Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn: Blog en-us (C) Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Sat, 25 Apr 2020 12:37:00 GMT Sat, 25 Apr 2020 12:37:00 GMT Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn: Blog 109 120 Revisiting the Triangulum Galaxy It's hard to believe that so many beautiful deep space objects are actually fairly large in the night sky. We just can't see them because of the limitations of our eyes. This galaxy M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, is actually larger in apparent size than the full moon. Back in 2007 when I started to get more serious about deep sky astrophotography, I was really looking forward to taking pictures of it and I thought given it's large size and magnitude of 5.7, surely it would be an easy target to take pictures of. Little did I realize that that was not the case. It's brightness, being spread out over a large area, translates into a target that is actually pretty faint for even my camera.

Anyways, here are my first two attempts from photographing this back in 2007 with my canon  300D and then with the canon 40D

M33 Triangulum Galaxy Part1M33 Triangulum Galaxy Part1September 19, 2007 imaged with the Canon 300D and the Celestron 6in SCT.

M33 Triangulum Galaxy Part 2M33 Triangulum Galaxy Part 2October 3, 2007 Imaged with the Canon 40D and the Celestron 6in SCT.


Before this winter arrived I revisited this target again. I really didn't know what to expect as I remembered how hard I worked on those older shots and had such a tough time bringing out the details and fighting the noise. I tell you though, what a difference six years can make with the advancement of cameras, telescopes/lenses, and improved techniques in processing. 

Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn: All Astrophotography &emdash; M33 Triangulum Galaxy



I used the Astrotech 8in RC, SBIG8300 camera and collected 10min sub exposures totaling 2hrs of Luminance, 50 minuites each Red, Green and Blue. Preprocessing was done in Pixinsight and post processing in Photoshop.  Pixinsight's deconvolution process was a major help in achieving the details with the poor seeing conditions from home. I was also able to use it to correct the elongated stars that I had from poor tracking. Finally, lightroom... it has got to be my favourite software for making it easy to put the finishing touches on this before publishing to web.

Hope you like the results! Clear skies!!

kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography processing Thu, 13 Feb 2014 13:48:14 GMT
Deep Sky Astrophotography with your Camera and Lens Part 2 So here is the continuation to my previous *blog post*. Check it out first if you haven't already.  In this post I will focus primarily on the pre and post processing that I used to get the final results.  

This is the image straight off of the camera.  Not too exciting but with some Deep Sky Stacker and Photoshop you will see a big transformation.


100% crop


To increase the signal to noise ratio *image stacking* is a must and to do that, I used a free program called *Deep Sky Stacker*.  For the stacking program I collected 57 x 1 minute exposures on the target M42 at ISO 800 and f7.1. These are called light frames. I also took 15 dark frames which help to reduce additional noise and 11 flat frames to help correct vignetting and/or any dust motes that appear on the sensor.

I took the dark frames by putting on the lens cap and covering the camera with a black garbage bag to prevent any stray light from reaching the sensor. Exposure time and ISO was set to the  same value as the ones used in the lights and the temperature must be within a few degrees Celsius of the temperature during the light frame exposures. Typically it's best to do the dark frames outside at the end of the imaging session. The flat frames are exposures taken of an evenly lit surface at ISO 100, aperture priority, same f stop as the lights, using the same lens and same focus. I shot those frames the next day by pointing up at low uniform layer of stratus clouds.  Many people will shoot flats by pointing at the clear sky in the east after sunset before they start imaging. I have also had success taking flats by pointing at the computer LCD on a blank notepad page, making sure to hold the lens right up the the monitor. There are many different methods to investigate.  

Sample Dark and Flat File



Note that for the processing of this image, I wanted to stick with software that daytime photographers already have in their arsenol or programs that are free. These days I have been working primarily in *Pixinsight* for my prepocessing but continuing the post processing in Photoshop. Pixinsight however is a really good all in one solution that is popular with many astrophotographers but like any advanced software, it may take some time to get use to and dedication to master. 

In Deep Sky Stacker, I load my lights, flats and darks. After, I'll register the images, uncheck poor quality frames, then stack them. I usually follow the recommended settings that the software provides. The website for the software has a really good manual and yahoo discussion group. 


After the stacking process (this can take several minutes). The resulting stacked file will be a 32 bit tif that I convert to 16 bits in order to prepare for work in Photoshop. BTW, I do not do any processing or adjustments to the file in deep sky stacker. 


Stretching the image (spreading out the histogram) is a process that I do with multiple curve layers. This is what you need to do to get more of the nebula to show up.  The data with all the signal from the nebula is there in the 16bit tif file, it just needs to be teased out.  

The first stretch is just a simple curve brightening. I always work with layer adjustments. 


Second curve will darken the background by bringing in the lower left hand corner of the histogram. I don't want to make the background black or else you could clip dark details. Try to leave at least 20 points on the left side of the histogram


After multiple iterations of curve adjustment layers of brightening and darkening I end up with this. I created this new layer after doing a CTRL-ALT NE. This consolidates everything that I did with the curves. 

Since the colour balance is looking imbalanced I will open up another curve adjustment layer and set the mode to color. Then click on the black eye dropper in the curve layer window and select an area on the image that has no stars or nebulosity. Now click on the white eye dropper and select the centre of a white star or in my case I selected the bright blown out core on the nebula. You can see now that the left side of the histogram has aligned RGB colour. The background is neutralized. 


I may continue to stretch the image further before doing a sky gradient removal because as you can see, my light pollution is starting to appear from the bottom left of the frame.


Here I created a layer that replicated the gradient with the help of the dust and scratches filter. That filter removed the stars, then I cloned out the nebula and made a gaussian blur. This resultant frame was then subtracted from the affected layer above with the gradient. It's a time consuming process but there is a much much easier and fool proof way to do this by using a plug in called *GradientXTerminator* by Russel Croman.


Here is the result of the gradient removal.


At this point further stretching and colour correction can be done. You can now start to see the extended dust and nebulosity.


With M42 being an object with a very bright core and faint outer nebulosity it is usually a popular task to add a layer mask or two on the core to bring back the details that got blown out by the stretching process.  To do that I grabbed a layer from below that wasn't stretched too much and added a blurred mask over the non blown out core. Noise reduction was also done with the help of the camera raw filter in the Photoshop CC version. 


Now having a little fun with Google's Nik Color Efex Pro plug in for Photoshop. I ran the detail extractor and was surprised to see more extended dust appear, but along with that dust was also a tremendous amount of noise. 


I then ran Nik's Define2 plugin to tame the noise, masked out the effects of the detail extractor on the core of the nebula. I then lowered the opacity of the layer to my taste so that it was visible enough but not over the top. 


At this point I saved the file as a PSD file and imported it into Lightroom 5 for cropping, finishing tweeks and posting to my website. 


Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn: All Astrophotography &emdash; M42 with the Ioptron Skytracker


For anyone that would like to see me demonstrate the processing, check out this Google Hangout video where I was a guest on the Photoshop Show. The image processing part starts at 1hr 6min 23sec in.  It did a slightly differentworkflow but it will be easier to follow for those that are more visual.  Enjoy!! 

kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography DSLR instructional iOptron processing SkyTracker Wed, 05 Feb 2014 23:33:29 GMT
Deep Sky Astrophotography with your Camera and Lens Part 1 Many people think that if you want to photograph deep space objects, you will have to acquire a heavy tracking mount, a telescope, a specialized cooled ccd camera and have very dark skies. Although those tools will give you a nice start to achieving a really high quality astrophotopraph it's not always necessary if you want to join in on this very rewarding hobby.

Recently I purchased this small "book sized" tracking unit called the iOptron Skytracker.  Aside from the camera and telephoto lens, all I needed for this to work was my camera tripod and ball head. My goal with this unit was to have a very portable deep sky astrophotography setup that I can take with me when I travel or leave home. 



After a relatively quick and straight forward setup, which included aligning on the north star, it was tracking and ready to go.  I decided to test it out on the well known "Orion Nebula" M42.  I used my Canon 6D and 100-400mm lens zoomed to 400mm. My ISO was 800 which is what I usually choose when shooting these types of images with my DSLR. It's just high enough but not too high so as to compromise colour quality or increase noise too much. My fstop was f7.1 but I meant to go with f5.6. I did a number of test exposures to see how long it could track without getting star trails and I found I was able to go not much longer than 1 minute at that focal length for that part of the sky. The shorter the focal length of the lens, the longer tracking time can be achieved.  Below is what I got straight out of the camera. As you can see the stars are fairly round and the nebula shows up nicely but there is still more work to be done.  Note that the brownish toned sky is a result of my light pollution.


100% crop


Now in order to get more depth, detail and colour, you have to increase the signal to noise ratio by taking and stacking multiple frames. For this target I took 57 of them at 1 minute exposure length and stacked them in a free program called deep sky stacker.  I also collected dark frames and flat frames. Dark frames help to reduce noise and flat frames help to correct vignetting and/or any dust motes that appear on the sensor. Finally, the most challenging but also the most rewarding part was completed in Photoshop.  I will do another blog post later this month/early next showing the steps that I used to get from the single image above to the final stacked and processed image below.  

READ PART 2  * Here*

Hope you like the results! 

M42 with the Ioptron SkytrackerM42 with the Ioptron SkytrackerTHis is a "first light" shot done with the Ioptron Skytracker. A book sized tracking device that fits on your camera tripod. I shot this with a Canon 6D and the 100-400mm lens at 400mm and f7.1 (meant to do 5.6). 57 exposures at 1 minute length were collected and stacked in deep sky stacker. Processed with Photoshop, Nik and Lightroom. Blog Posts: Part1 and Part2



M42 with the Ioptron SkytrackerM42 with the Ioptron SkytrackerTHis is a "first light" shot done with the Ioptron Skytracker. A book sized tracking device that fits on your camera tripod. I shot this with a Canon 6D and the 100-400mm lens at 400mm and f7.1 (meant to do 5.6). 57 exposures at 1 minute length were collected and stacked in deep sky stacker. Processed with Photoshop, Nik and Lightroom.


kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography DSLR instructional iOptron processing SkyTracker Mon, 06 Jan 2014 17:08:49 GMT
A Golden Horeshoe Collaboration: M31 Andromeda Galaxy When I started to get more serious about astrophotography I often thought about how exciting it would be to actually work with someone to create an image that is better than what one could produce on their own.  Astrophotographers are faced with limitations that are unique to their location, equipment and skill. Working together with someone seems to be a good way to overcome those challenges. 

On Friday, October 25th I will be doing a talk at the Mississauga RASC  on this subject in more detail. In the process of getting my act together, so to speak, I realized that I should actually hunker down and complete one of the collaborations that I started back in 2009 with my good friend Stefano Cancelli of  We were both imaging M31 around the same time and we felt that if we combined data sets we would get a better final image.  We both were not happy with the results in some way or another and it was put on the back burner for a few years. Recently I decided to revisit this with some much needed final tweeks. We went back and forth on the adjustments a few times and finally came to agree on a final version that we both loved. First, I'll share the background and some snaps of the process along the way.

Living in Toronto, Stef has a major challenge with light pollution but with a great setup and his skill in post processing, he was able to bring a high resolution 3-panel luminance image of the core of M31 to the collaboration. Stef used a Vixen VC200L telescope and an SBIG ST10XME cooled mono-chip camera. On the other hand, I have darker skies since I am living in the Niagara region and therefore have an easier time collecting data with colour.  I also love working with colour. My setup gives me a bigger field of view but a lower resolution. I used a QHY-8 camera (which is a super cooled APS-C sized one shot colour Sony chip) and an Astro Tech 8 inch Ritchey Chretien telescope with a focal length around 1100 mm (with a focal reducer).  

This is what the stacked tiff file from my contribution looked like straight out of a program called Deep Sky Stacker.  When you bring that tiff file into Photoshop it really looks disappointing - but not to worry. This is why we have programs for post processing. 

M31_part1M31_part1M31 Unstretched tif file

The tiff holds all the information that is needed. Below is the image after a few careful curves stretches.  


Continuing with the multiple curve stretches in Photoshop this is what you get. I also always make some adjustments to the gradients and colour balance as well if needed. When it comes to colour balance, if you can see a reasonable distribution of orange, yellow, white and blue stars then you are probably in the ball park and your target colours should also fall into line. If you have green or purple ones you know you still have to make some adjustments. 



This is Stefano's contribution.  He transferred this to me so that I could add it to my colour version...


...but unfortunately I had to do some cropping, rotating and transforming in Photoshop to get it all lined up with mine.


 In Photoshop, I added his mono image as a luminance layer so that the colour comes through and his details and smoother results remain intact. 

Adding in some clipping curve masks you can seamlessly blend the two. Finally after sharpening, noise and colour tweeking and lots of back and forths we came to this final result that we are both very happy with.  Being able to capture something like this from the most populated and light polluted part of Canada is very rewarding. 

Click to go to the gallery image.





kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography collaborations instructional processing Tue, 22 Oct 2013 19:38:01 GMT
IC 1805: Gnarly Creatures In Space IC1805 Heart Nebula
This is my latest image showing the core of the heart nebula which is designated IC1805. To the right you can see this patch of nebulous clouds that have always caught my attention because of it’s unique structure. Do they not look like these gnarly little creatures in space? The many stars surrounding them is the star cluster called Melotte 15. This cluster is 7500 light years away and helps to create much of the interesting shapes that you see. To get some perspective of this heart, here is an old image that I took back in 2007 that encompasses this region (within the box). You can clearly see why it is called the heart nebula.  I think this part of the sky is really beautiful and totally worth revisiting again as a mosaic with my newer gear. 
Anyways, back to the first image with some more techy details. I approached processing this a little differently for a couple of reasons. One out of necessity and the other out of desire to come up with an image that looks a little less ordinary. I was having some trouble preprocessing (stacking, stretching and combining) the many luminance,  Red, Green, Blue (L, R, G,  and B) frames in my usual software so I decided to give a different one a try. Hello Pixinsight trial version.
Pixinsight gets kind of a bad rap from many astrophotographers as the interface is a little cumbersome to work with if you are not use to it. The terminology used can also throw you off if you are not coming from a science or engineering background but the processes are really powerful and can give you some nice results. I was not going to let my trial version go by without giving it a solid effort.
Since I'm a visual learner, I searched through youtube for video tutorials and was really happy to find what I needed to guide me through the preprocessing part. After some messing around I was very impressed with the auto stretch process and a few other features. Oh - I can’t forget to mention the dynamic background extraction DBE tool to help get rid of annoying background gradients. After running through those processes, I brought the resulting RGB tiff and Luminance tiff into Photoshop and away I went with my usual post processing. Finally what I was left with was a colour image of a part of deep space that looked similar to many others. A mauvey nebula with very little colour range. So to add a little bit of  flair, mind you still a subtle flair, I decided to work with Nik plugin software by Google.
I found out about Nik through these google plus hangouts. This seems to be a favourite plugin for many daytime photographers. At first I was a little skeptical with how it would work with astro images but was pleasantly surprised at the results. In the package you get noise reduction, sharpening, colour refining, and colour effects filters. Nik did exceptionally well with noise reduction in it’s Dfine 2 plugin. I also ran a little bit of Sharpener Pro 3 and Color Efex Pro 4.  With the help of Nik’s unique control points system and a little bit of masking in photoshop I was able to layer in the desired effects. One plugin that stood out to me was Color Efex Pro 4 with it’s 50 + different filters. With the help of the Photo Stylizer filter I was able to get more colour range or separation in the red tones from deeper reds to mauve and blues. I was also able to add a very subtle glow to parts that I thought could use a little boost.
By not sticking to my usual routine I had some fun and explored new tools that made for a better workflow with more personalized results. 
Imaging Details: Camera: SBIG ST8300M, Telescope: AT8RC Exposure: 90min (9x10min) each  RGB, 3 hr ( 18x10min) Luminance.
kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography info instructional processing Tue, 20 Aug 2013 22:42:35 GMT
The Power of Image Stacking In astrophotography we are often times trying to extract detail and colours of very faint deep sky objects from what looks like nothing but a brownish or yellowish night sky. As we try to do this on a single frame we are often greeted with a great amount of noise and little to no hint of the object that we are trying to capture. Since noise is random, if we stack the images we can then average it out to a smoother, cleaner image. 

Below is an example of how image stacking made a huge improvement in the quality of my M51 Whirlpool Galaxy image. 


Here is the image with 38 stacked frames. You can see much more colour and detail in the galaxy now.



The relationship between signal and noise boils down to the inverse square law.  


There are many free stacking programs available. The one that I used for these shots is Deep Sky Stacker...


My latest M51 (2010)

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy










Happy Stacking!!

kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography instructional processing Fri, 28 Jun 2013 00:25:44 GMT
Comet Processing for Non Trailing Stars and Comet  

Comet Hartley October 8, 2010

When processing a long exposure multiple sub frame shot of a fast moving comet you are usually faced with the decision of either stacking and aligning the sub frames on the comet and getting trailing stars or stacking/aligning on the stars and getting a trailing comet. The free software Deep sky stacker (DSS) has a star freeze method that will attempt to give you non trailing stars and comet but it may not always work out.  So in this case you are faced with a processing challenge. Below I briefly outline my method. The Comet Hartley image comprised of 29x 3min subframes totalling 1hr and 27min. with the QHY-8 and Astro-Tech 8in RC. To start the process, you will have to create two stacked images with DSS. 

Stack 1

This is a result of getting DSS to stack on the stars using sigma clip. Basically it is stacked as though it's a typical astro image ignoring the fact that a comet is in the field. The stack is then stretched and colour corrected in Photoshop.

Stack 2

This is the result of a DSS stack that was run using the comet stacking mode and Sigma Clip option. In DSS you may have to manually locate the comet in each frame. The resulting stack will show a comet that is sharp and a background field that is blurred with obvious banding from star trails. The stack is then stretched and colour corrected in Photoshop. Side note: 3 min sub frames was too long for this focal length so the core of the comet was elongated. I minimized it's appearance by using the "shift darken" technique. 

Cleaning up Stack 1 and 2

Now Stack 1 and 2 will be combined and processed together but both images need some further cleaning up. After processing Stack 1 you are left with a green fuzzy patch. To get rid of that simply run it through Pixinsight using the dynamic background extraction tool (or use whatever method you prefer) in order to get rid of gradients and the remnants of the comet. The result of it is seen above. Then clean up Stack 2 by applying noels horizontal or vertical banding removal action to remove the blurred star trails. If the trails or banding happens to not be vertical or horizontal simply rotate to either orientation and run the appropriate banding removal action. After running the action and the background is free of banding or trails, rotate it back to the original orientation when done. 

Combined and Processed Stack 1 and 2 

To combine Stack 1 and 2 simply add them together in screen mode in Photoshop. Providing you make sure they are in their original orientation and didn't crop the image  they should line up accurately. If not, overlay a reference frame to nudge the comet frame into the accurate position. Finally create a new layer with the merged stacks and apply your finishing touches to the image. 
kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography instructional Wed, 15 May 2013 00:10:22 GMT
Focal Reducer test: Celestron SCT f6.3 and 80mm refractor (2008 article)  

Focal Reducer Test (2008)
Using  the Celestron SCT f6.3 focal reducer on the Sky-Watcher Equinox 80mm refractor
80mm no reducer =  500mm lens @f6.3
80mm with the reducer = 333mm lens @f4
Connection: Unscrewed Orion 2in prime focus adaptor and put the Celestron f6.3 reducer in between.
Flat field (increased contrast)
Field of view comparisons
Toronto Skyline 33 miles away (poor and variable viewing conditions) 
80mm with no focal reducer ISO 250 @ 10 seconds
(click for larger image)
Toronto Skyline 33 miles away (poor and variable viewing conditions)
80mm with Celestron SCT f6.3 focal reducer ISO 250 @ 5 seconds 
(click for larger image)
80mm no focal reducer (exceptional conditions back in July 2007)
(click for larger image)
33 Miles Away


kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography review Tue, 14 May 2013 23:33:58 GMT
Adventures in Astrophotography: How I got started (2008 article)  

My interest in astronomy started from a fairly young age. For as long as I can remember I have had a real fascination with the wonders of the universe and the countless number of objects in the night sky. Those objects varied between beautiful, intricate, and mysterious.  After getting my first telescope at the age of 11 and then my first serious film camera as a teenager I began to think of the possibilities of astrophotography.  Over the course of more than 15 years I dabbled in it, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year (2007) that I have made some huge leaps in the hobby. I became seriously hooked.
The early years: 
My first ever astrophotos started with my decision to do a high school science fair project on variable stars back in 1990. I figured that if I hooked up my Minolta SLR 35mm film camera to my 4.5 in Newtonian reflector with the help of a t-ring and t-adaptor, I could take a single second timed exposure of the variable star, Algol, over the course of a few months. The varying diameter of the star on my photo could  possibly show how it changed in brightness.
First telescope: 4.5in newtonian reflector




The planets and the moon were also fine targets for me to try. I thought that with planets I would have to take long exposures to capture them, but later found after getting my pictures back that that was not the case. I also realized that the planets moved too quickly for my 4 second long exposure, especially with no tracking on my rickety equatorial mount.
First Jupiter and Venus images
Again with the moon I varied the exposures but they were still overexposed since I had no formulas at hand giving me an idea of what times would be ideal. The photos below were taken during a lunar eclipse.
During my university years, I spent a half a year as a volunteer at the observatory. I was able to take advantage of a fully computerized 30 cm telescope. I only took photos on a couple of occasions by simply hooking up my Minolta 35mm SLR camera with my t-ring and the observatory's t-adaptor. I took my first successful astrophotos that I could say I was proud of for a very long time. Those shots were only single exposures.  I guessed at exposure times while using cheap Blacks ISO1600 film. 
Comet Hyakutake and M42
cometHya m42
Since I didn’t have access to the observatory telescope whenever I wanted and my Newtonion telescope was no good for photographing objects other than the moon, I opted to start concentrating on photographing widefield targets. With my camera and 50mm lens on a simple tripod, a 30 second exposure with high ISO film yielded fairly good results.
  cometHaleBopp cometHya1   
The year of leaps and bounds:
2007 was when I really wanted to try my hand at long exposure astrophotography through the telescope. I did a bit of research and found the best deal that I could find for an entry level motorized mount and a scope with reasonable amount of aperture that would be a nice upgrade to my 4.5 in Newtonian. I settled on the Celestron 6in Schmidt Cassegrain telescope on the CG5-GT (ASGT) mount. This scope, combined with my Canon 300D digital SLR camera, would provide the stepping stone I needed to get into more serious astrophotography. 
There was a bit of a learning curve to start because in order to get the GOTO features  and tracking to work properly, I needed to learn about polar aligning. Once I got that figured out I started taking short exposure images of bright objects like the moon and Saturn.
“First light” images
MoonFeb2007  SaturnFeb2007
Once I got the setup and aligning all figured out over several nights on my balcony. I took my scope out to a dark sky site in April for my first observing session with my local astronomy club. I always read that the best way to get into really long exposure photography was to piggyback your camera and lens on a mount that tracks. I then took images of Venus, Pleiades, and Orion’s Belt. It turned out well and because I was using a wide angle lens I was able to get exposures up to 3 minutes without seeing star trails. 
M45andVenus   OrionandM42
After a very short while of piggybacking, I felt the need to try those long exposures through the 6in SCT. However, because of the higher magnification and smaller field of view,  I knew I would need very accurate tracking if I wanted to image objects that are faint. Having a motorized mount like the CG5-GT was great but not quite good enough. I would need a way of precisely guiding a single star so that the errors in the drive and tracking would not be noticed on the long exposure images. I did a lot of research online, reading the many pros and cons of various methods of guiding and finally came to the decision that the way to start would be to buy a second  small scope (Sky-Watcher Equinox 80mm) that I could mount side by side with the 6in SCT. So while my camera was hooked up to the 6in scope, a guiding eyepiece called a reticle eyepiece with illuminated cross-hairs would then be used with the 80mm scope to ensure that a star in the field of view stayed on or near the cross-hairs. The hand controller would be used to slew the mount in which ever direction needed to accomplish this.  After practicing this for some time, keeping in mind some tips that a fellow astrophotographer gave me, I was able to take a few long exposures of one of my favourite galaxies M51. After taking a few long exposures and loading them onto the computer, it occurred to me that I would be faced with another difficult feat.... image processing. Knowing that the more images you take the more you can increase the signal to noise ratio, I manually stacked the images  in Photoshop and then made a few adjustments to the levels and saturation and voila.... 
I was really proud of the fact that it actually looked better than what I saw in the eyepiece and my husband was  amazed that I was able to capture such an object from home.  That was enough to keep me going. 
Into the early summer, I continued to practice this method. I even tried imaging with the 80mm telescope on large targets while using the reticle eyepiece in the 6in scope for guiding. The results looked much sharper. The images from the 80mm's larger field of view, did not show as much error from my manual guiding because the field of view was much larger than the 6in. I also started to take dark and flat frames to help minimize noise and vingetting. In addition I improved my processing by finding a free program (Deep Sky Stacker) on the net that easily stacked all those frames in a way that gave me a drastically cleaner looking final image. 
Although there is a great deal of satisfaction with manually guiding, I found it very tedious. A few to several minutes staring at a faint star in the eyepiece with the fingers practically pasted onto the hand controller, I eventually got cramps in my neck, leg and back. I also love observing and felt I was missing out by spending all my time staring at this one star. I began to consider the auto-guiding route.  I did a bit of research and realized that all I would need is a cheap webcam or imager. I already lug my laptop with me into the field so why not lug around one more item plus a few more cables?  I was recommended the Deep Sky Imager (DSI) because of its sensitivity to fainter stars. I bought it from him for a  good price and immediately began to work on reconfiguring my astrophotography setup.
I had to first get my CG5-GT (ASGT) mount to communicate with my laptop via the RS232 cable and ASCOM platform (many astro programs require ASCOM in order to communicate with the ASGT mount). I then loaded a freeware program called PHD Guiding which was able to communicate with the DSI and my mount. A few clicks of the mouse a bit of DSI focussing on a single star and a few more clicks and I was on my way. I was surprised at how easy autoguiding was to get running after getting the initial communication bugs worked out. 
First autoguided image
New setup (Starfest 2007)
newsetup KerryandSetup
I was pretty happy with my images but still thought it could impove. I wanted crisp stars, and a smoother dark background with more faint features making it through the final image. I kept getting tips from fellow astrophographers, encouraging me to take many more frames.  With my initial setup this task would have been very difficult but now with my computer doing much of the work in terms of timing exposures and guiding, I felt like it was definitely possible.  The results were astounding to me when I was able to combine the accuracy of autoguiding and the improvement in signal to noise ratio from taking 15+ frames which were a few minutes in length each.
Image collecting is only half the battle when it comes to astrophotography. The other battle is image processing.  Sometimes I actually find it takes way more effort and time processing an image than it does setting up your telescope and collecting the frames.  I did some  research online to try to improve on my processing, but I didn't notice a huge change until I went to an image processing seminar at Starfest (Canada's largest star party). I learned how to better use layers, levels, curves, filters and saturation in a way that brought out even more detail and colour.
I have also learned about stacking several sessions of images to make one master image that can have a total of several hours of exposure times. This can make a phenomenal difference as you can see below
M31  first night 15x3min = 45min total
M31 first and second night combined ~2hrs total
Prior to this Fall, most of my astrophotos were taken with the Canon 300D. It proved itself to be a very capable camera for daytime and nighttime photography, but with so much time and energy being spent on this hobby of photography it made sense to finally upgrade when I found out that Canon had come out with the new 40D. With its' liveview capabilities I am now able to get focussed much faster and easier. The higher resolution, lower noise, absence of amp glow, and increased image transfer speed have really added another level of ease and improvement.
So now I am nearing the end of a great year of astrophography. I have learned that it takes a great deal of patience, research and dedication to accomplish this task. The joy of seeing a beautiful night sky object appear before your eyes during the image collection and then after the processing process, is so incredibly satisfying that it will likely hook you in for a long time to come.  I feel I can now say that am well into my journey to capture the wonders of the night sky. 


kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Astrophotography instructional Tue, 14 May 2013 23:10:50 GMT
Welcome to Weather and Sky Photography's Blog I'm really looking forward to making this blog and website live  as I feel it will be a nice improvement over the old website design that I originally built through yahoo business using the Gallery2 foundation. I'll be using this blog to share my thoughts on various matters relating to photography including photo sessions, post processing methods, challenges, ideas and inspiration. To start though, I will add a few articles that were on the old site. 




kerry at (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn) Welcome Tue, 14 May 2013 21:55:07 GMT