Astrophotography

I’ve included some examples of my astrophotography across three generations of camera technology. Note that I have not done any processing of these photographs, such as coregistration or averaging; all photographs are single images displayed directly from the film or digital file. All photographs on this page are © 2022 Jeff Secker, All Rights Reserved, unless indicated otherwise. I’ve also included a link with tips and expectations for visual observers, and two links with guidance and advice for those who would like to start astrophotography.

Tips and organisations for visual observing, light pollution abatement and dark-sky sites

Tips for astrophotography

First-generation astrophotography technology

For my first-generation astrophotography, I used a SLR camera, a lens or a telescope, 35-mm film, a tripod and a shutter release cable. The upper-left photo shows Cassiopeia (middle and lower left) and the upper-right photo is of Comet Hale Bopp. The middle-left photo is a time-exposure of Polaris and the north circumpolar stars, while the middle-right photo is a time-exposure of stars near the southern horizon. The lower-left photo of the waxing gibbous moon was taken through a portable reflector telescope. The lower-right photo of the moon was taken through the Jewett Observatory’s refracting (12-inch lens) telescope.

Photographs of the night sky, time exposures of the north circumpolar stars and stars over the southern horizon, and comet Hale Bopp and the Moon (1997-1998).

Second-generation astrophotography technology

I took these five photos of the northern lights (aurora borealis) and background stars when I was in Iceland with my daughter, Pascale, on September 27-29, 2019. For my second-generation technology, I used my Olympus E-510 digital SLR camera, Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 14-42 mm F3.5-5.6 lens, and a spatial resolution of 3648 px by 2736 pixels. The exposure times ranged from 6 seconds to 20 seconds; I kept them short because the aurora move and could blur with longer exposure times. The ISO was set to either 400 or 800, the f-number was 3.5 in all cases, and the exposure value (ev) was zero in all cases. Note that in addition to variations in ISO and exposure time settings, these photos have significant variation in (i) time of the night and (ii) brightness of the northern lights.

Photographs of the northern lights and night sky over Reykjavik, Iceland.

Upper left: the Big Dipper and the Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Iceland (ISO 400, 20 seconds). Upper right: the Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Iceland (ISO 800, 8 seconds). Middle left: the Auriga constellation and northern lights over Reykjavik, Iceland (ISO 400, 6 seconds). Middle right: the Auriga constellation and Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Iceland (ISO 800, 8 seconds). Lower: the Auriga, Perseus and Taurus (including the Pleiades star cluster) constellations and northern lights along with lights of Reykjavik, Iceland (ISO 800, 8 seconds).

iPhone technology for astrophotography

In Iceland, while I used my digital SLR camera and lens, tripod and shutter release cable, my daughter Pascale pointed her iPhone 11 camera at the sky, used the night mode and got some incredible photographs; see the three examples below.

Northern lights over Reykjavik, Iceland, on September 27, 2019. Photographs © 2022 Pascale Lefebvre. All rights reserved.

Inspired by Pascale’s success with her photographs of the northern lights, I took a set of photographs of the summer night sky on my iPhone 11 in the early-morning hours (about 3:00 am) on Sunday June 10, 2022, from Nova Scotia, and in the late evening (about 10:00 pm) on Saturday July 30th, 2022, looking NNW from my home in Ottawa. I used the night mode and an exposure time of 10 seconds in both cases. Three examples are given below. The photo on the top left (from Nova Scotia) shows Ursa Major (or the Big Dipper) in the centre, just below middle, and Ursa Minor (or the Little Dipper) on the right side above the middle. The photo on the top right (from Nova Scotia) shows Cassiopeia in the lower centre and the upper part of Cygnus (including Deneb) in the upper centre. The photo on the lower left (from Ottawa) shows Ursa Major (or the Big Dipper) in the centre, two stars from Ursa Minor (or the Little Dipper) in the upper right, a set of stars from Draco winding down from top centre between Ursa Major and Ursa Minor; and two stars from Boötes in the upper left. The Ottawa photo was taken under semi-dark conditions; ambient light from, for example, streetlights and house windows, was enough to illuminate the nearby trees.

Note that the stars in these photos have minimal variation in brightness and colour, which is quite different from the stars in my first-generation photos. Having said that, the iPhone is very easy to use for astrophotography, it can capture very nice images of the constellations and northern lights, and it would be quite worthwhile to explore astrophotography across a wider range of locations and conditions.

(Upper) Night sky over Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, on June 10, 2022; (Lower) Night sky over Ottawa, Ontario, on July 30, 2022.