Friday, October 31, 2014

Converging Towards the Weekend Expo With SWAP 2014

This weekend is the 3rd annual Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo (ASAE), which is exciting for us in Tucson, which becomes the capital of amateur astronomy, at least for this weekend.  This is a really big deal with nearly every medium and large astronomy vendor in town to show off their wares and new products.  Last year there were over 120 vendors, and I suspect as many coming this weekend too.  I'm wondering why they picked Tucson, not that I'm complaining...  Many of my astronomical buddies up in Phoenix are making the short trek down, and it just seems they should have headquartered there, or even the west coast.  But I'm glad they are here - those of us in Tucson need to be sure to take advantage of it!

Warren Keller, Master of Ceremonies and presenter
As part of the upcoming festivities, the last 3 days I've been participating in SWAP 2014 - the SouthWest AstroPhotography Seminar.  This is a follow-up to the first one last year, which I didn't get to attend, but I'm sure glad I took the time off work this week to attend SWAP 2014!  Some of the biggest names in astro-imaging were there, sharing their knowledge and telling their "secrets" of hardware, technique, and software tips to improve your imaging.  It was a lot of fun, and I met a lot of people from all over the country who came to take part.  Of the 140 attendees, there were very few locals, only about a half dozen I recognized from the TAAA, and a few more from Green Valley and Oro Valley. 

Our "host" and Master of Ceremonies, Warren Keller did an admirable job in keeping us on schedule and on-subject.  Of course, he is an expert in imaging as well and presented later in the program.  On the first day they started something new.  They had 10 "experts" in various applications, from planetary, lunar, solar and deep-sky observing, remote observing, collimation, guiding, Photoshop, and a few other topics.  Over the course of the day, there were hour-long sessions of "comrades in arms" where a dozen or so gathered at the topic of our choice and talked shop about questions, applications and problems we have.  This nearly "one-on-one" with the experts was very useful and will likely be repeated in future SWAPs.

Chris with the evolution of his telescope images
Robert Reeves and one of his mosaics\
The formal presentations started Thursday in two locations at the same time. Unfortunately, one of them was very small, the other quite large.  If you were interested in both topics you were out of luck, but fortunately, some of the popular ones were repeated in the larger venue.  My absolute favorites were the high-resolution imaging talks on planetary and lunar observing.  Starting about 2 decades ago, the advent of "webcam" imaging, where thousands of images are taken, graded for quality and the best ones stacked to improve image quality has revolutionized planetary imaging.  Some of these amateurs have rivaled spacecraft and Hubble imaging in monitoring details on distant worlds.  Christopher Go made the trip here from the Philippines, where he enjoys the reputation of one of the best planetary imagers.  Of course, he has the advantage of being in the tropics near a body of water where seeing conditions can be quite good.  The other of my favorites was with soft-spoken Robert Reeves who used the "webcam" techniques on the Moon.  Even though these systems typically have very small fields of view, he also talked about how to do full-disk mosaics that still maintain the resolution of the original frames.  Both these make me want to get the camera out and get to work!

Ken Crawford at right
Adam Block gets a Warren Keller intro
But even with these presentations on high-resolution work, the majority of the talks were devoted to deep sky observing, both with CCDs and DSLR cameras, and processing images with Photoshop, Pixinsight, and the multitude of other programs that do various jobs. Ken Crawford is shown at left with an inside joke while presenting a talk on intermediate applications of Photoshop towards your images.  His link above also has tutorials you can watch on his website.  Another favorite was the presentation of Rogelio Bernal Andreo, who has achieved considerable fame with his "astro-scenic" images using DSLRs.  His hints and processing techniques were very interesting to me in applying some new skills to my meager efforts!  And of course, local imaging guru Adam Block presented some of the basics of Photoshop Layers in their application to the spectacular images he makes.  He had a great way of making sure that everyone understood the basics and realized the power of layers to their imaging.  Do check out the links of some of the speakers above and see what you missed!

All those that stayed till the end of the program got a chance at door prizes ranging from software to webcam and autoguider cameras!  We had a local winner in Michael Turner, who won a little trinket from Astro-Physics, and I knew another of the winners from Ohio, otherwise, my number was never in danger of being drawn, it seems.  But there were some great vendors to speak to during the breaks, and the opportunity to see new equipment is just starting as the Expo starts tomorrow.  With a slate of well-known speakers, hundreds of vendors and solar telescope displays, it is not to be missed!  See you there this weekend!

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