How to diagnose and treat Obsessive Hobby Disorder.
If you can check off just one of the symptoms on the list below, you probably have OHD.
- Do you check the clear sky chart before planning date-night with your significant other?
- Do you find family time sidetracked by staring at a computer screen monitoring your mount’s tracking?
- Do you wake up in the middle of the night, and instead of going right back to sleep, look outside to see if the sky is clear?
- Have you ever called in sick to work because you were up all night imaging?
- Do you START drinking coffee at 8PM because the sky is clear?
- Do you disassemble, re-grease and test your mount because, Saturday?
- Do you plan out the next 6 months of imaging wile you’re at work?
- Is your bank account’s primary purpose to fund your next piece of astrophotography gear?
OHD might be a toungue-in-cheek reference to the seemingly millions of made up and acronymed disorders, but the notion that this hobby can be so incredibly consuming is very real.
When I started imaging space stuff in August of 2017, I had no clue what I was doing. I found contradictory information everywhere I looked and found myself confused and overwhelmed. I ended up mostly teaching myself and following online instruction from a few reliable sources that weren’t over-complicating things or assuming everyone has unlimited funds. It was less confusing, but also very time consuming.
So guess what I figured out very fast? Taking pictures of objects light-years away on a budget with no experience is really fucking hard! Top the regular difficulty off by living right outside of the light polluted skies of Chicago, where on a good night I can see maybe 100 stars across the entire sky! The precision required for taking long exposures of moving objects on it’s own is mind boggling. Running application on top of application that all need to work together is the only thing making precision tracking possible without spending 10’s of thousands of dollars, but it adds more complexity and learning.
After a miserable failed attempt all the way back in 2004, I decided in 2017 I was going to do it for real. I immersed myself in learning everything I could. Time not spent reading, adjusting or testing equipment was spent under the stars, usually trying to figure out what step I missed in my setup that was ruining exposures. Night after night of frustration slowly turned into faster setups and slightly successful images.
But something was suffering. Everything else was suffering. I have a wife, three kids and two dogs. I was absent. I found myself making dinner planned around when I could setup. Eating dinner was spent staring at a computer screen in front of my plate by myself. The kids’ bedtime routines were sped up because I couldn’t peel my eyes from the screen. Mine and my wife’s bedtime routine was non-existent. On top of that, I thought it would be a good idea to have my own website dedicated to it. I had a bad case of OHD (Obsessive Hobby Disorder).
If you’re not careful, this hobby can take over your life. There are a few types of people you see most involved in Astrophotography; younger single people, married people without kids, and retired empty-nesters. There’s a reason for that – more time, and less responsibility. I’m none of these types of people. My wife is very understanding, but I certainly tested, and probably went over the limits.
What do you do if you don’t really want to be a selfish jerk, but still love astrophotography?
Automate, automate, automate! (and trust your equipment)
Software and equipment has come a long way in the last 10 years. Sequence Generator Pro is the top player in this game. You can plan and create imaging sessions anytime you want, and then run the sequence when you’re all ready to image. Platesolving, meridian flips, even mosaics are all fully automated. Of course I can’t use it (yet) because my mount is too old for automated meridian flips. If your mount is compatable, I highly recommend spending the money for SGP so you can get some rest. If you have a motorized focuser, SGP will even run an autofocus routine however often you set it.
Despite the fact that I don’t have a compatable mount or a motorized focuser, I can leave the rig unmonitored for several hours (as long as the temperature isn’t fluctuating too crazily). I have everything down to two pieces of software that are running an imaging sequence in conjunction.
Automate, and monitor it closely a few times, but get comfortable, back off and trust your equipment after a while.
Know What Matters in the Moment – Clear Sky or Cloudy
To sum up these two posts, realize what matters now and that the object you might miss will be back next year, and the year after that, and after that… The kids will grow up and move away, but the sky will still be there. Take breaks from astrophotography or you will burn out.
Astrophotography is an amazing hobby that brings you on a journey where you’ll learn things you didn’t even think were possible. It’s so involved that it’s easy to get caught up and consumed by it quickly. For a middle-aged suburban father of three, it was all about finding balance, and it took me a long time to get there.