown on the EP template screenshots); but I managed to cover the major steps and proccesses involved. As how this object is only half of the Double Cluster, I removed it from the September Target thread to repost it here.

Although not the entire Double Cluster, I did manage to sketch NGC 869; of which I would be glad to provide some info on how I did so and how I transform my hand sketch to a digital version.

As with all my sketches, I use the most basic of equipment:

Sketchbook (I presently use a 2” circle for all my sketches.)
Mechanical or a #2 standard pencil
A notebook to record detailed information about the object being observed; colors, nebulosity, etc.
Red light source. I prefer a small “pen” style light as I can either hold it between my fingers or in my mouth while sketching.

My first step is to record all pertinent information, such as the date, time, Ep used, scope used, and the name of the object.

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As I peer into the eyepiece, I imagine the eyepiece and my drawing circle as being sectioned into quarters. Unlike many others who place the brightest “anchor” stars first, I simply work outward from the center, focusing my attention on each quarter. I repeat this process for all 4 quarters, starting with the upper right quarter, and work in a clockwise rotation.

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This is how I envision my EP

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First quarter sketched

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Second quarter sketched

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Lookin' good, 3/4th's done

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Once I am satisfied with my sketch, it is then scanned into PhotoShop at a very high resolution of 1200dpi, full-color & 16-bit mode. I do this to ensure that I capture the faintest of pencil marks in the EP sketch.

I then adjust the contrast and levels to ensure all elements of my sketch are visible. Once I am satisfied with the appearance of the scanned sketch, I then change the image color mode to black and white, reduce the resolution to 150 dpi, and convert to an 8-bit image. I then save the sketch and close the document.

Before I do anything else, I purge everything via the Edit: Purge: All menu command to free up resources in PhotoShop.

Next I open a pre-made EP template in PhotoShop.

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I then open my saved sketch in another window and drag it over into the open blank EP document. I then close the original sketch document. The original sketch is now (by default), on a layer above the EP template. I reduce the opacity of the original sketch layer to 30% to allow me to see the sketch, but reveal the black background of the EP template. I resize the sketched layer (which was dragged over at 150-dpi, the EP template is 125-dpi) and center the EP circles.

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I then drag the sketched layer to the top of the Layers Pallet and name it “Sketch” for easy reference.

I then create a blank layer above the sketched layer, and name it Dsketch, for Digital Sketch. This is the layer in which I will start the digital reproduction of the original sketch.

Selecting the Paintbrush tool, I use a set of default brushes that approximate the size of the star(s) I am reproducing. I use the default white color for all the stars. Color(s), if needed, are done on a separate layer. I then simply trace over the original sketch with the paintbrush tool, using various brush sizes and reducing the opacity when needed to give the appearance of faint stars as depicted in the original sketch.

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Once all the stars have been traced over, I discard the original sketch layer. I then use the Blur Tool to soften the entire image. By applying the Blur you can also achieve the effect of dim or faint stars. I set the mode to Normal and the Strength to 20%. I use a brush size just slightly larger than the star I want to blur.

Each click of the mouse will result in a more diminished or fainter star. Once I get all the stars to approximate the actual EP view, I will use the Blur Tool one last time. This time I will create a brush the exact size of the EP circle. With the Strength now set to 30%, I will click the mouse once or twice. This gives all the stars a finished look.

I then add all the pertinent information (date, time, Ep, etc.) I then flatten the image, and save it as a JPEG.

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1. When using PhotoShop or any other paint/drawing program with layer capabilities, it is easy to "get lost" when using multiple layers. Name each layer for easy reference.

2. SAVE OFTEN!! This can not be stressed enough! Some images can take quite a long time to complete. There is nothing worse than to have spent 45 minutes or longer on a image to accidentally close or loose the information. Document gone = All your work is gone!

3. Learn keyboard shortcuts. Unlike my above tutorial, I rarely use the menu task bar for anything in PhotoShop. I always use keyboard shortcuts or designated "Hot Keys" to select my Tools, colors, etc. It is a HUGE timesaver.

4. Take advantage of layers. By creating a new layer, you can experiment with differnt brush sizes, opacities, modes, colors, etc. without affecting the overall image. If you make a mistake, you can delete or edit just the effected layer while all other elements of the document remain unchanged.

5. HAVE FUN!!! That is what the creative proccess is all about.

I hope I was able to share and convey this information in a way that others could understand (I am not a technical writer) and hope you found this tutorial informative...or at least interesting.

#2 thelittleman


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Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:20 PM

Wade - what a wonderful tutorial! I'm thinking sticky! Really informative and useful. I will be using this lots :)

#3 Sol Robbins

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 01:10 PM


Great sketch and use of computer. I second the "sticky" designation.


#4 novbabies



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Posted 23 September 2007 - 01:22 PM

:cool: :waytogo: !!

#5 antilles72


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Posted 23 September 2007 - 02:18 PM

Great idea Wade. Wonderful look into your processing.

#6 frank5817



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Posted 23 September 2007 - 07:36 PM


Nicely done. :waytogo:

Frank :)

#7 rodelaet



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Posted 24 September 2007 - 03:35 PM

Excellent tutorial, Wade!!

#8 WadeVC



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Posted 24 September 2007 - 04:20 PM

Thank you everyone for your kind words. I do hope that this helps some people, and that it kind of demystify's the process of digitizing original hand sketches.

#9 CarlosEH



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Posted 25 September 2007 - 04:08 AM


Thank you for your excellent tutorial on how you constructed your impressive NGC 869 observation previously posted. We all appreciate the time taken out to show us all your technique in creating your works of art. I look forward to your future observations and tutorials.


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