Black and White to Color.. Space Color!

Whenever you look at those Awesome Hubble Deep Sky Images you may not realize it but you are looking at heavily processed images. Real images, nonetheless.

There are full color one-shot astrophotography cameras and there are DSLR sensor conversions to optimize DSLR’s for astrophotography but by and large the majority of the serious Astro-Imagers aren’t shooting in color, strictly speaking.

In order to get a color image they typically color-composite a vast number of exposures shot through color filters. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. In fact, unbeknownst to the average user many DSLR’s use a similar process by employing the use of a Bayer Filter Mosaic on the imaging sensor itself.

Applied to astrophotography where CCD’s often still rule the roost because of predictable (correctable) noise patterns related to environmental conditions, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

It goes something like this.

Telescope -> Red Filter -> Imaging Sensor -> RedGreyScale.jpg
Telescope -> Green Filter -> Imaging Sensor-> GreenGreyScale.jpg
Telescope -> Blue Filter -> Imaging Sensor -> BlueGreyScale.jpg
..and for extra credit..

Telescope -> Clear Filter -> Imaging Sensor -> LumenanceGreyScale.jpg
(and optional other filters that are targeted to certain atmospherics) (HA, OIII, etc)

When done, you have a greyscale image of your subject with a digital plate (so to speak) of each color. They get combined into a single image and BOOM: Color Deep Sky Images.

Quick Example:

I collected RGB(L) batches of 5 and 10 minute exposures of Andromeda (M31).

These were collected with Telescope 14 at NMS.


It was kind of a crappy time of year to shoot Andromeda from our hemisphere. Andromeda is only effectively visible from the observatory for a couple of hours when this was taken a few weeks ago. When Andromeda is at Zenith, it isn’t dark at the observing location yet.

Screen Shot 2019-04-03 at 11.26.35 PM.png

The 10 megapixel SBIG STL11000M CCD Imager on T14 will spit out JPEGs, FIT and TIFF files from the imaging mission. They will typically need some slight alignment and I do this (in this case) by bringing them in as layers in Photoshop and manually aligning them.

Stacking software can do this for you and sometimes photoshop auto-align-layers can get it right but not always.


Once you have your aligned images, it is quite simple. You map each still to the color-corresponding channel on a new image of the same resolution (RGB 16 bit color in this case). This will be your RGB layer. Then you paste in your Luminance still as a separate layer and get your layer-blend-on!

Short exposure times, limited sampling of images (only 4 and a couple spares) and suboptimal transit period results in an okay-quality of detail out of the result. I still ended up framing the image with a tilt-shift filter in order to make the disc seem sharper than it actually is by comparison (and for artsy-fartsy reasons).

There you have it. Black and White to Color. Space Color!

Harvest Moon, 2018

The 2018 Harvest Moon - shot from the front yard with an iPhone XS.

The setup was an 6” telescope shooting through a 32mm eyepiece and f/6.3 Focal Reducer.  Since the eye relief on this eyepiece is pretty poor, I used a universal phone/webcam mount to hold the phone steady at the eyepiece.

1/2 bottle of wine was also useful. 

Steps to Reproduce

  • Take a telescope outside and remove the lens covers
    - Leave it for about 30-45 minutes to acclimate to the relative humidity

  • Open the wine. Drink some.

  • Attach your least-magnified eyepiece to the camera mount

  • Attach your phone to the camera mount

  • Drink more wine.

  • Turn the phone camera app on

  • Point the business end of the eyepiece towards a lightbulb

  • Looking through the phone, adjust the knobs on the universal mount

    • The idea here is to get the barrel of the eyepiece perfectly centered in the frame of the phone/ camera field of view

    • The phone camera lens should be roughly where your eyeball would be in distance if you were looking through the eyepiece

  • Take the eyepiece & phone outside and let it acclimate to the relative humidity

  • Drink more wine, refill your glass (red solo cup, mason jar, skull of enemy warlords or whatever you drink wine from - no judgement here)

  • Align the telescope to the moon and look at it with another eyepiece.

    • It is a pretty awesome rock. But use protection. You are looking at an indirect yet magnified reflection of the sun when you look at the moon. Use a moon filter when directly observing to protect your eyeballs.

    • Moon filter is not necessary for photography but can bring in more details and can prolong your imaging sensor. Long exposures against any reflection this bright, can burn in pixels on most sensors.

  • Put the newly acclimated eyepiece-phone-mount contraption into your telescope

    • Adjust the position to center the moon in the shot.

    • The moon is moving but relatively slowly, you shouldn’t have to worry about active tracking or equatorial alignment. It will take it about 1-2 minutes to creep out of your frame. Plenty of time to point and shoot, adjust, repeat.

    • Looking through the phone, focus through the eyepiece on the phone camera and adjust the telescope focus manually. Use the phone zoom features (if equipped) to manually focus the image through the telescope.

    • AutoFocus on the phone, Manual Focus on the Telescope. No flash.

  • Congratulate yourself with another sip of wine

    • ..and ponder on the awesome science-y things that the moon does for us. it influences the 24 hour day, influences (but not completely) our tides, stabilizes our weather patterns… gives werewolves something to do… You know, science.

    • okay, maybe that’s enough wine. put the telescope up and go to bed.

Flying Hasselbad's & Mirrorless Nikons..

Two pretty exciting tech / gear announcements today and I'll defer to better sources for the details...   

Nikon, has finally (finally!) released a reasonable competitor to the Sony full-frame mirrorless line of camera bodies with the announcement of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 bodies and their new Z-Mount mirrorless system. 

A good rundown on it here:

I personally find that announcement to be exciting and interesting.  I've gone back to shooting w/ a NIkon full-frame DSLR as of late ever since my Sony AR7rII was damaged by overspray in a commercial / industrial shoot.   

Getting back on some f2.8 Nikon glass has been a refreshing change for me...

It's a little eye-rolling that we have yet-another-mount to pine after for our overpriced lens addiction but at least the Z-Series will have a F-Mount adaptor so you can bring your Nikon Glass to the party.

In drone news, DJI announced the release of the Mavik 2.  It seems like the Phantom is increasingly taking the back seat to the Mavik.  With this release, the Mavik 2 pro gets a 20 Megapixel Hasselblad camera w/ a 1" sensor.  There is also a "Zoom" variant that... well, I guess it zooms and stuff. :)

Better coverage on that can be found here:

I'm also a big fan of the Mavik, tend to keep one within arms reach for most outings...

Steel Soldier

My other "car guy" craziness from the last year is this 1990 AM General M998 HMMWV.  No offense to the H2 and H3 owners out there but I made this offhand comment one day: "You know, if I was going to own a Hummer, I think I'd want to own, you know: A Real Hummer."

The seed of a thought was planted and watered with enough whiskey and dark beer and one day, this is what emerged.  A good friend paved the way and started collecting veteran vehicles from military decommissioned auctions.  It is truly amazing what you can buy.   A 105mm tow-behind field artillery piece?  Sure, no problem, they have them. Disabling the firing capability and scarce ammunition-availability equates to "Okey-Dokey" legal status.  

Getting the hummer road-legal was a bit of a challenge, even being spoon-fed the path through the bureaucratic woods by the same friend who'd been through it.

At the end of the day and after ALOT of work crawling around the engine compartment, I have to say that this M998 HMMWV (H1) Humvee is one of the funnest things I've ever driven.     It makes me wish I had more time, tools and (did I mention time?) to tinker with it.  I've been stuck between the mindset of "keep it original" and "go-nuts and customize the crap out of it."  

Sadly, I think between my two impractical / range limited vehicle choices, our crowded driveway and cramped schedule I'll end up parting with one of these two vehicles in the coming months.  Being a grown-up sucks doesn't it? :)


Top Down

I'm a closet car guy.  I really like cars.. Not just shiny ones, either.   Whether a Rusty pick up on blocks and half-concealed with overgrowth or a sweet, show-ready, freshly waxed Porsche GT3 I see around town with the vanity tag: "NOWIFE".  I really like cars.

(and I love my wife) :)

There's interesting and subtle art in the curves of car bodies and the oxidizing decay of metal over time.   The stories and the history from the car culture Americana of the 50's through the street racing rice-rocket tuners: it's all super fascinating and interesting.   The art is there, the history and the people.  Car people are typically cool to be around.  Especially the sorts that load up and sit around in lawn chairs at car shows.  

Something about a functional garage too....  The mixture of smells from gear oil, GoJo and transmission fluid and the sounds of impact wrenches and the distinctive (clank clank) sound of a breaker bar hitting a concrete floor.     Like Starbucks ambiance for the motor-head soul.

This.. leads me to owning two super impractical vehicles.     This one, a high-ish mileage R171 Mercedes-Benz AMG55 and a 1990 AM General Military HMMWV in a Vietnam-era Camo paint scheme.    On the plus side of things:

Neither vehicle is particularly expensive in used-car form.  Choosing a car for a commute is a little like the select-a-car screen from the Cruisin' USA Arcade game.   The convertible has a snappy 5.4l V8, that will go 0-62 in 4.9 seconds with 200MPH on the speedometer, stiff suspension and a throaty exhaust that sounds like the offspring of an American-made muscle car and a Euro-Drift  tuner.  The HMMWV has a 6.2l Detroit Diesel engine pushing a beastly 5200lbs.  It rides on 37" MT Military on/off road tires, offers 4WD, and 0-65MPH in about three days, which is also the top speed.  It is built for ruggedness, can be forded and is super-simple to work on.

On the down side of things, neither vehicle is particularly suited for Long Range trips with cargo.   The Benz burns premium fuel, uses nearly 9 quarts of the most expensive oil possible.    Neither vehicle make me a particular great steward of the environment in terms of fuel economy.
I also, generally like to fold in and out of the public without being noticed like a hermit-ninja.  It turns out that ostentatious vehicles increase the difficulty of this task... considerably. :)

At any rate... that's my car-stuff ramblings for now.   I ran before a gathering of photographers to the Fairhope Pier and snapped this photo.  Adventures were had but more on that another time...

Find a car show near you and go listen to the rumble of a V8, flutter of a Turbo, whistle of a Supercharger or the purr of a tuned European exhaust system and tell me it isn't infectious..

Pinball Photography

Pinball! That's random, right?     One of my favorite hobbies, especially in the winter months is pinball and arcade game restoration & play.    The eclectic, "HEY GIVE ME YOUR QUARTERS!" designs and lighting from the 70's,80's & 90's make for neat photography, in my opinion.    

Here are some recent photography from pinball of machines that I've worked on, restored or had the good fortune to play at friends' homes.  Hope you enjoy! :)