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A generation ago, the only way you could take an astronomical photo was to expose a piece of film for a very long time, so time exposures hours long were often required just to make an object visible. Today’s amateur, armed with a digital camera (or CCD camera) and computer can effectively create a long exposure photograph by taking a series of short-duration photos and “stacking” them in the computer. In effect, the computer adds all the light from all the photos together to form one image. This significantly reduces the requirements for big, heavy, mounts, and makes it possible for people with only a modest telescope, camera and a computer to get photos that rival the big observatories of a generation ago. These stacking programs, which often are free with the astrophotography cameras, automatically “register” each image when stacking to keep everything sharp. If one of the photos is blurred, it can be discarded before stacking to result in a better final image.

After stacking, Image Processing programs, like Adobe Photoshop, or Maxim DL, can be used to enhance contrast, color, sharpness, grayscale, and other characteristics of the final image.

Note that these techniques can also be used on Solar System photography and there are some photographs out there, taken with small scopes, that look almost as good as the photos taken with orbiting spacecraft. Today’s techniques for producing photos have truly resulted in some wonderful advances in the quality of astrophotographs taken by amateurs.

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