Updated: Dec 28, 2019
Astrophotography has a strong learning curve. Over the years, there were several imaging nights that were completely ruined by mistakes we made. The key is to never repeat the same mistake twice.
We decided to make a list of the 5 tips we would give to someone who was just getting started in the wonderful hobby of Astrophotography. Read below!
I - Check your camera every 30 minutes
This may be obvious for everybody, but we still remember our very first night with our brand new telescope. The sky was completely clear, the temperature was nice, there was no wind, and our polar alignment was really good! Very excited, we launched a series of photos on M45 - The Pleiades. We then went back inside the car and watched a movie on our phone.
Two hours later, we step out to see if the camera still had batteries. The battery level was fine, but every single picture taken had star trails. We walked around the telescope to see if anything was wrong, and we saw it... The little cap on our guiding scope was still on.
You can not imagine how stupid we felt at that point. For 2 hours, the guiding camera was trying to track nothing, which of course confused the mount and produced star trails.
We never did this mistake again.
Clouds slowly approaching us during a wide field imaging session of Barnard's Loop
II - Arrive at your imaging location before Sunset
Installing a complete astrophotography setup is very difficult, and more so if you can't see anything!
Although not always possible because of work, school, or other duties during the day, try to always arrive at your imaging location when the sun is still up. You could of course use your car's headlights to help you see, but if you live in a desert like us, light attracts mosquitoes, big spiders and other creatures which we do not really like.
We recommend arriving one hour before the sun is down so that you have time to install every heavy piece of equipment while there is still light, then take care of polar alignment and other little things right after.
III - Make sure all your cables are tidy
Cable management is often overlooked, but it only takes one to get stuck or tangled and ruin your tracking. This actually happened to us not too long ago. We never really thought our cables would get stuck, but one did after we told the mount to aim at a target on the opposite side of where it was originally pointing. The power cable was a little tangled and got stuck on one of the mount's knobs when it was rotating.
IV - Never attach the telescope before the weights
This is also an obvious one, but we did this mistake once and almost dropped our telescope! Never, ever, attach your telescope to the mount before the weights. If you do, the telescope will be thrown downwards as soon as you let it go, as there will be nothing to balance the weight on the mount.
V - Check if the ground is hard and stable
After months of being on our bucket list, we finally visited a Bortle 1 zone! This was our first time setting up in a completely different location than the one we are used to, and... an entire night was wasted!
Although we entered the correct coordinates in our mount, it refused to track properly. Even with our DSLR and a 24mm lens attached, a 30 second shot was full of star trails! We could not figure out the problem until we were packing up, and once again, we felt stupid.
The mout, under the heavy weight of the telescope and all the accessories, sinked into the ground on one side, so everything was crooked. We were so used to setting up on concrete that we did not think of "pre-sinking" the mount into the dirt.
Wasting one out of two nights in a Bortle 1 zone is really sad.
The Milky Way... with a bad tracking at 24mm. You can see airglow on the horizon.
And that's it! Those were our 5 tips for beginner astrophotographers. You can also see them as "5 mistakes to not reproduce", as we sadly went through each of them in the past.
Hoping this will help you in your Astrophotography journey,
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