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N.I.N.A. – Nighttime Imaging 'N' Astronomy (nighttime-imaging.eu)
89 points by amarsahinovic 41 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments

I love the fact that we have so much available at our disposal now to make this kind of thing possible. The old days of manual steering to keep the object center over the course of multiple nights just to get a single image can now be done in a single night with equipment that fits in the back of an SUV. Much thanks to people that build tools like this and PHD!

My retirement dream is to do this all the time. I fall prone to the traditional amateur astronomer's delima of having free time available to go to a dark sky location and the weather is bad, or be totally slammed with gorgeous viewing conditions.

Looks well thought out and powerful to use.

The page does, however, fall prey to a common issue among HN submissions:

For someone who is not already an expert, and who does not know the rest of the pieces required: what do they need to know/have to get their first successful use?

I’m vaguely guessing that someone needs a camera that can keep the shutter open, some type of servos to turn the camera?, and a laptop running next to it all night (which implies you also need necessary cables, extra battery power, and waterproof bags just in case)?

I think the issue is that this software really probably targets someone already pretty advanced in the hobby. If you’re just stepping in, this software will probably be overkill.

You can start doing astrophotography with nothing more than a nice camera with a tripod and a remote shutter control for long exposures. You can get great views of the Milky Way and some brighter nebulas that way. If you want longer exposures then obviously you’ll need a mount that can track the earths rotation.

If you’re looking to image what are called “deep sky” objects, then that’s when you’ll need something like this software and probably a telescope, along with a mount that can track the movement of the earth with very high precision. Lots of deep sky objects require multiple exposures from a larger telescope that can capture lots of light, which are then stacked. The stacking requires lining up the star field, so software is a must.

Another use for software like this is doing amateur astronomy work. For example taking multiple basic images of galaxies every night in order to spot a supernova.

Even your reply would be a big help on that page.

Personally, I like to use the best tools even if they are well outside my current skillset (diving in to early Photoshop was overkill to recolour images and took me dozens of hours to start to learn, but working with it paid off many times over the years).

Sounds like the most efficient path is:

1. Nice camera with long exposure via remote shutter: Take photos of stars / milky way / some nebulas

2. Add tripod and mount to automatically move the camera that can be optionally controlled via some smart device: Adds the ability to see more nebulas, and focus on objects for longer (meaning they show up brighter, with more detail)

3. Add software and maybe a telescope that can connect to the camera + mount: Adds the ability to capture things not normally visible, and really tune in to the details

Is that right?

Pretty much. Definitely get the tripod right at the beginning. You can get some nice and very portable ones for not much money, and with any night photography if you want halfway decent shots, it’s a must.

And depending on how into it you get, you might not even bother with a mount for a camera. If you end up going the telescope route you’ll want a good equatorial mount for that, and typically the camera will attach directly to the telescope.

And speaking of mounts, for astrophotography, an equatorial mount is a must. It rotates along the earths axis, so it can keep the image orientation correct. If you get a mount that moves up/down left/right (they call that alt/azimuth) then your image will rotate as the night progresses.

For learning, there’s also no better place than the cloudy nights forums in my opinion:


edit: dylans comment is also really good and tracks with my experiences as well

Also, garage sales for tripods.

I got a collection of ~30 tripods at a garage sale for $10 for the lot.

Some really really cool tripods - but I dont really do photography I put my houseplants on them/


I think a tiny bit of me just died with the realization that this is what this poor equipment has been reduced to. A tiny tear has been shed in its honor.

Were they real or just designed to look like that? Seems like a lot of damn weight to be carrying around to hold up a plant.

One thing I'd also suggest is rent, rent, rent. You can rent so many different camera bodies and lenses, that you'd be silly to not try out different things before buying. You can even rent modified camera bodies that have the IR filters removed specifically for astro stuff.

Before buying a telescope, attend star parties. People will bring out their gear and welcome you to chat and view through their gear. You'll start to see the differences in telescope types and their pros/cons. Astronomy was built on the shoulders of giants, so you can take advantage of that as well.

+1000 for cloudynights website

But there are plenty of other resources to help you get started. The target audience for that website is people already familiar with Astrophotography that want a software suite to control your equipment, i.e. that are ready to use N.I.N.A. And honestly, if you are just starting out in astrophotography you probably want to start simpler than the setup that you would need something like N.I.N.A. for. For example star trails, where you just need a camera that can take long exposures, and a tripod, images of the moon and the bright planets where you just need a single short exposure, or even just wide-angle images of the sky. Unless you are committed enough that you are willing to sink a lot of money into a new hobby.

I think the problem here is that on HN it's just a link with no context, so the site gets a lot of views from people that aren't really its intended audience.

I am aware of Astrophotography on a limited/thats a thing basis and would like to give it a go someday. That said, I think its pretty self-explanatory that you will need some kind of imaging capturing device as a first step to even have interest in this project. The documentation is on the home page... :https://nighttime-imaging.eu/docs/master/site/requirements/

Not to be too snide, but I highly doubt you'll need a waterproof bag if you are trying to take images of Space at night... Kinda hard to see through clouds.

Aha, then your answer to “if you don’t already know, then how do you learn?” is “you should just already know” / “use common sense”. Respectfully, that is quite unhelpful.

I was thinking a waterproof bag in case you set up and a storm rolls in and you have to pack up then get back to shelter. My common sense says be prepared because you don’t even want expensive gear to get wet while being transported.

Anyone doing astrophotography has already been watching the forecast for days in advance. There's not really going to be something rolling in they didn't anticipate, unless you're really planning for it.

Depending on where you are and the type of weather you have, a storm rolling through could be the best thing. I'm in Texas, and my favorite spot to go is a place 4.5 hours away. If you want to view things around the center of the Milky Way, you'll need to be viewing during the summer. Texas and summer don't make for friendly viewing conditions. However, if you catch one of those thunderstorms that blows through in half an hour or so, they can clear the air so that you have much better conditions after. You just gotta time it right!

Don't forget about dew.

Dew can definitely be a problem depending on location and weather. Dew shields and heaters for lenses or scopes can sometimes be required. It doesn’t need to be cloudy for dew to be an issue.

>what do they need to know/have to get their first successful use?

Ah, the age old question: how long is a piece of string?

The question you pose is best answered by more questions.

What do you want to do? Wide angle full sky type imagery (think full night sky with Milky Way tracing across the image)? Planetary images (I'd suggest not starting here)? Deep Sky Objects (nebulae, galaxies, star clusters, etc)? Each one of those requires different equipment.

Wide angle full sky stuff can be done with a tripod and a camera. After that, you will need gear that can start "tracking" the sky. Basically, a method to counter act the rotation of the earth. Many ways of achieving this for just mounting a camera to a tripod.

Say you want to go further, you'll start looking at telescopes. Which telescope depends on what you want to image. Now that you have a telescope, you'll need a mount. I'd highly suggest an equitorial mount.

Now you need a camera to mount to that scope. Again many options exist. You can get a mount that allows you to hold your mobile phone next to an eyepiece. Works great for planetary/moon shots as they are bright enough a long exposure is not necessary. If you want to use a DSLR you already have, you'll need some method of connecting it to the telescope usually with a t-adapter. It connects to your camera like a lens, then you slide it in place of the eyepiece. Now your telescope is your lens.

All of sudden, you start realizing that your mount and motors just are not accurate enough, so now you want to start doing guided imaging. Oh boy, now you need a smaller telescope for your telescope. That new scope will need it's own camera. Depending on where you're going, you can get a new camera that is also a guider or one that needs to be plugged into a laptop for control. Oh, so you'll need a laptop you don't mind being out all night and susceptible to dew etc.

Once you have your guide scope being guided by something, you'll get to start learning about stacking. Instead of taking a single exposure for 60 minutes, you can take 60 one minute exposures. Then there's more software that allows you to take your stacks and align/process them.

Okay, so now you have all of this equipment to take great images. You'll need a way to transport it. Great, put it in the SUV. Now, your schedule will need to align. Certain nights are better for imaging than others. Full moons are the wrong time for viewing anything but the moon. Great, shift your schedule for new moons. Perfect there's one coming up, but the Mrs has already made dinner plans with someone you may or may not care about, but you won't be using your gear that night. A free weekend lines up with a new moon and you've received permission from the Mrs to go play. Oops, its cloudy AF, and you're left dreaming once again about the imagary you'll someday be able to take.

I love my hobby enough to be that cynical.

Edit: I always focus on the tech gear, but there's some other basics need too. As many red filters as you can find. Flashlights with red filters are a must. Lots of headlamps now come with red LEDs as an option. Red filter your laptop screen whether with actual filter or an app that changes the screen tone. Warm clothes. Because of heat distortion in the atmosphere, lots of good viewing during winter. Winter gets cold, and it's never as cold as when you're trying to achieve focus with 10 little blocks of ice at the end of your hands. Also, be aware of the car you are driving. Can you turn the headlights off when the car is on? You'll be tempted to sit in the car with the heater running, but some cars always have running lights that you cannot turn off. Also, check you car's interior lights. If you need to keep running back to the car, that interior light coming on/off will become annoying. If not annoying to you, anyone else imaging that night will start to get peeved at you.

The other thing I'd suggest is friends to take with you. Sharing the experience is so much more rewarding. If you have no friends, at least not interested in staying up all night in remote locations, then find star parties. Get involved with local groups. It's easy to get defeated, but going to meetings and chatting with others helps keep you excited about it.

I went on the journey of this comment and fully respect your loving cynicism.

Thanks. I really do love this stuff, but I am constantly frustrated by how rarely I get to do it. I sold my car at the beginning of the pandemic, and while it made financial sense, I regretted not being able to go out while that was pretty much the perfect thing to do during the pandemic. Going outside with fresh air and nobody around because there's very few freaks to be wanting to do this.

It's definitely a love/love/hate/love type of hobby.

Thanks for writing this, this is hilarious and so true!

I would love a viable F/OSS alternative to SGPro, as it’s pretty much the only show in town when it comes to fire and forget capture sessions, and I’m too busy in the day to stay up all night nursing telescopes - I rely on it handling everything from focus to acquisition to guiding to some control, including exceptions such as weather - and will therefore do my best to find the time to contribute to this project.

This looks pretty cool. Anyone have any experience with it? Used to use Backyard EOS to control my canon for timed exposures.

Edit: In case anyone is interested here’s a couple images I took with my 9.5 inch scope. The globular cluster required stacking many exposures. The double star is not color enhanced or anything, that’s how it looks through the eye piece.




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