Discovery Astrophotography with ZWO ASTRO

Astrophotographer’s Story: Nik Nax

Hello Nik, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations on winning the ASIWEEK competition in week #20/2024!

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

Firstly, I’d like to thank ZWO for choosing my image for image of the week, CG4, The Hand of God

My actual name is Nick Axaris, 59 years old living in Melbourne Australia and take all my Astronomy images from my Backyard in bortle 6 skies.

I am a high School teacher

Q2: How did you get started in the hobby of astrophotography?

Ever since I was a child, I had a fascination with space and the planets. My very first telescope was a very cheap one held together with tape, but it gave me my first glimpses of the moon and Saturn and I was hooked.

I stated of seriously with a celestron c9.25 and the Skywatcher neQ6 mount and did a lot of planetary to begin with. The zwo 224mc was a great planetary camera allowing me to take some nice planet pictures.

As I was able to afford more equipment as I am now much older I started to indulge in Astrophotography. During the pandemic we were all at home, so I was able to craft my skills and develop not only my acquisition skills, but my processing skills.

(TS130 APO 130 f7 Altair 0.6x reducer ASI 294MC Pro)

Q3: Can you tell us about the winning photo

CG4is a cometary globule found in the Southern constellation of Puppis, I only found out about it from watching a youtube video by Logan Carpenter and thought I have to take this!! It is such a fascinating part of space as the object itself looks like a giant space worm about to devour an entire Galaxy (PGC 21338.) It is a very very dim target and from the city a real challenge to shoot. I took 900 second images over 3 nights to get 14 hours of data. The ASIAIR was used to acquire the images and to set up the target. I fine tuned it using the planetarium which thankfully did show up and helped with the orientation.

Q4: What gear do you use? Any picture of them?

The gear used for this target was the TS-Optics 130 APO with the Riccardi 0.75 reducer for a focal length of 675mm and the Optolong L-Ultimate filter, a ZWO uvircut and the Optolong L-Pro, sitting in the ZWO 2 inch filter wheel, my workhorse the ASI 294mc Pro camera, the ASIAIR pro, the ZWO 60mm guide scope and ZWO 178mm as a guide camera (In my self portrait you see the scope and all the equipment)

For wide field images, I use my ASKAR FRA300 pro, an ASIAIR plus with an ASI120mm  on Skywatcher 50mm ed Evoguide sitting on a rather temperamental EQ3.

(pictured below)

Q5: How do you normally do post-processing? Would you like to share with us your workflow?

I start off stacking the images in Astropixel Processor and separate the HA channels and O3 channels as well as stack the colour version.

I then use the light pollution tool to get rid of the gradients and crop to fit.

Then into pixinsight to further process and enhance the image using the Russell Crowman Xterminator suite and further processing. I usually combine the HA and the O3 using the Foraxx palette as the stars that come out are almost RGB in appearance as the L-Ultimate tends to bleach out the coloured stars. The stars are removed, the images are further processed with colour curves etc. Finally, the images are saved and final processing in Photoshop. At times the images can take hours to be processed. The winning image took 2 days to get right to what I liked over 8-9 hours of processing on and off.

(NGC3324 TSOptics 130 APO asi294mcpro)

Q6: You seem to like imaging some of the less common targets, how do you usually choose your shooting targets?

I scroll through Astrobin to see what is not normally shot or watch astronomers who make youtube videos and see what they capture, CG4 does not come up often at all.

Living in the Southern hemisphere means we are spoiled for choice as well as people up North do not see these gems

(NGC2467 TSOptics 130 APO asi294mcpro)
(NGC3572 Southern Tadpoles TSOptics apo 130 ZWO294mc Pro)

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

Living in Melbourne is a frustrating experience for Astrophotography as the weather is very limiting for Astrophotography, it could be cloudless everywhere else in Victoria yet Melbourne is swathed in clouds. When the clouds clear, it is mainly air pollution and light pollution we contend with. Luckily my Eastern and Southern skies are clearer than the Northern and Western skies.

I have a pier with my permanently mounted Skywatcher NEQ6 belt modded sitting on it with weatherproof covers so all I do is take out the scope and start shooting.

Being in Bortle 6 skies the Optolong L-Ultimate filter pairs beautifully with the 294mc Pro even under a full moon.

I would love to do some Astrophotography in bortle one skies and we have plenty bortle one a few hours out of Melbourne but until I can afford a mount like the AM5 mount I can take anywhere, I am stuck at home.

(NGC3199 under a full moon TSOptics 130 APO asi294mcpro)

Q8: Do you still remember your first astrophotography experience? What feelings did you have when you saw your first astrophoto?

My first Astrophoto was Orion and the running man. Everyone loves Orion and it was definitely my first real achievement. Unfortunately, I lost those first images but have made up for it at other times. I always go back to it.

Q9: How many ASI cameras do you have? What is your first ASI camera and why did you choose it?

I currently own 3 ASI cameras the 294mc Pro which I really love, the 120mm guide camera for my smaller rig and the 178mm for the larger rig.

I have bought and sold a few more including the 183mc Pro the 178mc Pro, the 533mc Pro and the 224mc which I used for planetary.

Eventually I want to move onto mono, but I just cannot afford it at the moment. I would love to get the 2600mm.

Q10: What do you think astrophotography has brought to your life? Does it change you in any sort?

Astrophotography is a big part of my life, now that I’m getting older and slower, it is a fantastic pastime and hobby. I use my photography skills not only in my hobby, but as I teach photography and science. These go very well together. I have always loved the stars, I love the whole experience from the acquisition of images to the final product, it is so satisfying.

Lambda Centauri

Lambda Centauri

Q11: Is there any memorable story you can share with us from your astrophotography days?

My most satisfying achievement was a 2 year project making a mosaic of the Vela Supernova Remnant which encompasses a large part of the southern sky in the Vela constellation. This project took 2 seasons and 14 images in total to create the final product. The mosaic mode in the asiair made is so easy to set up. The weather and the moon was another story 🙂

Overall in terms of acquisition times it is over 40-50 hours worth of images, the most satisfying part of all this was the final image I was very proud of this achievement.

I used the AskarFRA300 to shoot all the panels and the 294mc Pro. The processing took a week to finalise till I was satisfied with the final result.

14 panel mosaic Vela Supernova Remnant

Q12: Would you mind sharing with us your upcoming shooting plans?

I plan to do more images of rarer shot targets, I still have not attempted the Angel Nebula or some of the dark nebula targets, but I do need to go out into darker skies to do so.

I would also like to shoot more galaxies as so far I have only really photographed NGC 6744.


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