Orion customer Barry E. has been delighting the Orion staff recently with his gorgeous astro-images. Whenever we see a new astro-image submitted by Barry, we know our eyes are in for a treat. In fact, one of his beautiful astro-images was selected as our 3rd place winner in the Deep-Sky category of our 5th Annual StarShoot Photo Contest! Like so many of us, Barry has enjoyed a lifelong fascination with the night sky. We recently contacted Barry to ask how he first became interested in the hobby, and we'd like to share his comments with you.
How did you become interested in astronomy, and how long have you been actively observing?
I started out at the age of 9 when I borrowed my older brother's small refractor telescope and was amazed at what I could see. I went on to study Physics and Astronomy in college. It's only been recently (within the last few years) that I have taken up astrophotography as a hobby.
What is your favorite type of celestial object to view? (or in your case shoot)
I enjoy shooting deep space targets such as nebulae and galaxies. It's amazing to me when I consider that there are billions of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, and there are millions of other galaxies out there. There are too many stars to count. Every day we see some new image from space of something we didn't know was out there; something people before us never dreamed of. Wow!
With four children, how do you find time for the long hours necessary for astrophotography?
Astronomy and astrophotography are perfect hobbies for parents! I can help my children explore the heavens right from our driveway; and once I get them tucked into bed, I can go back out and work on imaging. It's a hobby that doesn't take away from family time or take me away from home. The other secret is automation. The Atlas mount can be connected to a laptop and controlled from Starry Night Pro. The camera can also be controlled from the computer as can the StarShoot Autoguider. Once all of this is set up, I can go back inside the house while my images are being captured!
On a given night, how do you decide what to observe? Do you normally plan ahead or just view whatever you can find?
I have built up a calendar of imaging targets so I know what is going to be visible from my driveway each day. I use tools such as Starry Night and its Custom Horizons functionality to help me identify targets and determine when during the year they will be visible to me. I also visit online image galleries to see what other astrophotographers are working on. This gives me ideas of what I may want to add to my list.
How did you become interested in astro-imaging?
Some members of a local astronomy club mentioned at a viewing that I could attach my DSLR camera to the telescope. At the time, I didn't know this was possible. After some research on Orion's web site, I learned what accessories I needed. From then on, it's been a matter of improving my skills and equipment to get the best images I can. Obviously, I've seen Hubble images and have been awestruck at their beauty. I never dreamed that with modest equipment and plenty of patience, I can do the same thing from my driveway!
Are there any Orion-brand accessories or equipment you use regularly?
My workhorse is the Orion 8" f/4.9 reflecting telescope. Its fast optics and large aperture really collect the photons. I use an 80mm refractor for wide-field shots. Guiding everything is the trusty StarShoot Autoguider and the ST-80 Guidescope combination. All of this equipment rides on top of the Atlas EQ-G mount. Aside from these bigger items, my garage is full of Orion accessories such as eyepieces, dew controllers, flashlights, and cases.
Are you a do-it-yourselfer?
I am very detail-oriented, especially with my images. So, anything I can do to improve my pictures, I do it! I have modified my Orion 8" telescope by adding Wilcox rings, a cross-primary cooling fan, an upgraded focuser, and internal flocking. I have modified my Atlas EQ-G mount by performing a "hypertune" of the bearings and gears. I have built a light box for taking flat frames, and a DSLR cooling box for the camera. When I used the SkyView Pro mount, I added a leveling bubble to the tripod, a vernier scale to the setting circles, and modified the drive controller to support ST-4 guiding.
What advice would you give to aspiring astrophotographers?
Be patient, learn all you can, and sweat the details. Don't think that you have to go out and immediately spend thousands of dollars in order to start making pretty pictures. You can do a lot with a simple camera and a tripod! Join a local astronomy club, or if one is not available in your area, find an appropriate online forum. There are lots of experienced people out there willing to help. And don't become frustrated that your first images aren't museum quality. This hobby requires a lot of trial-and-error. Experience is the one thing you can't buy!