It’s september 2023 and Mount Magnet’s “Astro Rocks” festival is back in a smaller way this year with long table dinner organised by the Shire of Mount Magnet at the race course together with telescope viewing, and a astrophotography workshop provided by myself at The Granites the night prior.
The nightscapes astrophotography workshop I faciliated at The Granites was a small group, being only advertsied for a short time prior and 600km drive from Perth on a Friday, but it was still great fun of course.
Astro Rocks is a festival the Shire of Mount Magnet has run for some years, typically in September or October, featuring both geology and astronomy events. This year it was watered down, but keep an eye out for it in future years, there’s normally sufficient warning to plan ahead your trip.
The Granites is breakaway landscape. Erosion of the ancient landscape leaves flat topped hills with a drop-off on one side, known as the breakaway. The colours in the earth vary from white through to rich reds.
Astrophotography of the breakaways I do find challenging, a fun challenge, because they typically present a very “one sided” subject. If the sky is in the right place for that cliff face, it works well, if not, it’s a battle to nowhere. I think The Granites would be best photographed in March-May when the Milky Way will be in the east and so behind more of the breakaway faces, and in the opposite side of the sky to the majority of mine light pollution in Mount Magnet.
Here are some nightscapes from the workshop night. I suppose as per my typical style I have tried to leave the subjects fairly “natural”. Perhaps you can see the potential if spending more time on ones own to concentrate on composition and acquiring more data.
For me there was a couple of challenges on this workshop night. For some reason the auto focusing on my R6 wasn’t working. This has in the past been quite reliable, but I had my camera in “daytime mode” from a previous daytime shoot so there’s a setting I haven’t flicked back, I presume, something to look at in daylight. And the other challenge is age! I am working through testing contact lenses in the hope of bringing back some efficiency to my nightscapes astrophotography – I find using glasses with a camera for astrophotography a jarring experience – constant switching between having the glasses on or off, looking through view finder or at screen, compounded by head torches and working with unfamiliar cameras of participants. Hopefully the contact lenses will be the long term solution.
Well, that was a road trip! 4,900km round trip to photograph the Total Solar Eclipse and participate in other astronomy events through regional Western Australia, plus have a family holiday!
The results were fantastic, though not without frustrations, of course. The trip overall was lots of fun, with us staying at:
Highlights of the trip were:
The total solar eclipse day at Exmouth. Challenging and spectacular, but best enjoyed with family, this was most certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Visiting the Kennedy Range National Park from Gascoyne Junction, for landscape photography and astrophotography, this place has so much to offer.
Doing a tour of the Cape Range National Park from Exmouth including snorkelling on the Ningaloo Reef.
Chatting to media and public about astrophotography, helping people with their astrophotography be it through general discussion or my workshops, and soaking up the enthusiasm of people for astrophotography.
Before eclipse day was much preparation including purchasing specific equipment, determining what could be fitted in the car vs stay home, media engagements, and most importantly perhaps many practice runs photographing the sun spaced over many months.
I performed at least 7 full run-through practice runs of the eclipse with my equipment at home. These were often at the exact time of the eclipse, for the full duration of the eclipse. This ensured I knew I would have enough battery power, that the equipment would be protected from the sun, that each piece of equipment fulfilled it’s tasks but also that I didn’t cart unnecessary equipment to the eclipse. At Exmouth I had a final test, the day before the eclipse:
The eclipse day unfolded in some ways easier than expected – traffic and crowds were not a problem (perhaps people put off by the prospect of such?), while equipment challenged me by way of my iOptron CEM40EC not wanting to find the Sun (or anything), or track at Solar rate. The iOptron problem was out of the blue, never experienced before, and left me with very little time to properly prepare equipment for the eclipse before partial phases started. I was “a little” stressed!
My family and I were located at the official Kalis viewing site south of Exmouth, of course in the line of totality. I was alongside others such as Perth Observatory, the GDC Observatory and University of Western Australia.
My eclipse equipment included:
Sky-Watcher Quattro 200mm with Canon R5 (loaned thanks to Camera Electronic and Canon Australia) on iOptron CEM40EC
Canon R6 with Canon 70-200 F/4 & 2x Teleconverter
Fuji X-T30 with 33mm Viltrox lens
iPhone for video
You might wonder why i was using the Quattro for solar photography – Reality is I had limited cargo space and needed this telescope for other workshops and astrophotography along the way. It’s fast focal ratio of F/4 resulted in exposure times of 1/8000th second. The focal length of 800mm was fantastic for the eclipse.
Total Solar Eclipse photograph results
I was very happy to see initial results from my photographs – Bracketed exposures through the Quattro show spectacular detail of the corona and prominences. Below are my photographs of the Total Solar Eclipse at Exmouth on the 23rd April 2023. While I always look to improve next time, I am very happy with the resulting photographs, I could have easily got much worse or nothing at all.
For use of these total solar eclipse images including digital licensing and print please contact me.
Astrofest and Astrophotography Workshops
Part of my job in being in Exmouth was to represent the 2022 Astrofest Astrophotography Exhibition, a community exhibition of astrophotography from our exceptionally talented WA astrophotographers. In doing so I provided several talks about the exhibition and astrophotography, and was interviewed by media.
Night astrophotography workshops I facilitated at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse for the event organisers Mellen Events. While difficult to organise smoothly around the logistics of multiple organising parties and busy area with tourists and other astrophotographers, it was great to have this opportunity and catch up with surprisingly many regulars to my workshops!
Travelling Regional WA on the way Home
Travels on the way back included a few sights below at Gascoyne Junction and Kennedy Range National park. Unfortunately our only astrophotography night there was mostly clouded out. I always love staying at Gascoyne Junction and hope to be back again soon.
Another stop along the way back was Denham where I snuck in this quick little astro shot of Little Lagoon Creek. The crescent Moon was setting in the west with Orion in the sky and reflections of the Moon and Venus in the water of the creek. Very nice to experience in person.
The next total solar eclipse I expect to “chase” is the 2028 July eclipse covering Australia cost to coast.
I’ve been asked what solar filter I would recommend for photographing the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse in Exmouth on the 20th April 2023. I thought, why not write a blog post for the benefit of everyone!
The need for a solar filter
The single most important consideration is that you purchase a certified solar filter and use that on your camera/telescope. An unfiltered telescope will likely cause permanent damage to person or equipment.
The only time you do not need a solar filter is during the totality phase of a total solar eclipse if you are directly in the line of totality. During that time you remove the solar filter and you need to be well organised and diligent to put the solar filter(s) back in place prior to totality ending.
What solar filters do I use?
I use all Baader Solar Film filters. Aside from some Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) filters and white light glass filters that I have borrowed extensively from the Astronomical Society of Western Australia in the past and used at the Perth Observatory in more recent times, I have always used the Baader Solar Film. I do not do enough solar photography to justify the purchase of a photographic Ha solar telescope or filter.
Why do I choose Baader Solar Film?
It gives me fantastic high resolution white-light images, full of solar surface detail.
I see more detail in my photographs than I see in some white-light glass filters, and conversely I do not see more detail in any glass white light filters than I see in my photographs (for the same given focal length/optical quality).
The Baader Solar Film is adaptable – I can cut it to size for the equipment I have
It lasts. I have not had any problems with degredeation, holes, cuts, or other deterioration.
it’s light weight
How do I use the Baader Solar Film?
Rather than apply/stick/adhere the solar film directly on to my equipment I make holders/caps/sleeves which I make the Baader Solar Film a part of, and then I take those filters on/off as required.
Below are three of my filters. These are for (smallest to biggest) my:
Canon 70-200 F/4 lens, to fit over the lens shade.
William Optics Megrez 80 SD refractor, to fit over the permanently attached dew shield
William Optics Megrez 90 APO refractor, to fit over the permanently attached ew shield
You can see in the above photographs I have a mixture of plastic coated paper and PVC pipe fitting used.
The plastic coated paper does not deteriorate with a little moisture, is rigid and a snug fit over the telescope/lens optical tube/shade.
The PVC approach I particularly like, because it is rigid and strong, and fits perfectly over the applicable Megrez 80 and also the lens shade of the Canon 70-200 if I don’t have the other smaller filter.
Use self adhesive felt to make adjustments of your filter holder to be a snug fit on your telescope.
Use Velcro or tape to ensure your solar filter stays attached to your telescope in windy conditions.
Before use I always inspect the filters for damage. In particular, pin rick holes. Like I mentioned earlier I’ve never found any but it’s worth checking.
When attaching the filters it’s worth doing so gently and slowly. You can find that if you have a tight fit of your OTA there can be some air pressure as you push the filter on, and you don’t want that to place undue stress on the solar filter, so just easy does it. Same for taking it off.
I also have a Baader solar filter which was purchased as a pre-made unit, for my 8″ SkyWatcher Quattro telescope. This one has worked out particularly well. It grips well, has Velcro strips to double make sure it stays on, and it’s a nice rigid yet adaptable construction. It is shown below.
Storage of Solar Filters
One of the reasons I have had such success with my filters and they have lasted so long, is that I store them well and treat them with care.
Each filter is kept in it’s own Tupperware/Decor plastic container which fits snugly but not too tight, in a way that the solar film is protected by the hard surface of the container but at the same time does not touch any surface. Almost any container will do, but you need to make sure you store your filter in a way it will not get damaged.
Where to buy solar filters for solar photography?
Buy Baader Solar Film and other solar filters from a reputable telescope/astronomy store. Some of these in Australia which I would recommend include:
On the evening of 27th Feb 2023 we were spoiled to a great showing of Aurora Australis, as visible from Perth, the South-west of Western Australia, and even further north of Perth!
I’ve been doing astrophotography from Lake Leschenaultia since 2009 and this is one of several shoots for Aurora there over that time. It’s a convenient location in my local area, and one people from the broader metro area of Perth are coming to know for astrophotography.
For this night I was using both my Canon R6 with Samyang 24mm F/1.4 lens and my Fuji X-T30 with Samyang 12mm F/2.0 lens. I only had the Fuji set up second, towards the end of the aurora being visible, so didn’t capture so much on the Fuji.
With the 12mm F/2.0 the Fuji was at a wider field of view than the R6, and further more I cropped the R6 shots down to exclude some distracting scenery on the left of image. This is why the aurora appears smaller in the Fuji exposures.
Here is a shot taken with the Fuji almost at ground level showing the Canon R6 in action doing astrophotography. Even in this later exposure there is a hint of the aurora bars visible on the southern horizon, just barely.
Do you want to learn how to photograph aurora australis? I frequently run workshops, often one-on-one, for people in Western Australia wanting to travel overseas for aurora photography. Find out more at my Astro Photography Australia website.
Collimation of a telescope is critical and so you need to be able to easily adjust collimation, particularly of Newtonian telescopes.
It disappoints me not more manufacturers provide the option, or default, of knobs installed on collimation screws for secondary mirrors of Newtonian telescopes. This is 2023 and sure the cost of living is increasing, but the cost of a little knob compared to a screw, if installed at the factory, surely would be trivial?
For my new SkyWatcher Quattro 200p I recently purchased a set of Bobs Knobs from https://telescopes-astronomy.com.au to improve the efficiency of my collimation. Bobs Knobs have been around almost as long as I have been in astronomy, maybe longer! I remember purchasing a set for my LX200 in the early 2000’s. They are simply a set of screws with thumb/finger grip knobs to replace what you would usually have to use hex/allen keys for.
Shown below are the small screws removed from the SkyWatcher Quattro secondary mirror housing, and the Bobs Knobs installed in their place, in the secondary mirror housing.
Having installed Bobs Knobs I am then proceeding with collimation using an OCAL camera. Collimation of the SkyWatcher Quatro is still a work in progress for me. My entire life so far I have collimated Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes so I’m on a bit of a learning curve with Newtonians TBH.
Since the 1990’s I have used Sealed Lead Acid batteries for powering my astronomy and astrophotography equipment.
When I was routinely using a laptop in remote field locations I was using at first a 40Ah SLA battery and then later a 120Ah SLA battery which was left in the boot of the car, a cable running to the telescope and other equipment such as laptop, USB devices, dew heaters, etc.
Curiously, for my portable rig the power demands have reduced in recent years. A combination of location and type of imaging. Running the mount with a small modern auto guider and someone else’s DSLR doesn’t require very much power. These sessions usually run for less than 4 hours which means a laptop can power its self for that time, no need for external power. Also in more recent years the need for battery power has reduced. Often my workshops are located at my private dark sky observatory where I have mains power, or at the Perth Observatory where I have mains power. If I’m not imaging there, then there’s a good chance I’m using my permanently mounted rig instead, that of course runs of mains power So, in recent years my power requirement had dropped to a 9Ah SLA battery.
Looking forward to the 2023 Total Solar Eclipse in Exmouth, and wanting to up the level of functionality in my workshop telescope rig, and looking at needing to buy a new 9Ah battery due to degradation of my existing, had me looking at alternatives which would be sufficiently over-specified they would provide for almost any workshop scenario.
The new astrophotography lithium battery
I hunted around for a light weight high capacity battery and came across https://www.auspowerbanks.com.au/
I’d seen a whole world of modern battery options, moving ahead from a simple battery with two terminals that I would need to DIY connections for. This is the direction I wanted to go.
I ended up choosing the “Outdoor Power Bank – 96000mAh (Solid Black)” pictured above. This large battery weighs only 3kg but packs a huge amount of power. It has dual cigarette lighter style outlets. it has various USB outlets.
I plug the Losmandy and ZWO ASIAir Plus directly in to the two 12v sockets. Sometimes the USB is used for powering the Prima Luce ESATTO focuser when I have been using that. I regularly have an iPad or iPhone plugged in to the USB outlets.
I have occasionally powered my Dell XPS15 laptop off the unit via a 240v inverter and the laptop’s supplied power supply.
The lowest I’ve had the battery so far is 2-3 bars out of 4, about 50-60%. The battery has been 100% reliable. The length of time it lasts combined with being Lithium type battery means I have no concern about running out of power and only charge it now and then, not after every workshop even if my workshops are weeks apart.
The unit has a bright diffused light on one end which has occasionally been useful for floodlight of a workspace to find lost screws and such on the ground.
The only thing I wish is that it had built in AC charging. It’s a shame I need to carry around a 12v power supply plug pack to charge the unit when I travel remote. That said, it’s taken only for caution because even a full weekend this unit will not run out of battery power for me.
With my recent purchase of the SkyWatcher Quattro 8″ (200mm) and the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse in April 2023 it’s time to test out the Baader solar filter for the 200mm aperture.
Why Baader Solar Film?
I’ve consistently found Baader solar film provides a higher resolution more detailed view of the moon than glass white light solar filters. All the glass solar filters I have looked through, have not produced as much detail by some noticeable amount.
You do need to protect any solar filter while in transit/storage well. Any scratch, hole or other defect could risk damage to your eye or camera. One thing which people prefer about glass filters is they feel that the glass is more durable than the solar film. I can imagine a glass plate may well handle an object impacting it better than the solar film would. However I have used the solar film for about 20 years and so far have no defect in any of my filters. I keep the filters stored well in boxes such that the film is not in contact with any surface but is protected from impact.
The Baader filter slots over the front aperture with rubber coated pegs which grip against the outside (or inside if you configure it as such) of the optical tube. It also has Velcro with self-adhesive patches to prevent it coming off if the rubber grips were to be insufficient.
Here are some photos of the Baader filter on my SkyWatcher Quatro 8″ (200mm):
Solar Photos using the Baader solar filter
So, it turns out the only problem in taking photographs using this filter on the Skywatcher Quatro 8″ is brightness – too much of it. At raw prime focus the Canon R6 I had mounted on the telescope at the time of testing was using 1/8000th second exposures at ISO 200. Anything slower and the images would risk over exposure. I am likely to use a barlow or teleconverter lens with this configuration in reality, and doing so will dim the brightness (2x barlow will approximately half the brightness, for example). If that was not sufficient then a aperture mask could be made to shade some of the filter/aperture.
The clarity and detail lived up to the usual Baader solar film quality and did not disappoint. Here is a sample exposure which is a single exposure without stacking or any editing than brightness and clarity in Lightroom):
I own a set of telescope equipment I have accumulated since 2005 which at first was my personal portable telescope gear and in recent years has been primarily used for workshop participants using their own cameras for astrophotography. This has been my Losmandy GM8 with William Optics Megrez 90 refractor and ZWO 130mm guide scope.
In 2022 I decided it was time to change this setup used for workshop participants. A few considerations coming in to the mix were:
My Megrez 90 has become a more permanent fixture at my dark sky observatory and bringing it back for workshops is a time killer (both retrieving it and the work to re-calibration the permanent dark sky setup).
I would like a faster focal ratio to achieve more for my participants quicker
I have become a little tired of the ~600mm focal length range telescopes, and want something a little longer but still manageable on a small mount.
I needed to improve the setup time – making it quicker to polar align, guide, and get going with exposures longer than 30 seconds.
My new equipment needs to be at an amateur astronomer achievable price point, for a mid level amateur, as this is what they’ll get to try using. There’s no point them testing out a premium OTA or mount when it’s not going to be affordable for most of my workshop participants.
My new telescope equipment
The set up so far looks like this:
Retain the Losmandy GM8, though am continuing to assess whether it needs to be replaced.
New Skywatcher Quattro 200mm (8″)
New Sharpstar MPCC
New ZWO 120MM guide camera
New ZWO ASIAir Plus
New William Optics red dot finder
New OCAL Electronic Collimator
New Prima Luce ESATTO 2″ electronic focuser
Custom made travel case for the Quattro with various accessories attached
I’ll introduce these to you over a few blog posts and talk about some learnings and improvements/changes yet to be made.
Here below are some pictures to bring you up to speed. The equipment is currently spending most of it’s time set up in my backyard observatory which these days largely serves as a test bed for new equipment. Setting up the new equipment here allows me to make small tweaks now and then with minimal time commitment each time. 30 minutes testing guiding or collimation, or adapter spacing or focuser software, all goes a long way.
My AOWA business hosting telescopes in the central wheatbelt is going well and I’m looking to get more locals hosting their telescopes in the shared facility, or in a separate RoR observatory, of which I am building a few to rent out. I’m hoping to make the site a useful resource for local amateur astrophotographers over time.
Astro Photography Australia keeps me busy with workshops every month, teaching people how to do astrophotography. These workshops range from wide-field nightscapes to telescope astrophotography. I am upgrading my portable telescope rig to better support the telescope astrophotography enthusiusts, and to use for remote events. You can find upcomin workshops on my page.
Astrofest 2022 is revving up and I’m curating the Astrofest Astrophotography Exhibition again. Entries are open 1st July – 31st July 2022. There’s awesome prizes up for grabs including a brand new Sony A7 IV! Curating this competition and exhibition will take much of my time between now and October 29th.
This RogerGroom.com site is still a bit neglected. I have made some updates to pages recently but I admit the range of images still is low. My focus these days is not on landscape/nature photography or specific astronomy projects like it was in the past.
Meanwhile, I’ve been making some effort to take a few of my own pics among things:
You might be looking at this website thinking Roger Groom is no longer with us. After all, it’s been something like a year since I updated this site. Well, I am still here! Just busy with other things. Life gets busy sometimes.
So why haven’t I been posting here? Well, I have been busy:
I still have a day job (amazing, I know!)
I am busy running astrophotography workshops (both online via Facetime, Skype, Teams and Zoom) and in person with Perth Observatory, Stargazers Club WA and my own one-on-one workshops at various locations.
Astro Observatories Western Australia is a new business I am running in the Central Wheatbelt to remote host telescopes. The site has fantastic world-class dark skies, flat horizons, but, requires an awful lot of work to maintain and improve! So I am spending many days and nights there with my family working on the site.
Here are a few nice landscape photographs from a recent trip to my dark sky property in the Central Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, just to prove I still do take landscape photographs, if not published so regularly!