Home shutterbugs capture Hubble-like photos

17:00, May 10 2013
Stephen Chadwick space photo
The Basin, by Manawatu astrophotographer Stephen Chadwick.
Stephen Chadwick space photo
The Antares Region, by Manawatu astrophotographer Stephen Chadwick.
Stephen Chadwick space photo
Horsehead, by Manawatu astrophotographer Stephen Chadwick.
Stephen Chadwick space photo
M42, by Manawatu astrophotographer Stephen Chadwick.
Stephen Chadwick space photo
Tarantula Nebula, by Manawatu astrophotographer Stephen Chadwick.

You don't need the Hubble telescope to take dramatic deep space shots - just some over-the-counter photography gear will do.

Manawatu astrophotographer Stephen Chadwick and co-author Ian Cooper recently published Imaging the Southern Sky, which was endorsed by the late amateur English astronomer and TV presenter Sir Patrick Moore.

"People tend not to believe I can take them from my back garden - they assume they've been taken by the Hubble telescope," Mr Chadwick said.

The book shows how budding deep-sky shutterbugs can take pictures from their backyard using amateur equipment.

Many of the southern hemisphere's more obscure cosmic features don't have common names, so the authors took the liberty of naming a few, including a nod to the Basin Reserve.

"The Basin" is part of the shock-wave of space dust from the explosion that created the Vela supernova remnant about 12,000 years ago and the pair hope the name will stick.


Mr Chadwick said the Vela remnant resembled an intricate roading system of superhighways, hence the salute to the capital's most travelled - and often congested - roundabout.

Getting started with deep space photography was easy, he said. "Simply holding an everyday digital camera capable of long exposures to the eyepiece of a telescope will begin to reveal the beautiful colours that we see in these images."

Improving image quality takes time and patience, but snapping the brightest objects in the sky can be done from any location, even light-polluted central Wellington.

However, to capture fainter objects it is necessary to head for inkier skies. "In the lower North Island the best locations for this are probably rural Manawatu and Whanganui and the Wairarapa, well away from any towns or cities."

Light pollution is a big problem around much of the country and had a detrimental effect on what could be both observed and photographed in the night sky, Mr Chadwick said.

Last year a Wellington starlight dark sky reserve around Pencarrow Head or Palliser Bay was deemed feasible after the idea was mooted by Brooklyn photographer Rob Wilson.



An everyday DSLR camera is capable of the long exposures required for deep-space photography.

Relatively cheap, specially designed tripods or mounts (which must be aligned to the South Pole) are needed to compensate for the Earth's rotation and prevent "smearing".

A telephoto or zoom lens is required for bigger targets. Smaller objects require a telescope - starting with a small 90mm telescope is a good idea. You can graduate to a larger telescope later.

Perfect focus is vital - stars are pinpoints of light and it is obvious when they are out of focus.

Plenty of free software is available on the internet to capture and process images, such as Deep Sky Stacker and ImagesPlus. Commercial software, including MaxIm DL and Photoshop, can also be used.

The Dominion Post