A week ago I went out into the driveway, set up my tripod (which would have been a neat trick on my old tripod but the new one has a neato circular bubble level to show you when the mount is level), and started taking pictures of the night sky. Some shots turned out crappy, but one in particular stood out. It was a picture of (most of) the constellation Cassiopeia, but more importantly, it was also a picture of several hundred other stars invisible to the naked eye.
Long-exposure photography is COOL.
Now, to be fair, the picture wasn’t too terribly neat in the grand scheme of things. There are people that can get shots of nebulae and crap from a handheld camera. All I had was a lot of stars you don’t normally see. But it was surprising, especially because there’s a lot of light pollution in my area. I was still able to see a lot of stuff.
Out of curiosity I downloaded a free, open-source program called Stellarium, which is a sort of software Planetarium. I was able to find my constellation and worked out what other stuff I’d gotten pictures of. Turned out you could see a couple of galaxies and whatnot. Very cool! And it inspires me to try to take more.
But there’s a problem in that the Earth rotates. A long exposure shot will come out streaked or blurry as a result (most of mine did, not sure why this one turned out so well). How does one resolve that and get the really good astrophotography shots?
Pfft. How else does one solve camera needs? By spending boatloads of money on it. The most common method is to piggyback the camera onto a telescope. The telescope doesn’t need to be special or expensive, but the mount it uses needs to be a motorized German equatorial mount to track the sky. Guess how much that costs? Yup, many hundreds of dollars. F@#&. They do make cheap, super-amateur cameras with morotized mounts, but not sturdy or reliable enough for camera mounting (or so I understand). And even that’s gonna run over a hundred or so for a setup that may or may not work.
Such a telescope isn’t outside of my means of course, but it’s a chunk of money I don’t need to spend on this hobby right now. Why is all the fun stuff so expensive? Maybe I can find a site with build-it-yourself instructions….
edit- I did forget to mention that there is a common DIY setup referred to as a ‘barn door tracker’. It’s a couple of slabs of wood connected by hinges with a bolt on one end. You put it on your tripod, mount the camera to it, and turn the bolt at a given speed to adjust for the turn of the earth, if you have it aimed right. So that’d work, but they get inaccurate after just a few minutes, whereas I’d have been hoping to take those two-hour open shutter shots. Still, might give it a go.