Urban Astrophotography: Deep Sky Imaging 2024
Thursdays, 7-9 PM, via Zoom. March 7, 14, 21, 28; April 11, 18.
The night sky over New York City is filled with the same galaxies and nebulae as the skies in dark
locations. We can’t see them with the naked eye. But they’re up there and we can use recent
advances in camera and computer technology to push through the city’s light pollution and
reveal structures millions of light years beyond the Milky Way!
This course is about creating quality images of Messier-level targets using telescopes, cooled
astro-imaging cameras, tracking mounts, and computers. The images above and below were
shot from Yonkers with gear that fits in a backpack. Deep Sky imaging remains moderately
complex and takes time to master. We designed this course to help “newbies” who don’t own
any of the needed gear understand what’s involved and get started as imagers. Experienced
imagers are also welcome and will likely find that they can learn some new tricks as gear and
software are evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up-to-date — I always learn a lot from
teaching these classes!
Astrophotographers around the world use a wide variety of techniques. In the course, I’ll
emphasize my short-exposure technique which uses SharpCap LiveStacking. Please review my
images in this Flickr Album –https://www.flickr.com/photos/124244349@N07/albums/72157644929183451
– for clear expectations regarding the quality of images attainable via
this approach. It’s also a great way to do Electronic Assisted Astronomy (EAA) enabling us to
show galaxies and nebulae in real-time at outreach events – even from the 5 boroughs! While I
use it mostly in light-polluted environments, it works perfectly well in darker sites too.
New for 2024 we will shift the balance of the course towards image processing. We have new
options for capture ranging from “push-button” deep sky devices like the ZWO SeeStar to
AAA.org’s Gateway remote telescopes in Texas ( https://aaa.org/gateway/ ). PixInsight provides the means to achieve finished-looking images from modest data, and professional results from high quality data.
We’ll use most of one or two later sessions to workshop student’s images – we’re proud of the
community of NYC area imagers who have joined these classes since 2019 and we know it is fun
to learn from each other!
Provisional course outline:
Sessions 1 (3/7) and 1 st half of 2 (3/14): Urban AP Overview and Capture; Gear; Principles of
Deep Sky Imaging; Planning; Capture with SharpCap. Weather permitting, I will do live capture
Sessions 2, 3 and 4 (3/14, 3/21, 3/28): Processing with PixInsight Overview of the PI interface;
emphasis on workflow for registering and stacking live data into one integrated image;
then color balancing, stretching, sharpening, and noise reduction. These sessions have been
developed and refined over the last several iterations of the course and will be supplemented
with discussion of more advanced techniques e.g. gradient removal; AI-enhanced processing
No class April 4 – many people will travel for the Total Solar Eclipse!
Session 5 (4/11): Show and Tell/Workshop Students will be encouraged to share imaging
attempts: what worked, and what didn’t. Bring SeeStar and Gateway data for discussion on applying
class techniques to achieve polished images!
Session 6 (4/18): Review and Troubleshooting Workshop Student-directed topics including a
review of gear recommendations. Be prepared to meet vendors and see and purchase gear at
NEAF on 4/19-20!
You don’t need to own a telescope or camera to take the class — one of our key objectives is to
help students understand what equipment is needed either to start from scratch or to
supplement existing gear. We will spend a lot of time in class working with SharpCap – a highly
versatile camera control and livestacking software, and PixInsight – the gold standard astronomy
image processing platform. Both can be downloaded in free trial versions; a SharpCap Pro
license is about $15/year and PixInsight grants a perpetual license for about $265. We will also
use and recommend AI plug-ins for PixInsight which cost $60 -100 each.
Please note that there are “many ways to skin the cat” for astrophotography. We are very
familiar with some gear, software, and techniques that work. Others work but
lie beyond our expertise. As we proceed through the course we’ll be interested in hearing about
the successful use of other approaches, but be aware that we can’t do much troubleshooting for
things we don’t know, e.g. DSLR/mirrorless cameras, ASIAir, MacOS software. We will cover the
principles for deep sky data capture but will not teach step-by-step use of SeeStar (easy) or
Gateway (more complex).
For AAA members who want to learn to use DSLRs for Milky Way and other Nightscape
photography (like great shots of the moon over the skyline), please watch for Stan Honda’s
excellent Night Sky Photography course, which has little to no content overlap with this course.
If you have taken one or more of the AAA.com astrophotography courses since 2019 and have
questions regarding the wisdom of taking this class, please get in touch with Mauri at
Mauri Rosenthal combined longstanding hobbies of backyard astronomy and photography to
begin astrophotography in earnest 9 years ago. Surprised by the image quality achievable with
small telescopes from his yard in Westchester County, Mauri has been developing deep
expertise in Ultraportable Urban Astrophotography and is on a mission to use new technology
to extend the access of city dwellers to the wonders of the night sky. In concert with colleagues
at AAA.org, Mauri has developed and taught several rounds of Urban Astrophotography courses
since 2019. Follow Mauri’s imaging on Instagram or Flickr.
You can learn a lot about Mauri’s approach to Urban Astrophotography in this recorded presentation to Westchester Amateur Astronomers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-zLQ2icHlg