Hello Konstantinos, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations on winning the ASIWEEK competition in week #30/2023!

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

Thank you very much. My name is Konstantinos (Kostas) Beis and I live in rural Wiltshire, UK. I am originally from Athens, Greece, but I have been in UK for the past 26 years. By day, I am a Reader at University researching the structure of biomolecules, but at night I am an amateur astronomer with an interest in planetary imaging. My wife and two kids, 6 and 8, are sometimes my companions observing the moon and planets.

Q2: When did you start astrophotography and how?

I am relatively new to the hobby as I picked it during the COVID lockdowns in 2020. I have always been interested in the science of space due to my background, but I never got around owing a telescope until recently. I am interested in both visual observations (mostly faint nebulas as I live in relatively dark skies) and planetary imaging. I started my journey by photographing the Milky Way and International Space Station with a basic DSLR on a tripod. My more serious astrophotography with a telescope started by trying to improve on my ISS captures with the DSLR attached to my telescope, and later with a planetary camera. The planetary imaging came much later after I observed Saturn and Jupiter for the first time where I was fascinated and mesmerized by their appearance at the eyepiece. I have been doing more dedicated planetary imaging since 2022. I started with the usual ones, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Venus is a 2023 project that got me hooked to this planet.

Q3: Can you tell us about the winning photo (Introduction to the target, shooting process)?

My image is of Venus, the “evening star”. The image shows the Venusian clouds in ultraviolet light, they contain sulphuric acid that absorb at this wavelength. The image is in false colour by combining videos with either a UV or IR pass filters. In postprocessing I colourise the two captures to bring the colours out, they are not true colours but a personal interpretation.

Q4: How do you normally do post-processing? Would you like to share with us your workflow?

My postprocessing consists of PIPP to extract, stabilise and quality sort the frames to a new video. The best frames are further quality sorted and stacked in AutoStakkert! (AS!3). Finally, I bring the details out with wavelets in RegiStax. I do this procedure for both the UV and IR pass filter videos. I align them in GIMP and colourise them; IR is assigned red as it is in the Infrared region, UV is blue, and I make synthetic green by combining the UV and IR images. I colour balance them and adjust the final colour, saturation and brightness.

Q5: What gear do you use? Any pictures of them?

My setup is a Sky-Watcher 200P Dobsonian (8”) equipped with an ASI462MC and an ASI462MM. The setup is fully manual which is quite simple to use, but a bit fiddly sometimes, which I do not mind. Tracking can be a bit of a challenge, but I have got my technique working quite well as I regularly track the International Space Station.

(Sky-Watcher 200P with the asi426mm. Venus session in daytime)

Q6: What do you think are the advantages of manual tracking? What are the difficulties in the operation process and how to solve them?

The main advantage for me is the simplicity of the setup that I can bring in and an out in less than 5 minutes (excluding any cooling time in between) and quickly swap from imaging to visual.

The main difficulty is the patience it requires to get the target focused, especially with the unstable UK weather, and to capture images in a tight ROI; I use a 640×480 capture window to maximise my fps. Regarding focusing, I do not have much advise apart trying to get it as close as possible. Regarding tracking, I use a Right Angle Correct Image finder that is aligned with the camera chip to get the planet spot on every time. I use the drift method where I let the planet drift across the FOV, move the telescope and repeat. It only takes 10s to go out of view so with captures of 5-10minutes, it can get rather repetitive.

Q7: Do you have any preference in your choice of targets for astrophotography, and why?

Planetary imaging has a great appeal to me as the details of planets change, either cloud formations or new surface features or moons appear as they rotate, they are very dynamic. Jupiter is my favourite planet as you can capture the rotation in almost real time and transits of its moons that can cast shadows on its surface. It is the same with Mars, where you can capture storms and clouds as its seasons are changing. Venus is another favourite target with both the UV clouds changing on a daily basis.

Q8: What do you think is the difference between astrophotography during the day and night?

I assume you refer to my caption that my Venus image was captured during daytime. The main advantage I found is that the atmosphere is a lot more stable, where later at night you have cooling effects that will impact the quality of the capture. Additionally, late captures mean that you are shooting through thicker part of the atmosphere rather than when the target is higher up. In my experience and setup, it has a big impact on getting good UV clouds. The IR imaging is less prone to these parameters. The danger of capturing Venus at daylight is that you need to be extremely careful with the Sun. I am lucky that I have a neighbour’s roof blocking it at the right time of my capture. Capturing the other planets at daylight has the disadvantage of washed out colours, so I do the rest of my planetary imaging at night or early morning before sunrise.

Q9: Can you share some experiences for the targets you photograph regularly?

The best advice I was given and I pass it on is to experiment with different setting during the capture, and most importantly learn your equipment and its limitations. During a session I will try several captures with slightly different settings, not just a single one. I have learned what works for each target in terms of exposure and gain. If the seeing is not great, I aim for high fps captures and I always try to keep my histogram between 60-80% as in postprocessing it will not affect the image. The postprocessing has also to be tweaked for each capture as conditions during imaging will be dfferent.

It is probably repetitive to your readers, but collimation is important to capture the finer details. Do not be afraid to mess around and learn your telescope. It is not as daunting as it seems. I use a Cheshire followed by a star test.

Q10: Is there any memorable story you can share with us from your astrophotography days?

Capturing the International Space Station with the help of my son during COVID. We were both self-isolating and we worked together, him on the computer, and myself tracking. I have captured ISS on my own several times but that was the most fun and memorable one.

(Yuma helping me by controlling ASICap and the end result of our effort with the asi120mc-s in March 2022)

Q11: What do you consider to be your highlight moment in astrophotography?

I have two highlights in astrophotography; having my Venus image selected at #asiweek as there are so many excellent images submitted there. I never thought I would be on that level. I feel hambled by the recognition as I have only been doing it for the past year or so. And my second is having my Jupiter image with a double moon transit and their shadows published in an astrophotography magazine in 2022.

Q12: How do you balance your time between hobby, work and family?

My family are very supportive of my hobby although I do have to wake up crazy hours sometimes. I have been told that “as long as I do not wake them up, it is fine”. I do my processing at night, and my workflow does not take too long these days. My family joins me on observing the moon and planets, although they do not have my bug of astronomy. I love being out under the stars, I find it very calming after a busy day at work.

(Aina observing the moon before bedtime)

Q13: When did you start using ZWO’s products and do you have any suggestions for us?

I started in 2021 with an ASI120MC-S which got me hooked on imaging the ISS and some attempts on planets. I then moved to ASI462MC for its excellent performance on colour captures, IR sensitivity and high fps, and I recently added the ASI462MM mostly for its sensitivity at the UV region.

No suggestions, just keep on the excellent work with the hardware and software. I use ASICap for my captures and it is an excellent software.

Q14: Would you mind sharing with us your upcoming shooting plans?

We are entering the Saturn and Jupiter season, so I am very excited to start again with these targets. I already had my first Saturn capture for this season at summer solstice.

(Saturn with three of its moons, Titan, Rhea and Tethys with an ASI462MC and IR pass filter)

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