In the last decade, high performance, low cost digital imaging technology has become widely available to amateur astronomers. This has allowed amateurs to produce images that were considered professional level not too long ago.
The Raleigh Astronomy Club has an imaging subgroup which focuses on astronomical image collection and processing. The group meets seperately once a month. For more information, please contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In general there are three different imaging technologies: Webcam, DSLR, and CCD. The sections below will help you use these technologies so you can capture and process images yourself.
Webcam imaging is typically used to capture planetary and lunar images. However, even if your long term goal is deep space imaging, webcam imaging is a great place to start learning the concepts. It is the easiest and least expensive way to get started with imaging. With basic equipment, anyone can create great planetary and lunar images in a relatively short amount of time.
For more information see the Webcam Imaging page. This page is only available to club members.
DSLR imaging is typically used to capture constellations, nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. Taking wide field images of constellations or the Milky Way only requires a DSLR body and camera lens. DSLR wide field imaging is the easiest and least expensive way to get started with this type of imaging before moving up to longer focal length imaging.
For more information see the DSLR Imaging page. This page is only available to club members.
CCD imaging takes DSLR imaging to a whole new level. CCD imaging is done using a dedicated astronomical camera which have much lower noise levels than DSLRs. These lower noise levels are typically due to cooling the imaging chip to temperatures below the ambient temperature. Unfortunately, these cameras are typically much more expensive than a DSLR.
For more information see the CCD Imaging page. This page is only available to club members.
Image processing is used to enhance images captured by any of the imaging technologies described above. It is used to reduce image noise, bring out faint details, remove gradients, and various other enhancements. Imaging processing can be one of the most time consuming and difficult to master aspects of astronomical imaging, but it is also the most rewarding. Even basic image processing can significantly improve your images, and advanced image processing can transform a good image into a great one.
For more information see the Image Processing page. This page is only available to club members.
The following resources are a great way to get additional information about imaging equipment, capturing images, and image processing.
- Introduction to Webcam Astrophotography: Imaging the Universe with the Amazing Affordable Webcam by Robert Reeves (Willmann-Bell, 2006), http://www.willbell.com/WebcamAstrophoto/webcam.htm
- Introduction To Digital Astrophotography: Imaging The Universe With A Digital Camera by Robert Reeves (Willmann-Bell, 2004), http://www.willbell.com/DigitaAstrophoto/Default.htm
- Photoshop Astronomy by R. Scott Ireland (Willmann-Bell, 1997), http://www.willbell.com/ccd/photoshop_astronomy.htm