First of all, I received my Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1998 and I'm currently a professional astronomer, working as a college professor at the moment.
My interest in astronomy began when I was about 10, but it wasn't until I was a senior in high school that I realized that I could actually do astronomy as a career! However, I did a lot of amateur astronomy growing up. I had a 60mm refractor, and I observed with that and a pair of 7x50 binoculars fairly often from the dark skies of the small Iowa town in which I grew up.
I took my first astrophoto on 13 Feb 1988, a 1 minute shot of Venus and Jupiter in the same 50mm frame. This was during my first year of college at the University of Iowa. That was my first camera, a late Christmas present that I still use today. By March of that year, I talked my grandpa and uncle into constructing a simple barndoor tracking platform from plans in Astronomy magazine. With this, I astrophotographed with 50mm and 135mm lenses whenever I was home from school during 1988 and 1989. The culmination of my early astrophotography career was the total lunar eclipse in August 1989. However, that was about the end of my astrophotography and amateur observing for a long time.
I had occasion to shoot the aurora a time or two, a couple of eclipses, and I always looked up when outside at night. I also managed to view the occasional naked-eye comets that came around during the early 1990's. During 1995, I had two observing runs at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and took time out to stargaze when I could from there to see some objects like Canopus and Omega Centauri that I'd never been south enough to see before. However, I didn't really get back into astrophotography and observing until Comet Hyakutake in March-April 1996. I quickly realized that I had great access to truly dark skies. I had quite a bit of success on the comet, and amateur astronomy was in the back of my mind. I was quite busy for the next several months, but in October 1996, I spent a few evenings above the 10,000-foot level in the nearby mountains observing and photographing. For a while after that, I went out more-or-less regularly to my local dark site, and occasionally up in the mountains.
However, I started writing my dissertation in late 1997 and since then I've mainly only done aurora photography
The early days laid the foundation for interest in wide-field astrophotography. I still haven't had the money to buy more expensive equipment, so it seemed natural to focus on wide-field stuff. During October and November 1996, I worked a lot on perfecting my equipment for this work. I've got quite a few rolls of film that are crap; something to which every astrophotographer can relate! However, things came together very nicely for Hale-Bopp; it helps that the comet was so damn bright!
These pages came into existence mainly because I was trying to come up with something useful that I could put at my web site, and this seemed like an obvious choice. Basically, I wanted my site to be more than a "look at me, I'm on the web!!!" site, which was quite popular way back in 1996-7 when these pages were coming together.
Much of what I've learned about astrophotography is from trial and error. Also, I subscribed to at least one of the two main astronomical magazines for nearly ten years. There are several good books about astrophotography, but because prime focus astrophotography is more difficult, books rightly put much of their emphasis on that aspect. They still generally do a good job explaining wide-field astrophotography, but I haven't felt the need to buy any of them. Although it is still rather challenging and expensive, even wide-field astrophotography is starting to go digital.
Back to A Wide-Field Astrophotography Page
File last modified: 08 January 2005