Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography released

Here it is, Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography, finally! After almost a year the astrophotography book tons of people suggested I write is done and I had an absolute blast making it happen. Sure it was a lot of work, but it was also a ton of fun testing out theories and building projects. After all, if I can’t make sure it works I certainly don’t want to suggest you try it.

Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography Inside you will find a ton of information including a complete image processing walkthrough using only freely available software, tons of do it yourself projects and much more. If you are interested in astrophotography but just want to dip your toe in and not spend a fortune, this is the book to get you started. The book covers just about anything you need to know to get started, from budget telescopes, to the cheapest camera for astrophotography, DSLR astrophotography, astrophotography software and even software that will allow you to mimic  Photoshop on a budget. You can learn more about the book at and discuss it at Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography is available on Amazon or directly at and will be available in both print and Kindle editions.

Here is the description as it appears on Amazon:

Allan Hall makes learning how to photograph the night sky easy with his new book Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography. In this guide, you will learn the fundamentals of astrophotography – what it is, how it’s done, and how to do it yourself. Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography is divided into these three sections in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the basics of astrophotography.  
The first section of Hall’s guide focuses on understanding astrophotography. Amateur and professional stargazers know that one of the most important things to consider when viewing the heavens is light pollution. Light pollution is exactly what it sounds like – too much light in our environments makes it more difficult to get a good look at planets, stars, and other celestial bodies. If you want to get the best view and photo possible, you must find a location that has little light. This makes a huge difference. In addition to finding a good location for viewing and shooting, you will learn about camera basics, including how to mount a camera and focus a lens. Beyond that, you will read about various types of telescopes and what they do.  
The title of the second segment of this reference guide speaks for itself. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals of location, cameras, and telescopes, it’s time to put your knowledge to use. This section discusses how to find targets, as in how to find objects of interest to shoot. From capturing images to camera and exposure settings, you will learn how to make the most of your instruments and location by taking a great shot. This section also discusses making videos, image stacking, and image editing, an important aspect of astrophotography. Many of the celestial shots we see are time-lapse or edited in some way (to improve clarity and reduce visual “noise”). While it may sound difficult, this reference guide simplifies the processes by providing step-by-step instructions. 
For the handy home astrophotographer, this section includes information about do-it-yourself projects. From modifying your equipment (for example, improving your focus capabilities, modifying a webcam for astrophotography, and even adapting your laptop screen to function in the dark) to building add-ons, you’ll learn how to enhance your experience in your own home. Hall provides information about creating glass solar filters for your cameras and even making your own dew heaters.  
Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography is a great reference guide for beginners and amateur astrophotographers. If you have an interest in astronomy and want to capture what you’ve viewed through a telescope, doing so is possible from your own home. Hall’s comprehensive guide also provides ideas about where to start (as in, what targets are best to photograph), where to find more information about astrophotography, and even a glossary of terms. Indulge your hobby and learn how to improve with Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography.

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Messier Astrophotography Reference released

The Messier Astrophotography Reference is a little surprise for you, as it was pretty much an unexpected book!

Messier Astrophotography Reference When I was starting out in astrophotography I was constantly hunting for images that would give me a good idea of what I would see in my images. The problem was that I was in a middle area where most of the images were either far too nice looking to compare to mine, or far too simple. Even when I found a few, they had not done all of the Messier objects so I really could not do more than a few targets.

This made me decide to write a reference book for the Messier catalog with all 110 Messier objects, example images, size estimates for the most popular telescopes, best times of the year to shoot each target, star charts showing the location, a scientific description of the target and lastly, a set of shoot notes giving my suggestions for shooting and/or processing each target.This should help you find the best Messier objects for you to shoot.

The reference hopefully will be helpful for other astrophotographers in North America who want to shoot some or all of the Messier objects. You can learn more about the book at and discuss it at Messier Astrophotography Reference is available on or directly at and is available in both print and Kindle editions.

Here is the description from Amazon:

Allan Hall’s Messier Astrophotography Reference takes the task of providing a detailed, practical, visual guide to the night sky’s Messier Objects – all 110 of them – seriously, but not without the author’s trademark approachability and goal of providing home-based astrophotographers at any experience level with the fundamental resources they need to shoot smart.

In North American skies, throughout the year, a series of bright visual bodies, groups, formations, and phenomenon are categorized as Messier Objects. 110 of these are flung across the galactic veil that we see every night. For each star: a cluster. For each cluster: a galaxy. From nebula to clouds to clusters, these astrological objects are striking, nuanced, each with its own sky path and yearly phases. The task of capturing these in images can be daunting for astrophotographers, making Messier’s Astrophotography Reference all the more impactful of a guide.

For astrophotographers: the number of factors to consider when searching out the ideal celestial shot can be daunting. From yearly charts of the night sky’s movements to sizing objects, gauging their depth, and choosing how to capture them, astrophotographers have long relied on fundamental – and luckily unchanging – guides for astrological behavior.

From the author of Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography and Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography comes a uniquely comprehensive book sure to change the way that just about any astrophotographer’s views their discipline.

A question: What do the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, the Owl Nebula, and 108 other striking astronomical bodies have in common with you? For the first time: they’re all accessible. From home. For beginning astrophotographers. Now – finally – with Allan Hall’s Messier Astrophotography Reference – the lessons of Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography and Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography are elevated, targeted, and laid out in an intuitive format meant for providing home-based astrophotographers with a practical road map for all 110 North American Messier Objects in the night sky.

From your bedroom desk to nights in the field, Messier Astrophotography Reference represents a condensed, intuitive resource. In it, each Messier Object is highlighted with a photograph and a rich entry of details, context, sizing, yearly shooting charts, and more. Hall’s approachable tone makes for a clean narrative in which the goal is the keenest understanding of these objects, their “characters”, movements, obstacles in shooting, and points of interest.

As a companion piece for Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography, this book takes on a natural supplementary role. Further developed by its author to be a full standalone resource on its own, Messier Astrophotography Reference is comprehensive, targeted, and brisk. From sizing your shot to deciding on your range of depth – Hall takes readers from step one to the final shutter snap; giving them the tools to interpret their experience with the Messier Objects.

For anyone with practical astrophotographical ambitions; whether they’re gathering supplies and waiting for that first shoot or experienced astrophotographers ready to delve into a comprehensive Messier Object guide, Allan Hall’s Messier Astrophotography Reference is essential.

You can find out more about Messier objects at Wikipedia.

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Using astronomy forums to get information online

Astronomy forums can be helpful as finding information online can be a challenge, particularly if you are looking for something specific like astronomy. Sure, there is a ton of easy to access information, but it never seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. After looking around for a couple of years and participating on many astronomy forums I decided I would share a little of my impressions with some of what I see as the better online forums dedicated to astronomy. Here you can not only read tons of static information, but also ask specific questions and get direct answers from people who have “been there and done that”.

stargazers lounge astronomy forums

Stargazers Lounge is my favorite general astronomy forums with tons of friendly and knowledgeable people ready to help. As one of the largest astronomy forums online (over two million posts and 1,500 unique visitors a day) you are sure to find tons of valuable information and some wonderful astrophotography as well. They round out the information in the forums with tons of user blogs and a wonderful calendar showing celestial events as well as meetings and events local to England and surrounding areas. If I could only pick one place to hang out, shoot the breeze and learn something at the same time this would be my choice.


Cloudy Nights has quite a lot of great information and some excellent reviews but also has a reputation for being a little more abrasive than other astronomy forums. Although no one has ever been rude to me in any way, I have seen a few rather heated conversations. That aside, no forum I have found has anywhere near the quantity and quality of product reviews these astronomy forums have. There are also some very knowledgeable people here so there is always great information to be had. In addition to the forums they have the excellent Cloudy Nights classifieds section with tons of items and a nice articles section with what looks like over a hundred how-to articles. If I wanted one place to learn as much as possible, and didn’t mind watching my Ps and Qs, this would be the astronomy forums for me.


Astromart is well known in astronomy circles as the place to find used astronomy equipment online. What they don’t tell you is that they have a pretty nice little set of astronomy forums there as well although it is primarily aimed at equipment information and discussion. If you have any questions such as what part fits this, or what adapters you need to mount this on that, then I would recommend trying here.


Ice In Space is a fairly good sized forum primarily aimed at Australia but still contains some excellent information for anyone. Add to that a friendly mix of people and some high quality astrophotography and it is a very nice destination. For me, this forum presents a nice change of pace since it is in the Southern Hemisphere so I get to see astrophotography that I will probably never get to shoot myself.


The Astronomy Shed is another one of those places that is well known for something other than its astronomy forums, in this case it is some excellent video tutorials. If you like video tutorials, particularly ones dealing with do-it-yourself projects, this is a great place to spend some quality time.

Hope to see you on the astronomy forums!

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M78, a surprising little area of the sky

Sometimes there are targets that just really surprise you, the M78 nebula is one of them. In the charts and books I have it just looked really plain and boring. Granted, in none of the images I had did anyone really put much time and effort into the target. Described as a diffuse nebula, and in most images showing only two small amounts of nebulosity much like this (35 minutes total data):

Typical DSLR M78 image

With almost nothing there but too little wisps of dust, can you blame anyone for not putting much time on the Messier 78? I certainly didn’t want to waste much time here. Then I say something a little above the largest portion of nebula in the above picture that made me wonder.

I set off one night to see what I could get. I started off with M78 on a single really long exposure, fifteen minutes as I remember. I then stretched the heck out of that image right there in the field immediately after taking the exposure. The quality of the image was horrible because I had stretched it so hard that the diffuse nebula of Messier 78 finally started to pop out. I decided to reduce the exposure time to something that would reduce the noise a little and give it a lot of exposures.

After getting home and getting some sleep I decided to see what I could get out of the M78 images I had taken. I was amazed. The more times on target I added, the better the image looked and the more detail that came out. I decided to go out again that night and get some more time.

This target really lends itself to as much exposure as you can get on it. With just about six hours of data and some careful stretching you can get this out of a DSLR image of the target:

M78 starting to be revealed That image took 70 300sec exposures, and as you can see, could use even more. Next year I hope to at least double that amount of time and see what else I can get to come out. I have had one serious AP guy (way above my pay grade, that’s for sure) tell me he thinks this is the best DSLR image he has ever seen of this target. While I am flattered, I think I can do much better, it will just take a lot more time. Looking close at the dust lanes you can see there is a lot of detail that is just barely starting to emerge from the noise.

I hope you enjoyed my images of M78!

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