Q1: At first, congratulation that your nice image won #ASIWEEK. Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Tommy Lease and I’m 39 years old. I live in Parker, Colorado with my wife and my dog named Duke. I am a Field Engineer for a major telecom company here in Colorado. My hobbies include astrophotography(of course), camping, fishing and wood working.
Self-portrait in front of my telescope rig
Q2: Why do you love astronomy? How did you start astrophotography?
I love astronomy because it amazes me what is up in the night sky. Every time I capture an object with my ZWO camera I am astonished! I just can’t believe that this above our heads in space. When I took my first image of the Andromeda Galaxy and Orion, I was hooked. I started my astrophotography journey about 4 years ago when I pointed my DSLR towards the Milky Way with a kit lens. Then I eventually got an f/2.8 fisheye lens and got better quality images. Then about 1.5 years ago I got my first telescope and small tracking mount and the rest is history.
One of my first images of the Milky Way taken with my Nikon D5100 and Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens
Q3: What equipment do you use? Any pictures of them?
My current setup is as follows:
Imaging Camera: ASI1600MM w/ ZWO EAF, EFW
Filters: Astrodon E-series LRGB, Antlia 3.5nm SHO filters
Scope: Meade 70mm Quad APO, Orion 8″ f/5 Newt 1000mm
Mount: SW EQ6-R
Guidecam: ASI120 mini
Guidescope: Williams Optics Uniguide 50mm
Accessories: Pegasus power, Astrozap dew heaters
Q4: How did you capture your winning picture The Cone and Fox Fur Nebula? Was the whole progress rather smooth for you?
Cone and Fox Fur Nebula in SHO
I captured this image using my ASI1600MM-Pro camera and Meade 70mm Quad APO. This image consisted of the following:
70x420s HA, Gain 139, -10c
77x420s OIII, Gain 139, -10c
65x420s SII, Gain 139, -10c
25 darks, flats, darkflats
24 hrs total
I initially posted this image with stars, but decided to later remove the stars to better expose the nebulosity. This is such a fascinating region of the sky, full of Hydrogen Alpha and Oxygen 3 that by removing the stars it allowed the viewer to see all the fine details of the nebula. This image was stacked using Astro Pixel Processor, then I combined the SHO stacked images in PixInsight using Pixelmath. After I combined the image, I then used Starnet++ to remove the stars. Once the stars were removed, I imported the image into Photoshop to clean up the remaining star artifacts using the clone stamp tool. Once I was satisfied with the image, I brought the image back to PixInsight to finish the post-processing. I would say yes, this process went smoothly. But, removing all the stars was a tedious process, but the final product made it worth it.
Q5: How long on average does it take for you to process one astrophoto? At what point you will have the thought “OK that’s enough I should stop here”?
It depends on the target. If I am processing a nebula image like the Cone and Fox fur, it could take me anywhere from 5hrs to 15hrs to process an image. When I process galaxy images, it’s usually much less time. Usually anywhere from 1-2hrs. I take more time with Nebula because there is more to process and I usually take an artistic approach to the image. This in turn, takes longer because I will usually redo it multiple times until I’m happy with it. I don’t mind re-doing my images though, because I think post-processing is the best part of astro.
Q6: Among all these stars, galaxies and nebulae you’ve shot, do you have one favorite target?
This is a tough question haha, because I have so many. If I had to choose one, I guess I’d say Orion Nebula because it was my first nebula that I imaged. I prefer shooting nebula over any deep-sky target. A close second would be the Soul and Heart Nebulae because they are rich in Ha and OIII data.
Orion and Running Man Nebula in LRGB, Meade 70mm APO + ASI1600MM Pro
Soul Nebula in SHO, Meade 70mm APO + ASI1600MM Pro
Q7: Where do you normally do AP? Do you ever travel to some dark places for AP?
I normally shoot AP from my backyard which is a Bortle 5-6 sky. But I do like to bring my gear up to the mountains to shoot under darker Bortle 2-3 skies when I get the chance.
Eastern Veil Nebula(NGC6992), Williams Optics Zenithstar 81 + ASI1600MM Pro
Q8: Do your families support your hobby? Will they join you when you are photographing?
My family is very supportive of my astrophotography hobby. My wife will join me in the backyard every now and then, but my dog is always out there by my side looking up at the stars with me. My family loves it when I share my images and passion for the night sky.
M78 and Barnards Loop, Meade 6000 70mm Astrograph + ASI1600MM Pro
Q9: Have you ever participated in any star parties or other astronomical-related events?
I have not, but I plan to this summer. Since COVID-19 hit last year, it has been tough to meet with people for any star parties.
Q10: What do you think is the most difficult part of astrophotgraphy?
Auto-guiding, something always goes wrong haha. Whether it’s not getting perfect polar alignment, balance or some kind of vibration in my setup, I never have a perfect night of guiding.
NGC7822 Widefield, Meade 6000 70mm Astrograph + ASI1600MM Pro
Q11: If you are asked to use three words to sum up your astrophotography experience over these years, which three words you would choose?
Amazing, tough, rewarding.
Q12: How do you think the future of astrophotography if take the increasingly heavy light pollution and the rapidly developed technology into consideration?
I think that mankind will hopefully keep in mind that the night sky is important enough that we need to see the stars. Whether its for the average star gazers just wanting to view the beautiful Milky Way or amateur astronomers/astrophotographers like myself that want to view or image the night sky or professional scientists/astrophysicists that need clear skies to perform their job analyzing the night sky. If it gets to a point where it’s so bad, I would hope governments would step in and stop or help decrease light pollution by imposing laws or rules on local governments to help aid against it.
The Rosette Nebula in HOO (Starless version), Meade 6000 70mm Astrograph + ASI1600MM Pro
Q13: How many ASI cameras do you have? How did that come to you to buy your first ASI camera?
I currently own 3 ASI cameras, the ASI1600MM Pro, ASI183MM Pro and the ASI120MM Mini. I have also owned the ASI183MC-Pro and ASI120MC, but I prefer a mono camera because they are more sensitive and produce better images in my opinion. When I made the move from a DSLR, I purchased the ASI183MC Pro because I heard good things about ZWO cameras online.
Pinwheel Galaxy, Orion 8″ f/4.9 Newtonian + ASI1600MM Pro
Q14: What’s your impression of ZWO? Is there anywhere you think we can do better?
I think ZWO cameras are great. I recommended them to all newcomers to astrophotography because they are easy to use, have solid firmware/software and produce great images. The only way I think ZWO could improve would be to have a camera repair center in other locations such as the USA. This would make the repair process easier if any issues should ever arise.