Discovery Astrophotography with ZWO ASTRO

Astrophotographer’s Story: Tommy Lease

Hello Tommy, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations on winning the ASIWEEK competition in week #36/2023!

Q1: At first, congratulation that your nice image won #ASIWEEK. This is actually your second interview with us, can you introduce yourself to new readers? 

My name is Tommy Lease. I’m 41 years old and live in Parker, CO, USA. I am a Field Engineer for a major telecom company. For hobbies, my main passion is astrophotography, but I also enjoy camping and fishing in the beautiful mountains of Colorado with my wife and two dogs.

Scope: Stella Lyra 10” f4 Newt, Camera: ASI533MM-PRO, Filters: ZWO 31mm SHO, LRGB Mount: Skywatcher EQ6R-Pro

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

I started my journey into astrophotography imaging the Milky Way with my Nikon DSLR and a kit lens. I was hooked from there and purchased my first telescope a few months later. This all started about 4.5 years ago.

Scope: Astrotech AT60ed, Camera: ASI2600MM-PRO, Filters: Antlia 36mm SHO, LRGB Mount: Skywatcher EQ6R-Pro

Q3: What changes and surprises do you think astrophotography has brought you over these years?

The biggest changes in astrophotography for me were improvements in sensor tech like the ASI533/ASI2600 cameras. They produce such clean/rich images and no longer require hours and hours of exposure time, especially when paired with a faster scope such as an f/4 Newtonian. The other game changer for me was the ZWO EAF, this really helped streamline the process of remote imaging and get tighter stars. Lastly, honing my post processing skills, using new software such as Pixinisght with RC Astro’s BlurX, NoiseX and StarX.

The Cocoon Nebula

Q4: Can you tell us about the winning photo?

My winning image was of the Cygnus wall in the North America Nebula (NGC 7000). I took this image from my Bortle 5 backyard in Parker, CO, USA. The image details are as follows-

Ha- 60x180s, gain 100, -10c, bin1
OIII- 60x180s, gain 100, -10c, bin1
SII- 60x180s, gain 100, -10c, bin1
Total Integration: 9 hrs

Q5: What gear do you use? Any pictures of them?

ZWO ASI533MM-Pro + Antlia 1.25″ 3nm Ha/OIII/SII + Stellalyra 10″ f4 Newt at 750mm fl + Starizona Nexus CC/Reducer at f3 + ZWO EAF + EQ6R-Pro

Q6: How long is the cycle time for one of your photos to be completed? Which part of the process do you find the most challenging?

This depends on how many clear nights are coming up and how invested I want to get into the image. Generally, I try to get a minimum of 5-10 hours, but my longest is around 47 hours.

I find processing broadband images the toughest, especially if you didn’t get good calibration frames. Getting the background to come out looking good and not having any gradients is a real challenge. Especially when using a fast Newtonian like I do.

Q7: How do you normally do post-processing? Would you like to share with us your workflow?

All of my workflow is done in Pixinsight. The process usually goes like this, but can vary from time to time depending on the target:

1. Stack images with WBPP

2. Dynamic crop

3. BlurX

4. Dynamic Background Extraction

5. Background Neutralization

6. Color Calibration (broadband images only)

7. Generalized Hyperbolic Stretch

8. Remove stars with StarX

9. Curves transformation

10. Dark Structure Enhance

11. HDR Multi-scale Transform

12. NoiseX

13. Add stars back using this equation ~((~starless)*(~stars)) in PixelMath

14. Star reduction

Q8: Is there any memorable story you can share with us from your astrophotography days?

My most memorable moment wasn’t a good one! There was one night a couple of years ago when my entire rig fell off a 5 ft wall. Luckily nothing was badly damaged, but I will never forget it!

Q9: How do you balance your hobby of astrophotography with your work?

This is tough because I use two Astro rigs, so when it’s clear out, I am very busy with Astro. But my rigs are pretty much automated, other than a full observatory. So, I just set up the imaging sessions before I go to bed and then stack the data the next morning. Then the following night I will process the data.

Q10: What do you consider to be your highlight moment in astrophotography?

When I won two APOD’s within two months last year 2022.

Q11: What advice do you have for people who are new to astrophotography?

Learn how to use the gear you have; learn how to process the images you get with that gear. This way you know if the hobby will be something you want to invest more money into. Get yourself a solid equatorial mount to start with. Then invest in a scope and camera when your ready. For me, spending more money on the camera is a bigger deal than the scope. Also, spend time watching YouTube tutorials on post-processing. And practice processing and re-processing your images. Lastly, use websites like Astrobin to gauge how your images could/should look. And most importantly, have fun!

Q12: When did you start using ZWO’s products and do you have any suggestions for us?

I started using ZWO products about 4 years ago. The only suggestion I have is to produce a micro 4/3 camera with sensor tech like the 533/2600. This would be a good mid-level camera option and not everyone likes the square sensor of the 533.


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