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About me... and more

Who am I?

Lunar Eclipse - 15Apr2014My first astrophoto - The lunar eclipse on 15Apr2014

My name is Frederick Steiling, and I'm a resident of St. Louis, MO, USA who made the life-changing and free-time-zapping decision to stick my camera on a tripod and try to take a picture of the lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014. Little did I know at the time that this was to set off my own personal stellar storm.

As a firmware engineer by day and musician by night, I've long had a fascination with science and art. Having never photographed the sky before this blood moon event, the engineer in me was instantly engaged with the challenge of photographing a moving target from a stationary tripod. The artist in me, on the other hand, was enamored at the eeriness and wonder of this magnificent display. It's certainly no mystery why human history is littered with the extravagant tales and respect of the heavens.

The day after shooting the lunar eclipse, I shared the image with friends and was in for my biggest surprise yet -- The "star" in this image was identified not as a star, but as Saturn.  "That's a planet?!"

My wife sensed the excitement and surprised me with a 5" Dobsonian for my birthday 2 months later, along with gear to hook my camera to it; the fascination was in full swing! Since then, I've accumulated more equipment and more knowledge, but each step I take today is in the same vein as those that started me: The engineer tweaks and modifies the gear for better data acquisition, and the artist works at more gracefully processing the images to uncloak the beauty in the universe's many wonders.

Where do I take these photographs?

It's easiest to say where I don't take photographs: from home. Why? Surely the tree cover at home makes it nearly impossible to image anything skyward, but even if I had an unobstructed view of the night sky, I still wouldn't do it. Most (though not all) of my photographs deal with wide bands of visible wavelengths that are negatively and substantially affected by light pollution. As you can imagine, living in a large urban area doesn't present much in the way of astro-friendly skies.

In the field - 15Sep2015Photographing overhead at White Memorial Conservation Area

One of the measurements of sky quality is the Bortle scale, an assessment of darkness from 1 (darkest) to 10 (brightest). My home skies are Bortle 10, where about 100 stars are visible without aid (if I'm lucky), and even the most perfect night sky is cast with colored washout from the city lights. It's no wonder no one tends to look up!

I pack up my gear and set up in a remote location every time I image in order to escape this nighttime poison. Most regularly I make overnight trips to White Memorial Conservation Area (Whiteside, MO) or Danville Conservation Area (New Florence, MO) where the skies are Bortle 4: The Milky Way is easily visible with dark dust lanes, and even M31 (Andromeda) can be observed as a smudge in the sky with the naked eye. On rare occasion and particularly when the forecast and daytime schedule make an enticing invitation, I'll trek farther southwest to Council Bluffs Recreational Area in Mark Twain National Forest. These splendid Bortle 3 skies are even a bit darker, with Milky Way lanes popping down to the horizon.

No matter where I go, however, I never escape the light pollution entirely. Even in my remote go-to areas, St. Louis (as well as smaller cities in other directions) still make their presence known, appearing as great domes of light. Depending on where my photographic target is, I'll choose my destination based on my best chances of pointing away from the domes and into the sweet part of the sky.

Why is this called "Fuzzy" Photos?

If you've never seen any of the Hubble "Deep Field" images, you're in for a treat and an instant explanation.

The image here is one of many of these fields showing the deepest parts of our universe, and after you regroup from the countless foreground galaxies, you'll start to notice the dimmer, fainter ones even farther in the distance. Those "fuzzy" objects represent a frontier in our journey to see the universe. The better we are able to expose these distant wonders through imaging, the further we are able to push our understanding of the universe.  (And Hubble has done this time and again over the course of its 25 years in orbit.)

When I started to take pictures of the stars, practically everything was fuzzy... even the moon! This site is a documentation of my own journey to bring the fuzzy reaches of the universe to clarity on my own screen and yours.

Why aren't the top and bottom spikes on the logo perfectly lined up?

If you've noticed this on your own, you have an eye perfect for reflecting telescopes!

The diffraction spikes you see in my images, as well as those from some other telescopes including Hubble, are the result of bright starlight reflecting off the spider vanes holding the secondary mirror in the telescope. One of the benefits of a Newtonian reflecting telescope like the one I use is that the aperture (the size of the opening / primary mirror) is very large compared to the total focal length of the telescope, resulting in high photon gathering "power." One of the downsides to fast telescopes like this, however, is that perfectly setting up the optical system is an endless exercise (and some may even argue an impossible one). The slightest misalignment or wiggle in the mirrors cause unwanted shapes and artifacts to surface in the images, sometimes in the form of wonky spikes!

In my decision to use a fast Newtonian telescope, I take the good with the bad. Through it, I can peer deeply into the universe, but never would I expect to do so without a healthy and constant challenge in alignment. A little nudge on the logo felt like the honest thing to do! 

Can anyone use the pictures on this site or make prints?

Using the images elsewhere on the internet: Have at it! All I ask is that you link images or articles directly (rather than download and re-upload elsewhere) unless you contact me to make other arrangements. I always appreciate credit (by name and/or website) in your article or post.

Prints for your home, business, or publication: I would flattered and honored to work with you on a print! There is some dark magic to making these treasures of the night sky come through well in a print, so you are most welcome to contact me to commission a print to your specifications, or to get written permission for your publication.