Astrophotography is an exhilarating pastime. Thanks to the digital revolution in amateur astronomy, taking deep space images is less of the almost overwhelming challenge it was just a handful of years ago. Today, with a modest telescope and digital camera, thousands of enthusiasts are producing beautiful images of galaxies and nebulas. However, one final hurdle persists- raw images produced through a telescope still require significant enhancement to bring out the secrets hidden within them. This can be a daunting procedure because processing astrophotographs has been, and remains, an essentially self-taught art. However, several imaging experts who have been honing their processing skills for many years have recently begun to reveal their hard learned techniques through books and, in 2006, with DVD tutorials.
This article is the second in a series that reviews the most recent and effective training resources for creating highly polished astronomical pictures. In this discussion we review a DVD produced and distributed by Donald P. Waid, who operates two observatories- one at his home in Margate, Florida and the other in south central Oklahoma, near the Texas border.
Astromomical Image Processing Tutorials is step-by-step guide that walks the viewer through over five hours of hands on astronomical image processing. The DVD is not intended to explain how to take astronomical images. It assumes that the viewer has already mastered the steps required to use a camera with a telescope. It is not intended to help you enhance or correct images taken of family members, your vacation or for other similar purposes. The focus is strictly on improving the impact, clarity and coloration of deep space, long exposure images plus overcoming the typical problems encountered when processing them.
The disc is intended for use on a personal computer running Windows 2000 or Windows XP. The resolution of Don’s presentation is optimized for a screen resolution of 1024 by 768 or greater but we reviewed our copy on a monitor with slightly higher specs and found the clarity of the image to be excellent and easily readable.
The material is presented in a series of twenty-one chapters that average fifteen minutes- although a few extend over twenty minutes and some are less than ten. The disc automatically starts when it’s inserted into your PC’s DVD drive and a main menu is displayed that enables you to navigate to any chapter quickly. The presentation comes pre-packed with its own DVD playback software, authored by Camtasia, which was used to prepare and package the tutotials. The small application loads automatically and permits the viewer to pause, move backward to repeat anything that has just been explained or jump ahead to a new part of the chapter. The information is organized into two broad categories. One covers the use of Adobe Photoshop for image processing and the second explores other popular applications such as Maxim DL, CCD Soft and Jasc’s Paintshop Pro.
Each tutorial features a view of the live application interface thus permitting the viewer to watch Don’s cursor interact with each control as he explains and demonstrates its use. Like other DVD tutorials we have reviewed, this one is very much like having the tutor sitting at your side. His calm, confident voice and slight southern accent is immediately reassuring to the viewer and leaves you with the impression that Don is talking only to you.
Don’s approach to training is very practical- he spends about one hour (covered by two chapters) demonstrating the Photoshop tools that are the most useful then moves on to some very powerful yet simple techniques that can make huge improvements in the final image. These include reducing the graininess of images, making stars more colorful and dazzling and removing light pollution gradients- the bane of most suburban astrophotographers.
His guidance includes important, basic skills such as using dark and flat-field images to remove camera noise and internal optical reflections. The best images are produced by combining multiple exposures and Don’s tutorial also explains how this is accomplished.
I should mention that the audio quality on the second half of my first copy contained some noise that occasionally intruded into my earphones. This in no way prevented me from understanding Don’s instruction and it was not distracting, but in all fairness it should be mentioned. Otherwise, I have no complaints or critiques. (UPDATE: A second copy did not have audio related problems- so the noise on my initial disc may have just been a fluke.)
It’s easy to recommend this DVD to beginning astro imagers and those, with more experience, who are still struggling up the very steep learning curve associated with the hobby – Don offers many procedures and tips that will save both new and intermediate enthusiasts hours of frustration and wasted effort.
Astromomical Image Processing Tutorials is available for purchase from Don’s web site using Paypal, or a variety of major charge cards.
Written by R. Jay GaBany