Discovery Astrophotography with ZWO ASTRO

Astrophotographer’s Story: Federico Mantovani

Hello Federico, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations on winning the ASIWEEK competition in week #17/2024!

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

I am very happy to have won this #ASIWEEK and I thank you. I am Federico Vittorio Mantovani, I am Italian and I am forty-five years old, I am completely self-taught and for me this recognition indicates that the path taken is the right one.

Q2: When did you start astrophotography and how?

I started this passion in 2020 without imagining one day I would take photos of the deep sky. In 2020 I was expecting my firstborn and decided to study. I forced myself to enter this world before family commitments loomed. I didn’t even know if I would become a visualist or an astrophotographer but as I studied the ideas became clearer. I took my first photo in August 2021 with an ASI462MC….then from there the appetite grew. I took my first real deep sky image in winter 2022 after upgrading to a more suitable ASI2600MC Pro.

The elephant trunk, one of my first shots with the ASI2600MC Pro 4h50′ of broadband integration

Q3: Why do you love astronomy? What does it mean to you?

Since I was a child I have always admired the starry sky. We had a house in the countryside and I also did a lot of outdoor activities with the scouts. I always told myself one day I would buy a telescope but that childhood fantasy never materialized. Then in 2017 I bought my first house, I bought it thinking one day I would have a telescope and I looked for it under the darkest sky possible compatible with my work needs. For me, astronomy is a set of passions, the love for the sky, the love for the mechanical element is pure spirituality and makes me feel connected with life and nature. It pushes us to find the existential answers.

sh2-126 The Gecko Nebula; (15h40′ of integration in a broadband combination combined with a session with a 3nm Ha monoband filter)

Q4: Can you tell us about the winning photo

The subject of the photo has always fascinated me for its reflection component, most of the ic405 photos are taken in narrow band so this reflection part is almost never highlighted, however I am a lover of dark skies and broadband shots.

The very useful UV-IR cut glass of my ASI2600MC Pro is perfect for this purpose. In winter I have little time, I am often forced to do single sessions without the opportunity to integrate further, however I managed to bring home precious data and obtain the image I wanted. I carried out the polar alignment as soon as I could to be ready to launch the plan in ASIAIR and taking advantage of the meridian flip to take the flats, I continued to shoot until the first light of dawn.

Ic405 the flaming star nebula, 5h10′ of broadband integration

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

I spent a year studying and choosing my equipment. I opted for a Newton 200/800 f4 on a generous Azeq6, combined with these I fully embraced the ZWO philosophy made of Asiair Pro and its cameras; I currently use a 462mc for imaging and a 2600mc pro + a 120mm mini for driving on deep sky subjects. The time to take photographs with two children (in the meantime the second child has also arrived) is short and so I have reduced the time needed to put the setup into operation, it only takes 30 minutes to go from everything disassembled to everything ready to take photographs. The tube is like my creation, I disassembled and reassembled it, solving small problems and bringing it to a new level. The last update was the switch to a more generous mount, a cq350 pro, I have the ambition of taking a 300/1200 to the Alps in one of the darkest skies in Europe.

My current configuration; a modified Skywatcher 200/800 f4 + EAF; ASIAIR Plus ; ASI2600MC Pro ;Skywatcher evoguide 50 ed + ASI120MM Mini ; all mounted on a robust Skywatcher eq350 pro

Q6: Which is your favorite astronomical target that you have photographed so far?

Every time I go to take a photograph I think, how beautiful the object I’m shooting is, saying that there is a favorite subject is difficult, every time I’m amazed by the beauties of the cosmos. so I think my favorite subject is the one I have yet to photograph, it seems like an excellent philosophy.

LDN 1355 14h in broadband; it was an experiment, the subject was filmed with clouds in the sky and adverse weather conditions

Q7: How is the air quality in your region? Where do you normally take astrophotos?

In my region I enjoy a good sky, Montemaggio in the province of Genoa (Italy) is located at 780 meters and my SQM meter recorded values close to 21, it is where my fixed position is located and from where I take most of the photographs, but I often move inland and become itinerant. This photograph of the flaming star was taken at the San Fermo Pass where you can enjoy an even better sky, there you also reach an SQM of 21.20 at the zenith. Sometimes I went to photograph from one of the darkest skies in Europe at the Fauniera refuge at 2500 meters in the Alps… what an incredible sky! There my reader marked the highest values I have ever recorded SQM 21.68.

Ic5146 the cocoon nebula; from a good sky you can see the dark dust structures of the imaged field (10h45′ broad band integration)

Q8: What experiences do you have to share in terms of post-processing?

The post production of an image is another monolith of this passion that must be mastered, the first photos taken leave us speechless but as we grow we become increasingly stricter with ourselves. To get started, even free software is enough, the important thing is to understand that a good photo is born in the field with excellent shots and the right integration.

IC434 the Horse Head the Flame and NGC2023 it was one of the very first photos taken, I will definitely return to this iconic subject, perhaps with a nice 300/1200 to try to enter NGC2023 (this beauty only took 3h20′ of integration thanks to the fast focal ratio)

Q9: Is there any memorable story you can share with us from your astrophotography days?

A memorable story could be the one that saw me dealing with the ghost nebula Sh2-136 vdB 141; I went to Colle Vallonetto in the Alps and at 11pm I was still enveloped in a thick fog, after a while the sky opened but the instruments, despite having covered them, were covered in condensation. However, I decided to continue and drove with my soaked refractor trying to find the best driving settings. For 2 whole hours I continued to follow the changes in the weather, changing settings and parameters without ever giving up; then peace, finally everything was perfect, the humidity was also gone and the telescope completely dry, finally I had time to enjoy the Milky Way. The moral of this story is never give up! And this photo of the Ghost Nebula proves it.

sh2-136 The Ghost Nebula, there are those who would have returned home seeing the adverse weather conditions, I stayed to fight (8h40′ of integration in two sessions)

Q10: How do you think the field of astrophotography has changed in recent years?

Astrophotography has changed a lot in the last 10 years, it has become much more accessible and affordable. Technology has made everything friendlier and less exhausting.

Vdb-152 one of the most difficult subjects to process given the absence of a sky background (13h of integration with adverse weather)

Q11: What advice do you have for newcomers to astrophotography?

My advice for newcomers is to never get discouraged, in this passion mistakes and failures are the most precious thing that can happen, to progress we need to take advantage of it and the results will surely come.

NGC 6888 The Crescent Nebula in HOO; it was the first experiment using 3nm narrow monoband filters with my OSC camera (19h45′ of shots between OIII Ha and broadband)

Q12: How many ZWO products do you have, what’s your first ASI camera?

My first camera was an ASI462Mc….I started immediately with an ASIAIR Pro and an ASI2600 MC Pro. To drive I use an ASI120MM Mini and recently I purchased an OAG L. I also experimented with taking narrow band photos to make HOO and SHO combinations with a color camera thanks to the filter holder drawer and using monoband filters. How can we not mention the fantastic EAF, a friend of many automatic focuses? I’m just waiting for a field rotator to come out, I’d be a happy man.

M16 The Pillars of Creation in SHO. Elusive object from my region was the first processing in hubble palette (6h5′ of integration with SII OIII Ha filters)

Q13: Would you mind sharing with us your upcoming shooting plans?

For future sessions, I like not to plan them too far in advance; when family commitments allow me, I will see what the sky proposes and I will do the usual study on the framing and planning of the night.

ic59 – ic63 The Ghost of Cassiopeia in broadband (5h45′ integration)


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