Learning planetary photography - epilogue

Well, my planet season is over.

I've been teaching myself suburban planetary photography while I'm not able to get to the dark sky site.

Planetary photography, I've found, is vastly different to deep-sky photography. Planets are tiny, bright targets, whereas nebulas are large and dark. My telescope doesn't have the magnification for it - the planet would be a dot.

But it's not just that. The techniques are different too.

To get a nebula, you need a very long exposure to pick up those dark details. Getting your equatorial mount to track the sky is paramount, and your polar alignment has to be nigh-on perfect.

In contrast, planets are bright, and your exposures are measured in milliseconds, not minutes. At this speed, tracking means next to nothing. You can do it with an alt-azimuth mount, or even a Dobsonian.

But it isn't easy. There are hidden lessons. Finding that I had to balance my focal ratio to the pixel sizes on my camera was a surprise. I'd never even considered that there was a relationship between the two.

The highly magnified images dance around with the atmosphere, meaning that vanishingly few of your photographs will be any good. To get enough data for a decent image, you need to take in the order of 10,000 images, then search that haystack for the images that are sharp as needles. From there, the processing becomes quite technical, but again, the tools are very different to deep sky photography.

You can see the Jupiter photographs I took over my seven nights. I'm not sure I made a lot of progress, and I'm certainly not satisfied with the results, but I've sure learned a lot.

Over the season, Saturn and Jupiter crept towards the west, and are now disappearing into my White Cedar early in the evening. The other night I thought I had a chance, but the window has closed. To make things worse, Mars hid behind a Eucalyptus on my North fence. And the clouds didn't make things easier.




The planets aren't going anywhere. Life is long, and there is time enough.