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How to try deep-space astrophotography

deep-space astrophotography
(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

The universe is back in fashion. Everywhere you look there are astonishing images of the night sky. Visit Instagram and you’ll see the Milky Way and the northern lights arching across the sky above beautiful landscapes, while NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope (opens in new tab) fill the internet with close-ups of exoplanets and galaxies far, far, away.

You might think that creating images of the night sky is limited to what you can see with your own eye, but not so. Want to go deeper into the cosmos? There are two ways to photograph star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and other deep-sky objects; using a tripod-mounted star tracker underneath your camera, or attaching a camera to a telescope.

The best star tracker camera mounts (opens in new tab) are simple, portable devices that go between a tripod and your camera. Some of the most popular models are the Skywatcher Star Adventurer (opens in new tab) and iOptron SkyTracker, costing around $320/£250.

Skywatcher star adventurer

Skywatcher Star Adventurer (Image credit: Skywatcher)

They’re called ‘equatorial’ mounts because they have a motor that moves them in sync with our planet. As our planet rotates, the stars appear to move – as captured by a star trail – and these mounts counteract that. Aligned to Polaris (also commonly known as the North Star), they correct for your exact position on the planet, allowing you to take long exposures of faint objects without blur, therefore collecting a lot more light. You can take 90-second exposures with lenses as large as 600mm, though wide-angle lenses allow even longer exposures (up to ten minutes on the Milky Way).

Another technique that is useful if you have access to a deep-space telescope (opens in new tab) is to attach your camera using a T-Ring and 1.25-inch or two-inch adaptor (unique to your camera and available relatively cheaply online). You can then insert it where the eyepiece usually goes, and use the magnification of the telescope to take shots.

Either way, stick to a wide aperture and ISO 800-3200 (depending on your camera) and experiment with the shutter speed (always using a camera remote (opens in new tab)). You’ll then need to dive into photo-editing software (opens in new tab)to process your RAW images to produce bright, detailed, out-of-this-world images.

What deep-space subjects can you photograph?

deep-space astrophotography

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

Double star
Lone stars don’t usually make interesting targets. An exception is the blue and red double star Albireo

deep-space astrophotography

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

Galaxy
A popular target for a camera on a telescope is the Andromeda galaxy (M31)

deep-space astrophotography

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

Star cluster
Star clusters like the Pleiades are perfect for capturing with a star-tracker mount

If you want to improve your astro shots, check out the best camera for astrophotography (opens in new tab) and the best lenses for astrophotography (opens in new tab). You'll find out-of-this-world inspiration from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year (opens in new tab), and there are some technical astrophotography tips (opens in new tab) to help you out too.

Jamie has been writing about all aspects of technology for over 14 years, producing content for sites like TechRadar, T3, Forbes, Mashable, MSN, South China Morning Post, and BBC Wildlife, BBC Focus and BBC Sky At Night magazines. 


As the editor for www.WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com, he has a wealth of enthusiasm and expertise for all things astrophotography, from capturing the Perseid Meteor Shower, lunar eclipses and ring of fire eclipses, photographing the moon and blood moon and more.


He also brings a great deal of knowledge on action cameras, 360 cameras, AI cameras, camera backpacks, telescopes, gimbals, tripods and all manner of photography equipment.