I’ve put together a small list of tips to improve your astrophotography images. This list could’ve easily been 20 long so I’ve tried to pull out ones that I found to be the key to my own astrophotography and I hope you find them useful.
1. Find darker skies, if you can. You cannot replicate dark skies, no matter how much expensive equipment you buy. You can have the best telescope, camera and filters available but if you live in a city and took your gear to darker skies, you’ll be amazed at the difference. You can of course substitute darker skies for more integration time, but even that won’t yield the same results…sorry!
2. Start auto guiding, if you’re not already. Even with a star tracker like the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer you can still auto guide, it will just guide on the RA axis only. You’re really limited on your exposure time if you’re not auto guiding, depending on your setup you’ll probably be limited to 2 minutes. Auto guiding gives you the freedom to push well beyond that, I’ve recently done an image using 10 minute exposures.
Bonus tip: Guiding also allows you to start dithering, which will improve your images no end. Dithering is where your mount will move a few pixels between frames and will cancel out hot pixels and fixed pattern noise, resulting in cleaner images!
3. Keep an eye on the histogram, both when you’re imaging and when processing. There’s no exact right place for the spike of your data to be, but as a general I like to have mine about a third in from the left when processing. If your histogram is all the way over to one side, you need to adjust your exposure length because you’ll either be under or overexposed, and while we use post-processing to bring out the finer details, you can’t make data appear that isn’t there.
4. Don’t be a target hopper. Spend the time collecting as many photons on one target as you can. It can be really tempting, especially as a beginner, to hop between targets and get an hour on Orion nebula, then an hour on the Horsehead, then an hour on the Rosette etc. But what you’ll end up with is 3 okay images, rather than 1 amazing image. I also need to listen to my own advice here because clear skies are so few and far between, I tend not to do more than one night on each target!
5. Last bonus tip, which isn’t really a tip. Do whatever is right for you and your situation. Don’t let people tell you what’s right and wrong. Tips are just that and not rules that you must follow. If you’re not having fun then you’re doing something wrong.