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What It Takes To Succeed At Astrophotography

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#1 Madratter

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 12:15 PM

Having watched the Astrophotography forums for a while now, here is my opinion on some of the factors:

 

1) Desire - without the desire, you simply won't stick at it long enough to succeed. There are almost certainly going to be rough patches.

 

2) Dedication - There are lots of people who want to be rock and roll stars. There aren't many with the dedication to make it happen. The same is true with astrophotography.

 

3) Teachable - Having the desire and dedication is STILL not enough. You need to be teachable. There is a LOT to learn in astrophotography. There ARE right ways and wrong ways of going about things. You need to be willing to learn, and you need to be willing to take constructive criticism and grow from it.

 

4) Access to Good Advice - Learning from our mistakes is great. It is laudable. But mistakes can be expensive. They can be expensive in time (wasted effort), and they can be expensive monetarily (buying inappropriate equipment for what you want to accomplish). Fortunately #4 is available here in these forums, although that takes us to #5.

 

5) Discernment - Not all advice is created equal. There are good mentors and their are bad mentors. There is good advice on these forums, and there is some very poor advice given as well. You are going to have to figure out what is what.

 

Four of those items are internal to you. We cannot manufacture desire for you. We cannot make you have the dedication required, and we cannot make you teachable. We can try to steer you  to good advice, but you still need to figure out who has the good advice and who doesn't.

 

What this hobby does not require:

 

1) Lots of Money - If you have the above 5 things, this hobby does not HAVE to be expensive. A modest outlay of money can produce some stunning images. I have seen some really beautiful star trail images done with a simple DSLR, and tripod. You do need to be realistic about what you can accomplish with what you have or can acquire and decide if that kind of imaging will suit you. Some people actually produce gorgeous images just using freely available data from great telescopes like the Hubble, and Subaru. On the other hand, if you want to do narrowband imaging with a Mono CCD camera, you are going to need to be willing and able to fork out some cash. Some phases of this hobby require a substantial cash outlay. Others do not.

 

2) Dark Skies - It is completely possible to do imaging even in pretty light polluted skies. You will need to narrow your focus to what is achievable. Lunar, Solar, and Planetary photography are all possible. Light pollution filters can help with Deep Sky Imaging. Narrowband filters make imaging under even very bad light pollution possible.



#2 SergeC

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 12:45 PM

6) Patience.

7) Persistence in the face of adversity (i.e., not easily frustrated).



#3 TimN

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 12:46 PM

Excellent advice!!!



#4 tazer

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 12:54 PM

Madratter, I think that's a fair assessment.

 

#5 is a tough one. When I first started in astrophotography and sought advice, it was difficult to know which advice I should be taking. The terminology was very foreign and intimidating. Everyone sounded like they knew what they were talking about (and they all certainly knew more than I did.)

 

Many new users pop-in for quick fixes and walk away with a varying quality of advice. Personally, I think of posts on CN more like sub exposures. With just a single sampling the SNR is very low, however after monitoring the forums over a long period of time (i.e., stacking) and following various discussions the SNR increases significantly.

 

Mark



#5 josh smith

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 01:06 PM

Madratter, I think that's a fair assessment.

 

#5 is a tough one. When I first started in astrophotography and sought advice, it was difficult to know which advice I should be taking. The terminology was very foreign and intimidating. Everyone sounded like they knew what they were talking about (and they all certainly knew more than I did.)

 

Many new users pop-in for quick fixes and walk away with a varying quality of advice. Personally, I think of posts on CN more like sub exposures. With just a single sampling the SNR is very low, however after monitoring the forums over a long period of time (i.e., stacking) and following various discussions the SNR increases significantly.

 

Mark

 

I love this analogy.  There are a lot of people who talk passionately and don't know what they're talking about and a lot of understated folks who shell out verbal gold.  



#6 Jon Rista

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 01:37 PM

First, MR, great writeup! I particularly like the "SNR" concept in regards to advice. Gold!

 

6) Patience.

7) Persistence in the face of adversity (i.e., not easily frustrated).

 

I have to second these additions. I think both are critical. I think I've had a lot of success for my first eight months as an astrophotographer. One thing I do is persist...I persist in the face of adversity as Serge said, but more than that, I persist on my given targets. I think it is important that new astrophotographers know that success is very often, probably more likely, NOT going to be achieved each and every single night individually. A lot of the time, ultimate success is achieved after you persevere through many nights of imaging, and all the struggles that you might have to endure throughout. I think that goes for OSC/DSLR and Mono+Filtered imaging. So, maybe:

 

8) Perseverance.



#7 josh smith

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 01:44 PM

First, MR, great writeup! I particularly like the "SNR" concept in regards to advice. Gold!

 

6) Patience.

7) Persistence in the face of adversity (i.e., not easily frustrated).

 

I have to second these additions. I think both are critical. I think I've had a lot of success for my first eight months as an astrophotographer. One thing I do is persist...I persist in the face of adversity as Serge said, but more than that, I persist on my given targets. I think it is important that new astrophotographers know that success is very often, probably more likely, NOT going to be achieved each and every single night individually. A lot of the time, ultimate success is achieved after you persevere through many nights of imaging, and all the struggles that you might have to endure throughout. I think that goes for OSC/DSLR and Mono+Filtered imaging. So, maybe:

 

8) Perseverance.

 

Agreed.  Particularly as astrophotographers who set up and tear down most nights, stuff is just going to go wrong.  Even with tons of practice, an occasional night is just a bust due to bumping your scope and knocking out the pa, one of 30 screws gets a little loose, you get dew, etc...  You get more practice and more nights go well and you learn more how to identify issues and their causes.  



#8 Madratter

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 01:56 PM

I like the analogy too.

 

I have thought about producing a list of who I think gives great advice around here, (and it is a fairly lengthly list). I haven't done so because it would inevitably leave off knowledgeable folks who do give go advice and cause hard feelings.

 

I have also thought about producing a much shorter list of people who consistently give bad advice. That would probably run into problems with the moderators, although I could do that on my website.

 

Since I am relatively new at this game, and since this is the place where I got much (but not all) of my advice, I can state that certain people were very helpful to me starting out. Stand outs for me were Terry, Jim (Counterweight), and Wouter. Terry still posts here regularly. Jim does occasionally. Unfortunately Wouter no longer does.

 

Pretty much all of the people who were very active in this forum (Beginner and Intermediate Imaging) at the time and still are active also were helpful to me (Shawnhar, Proteus, Jeff, etc.)

 

Of course some of the people who have joined since have been fantastic helps too, but if I go there, I'm definitely going to end up leaving someone out I should have put on the list.



#9 rigel123

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 02:04 PM

Great post!  Add "Sense of Humor" since if you can't laugh at some of your own mistakes you can drive yourself crazy! :grin:



#10 Goofi

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 04:00 PM

+1 to having a sense of humor ...!

 

Great list, well thought out and definitely something everyone starting out should read. Any way to add this to the FAQ/Stickies?



#11 Madratter

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 04:13 PM

Thanks everyone. Patience, persistence, and perseverance are certainly also required. Whether it gets added here or not, it is available on my site (where I published it first) with minor differences.



#12 tazer

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 04:32 PM

Related to patience is realistic expectations. Everyone has some experience with daytime photography and that biases what a lot of beginners think about what goes into the hobby (i.e., tripod, camera, and lens and I'm good to go). They usually encounter their "rude awakening" after spending thousands of dollars on their first imaging rig only to discover it's no where near adequate for their goals. Astrophotography isn't a destination, it's a journey. That's why it's a hobby.

 

There are lots of folks that deserve to be mentioned for their helpfulness. I'm a regular viewer, and occasional poster, of the Reflectors forum and have learned so much from folks like Don, Vic, Nils, & Jason that I feel I should have paid tuition. It's great to see constructive intellectual discussions that involve math and physics.

 

 

 

Any way to add this to the FAQ/Stickies?

 

The articles section needs some love too. I wouldn't mind seeing a collaborative article on Introduction to Astrophotography. Perhaps a living document suitable for those folks just getting into the hobby.

 

Mark



#13 jhayes_tucson

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 04:45 PM

What a great post!  I have to agree with everything and add one just more of my own.

 

10)  OCD.  A little OCD goes a long way in this endeavor.  Sometimes chasing down minor details turns out to be a big deal and often requires #6 and #7 in spades.

 

 

John



#14 Madratter

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 05:29 PM

What a great post!  I have to agree with everything and add one just more of my own.

 

10)  OCD.  A little OCD goes a long way in this endeavor.  Sometimes chasing down minor details turns out to be a big deal and often requires #6 and #7 in spades.

 

 

John

 

My wife would certainly say I have that one down!



#15 anismo

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 07:25 PM

Definitely agree.. Esp #3 and #5.  Those definitely can be the difference between a normal progression or a quantum leap in the AP journey.

 

Just by following various posts, it is possible to see who gives consistent, unbiased (not always, I-have-this-gear-so-it-is-better mode) advice and follow their notes.

 

Another thing is, depending on a community like this where folks provide their experiences (For example MR/Josh/Jon/Goofi  -to name a few- listing their hardware setups and flows) is huge. Just simple things (notes about Autofocus  for example) end up being the significant help to newbies who are learning the ropes.



#16 jzeiders

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 07:37 PM

This isn't meant as a rant or a criticism, mostly an observation.

 

 

I think sometimes newbies have little idea of what they are looking at when asking a simple question like "How can I do AP with XYZ scope?".

 

Often the answer is start slowly, a little at a time. So many times I've heard, no I want to do DSOs or narrowband.

 

Sigh.

 

Often there is little to no background in astronomy, but they have  seen all those pictures on the net done by "amateurs".

 

Oh boy

 

Familiarity with the night sky is usually only an app on a phone or pad computer. If you suggest learning some of  the sky and how things work, often the technology is shoved closer to your face like you didn't see it or failed to appreciate its signifigance at first, and vigorously defended as all they need.  

 

Ok, yeah

 

Some have already bought a their first telescope, often  the largest cheapest go-to Alt-Az CAT they could afford, occasionally a goto or push-to Dob. Some have even set it up more than once, most have yet to read the manual,

 

Groan, the other end should point that way

 

Often there is little or no knowledge of photography or maybe an automated point & shoot, but many have only used an I-phone or android phone cam.

 

Deep sigh

 

How exactly does one explain that they are embarking on a task many pursue and few master, Most will be able to do adequate to god work at best, not because they can't, rather it takes too much time, effort, money, gear, etc.

 

uhh huh

 

How can I explain they are looking at learning at least the basics of multiple disciplines and more often than not there will be a need for advanced study and expertise  required to generate even mediocre results and no a department store 4" 600x reflector on a ball mount tripod  really isn't the best starting point.

 

Perplexed

 

To do AP well you will need at least a working knowledge of;

 

basic practical astronomy 

Mounts which ones are - not suitable, kinda work, are ok, good, very good, excellent

Scopes, what types do what well, advantages & drawbacks

Photography, technical and aesthetic

cameras, what works - at all, ok, good, best

lenses       "       "

processing software where to start

Computer skills - How & where to find info and help

 

Finance - what does all this cost? Really that much? Yep, but not necessarily.

 

Etc., etc.

 

So usually it is far easier to give simple one line answers and wait, If they come back, you can feed in a little more info. For many the flush of a little  initial success is the hook. For others, once they find little instant gratification, and get a good idea of how much time, effort, and yes money is usually invested to get really good, poof dey gone.

 

Occasionally one comes along, that has done some observing and is familiar with more than the basics, knows a GEM from a fork, Maybe they even dabbled in daylight photography and took a class or two and joined a camera club.  Some even come to club events and check out what others are using and ask questions. If they ask about my scope or mount, I'll answer questions or  let them use it to see first hand if its set up at one of our events.  Often I can direct them to others leading one or more of the clubs special interest groups.

 

Perhaps most of what it takes to be successful  lies within the individual. Some are self motivated and inquisitive where others wish to be lead by the hand and spoon fed.

 

My biggest problem? Wishing I could just put 50+ years of experience into a bump sync. Then again, I'd likely be charged with assault. Sigh.

 

YMMV

 

Jack

 

 

Jack



#17 Alex McConahay

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 10:42 PM

Precision......I wish I was more careful and precise. That is one of the things most dragging me down.

 

Alex



#18 Patrick

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 12:39 PM

Having watched the Astrophotography forums for a while now, here is my opinion on some of the factors:

 

1) Desire - without the desire, you simply won't stick at it long enough to succeed. There are almost certainly going to be rough patches.

 

2) Dedication - There are lots of people who want to be rock and roll stars. There aren't many with the dedication to make it happen. The same is true with astrophotography.

 

3) Teachable - Having the desire and dedication is STILL not enough. You need to be teachable. There is a LOT to learn in astrophotography. There ARE right ways and wrong ways of going about things. You need to be willing to learn, and you need to be willing to take constructive criticism and grow from it.

 

4) Access to Good Advice - Learning from our mistakes is great. It is laudable. But mistakes can be expensive. They can be expensive in time (wasted effort), and they can be expensive monetarily (buying inappropriate equipment for what you want to accomplish). Fortunately #4 is available here in these forums, although that takes us to #5.

 

5) Discernment - Not all advice is created equal. There are good mentors and their are bad mentors. There is good advice on these forums, and there is some very poor advice given as well. You are going to have to figure out what is what.

 

Four of those items are internal to you. We cannot manufacture desire for you. We cannot make you have the dedication required, and we cannot make you teachable. We can try to steer you  to good advice, but you still need to figure out who has the good advice and who doesn't.

 

 

 

Lot of interesting points here and I would like to add one...the ability to think outside the box, experiment, and innovate.  Sometimes there is more than one way to approach a problem but most folks looking to get started in AP are looking for a cookie cutter approach. That may or may not be the best way for them to approach it.  They have to understand the problem, see what works for them, and come up with solutions that work when problems arise.

 

And, no one has all the answers and not everyone's circumstances and requirements are the same, so it should not be surprising if not everyone comes up with the same answers or processes for problem solving. 

 

As far as bad mentors/good mentors go, if you have a beef with someone, perhaps a simple response to their posts would be helpful in fostering discussion and understanding.  I think it would be a mistake to think that there is only one right way to pursue this hobby. 

 

Patrick



#19 Madratter

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 01:00 PM

Patrick, problem solving skills is certainly an important tool to have. I think it is probably a very rare person indeed who doesn't end up having to solve problems on a frequent basis.

As for the bad advice/mentors I do interact with the people involved. And I do try to stay civil even when I disagree.

#20 woodscavenger

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 04:15 PM

#XX - ability to thrive/survive on limited sleep..---this was ingrained into me during years as an intern during my training.  My current staff think I am crazy coming into work after being up most of the night out on the desert.

 

#XX - understanding better half ---   "You're going where? Tonight?   Didn't you just go last night? "



#21 terry59

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 05:27 PM

 

#XX - understanding better half ---   "You're going where? Tonight?   Didn't you just go last night? "

 

:funny:



#22 shawnhar

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 06:47 PM

Learning and understanding the limitations of your gear or what it can and can't do I think is a big one.

It's like when a newb asks what kind of car to buy, well, do you want to pick up groceries or drive through brick walls?

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started, only that I found out you "could" take a pic of the moon through a cheap scope, so I wanted to try it.



#23 Madratter

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 06:54 PM

Interesting you say that Shawn. I got started this time around after taking a picture of the Moon with the CostCo Celestron 100gt.

I did already have a T-ring sitting around from minor experimentation from before.

#24 proteus5

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 07:03 PM

Great post, where was it when I was starting out  ;) . I guess it would fall under patience, but nothing beats time on target. Pick an easy bright target, and image it over and over until you get it right. In the beginning I was like the "kid in the candy store" and hopped all over the sky taking a few sub here and a few sub there. My skills didn't start to improve until I slowed down, and spent time on a single target at a time.

 

As to those that are helpful, I would have never gotten to where I am without all those who are willing to help the beginners, CN has been an invaluable resource. 

 

While I consider myself still a beginner, and will be for quite some time, I feel honored that MR thinks I helped him. Although I can't imagine in what way. He has helped me in many ways, just reading posts such as this one has helped me re-evaluate how I do things. I'd like to thank everyone that has helped me along the way. I hope that you know who you all are. I try to give back when I can, but still having a lot to learn myself, hold back at times to let the more experienced and trusted imagers give advise.

 

Oh I just thought of somthing else. Take notes, plenty of notes, that way when things go right you'll know why, and when things go wrong you won't repeat the same mistake again later.


Edited by proteus5, 10 November 2014 - 07:05 PM.


#25 Goofi

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Posted 10 November 2014 - 07:22 PM

I've been thinking about this post for a while now, and I guess what I keep coming back to is ....  perspective.

 

Am I going to take an image that lands on the cover of a magazine, or be APOD photo of the day, starting out? Not likely.

DSLRs can give great images, if you play to their strengths ... but can disappoint in other circumstances.

 

Sure, Orion Nebula is a bright target, so I thought it would be easy to image - never dawned on me it might be too bright, and actually be a challenging target.

I needed some perspective ... same with trying to image M51 with a DSLR at 420mm ... what was I thinking!   :lol:

 

I think starting out especially, having a little perspective about yourself, your interests, and your ability will go a long ways towards enjoying this hobby.




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