Hi there! My name is Jon Stewart.

Not that Jon Stewart, but owning the domain name for 20 years has lead to some confusion by people on both sides of the American political spectrum.

I’m a 40 something living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and work in the media business. I grew up in a rural part of Western Quebec in the 80s and moved to the big city for school in my late teens. Like many of my friends, we couldn’t wait to get out of the “middle of nowhere” town… and like many of my friends now we all want to return.

I was fascinated by space growing up, and fawned over photos from the Voyager spacecraft, imagining visiting these distant planets. And I spent the last nights living at home under the stars watching the Perseid Meteor shower.

Beginnings in Astrophotography

In June 2016 I decided to purchase a telescope and camera package. I was renting a cottage on a lake near where I grew up, and decided I wanted to take advantage of the dark skies and the Perseid Meteor shower.

The Milky Way, taken from my friends dock in August 2016.

My first astrophotography setup was a Celestron 4SE equipped with a Canon Rebel T6 camera. This is entry level for most people and relatively good for planetary & lunar photography. Seeing the rings of Saturn and the polar caps of Mars pushed me further to try deep sky astrophotography.

Beginner's astrophotography of the Orion Nebula, out of focus and showing star trails
My first attempt at the Orion Nebula in February 2017

The excitement of seeing something beyond our own system was enough to overcome the fact that my photos were just… bad. Unfocused, unguided, shooting through light pollution with a telescope at a native focal length of f13 didn’t allow for many Astronomy Photo of the Day opportunities. Planetary photos began to bore me, and I needed new gear to progress my hobby.

My First Telescope & Mount Upgrades

I found that the Celestron hand controller software fairly intuitive, and I tend to be a brand loyalist after making my first purchase. I decided to add an 8″ Celestron SCT along with an AVX mount. A focal reducer & an Orion Starshoot Autoguider setup allowed me to do some longer exposures. The impact was immediate.

My first attempts at Astrophotography of the Cigar Galaxy, Messier 82.
An early attempt at the Cigar Galaxy, taken from my home in Ottawa, Ontario Canada in July 2017.

The new toys expanded my reach into galaxies & nebulas that I wasn’t able to see or photograph before. But just as quickly as my data captures improved, I reached another plateau. After photographing the Solar Eclipse of 2017, I ended up putting the gear in the closet for a few months.

Returning to Orion

I think everyone reaches a fork in the road with their hobbies. For me, the end of 2017 was a dark time for astrophotography, as frustrations with the equipment and the limitations of my skills came to a head.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had taken the harder road when I started taking photos. Equipment with long focal lengths only allowed for small margins of error in finding targets or guiding. Most serious astrophotographers start with a much more widefield setup, allowing for forgiveness in capture.

In February 2018 I decided to pull the equipment out again and give Orion a go again from my backyard. Taking the time to properly polar align and frame the photo gave me my first photograph in more than 6 months.

Astrophotography of the Orion Nebula, February 2018
Orion Nebula, February 2018

This shot of Orion re-energized my love for the hobby. Cold nights and equipment malfunctions included, I have been more driven to improve my photography and processing skills. I want that crisper image, or that new more alien looking target. More than two years later, I still feel that same energy.

Dark Site Astrophotography

Inside my cottage, with my Canvas of Orion on the wall of the living room.
Partially unpacked, with my Orion canvas hung proudly in the living room.
Astrophotography at Cottage with the Milky Way, includes photographer.
Selfie with my first Milky Way photograph at the Cottage in August 2018. Original deck.

In August 2018 I purchased my own cottage on the lake I first attempted astrophotography on 2 years prior. In fact, I realized that the cottage was in my first Milky Way shots I had taken that long ago. It was destiny.

Buying the cottage changed my life & my photography. I like to think it’s been my most expensive piece of gear I’ve purchased. I immediately stopped using the light pollution filter (it’s a Bortle 2.7) and photo processing became much faster & easier. There were additional challenges finding some targets, as too many stars would appear in the finder scope making it difficult to align some nights. But the trade off was more than worth it. I no longer do any astrophotography from my home in Ottawa.

Moving my equipment around was still a pain in the ass, so I began to make plans for a more permanent setup. Fracturing my wrist one night trying to set up my equipment sped that process up and I added a deck and SkyShed Pod to the lake side of the house. I still have to deal with unfortunate trees in the back but I’m working on my neighbour “for the sake of science.”

If you’re interested in my current astrophotography gear or pictures of my home observatory, check out my Gear & Observatory page.

Evolving my hobby

Having a near-permanent setup and using plate-solving software has greatly reduced my setup time. That’s been reinvested back into better data acquisition and more time spent on processing. But there’s always room for improvement.

Accessories: My immediate next step is to introduce off-axis guiding into my system. I have the equipment ready, although findng an adapter to place my focal reducer after the OAG has proved difficult. I’m hoping using the same light to guide as well as image will allow for rounder stars.

Telescope & Mount: I’m aware that I’m nearing the limits of my SCT and AVX setup. My mount has served me well, but better tracking with a CGX or something equivalent (if I get off the Celestron train) would improve my images. So would a sharper telescope like something in Celestron’s Edge HD line.

Camera: I’m still shooting in one-shot colour as well with my ZWO ASI294 MC Pro. Being at such a dark site, the use of filters is greatly reduced. But the moon still presents a problem, and using a mono camera with a filter wheel would be my next step with my camera.

Processing: I’ve been a Adobe Photoshop user since my 20s, but continue to be interested in the native astrophotography abilities of PixInsight. This might be a natural switch if and when I move to a Mono camera.

Decisions, decisions. As with every year in this hobby, I expect new challenges and new toys to further this passion.

Five Sources for My Inspiration

The internet, and specifically YouTube, has been a great resource for astrophotography. From improving my skills to finding new targets, I’ve watched and rewatched all of their videos while waiting for my pixels to download. If you’re looking to get into Astrophotography, start with these guys!

Astrophotography from Astrobackyard

Trevor Jones from Astrobackyard
Trevor’s videos and reviews about gear have inspired more than a few of my purchases over the past few years. It’s nice to see another Canadian in the hobby!

Astrophotography from Chuck's Astrophotography

Chuck Ayoub from Chuck’s Astrophotography
Chuck’s genuine passion comes through in his videos, and he’s often a great source for new targets.

Astrophotography from Dylan O'Donnell

Dylan O’Donnell from Star Stuff
Dylan’s Aussie humour helps frustrating nights of equipment failures more bearable. Lives in a tropical paradise by the ocean while I photography from the Lands of Always Winter… so there’s only so much I can relate.

Landscape astrophotography from Alyn Wallace

Alyn Wallace
Alyn shoots with camera lenses rather than telescopes, and his landscapes are breathtaking. His “What’s in the Night Sky” monthly videos are must-sees for those of you who just want to take a camera bag and go.

Astrophotography from Astroaddict

Tim Richter at AstroAddict
Proving that telescopes aren’t just an old man’s hobby, Tim Richter photographs from Germany. .