So you want to be an astrophotographer and you don’t know where to begin.
Telescopes, cameras, mounts, filters, image processing….it’s all a bit overwhelming.
But, there is a good place to start. It’s the same place I started and that’s The Deep Sky Imaging Primer by Charles Bracken.
In general, I’m not a fan of “how to” books. They are usually not worth the paper they are printed on but this one is different.
First, it’s very accessible. Imaging can be a very technical subject but the author explains things in a very clear and easy to understand way.
Second, it’s comprehensive. The book starts with background material, followed by a large section on image acquisition and finally an even larger section on image processing. By the time you finish reading it you’ll feel like you can tackle the imaging process.
Before we talk about what the book is though, let’s talk about what it isn’t. It doesn’t talk about planetary imaging and it doesn’t really talk about nigh scape imaging. Like it says in the title, it is about deep sky imaging. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. The approaches for other types of astrophotography are different enough that including them would dilute the book or make it even longer.
So let’s dig in a bit. What exactly does he cover?
The first section of the book, about 30 pages is called “Understanding Images”. It’s broken up into two chapters. One is on electronic sensors and the other is on signal and noise. He gives a general overview of how electronic sensors work and what the noise sources are. He makes it clear in a way even non-technical people should be able to understand.
The second section on image acquisition covers the next 50 or so pages. It has 10 chapters and covers mounts, telescopes, cameras, image scale, deciding on targets, filters and even diagnosing problems.
This section won’t teach you how to use Sequence Generator Pro, NINA or The Sky X but it will teach you the concepts you need that are applicable to any of those packages.
The final section, covering more than 130 pages is on image processing. The lion’s share of this is given over to PixInsight with some examples also given in Photoshop. If the book has one weakness it is that PixInsight has evolved considerably since the book was published and while all its information is still accurate, there are better or at least simpler ways to do some of what it describes.
While enough time is given over to concepts that are not software specific such as image calibration, he does give real work processing examples in both PixInsight and Photoshop and those are useful, but again, for PixInsight, there might be new or updated tools in some cases that might work even better. I don’t see how a book can avoid that problem. The software isn’t static and continues to improve but the book marks a moment in time. And, even when using a newer calibration tool like the Weighted Batch Preprocessing Script it is useful to understand the work it is doing under the covers and the book does a good job of explaining those tools that WBPP is using behind the scenes.
The thing that makes this book succeed where so many “how to” books fail is that it doesn’t take a cookie cutter approach but instead really focuses on concepts that are widely applicable. Once you know those concepts and workflows you can apply them in most other software without much difficulty.
If you think this might be a useful addition to your library, you can buy it here: The Deep-sky Imaging Primer, Second Edition. This is an affiliate link so I’ll earn a small commission on the sale that will help to fund the observatory I’m planning to build in some tiny way. But this is a book I believe in. I own it. I even bought the second edition (which is what we’re talking about here) even though I owned the first edition. The first edition is good. The second edition is even better.
The only other piece of advice I can offer is find your local astronomy club. I’m a member of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club and the club is very active for both visual and imaging astronomers. Having someone near by who can help when the inevitable problems occur is invaluable. Forums like Cloudy Nights are great but nothing replaces the local club.
So, I hope to see your work on astrobin in the near future! Clear skies!