Discovery Astrophotography with ZWO ASTRO

Astrophotographer’s Story: Bakry Abdullah

Hello Bakry, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations for winning ASIWEEK competition in week #41/2022!

Q1: Could you please make a self-introduction first?

Hi, first of all, I really appreciate your choosing my image as the winner of the ASIWEEK competition in week #41! My name is Bakry Abdullah, 28 years old and from Saudi Arabia. I’m holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Arizona and currently working as an IT Business Analyst in Jeddah City, Saudi Arabia.

Q2: What makes you become an astrophotographer and how long have you been?

My love for space, in general, started when I was a child, and when I was living in Tucson, Arizona (2013 – 2018), I was the photographer of the Saudi Students Club at the University of Arizona. So, I have some experience in photography in general, but I had never heard of something called astrophotography till 2018.

During my summer class in July 2018, my friend asked me to join him in a dark sky for some milky way shots, at that time I had no clue what he was talking about. When we arrived, I was fascinated by the look of the milky way as it was clearly visible to the naked eye since we were under a Bortle 1 sky.

After I graduated and moved back to Saudi Arabia and during the COVID-19 curfew back in 2020, I had a lot of free time, so I decided to enter the field of astrophotography and I received my first Astro gears in January 2021 (Stock Canon 200D, Rokinon 135mm, Skywatcher Star Adventure tracker, and Optolong L-Enhance clip-in filter). So, I just completed two years doing astrophotography.

My friend took this image of me in Arizona desert back in 2018

Q3: Do you have any other hobbies besides astrophotography? Do you think is there any connection between them?

Besides astrophotography, I enjoy reading Arab and Islamic history. I believe there is a strong connection between astronomy and Arab history as there were a lot of astronomy scientists, such as Averroes, Al-Khwarizmi, Alhazen, and many others. In addition, most of the well-known stars have Arabic names as they were named during the Golden Age of Islam, such as Alnitak, Altair, Deneb, Rigel, etc.

Q4: Where do you usually take astrophotos, somewhere remote from home or just in your backyard?

%95 of my astrophotos were taken from my roof which is unfortunately under a Bortle 9 sky (SQM 17.36) but, thanks to Narrowband filters for blocking the light pollution.

My rig on top of my roof

Q5: Do you still remember your first astrophotography experience? What feelings did you have when you saw your first astrophoto?

I do remember my first astrophoto, as most astrophotographers do, Orion Nebula was my first DSO photo ever. I used a stock Canon 200D, Rokinon 135mm, and a tripod. Before I took my first light, I thought I won’t see anything on the camera’s screen but stars due to light pollution (Bortle 9) and I thought I need to stack a couple of hours to see the nebula. But, after taking my first sub (I believe it was a 15-sec exposure), I got shocked when I saw Orion on the screen, and I couldn’t wait to take more subs to stack them. I collected light for only 30 mins, and after stacking and some PS processing, I was happy with the result.

My first astrophoto ever. Took this image back in Jan 2021.
The equipment I used to take my first astrophoto
(Canon 200D, Rokinon 135mm, and Skywatcher Star adventurer 2i)
My Orion shot that I took exactly one year after the previous one.
(ASI2600mm Pro, iOptron GEM28, WO Z61 w/X0.8 reducer, Antlia HaRGB, Bortle 9)

Q6: What gear do you use, any photos of them?

This photo has almost all my Astro gears as I only have one setup.

(ASI2600MM Pro, EFW 7X36mm, Pegasus Pocket Powerbox Advance Gen2, Esatto robotic focuser 2″, iOptron RC6, EQ6-R Pro, WO Z61, ASI290MM Mini, Wanderer Electronic Flat Panel, Antlia 36mm 3nm SHO / LRGB, Polemaster)

Q7: As to your winning image, M8, would you please tell us how did you capture it? Would you like to share with us some detailed camera settings?

Lagoon Nebula was one of the first targets I captured in my journey so, I was excited to image it again with my RC6 telescope, ASI2600MM Pro, and 3nm OHS filters. I spent around a week collecting data on the lagoon and here are the details:

  • HA: 45X300” (3h 45’)
  • OIII: 101X300” (8h 25’)
  • SII: 98X300” (8h 10’)
  • RGB (Stars): 90X10” / Each filter

Q8: Do you often discuss astrophotography with your family or friends? Will they join you on the imaging nights?

Yes, I do. My family and friends have been supporting me since the beginning of this journey and I believe that they are one of the main reasons that made me continue in this hobby. They join my imaging nights only if I’m doing planetary imaging as they are enjoying watching the planets through the eyepiece.

Q9: What kind of targets is your favorite for shooting?

My favorite targets are those with a lot of IFN and dust, such as the area around M81 & M82 galaxies, Pleiades, etc. But, since I’m shooting from Bortle 9, I am only able to shoot in NB to get some good clean data.

Here is my Pleiades shot that I took back in Dec 2021 under a bortle 1 sky in Saudi Arabia
(ASI533MC Pro, Rokinon 135mm, iOptron GEM28. 6 hours integration, Bortle 1)
My M81 & M82 shot under a bortle 3 sky in Saudi Arabia back in March 2022
(ASI2600MM Pro, EQ6-R Pro, WO Z61 w/X0.8, Antlia LRGB, 1 hr / each RGB, 4.25 hrs L)

Q10: Are there any local astronomy associations in your city? Do you attend their activities?

Yes, there are plenty of astronomy associations in my city and they always have some astronomy events (Star gazing, observing planets, observing meteor showers, etc.). I did not have the chance to join any of these events yet due to my work, even though I’m always invited, hopefully, will make it one day in the future.

Q11: Do you have any unfulfilled wishes in astrophotography? How are you going to make these wishes come true?

I wish that one-day astrophotography will be my main job/income instead of doing it as a hobby. Luckily, one of Saudi Arabia’s visions are involved in the field of space and astronomy and in the past few months there were some rumors about renaming the Saudi Space Commission to the Saudi Space Agency. So, these days I’m working on building my name/reputation in this field in the Saudi community so that in the future my name will be connected to astronomy and hopefully I get a chance to work in the Saudi Space Agency.

Q12: Do you have any suggestions for the people who want to buy their first ASI cameras?

Every time someone asks me,“What camera should I get as my first ASI camera”, I say it depends about your budget and if you are willing to shoot with different filters or not. Here are my suggestions:

  • For deep sky objects:
  • Low budget + OSC camera = ASI533MC Pro
  • Low budget + Mono camera = ASI533MM Pro
  • High budget + OSC camera = ASI2600MC Pro
  • High budget + Mono camera = ASI2600MM Pro

Q13: What new ASI products do you expect?

I expect that shortly, ZWO will produce its first camera rotator. I believe that the rotator is one of the things that ease astrophotography, especially for those who have fixed setups like me. Sometimes I want to shoot two targets in the same night but currently, I’m not able to as I will need to adjust the field manually and it will be a bit of a headache to go back to your exact FOV.

Q14: Would you like to share with us your project plans in the future?

About 8 months ago, I decided to build an observatory on my roof and make it fully automated. This observatory will make astrophotography much easier and will help me to collect more data as I always turn off my equipment at midnight before sleeping as I have work in the morning. Unfortunately, I had to pause this project due to some other personal projects. But hopefully next year I will resume this project, but it will be under a dark sky (Bortle ~3). I believe that moving from Bortle 9 to Bortle 3 will be one of the biggest transformations in my astrophotography career.


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