July General Meeting Report

The Devil is in the Details

These days, Chris Johnston says, almost any cheap digital camera (provided you can hook it up to your telescope) will give you a reasonable picture of the objects in the sky; even a video camera. If the resolution is not very high, so what; on a plain paper print from a 600 dot laser printer you may not notice any difference between it and one from an expensive professional machine. And with software available to readily combine a series of photos to improve seeing condition limits, video for many is a great economic alternative for getting into astro.

Chris Johnston, the ASV's Astrophotography Section Director, and Maurice Valimberti were giving a presentation on "The Current State of Astrophotography" during which Chris talked about the cameras and accessories available and Maurice showed how he and other ASV Astrophotographers create world class images of the planets and deep sky objects.

But sooner or later, Chris continued, the lure of quality equipment with higher resolution will become irresistible. Several products to tempt you are now becoming available that give “reasonable” images even of deep sky object at slightly increased cost (see Google “Astrophotography Video”). Some digital cameras, such as the Canon 300D, use post-processing of raw Megapixel data to reduce noise, and are sensitive enough to produce good images of bright dark-sky object for under $2000. There is a lot you can do with this equipment with a reasonable sized and properly adjusted telescope. It is a big step from there to cooled, temperature controlled cameras.

Maurice Valimberti then showed us how to make the most of the information contained in your digital pictures. How to tease out the tempting details with programs that combine multiple images to sharpen the picture, how to use a masking tool to reduced unwanted blurring and noise, to focus on the desired details and then enhance them by experimenting with shading and colour. With deft fingers gliding over the keyboard of his laptop Maurice made a dull image of Jupiter come alive on the projection screen. It takes a deep feeling and appreciation for the subject, and a thorough knowledge of the tools at your disposal, to produce “world class” images of celestial objects.
Often it is not just the most detailed image that makes the best picture. You have to understand the emotions of the potential observer, the public that will be looking at it, at the same time. The devil is in the details; you must leave something to challenge the observer’s imagination. The masters of the Renaissance painted pictures with exquisite attention to details, true to nature in every aspect including their newly-found artistry of depth and perspective. Because then it was new. Whereas today’s masterpieces concentrate more on novel shapes and order, and experiment with clashes of colour that again truly challenge the imagination. The clear view of the star-studded sky on a dark sky site like the ASV’s LMDS is an awe inspiring sight in its majestic splendour of light an shadow. Yet if you could see all the stars that are there in the sky above you, the sky would become a featureless blur. It needs inspiration and understanding, the touch of a master to bring out the important aspects of a Jupiter, the horsehead Nebula or the shadow of the Emu in the Galaxy.

Earlier in the evening, Jim Trainor, with aptly balanced attention to details, paid a moving tribute to the passing of John Perdrix.