Learning planetary photography - first three sessions

I'm going to prove that you can do this, by showing my own learning curve.

I want to show what the owner of a new planetary camera should reasonably expect, and show how you can expect to improve and what you should be aiming for.

At the shop, we'd just got in some QHY cameras, and I needed to know a bit more about them so I could support our clients. I'm an experienced nebula photographer, but I'd never done any serious planetary work before. So while I was familiar with the software and some of the processes, I was, in effect, a total beginner.

When getting new equipment, everyone faces a learning curve, novices and old hands alike. If I can show you my own progress with planetary imaging, I hope you'll find it less intimidating.

I've tried three cameras so far, the QHY5-III 462C, the QHY5-III 178C and the QHY5-III 178M. They're all similar, being relatively inexpensive uncooled planetary cameras with small sensors and high frame rates. I've varied them because I wanted to find their differences.

I'm a bit nervous about showing the photos I've got so far. After three days, my skills are still very much at the "beginner" level. The photos show that.

The first three sessions were all in daytime. Everyone starts out like this.

Session 1 - daytime rubbish bin

The first session was learning about the computer software and how the camera worked. I successfully photographed a rubbish bin in the correct colours. This was not easy, and I did have to learn a lot just to get there.

One of the big lessons in astrophotography in general is patience.

Session 2 - focus and software

The second session was also during the daytime, and I tried a telescope for the first time. I got no successful photographs at all, but I learned about focus and colour previews on the computer screen.

Session 3 - flowers of many colours

In the third session (also during the day) I learned a bit more about Bayer filters - how the camera encodes colour. I found that proper colour decoding was important to how you see the image.

The computer knows that there is a Bayer filter over my sensor, but it may not know what pattern it is. Patterns are named RGGB, or BGGR, etc, depending on the order that the red, green and blue filters are arranged. You set this pattern in the software so the colours come through correctly. Get the pattern wrong and the computer comes up with some trippy results! (As a hint, the Callistemon is red, not blue!)

After three sessions I felt it was time to go out at night, which I'll get to next.

What I'm aiming for

Finally, here is a photo from an experienced user with similar equipment. This is a photo taken by Rob Roper, and is as he received it out of the camera, before any processing. His final image is a big improvement on this, but that's to do with processing, rather than capturing the image.

This is a reasonable goal, both for you and me.