Astrophotograpy is not a hobby you can jump right into! Although eager to capture my first deep sky object, I jumped in head first. When dealing with telescope mounts, telescopes, and autoguiding, I spent many a frustrating night over the past few weeks trying to figure out why my telescope was off in polar alignment when I was trying to take long exposure photos.
The art of telescope balancing involves physics plain and simple. The mount that I have can hold up to a 35lb payload sitting on top of it. It only took me a couple months before I actually weighed all of the individual pieces I had siting atop the mount. Turned out I have 21.5 lbs on my mount, which is no big deal right? Wrong!
Given that the mount only came with an 11lb counterweight, my telescope was way out off balance, which caused problems with alignment and autoguiding (which I will describe in another post). A telescope must be balanced in Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (DEC). As you can see in the photo, the 11lb counterweight was NO match for the 21.5 lbs payload, consisting of two telescopes, dovetails, saddle plates, red dot finder, and a clamshell. Who knew that all that stuff added up to so much weight? So what is the solution? Physics will tell you that you need to add more weight to the other side of the mount. Luckily, they make extra counterweights. After I was describing my balancing issue to a friend who has been a tremendous resource and help with his Astrophotography advice (Michael Caliguiri at http://www.mcaligiuri.net/), he happened to have an extra 11lb counterweight sitting in is garage so he packed it up and shipped it to me. After adding the extra counterweight, my telescope was perfectly balanced in RA. Now, balancing in DEC is another issue. For this problem, I had to take everything off my mount and remove the telescopes from the saddle plates and clamshells so I could make sure that I was placing the telescope load in the right places. Once I attached everything back to my telescope, it did not take long before the entire load was balanced in RA. Physics, physics, physics!