“It’s time for us to do another workshop.” This simple sentiment from Br. Guy was exactly what I needed to hear. Amid a national pandemic and re-learning priestly ministry in light of Covid-19, the idea of a week in Arizona to explore faith and astronomy felt like medicine for the soul. Along with a name change to better communicate the context of our event, Br. Guy asked me to rethink my presentation. And what will that presentation be? Something I’ve come to greatly enjoy: Astrophotography!
Now, if you’re attending ACME, here’s a little sneak preview of what we will be doing – And I say “we” intentionally. In short, if there are any participants at ACME that would like to learn how to do basic astrophotography, I will be happy to teach you. Our target for the week will be the constellation Orion. We will explore how to use telephoto lenses to image Nebulae and wide angle lenses to do basic “astro-landscape” photography. It will be a lot of fun!
Orion is a wonderful target to start with astrophotography. It’s arguably the easiest constellation to find during winter in the Northern Hemisphere and is rich with accessible deep space targets. We will image the Orion, Flame, Horse Head, and Running Man Nebulae with a telephoto lens. We will then use a wide angle lens to see if we can capture Barnard’s Loop! Start praying for clear skies!
Some of you might wonder if you should bring a camera with you? To that I would say, YES! In fact, I know that all of you will be bringing a camera that can take nice images of the stars: A cellphone. Believe it or not, most cellphones can take nice images of stars. Now, are smartphones good enough to take images that will end up on the cover of Astronomy periodicals? Well, some can and some are limited. As with all things, time, practice, patience, and more practice helps you take better images regardless of what type of gear you own. I’ll give you the tools on how to capture the night sky, but you will need to decide how to use those tools.
If you’d like to bring a point and shoot or stills camera to try your hand at astrophotography, feel free to do so. At the same time, don’t feel like you need to bring one and, please, don’t go out and buy a camera just for our week. If you are interested in doing astrophotography and want to know what kind of camera to buy, I will be discussing the “pros and cons” of different types of cameras from budget to expensive. If you don’t own a camera, it will be best for you to wait until my presentation to decide what to buy. I will be able to save you quite a bit of time, money, and headache, depending on what type of astrophotography you would like to do. The only thing I would encourage you bring in addition to your smartphone would be a small smartphone tripod. You can find cheap ones for as little as $10, but it might be good to spend a little more to get something with sturdy legs. At the same time, don’t get anything that is too expensive. A cheap smartphone tripod with sturdy legs will be more than enough!
As excited as I am to share all of this information with you, I want to emphasize that the photography part of this week will be very small. My hope is that you will take more time to simply observe the night sky and not get overly concerned with “astro-selfies.” Once you learn the basic tools of taking star images, you can take that information with you and image the sky whenever the weather permits. The nights of community, discussion, and wonder at the Redemptorist Renewal Center at ACME will be a brief gift for us to share. I invite you to stay present to that gift!
I can’t wait to see our participants in Arizona!! ACME is a blessed time. I look forward to sharing that time with you as we take a week of exploring the wonders of God’s creation!