University Lowbrow Astronomers

Midwest Astro Imaging Conference 2009.

by Clay Kessler
Printed in Reflections: August, 2009.

The Midwest Astro Imaging Conference is sponsored by Al Degutis and Astrophoto Insight Magazine. I had the opportunity to attend the conference this year with Jeff Thrush. The event is held in Hoffman Estates Illinois—a northwest suburb of Chicago. The conference presentations are hosted at Northern Illinois University Hoffman Estates Meeting Center—a modern facility with classrooms, meeting facilities and a great kitchen.

(Image by Al Degutis)

An august group of presenters were on hand to learn from. They included (left to right):

Robert Reeves—Noted Author; Warren Keller—IP4AP; Chris Peterson—Research Associate, Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Craig Stark—Nebulosity, PHD Guide etc.; Kevin Nelson—VP Quantum Scientific Imaging; Hap Griffin—Hap Griffin Astro-Cables; Alan Erickson—Adobe.; Michael Kran—NASA Solar System Ambassador; Bob Denny—DC3 Dreams; Alan Friedman—Great Arrow Graphics

The conference started Friday morning and the first talk was given by Craig Stark. His subject was “Choosing a camera for Astrophotography.” This was a very in depth analysis of the pluses and minuses of DSLR’s and dedicated CCD cameras. Final conclusions were that if you want a dedicated astro system a CCD is the better way to go—but if you have a mixed use (terrestrial and astro photography) a DSLR has a lot to recommend it.

The second talk on Friday Morning was given by Alan Erickson from Adobe. Alan described Adobe’s family of products and demonstrated several photoshop features that can be very helpful for astrophotographers. He showed a very cool 3D effect that allowed you to zoom into an object and watch the foreground stars move to the side as if you were moving in space.

After lunch we continued with Hap Griffin’s talk “Modifying DSLR’s for Astronomical Photography.” Hap took us through the “nuts and bolts” of removing the stock filter inside a DSLR and talked about the different considerations of no filter, clear glass or an IR cutoff filter like the Baader UV/IR replacement filter.

(typical session)

The final talk on Friday was Warren Keller “The 5 S’s—Part 1.” Warren is a very artistic astrophotographer who is very knowledgable in the best use of Photoshop for astro image processing. Warren touched on many processing techniques revolving around “Stretching”, “Sharpening” and “Saturating” the image.

Friday night was capped off with a dinner party at a local restaurant. After dinner—off for a good night’s sleep... but wait —it is clear in Michigan! No problem—Jeff fired up his observatory via the internet and took some images from Chicago!

Saturday morning was very nice and cool. We got to the conference center early to take advantage of the breakfast laid out for us and to peruse the vendor tables. I admit that I shamelessly took advantage of the Canon representatives. They brought several tabloid sized photo printers and offered to print our astrophotos free of charge. I got three tabloid sized prints that will grace my walls in the near future.

The first session that I attended on Saturday was Chris Peterson’s “Advanced Guiding Tips and Tricks.” This was a pretty technical discussion of autoguiding theory and practice. Chris talked about different electronic systems and cameras used to achieve “sub pixel” autoguiding. An interesting discussion that I took a lot away from.

Saturday’s second session was Robert Reeves’ “10+ ways to focus a DSLR for Astrophotography.” Robert gave an enjoyable talk that discussed what critical focus is and detailed the 15 (and counting) ways to accomplish this with a DSLR. Not too technical—very good talk.

The next session was Alan Friedman’s “Catching the Sun—High Resolution Astro-Imaging in the Daytime.” Alan talked about how he takes high resolution lunar, solar and planetary photos from his urban back yard in Buffalo New York. All the photos—especially the solar shots—were very beautiful. I could very easily sit through this talk again!

After a fine lunch Kevin Nelson (from Quantum Scientific Imaging) gave his presentation “Bias and Darks and Flats, Oh My!” The how and why of image calibration. This was a technical discussion of image calibration and how to achieve the best results. Lots of info to absorb here and it was applicable to CCD and DSLR imaging.





At this point I suffered from Information overload and sat out the last presentation. Instead I headed for the atrium and checked out some of the vendor displays. Canon had a great setup with the printers, all their DSLR cameras and enough high end glass to pay off my mortgage (almost!).

Quantum Scientific Instruments had a display and some cameras—as did Fishcamp Engineering with their Starfish Cameras. Jeff Thrush was pretty interested in the AstroTrac setup—enough so one is shipping to him now! AstroTrac also had the new pier mounted version that can support up to a 4” refractor or an 8” SCT.

DC3 Dreams had a display table with information on their telescope/observatory automation software.

Finally—the last session—“Closing remarks and DOOR PRIZES!!!!!”

This event had a great selection of door prizes including a Canon XSi camera kit. Two copies of Adobe Photoshop CS4+. Two Orion Starshoot imaging cameras and a Starshoot Autoguider. Lots of software and adapters. While I did not win anything Jeff Thrush got an Orion Starshoot Monochrome Imager!

The session ended at 5PM central time and we hopped on the tollway back to Michigan. It was a great weekend and I learned a lot. I am looking forward to attending next year!


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