combines two very challenging and expensive hobbies into one Über
hobby. It is without a doubt the most technically challenging and
demanding kind of photography out there. We are shooting in
extremely low light conditions of very faint and distant objects at very
long focal lengths and to top it off these suckers are moving across the
sky. Normal camera focusing doesn't work in low light nor is it
sufficient to "just put it on infinity" as even a 5 degree
change in temperature requires the focus to be tweaked because of the
contracting metal of the telescope. Critical focusing proves to be
exceptionally challenging as it turns out that nothing is harder to
focus on than a star. Ordinary daylight camera optics show every
optical flaw, astigmatism and every other conceivable optical aberration
as there is no more challenging torture test to optics as a field of
stars. Optics must be exceptional and thus very expensive.
The telescope must track the object perfectly for hours on a rock steady
mount while the camera slowly and precisely collects ancient
photons. In astrophotography a 1000 mm focal length and a 2 degree
field of view is considered average or normal. At this kind of
magnification there is little room for error of any kind. But with
hours of exposure time in the dark and the cold with tired eyes and
foggy brain there are lots of opportunities for error. Invest
several thousands of dollars and you can begin to take some pretty nice
pictures... of course that is only after hundreds of hours of
frustration as you learn the ins and outs of your equipment.
Better and more expensive equipment makes things a little easier but you
still need to be out in the dark under the stars to make it all happen
and fix the inevitable things that won't quite work as planned.
Those of us that
are into this hobby really need to have our heads examined. We
spend many thousands of dollars to stay up all night miles from the
nearest man made light taking hours of exposures of objects often too
faint to see through the telescope. And it isn't like we can sell
our prize pictures to recoup the huge costs involved. Better
pictures are easily and freely available from the Hubble Space
Telescope. Even those exceptionally rare individuals that have
nice enough images to sell, considering how expensive the gear is and
how much time it takes to create a saleable image they would be better
off working as a greeter at Walmart than doing astrophotography.
Rarely do we photograph anything new. The Hubble Space Telescope
and other professional telescopes around the world have imaged
everything interesting in the night sky hundreds if not thousands of
times before at resolutions and quality that are simply technically
impossible to match for amateurs.
possibly be the appeal of this crazy hobby? I think that in part
it is because it is so challenging that it is so appealing. It
isn't for the impatient or budget minded amateur astronomer. This
hobby takes a lot out of you, physically, mentally, emotionally and
especially financially. But so does climbing mountains and there
are thousands of people who go out of their way to do that. Mt.
Everest has been climbed hundreds of times by now, but people keep
wanting to climb it. People spend tens of thousands of dollars and
years of their life training to stand on the summit themselves.
Why? They want the challenge and they want to conquer it and it
isn't about the money. There is something like that for
astrophotography too. "Sure the Orion Nebula, M42 has been
imaged thousands of times before, but I took this one!"
I also think that
there is something very Zen about amateur astronomy in general and
astrophotography in particular. Time flies by for me when I get
into my grove out in the dark and dawn comes a little too quickly.
Under a canopy of stars, where the Milky Way shines so brightly over
your head, you really get a sense of being on the Earth spinning in
space. It is often very quiet and nature tends to move very slowly
at night. It is a time to be still, look up and just notice.
This isn't on TV or the Internet this is the real thing, the Universe,
and if you really pay attention you can feel your place in it. You
are tiny beyond imagination, and yet you are also here and aware of the
awe. Like when you visit any great cathedral, it is always nice to
bring home a little reminder of your experience there.
Astrophotography does it for me. 99% of my life is spent doing my
daily stuff, handling responsibilities, making money, raising my kids.
This hobby gives me the opportunity to remember a greater context for my
life and my place in the vastness of time and space.
Astrophotography lets me steal a wisp of the vast mysteries of the night
sky and bring them into the light of day to share. Who wouldn't