Discovery Astrophotography with ZWO ASTRO

Astrophotographer’s Story: Daniel Renner

Hello Daniel, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations on winning the ASIWEEK competition in week #02/2024!

Q1: At first, congratulation that your nice image won #ASIWEEK. Can you introduce yourself to us?

Thank you so much for choosing me as the winner of the week! My name is Daniel Renner, and I am 32 years old living in Skövde, Sweden.

Since I live in the north we cannot do any astrophotography between April and late August so 5 months each year the gear is collecting dust…

So I want to spend every possible minute doing astrophotography when the skies are clear.

Q2: When did you start astrophotography and how?

My true interest in astronomy began one clear night in 2019. While I was in my old apartment, I saw Orion’s belt up in the sky, so I grabbed my old binoculars and aimed them at Orion and noticed a hazy spot among the stars. A quick Google search revealed tons of astrophotos of M42 and many other objects, and from that moment, I was hooked.
A couple of weeks later I bought my first telescope and this was the start of my journey.

This is from my balcony trying to understand how to use the Skywatcher explorer 130.

This was my first image ever using my skywatcher explorer 130 and my phone that I held on the eyepiece.
This is the photo that really spiked my interest in astrophotography.

A couple of months later I bought a Heq5 Pro, Skywatcher Evostar 72ed, Zwo 120mm guide cam, and an Orion 50mm guide scope, and I could finally use my old DSLR that I hadn’t used for over 10 years.

Q3: Why do you love astrophotography?

I love doing astrophotography because it is so interesting and cool to see what is out there in the night sky.

It is also a unique hobby because you are observing events that occurred a long time ago. 

For example, the Orion Nebula is located approximately 1,300 light-years away from us, which means that when we photograph it, we are capturing light that left the nebula 1,300 years ago.

Q4: Can you tell us about the winning photo

This is my winning picture: IC 5146, also known as “Cocoon Nebula”.
I captured all the data for this image during 2 nights Sept.23 and Oct.7 2023.
96*120s on RGB filters, 95*180s Lum and 75*300s H-alpha. Total integration 14h 12min.

This was my first image since April and also the premier of my camera, ASI2600MM Pro together with a complete set of Antlia filters.

I also drove for the first time to a remote location of bortle 3-4 zone so I could collect good broadband data.

My first trip to a remote location, bortle 3-4 zone.

I’m no expert in Milky Way photography but this was just to try something different when my scope was photographing the Cocoon.

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

My equipment now is:

  • Skywatcher Esprit 100ED
  • ASI 2600MM Pro
  • Antlia 3nm narrow band
  • Antlia LRGB           
  • ZWO 36mm filter wheel
  • ZWO focuser
  • Eq6r PRO
  • Pegasus pocket powerbox
  • Melee quieter 3Q
  • Orion 50mm guidescope
  • ZWO 120MM Mini guidecamera
The black box under the guide scope is a 3D print that I made to store all the excess cables.

Q6: How is the air quality in your region? Where do you normally take astrophotos?

So far, I have only imaged from a remote location once, and that was in a bortle 3-4 zone. It was also the night I captured a part of my winning picture. On all other nights, I have imaged from my backyard, which is in a bortle 5-6 zone.

This is my backyard, there is a lot of light from my neighbors and I’m shielding light from a streetlamp with a parasol.

This is usually what my backyard looks like during the winter when the skies are clear.

Q7: How do you normally do post-processing? Do you have any tips on color processing?

First, I filter out all the bad frames with clouds, guiding errors, etc. After that I stack all frames in Pixinsight using WeightedBatchPreprocessing. 

Then it all depends on what kind of image I’m editing. Background extraction, color correction, BlurXterminator, stretching the images, and so on. 

It’s hard to give a full workflow because every image needs its own type of processing.

Q8: Did you encounter any difficulties when you came into astrophotography? How did you overcome it?

Many! Astrophotography has a very steep learning curve and I almost have some kind of problem every time I capture images. But this hobby is so rewarding and the problems are a part of the hobby.

Fortunately, there are forums, YouTube, and Facebook groups and there are answers for almost anything if you have any questions or problems.

Q9: How do you balance your time between hobby and work?

I work shift, so when I’m not at work and the skies are clear, my gear is out collecting light.

Q10: Is there any memorable story you can share with us from your astrophotography days?

Hmm, I guess one story is when “SAAF” (Swedish Amateur Astronomical Association) was celebrating 40 years in 2022. They had an astrophoto competition. The ten best pictures would be displayed in one of the biggest astronomy shops in Sweden, in libraries, and at star parties during 2023. I got 3rd place in that competition with the comet C/2022 E3 ZTF. I also wrote an interview for “Telescopium” (Swedish Astronomy Magazine).

3rd place, C/2022 E3 ZTF

I also won Image of the week last year with my image of VDB 152.

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

Have patience and don’t give up when things are not going as you thought they would. We ALL have those times when things are not working out and you just want to quit. Hang on! And learn from your mistakes.

Equipment-wise, my tip is not to buy the cheapest gear you can get because that will most likely kill your interest in becoming an astrophotographer. Ask in different Facebook groups, search on Google, watch YouTube, and talk to a professional at an astronomy shop before you begin to spend your hard-earned cash on this hobby.

The most important equipment to spend most of your budget on is the mount.

Q12: When did you start using ZWO’s products? What ZWO products do you have and which one is your favorite?

My first ZWO product was the ASI120MM guide camera, but the “real deal” was when I upgraded my old DSLR to the ASI1600MM Pro.

My favorite ZWO product is the 2600MM Pro, and I have only used it 4 nights so far.

One good thing about living in the north is that you can see the northern lights.
This was actually the first time I experienced it and it was taken behind my house.

You can see more of my images on my Astrobin: https://www.astrobin.com/users/Calzune/

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