My first image of M31 galaxy. Shawn Nielsen 2008
My first image of the M31 galaxy. Taken in 2008 with a Celestron CPC800 SCT.

This was my first image taken upon returning to the astrophotography hobby and astronomy after many years. It was summer of 2008 and I found an urge to explore the cosmos again and meet up with old friends, the stars of the night sky.

I had decided to purchase a new telescope and try my hand at photographing the night sky. How things had changed. When I dabbled in astrophotography as a teenager, computer control of telescopes, for amateurs anyhow, was in its infancy. What was an autoguider? I recall “guiding” manually by having to keep a guide star at the center of an illuminated cross-hair eyepiece  that I’d have to keep looking through the entire time I was imaging. Apparently technology had taken leaps and bounds for amateur astronomy and imaging.

I have to admit being a little overwhelmed and caught up in the bells and whistles the new telescopes offered. Having a little knowledge of things and some money to spend, I ventured head-long into the cosmic imaging abyss. Sure I didn’t have all of the needed equipment and definitely not the right equipment for a beginner, but that didn’t stop me.

The above image of M31, the Andromeda galaxy, was taken with the CPC 800 8″ SCT I had bought. It was an F10 long focal length telescope and I had no autoguiding. Would seem like a recipe for disaster!

I did end up buying a focal reducer which brought the telescope down to F6.3 (wider field of view) which was a little more forgiving for taking images of deepsky objects. I also had a refurbished stock Canon 350XT DSLR I bought and a wired remote shutter release for doing long expsosures. All things considered,  I was so thrilled with what I saw. I had been bitten by the astrophotography bug!

A recent image of M31 I took with a Skywatcher Esprit 100 and Moravian 16200EC CCD.
A recent image of M31 I took some 10 years later using a Skywatcher Esprit 100 and Moravian 16200EC CCD.

Little did I know then, that it would be a good 2 years before I perfected the art of astrophotography. I kept persevering and was always excited for every clear night that came along. I joined the local astronomy club and met new friends. I even was able to go to dark sites for imaging. I would reach a big highlight around 2011/2012 when my images were winning awards and being featured in publications which was very satisfying and exciting.

Looking back over the years now, I realize you never perfect the art but continuously learn and refine your imaging and processing skills. I’m still learning even today, new techniques and with new equipment or software. I image now with equipment I only dreamed of owning and I do it from the comfort of home – computer controlled and even automated at times!

My astrophotography is a wondrous connection to something bigger, more mysterious and filled with emotion and passion. To this day I still feel the thrill of the hunt capturing ancient photons of the cosmic past and discovering the treasures of our night sky within the visible dark.