Astrophotography for the Amateur
by Michael Covington.


Book Review by Joe Orman

[Originally published in the newsletter of the East Valley Astronomy Club, March 2001]

Do you wish you could take beautiful pictures of the night sky? You may be surprised to find out how easy it is, with some basic equipment and a little planning. The stars, moon, eclipses, comets, meteors, and aurora -- each is a photographic opportunity, and each is a special challenge. Michael Covington's book, originally published in 1985 and now a classic in the field, provides excellent guidance for beginners and pros alike.

The book is divided into three parts: Getting Started, Advanced Techniques, and Equipment & Materials. I was glad to see the author encouraging beginners to start with the basic setup: slap the camera on a fixed tripod, point it at a nighttime scene, open the shutter, and try a variety of exposures -- so easy almost anyone can get enjoyable results! Only then are the more complex setups described: piggybacking a camera on top of a telescope, then finally photographing through a telescope. (Curiously, the book does not mention the step many people take between tripod and piggyback: a barn door or other homemade tracking mount.) Interspersed throughout the text are many fine photos as examples, some in color. These include a photo taken by EVAC member Chris Schur with his all-sky camera setup, which uses a hubcap as a spherical reflector. And Covington provides useful exposure tables for the moon, sun, and planets.

The club's copy of this book is the 1991 Revised First Edition. While this is still a useful resource and is highly recommended as a first step for beginners, some portions are conspicuously outdated. For instance, the eclipse tables only go through the year 2000. There is no mention of the Internet, which has become an invaluable aid in both planning photos and displaying the results. There is also no mention of digital photography or scanning; instead there are chapters on film and darkroom techniques -- and some of the films discussed are now obsolete.

Advanced photographers may want to buy their own copy of the expanded and updated 1999 Second Edition (which was reviewed by Chris Schur in the March 2000 Sky & Telescope). The updates include "new chapters on computer image processing and CCD imaging, greatly expanded advice on choosing cameras and telescopes, completely updated information about films, a much larger bibliography, and many new photographs."

Here are two examples of my own photos, taken using techniques described in Covington's book. I challenge every EVAC member to check out this book, try a few simple photos, and bring the results to a future meeting for Show & Tell. With this book as a guide, the sky is within everyone's reach!

Fixed-tripod star-trail photo of Orion rising. 24mm lens at f/4, 3 1/2 hour exposure on Kodak Elite Chrome 100. Photo by Joe Orman.

Tracked photo of Orion's belt & sword. 200mm lens at f/4, 5 minute exposure on Fujichrome Provia 1600. Photo by Joe Orman.

Revised: June 7, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Joe Orman
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