CONGRATULATIONS to Rob Smyth who has obtained a NCFE photography certificate at night school – well done Rob
Revd Charles Thody review written by Ron Abbott
On Thursday September 17th 2020 we had our first Zoom meeting with an outside speaker. Revd Charles Thody
entertained us with ‘Deep Sky Imaging’.
Charles began his working life as an aircraft design technician. He spent 18 years restoring pre-war and wartime
aircraft and lead a team that built a WW1 fighter which now flies out of Wickenby.
He moved to Lincolnshire 29 years ago to study theology at Lincoln. He’s been a parish priest and a hospital
chaplain. He is now the lead Mental Health Chaplain for Lincolnshire.
He also has time for photography, including a fair amount of wedding photography. At three weddings he has been
both the Vicar and the Official Photographer!
He’s had an interest in outer space since childhood, and keenly followed the Apollo missions. When he was a Scout
in the early 70s he met Buzz Aldrin. He took up astronomy seriously about 8 years ago. When he moved house in
2017 he’d found a place where he could finally build an observatory.
Speaking over a PowerPoint presentation, Charles says taking photographs of the night sky is something we can all
do – as long as our cameras are capable of exposures up to 30 seconds. If exposures are longer than 30 seconds star
trails will start to be seen. Focusing is best done with Live View. The old method of setting the focus to infinity is no
longer applicable and focusing is temperature dependant so needs to be checked at regular intervals by focusing on
a star or using a Bahtinov mask, which helps to focus accurately on distant bright objects.
Meteors are hard to photograph, despite the news often reporting showers of them. Because of their random
arrival, both time and direction, it’s necessary to take repeated exposures and hope a few of them capture the
image. The best technique is to take continuous photos and hope. Most meteors are the size of a grain of sand but
still produce a trail as they vaporise in the Earth’s atmosphere. He warned us not to confuse meteors with artificial
satellites, particularly the older iridium ones which are brighter.
Lockdown has been good for images of the Milky Way. With fewer aeroplanes and cars about the air is less polluted
and hence there is less light pollution.
He went on to describe more sophisticated equipment for the enthusiast. A motorised tracking mount for camera or
telescope, for example, which compensates for the rotation of the earth, hence always pointing at the same object,
costs up to £350, though there are cheaper models. This needs to be set up using Polaris after which long exposures,
in the order of minutes, are possible.
Then he moved onto telescopes. There are adapters which effectively turn your telescope into a lens. At the moment, he said, Jupiter and Saturn should be visible; maybe Mars too. Such work is heavy on the battery and he suggested a car jump starter as a cheaper alternative to a battery kit.
It’s important that the camera is at the same temperature as the place where it is set up, so the camera needs to be outside some time before you want to start taking photos.
For stellar photography memory cards should be formatted for each use, rather than the images merely deleted, otherwise unwanted marks will appear in the image. The same thing can happen during the photo-shoot; every so often the lens cap should be put on and a series of ‘dark images’ taken This is to compensate for the electronic thermal noise generated by the electronics; without these dark frames the image may be very noisy. Two types of filter were described, the Baarder for photographing the sun, without which the camera will be permanently damaged. As previously mentioned focusing has to be checked regularly since it changes with temperature.
We moved onto star clusters. It was emphasised that night-time images should always be taken in RAW and saved as TIFF, only becoming jpeg for putting on a website. A series of photos should be taken and stacked, using Nebulosity, which is free software. Good examples to begin with are the Orion nebula and the Pleiades cluster. These look stunning even with ‘only’ binoculars. These clusters are where stars are born, known as stellar nurseries. We can also see stars that went supernova thousands of years ago!
As the photography got more ‘serious’ the number of layers needed for one image grew to 1,500; a good reason to check the focus frequently.
When it comes to telescopes, biggest is not always best. The bigger telescopes have a narrower field of view, similar to using a zoom lens.
Charles then showed us his favourite images. The huge number of galaxies around Leo. Andromeda – which looks very much the same as our galaxy appears from Andromeda – our ‘selfie’ which will eventually collide with ours, in fact it has already started! We also saw a picture of two galaxies colliding, showing us what will eventually happen to our own galaxy.
We were shown how Charles’s observatory was built, initially controlled by wires from a nearby shed, but now by his phone. His observatory camera (which looks like a tube) has a cooling system: it is kept at -16oC, which is ideal for obliterating ‘noise’.
Most software for astronomical images is free. There is a good deal of collaboration between professional and amateur photographers. Devices are available which enable all the photography to be done automatically while the astronomer is tucked up in bed!
Charles encouraged us to seek out our local astronomy society, and look at such websites as the Astronomy Shed Forum and Paul Money’s site. He concluded with stunning images of the Horse Head Nebula, and signed off with his favourite picture, taken by the Cassini probe through the rings of Saturn with the Earth being one small blue dot.
If you’d like to see more of his work he has a website https://www.charlesthodyphotography.com/
He even runs a B&B where you can stay and make use of his observatory! https://annexatchurchviewbarn.com/
Following the talk Charles sent us the following links:
Baader filter film on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baader-Planetarium-AstroSolar-filter-observation/dp/B002SYD2EM
How to stack to counter rotation in Photoshop CC – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rydg7JGTAbw
Software for stacking
Starwalk app (excellent)on IOS and Android: https://starwalk.space/en
One of the better forums out there – http://www.astronomyshed.co.uk/
FROM THE ARCHIVES
LPA Individual PDI competition Nettleham Sunday 26th January 2020.
Three members of the PPG entered images.
In the Open section, two members had an image held back.
35 images were held back of the 129 entered.
John Kinchin ‘Watching the Aurora’
John Roberts ‘Anzac Medic’
The judge gradually eliminated images to end up with ten before awarding Commendeds and selecting 1st , 2nd and 3rd.
He got that number down to 4. and agonised.
He took some time looking at ‘Fairy Pools Sgurr an Fheadain’ from NELPS and ‘Anzac Medic’ before making his decision.
‘Anzac Medic’ was the final image to be awarded Commended, which means John’s image came 4th out of 129.
The winners were:
First Sherlock Mike Bennett – Grimsby
Second Buffalo Drinking Party Steve Kilpin – Grantham
Third Fairy Pools Sgurr an Fheadain Dave Turner – NELPS
Our third entrant didn’t come away empty-handed. Ron won a pack of pot-pourri in the raffle. Like the New York woolly hat at the Awards Buffet, it was the last item left on the table!
Congratulations to our Secretary Ron Abbott who gained 2 awards at the LPA AV competition in the Narrative section held at Nettleham
Salamanca was Commended
Leeds Castle was Highly Commended
Results for the Handbook Selection for 2021
1st Splash – Renzo Gherardi
2nd Catching the Night Train – John Roberts
3rd Mia – Mike Gray
4th Swing Bridge Drive – John Rowbottom