…continuedDeep-Sky Photography Made Easy
The Power of Piggybacking
A camera with a wide-angle lens (18 to 35 mm in focal length) or a standard lens (50 to 55 mm, assuming a 35-mm-frame format) the same one you use to take daytime landscape or family-vacation snapshots is ideal for capturing large swaths of the summer Milky Way. These common lenses can reveal the glowing star clouds that traverse the constellation Cygnus and run down to the galaxy's dense central region in Sagittarius and Scorpius, which are prominent in July and August. While to the unaided eye the Milky Way looks like a dim, grayish band, a 5-minute exposure with off-the-shelf equipment will show that it's made up of countless stars laced with delicate wreaths of red nebulosity the luminous clouds of hydrogen gas that old stars cast off into space and out of which new stars form. With the power of piggyback photography you can create your own atlas of the Milky Way's bright clouds and dark dust lanes or compile a portfolio of constellation portraits.
Switching to a modest telephoto lens brings a new realm of targets within reach. You don't need very long focal lengths something in the 85- to 135-mm range is ideal for framing large nebulas, bright star clusters, and the Milky Way star clouds. (Besides, that monster telephoto in your closet may be too heavy to mount securely on the telescope.) The North America Nebula in Cygnus, the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, and the Andromeda Galaxy are all suitable telephoto subjects. As a rule of thumb, any object you can see well in binoculars is a good target for a piggy-backed telephoto lens.
What piggyback photography can't handle are extreme close-ups of small "deep-sky" objects such as the Ring Nebula in Lyra, the Crab Nebula in Taurus, or the beautiful globular star cluster in Hercules. For these targets you'll need the light-gathering and magnifying power of a telescope (serving as your camera's lens) to obtain good views. That's beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, there's still a wide selection of subjects to capture with your simple piggy-back setup.