Pleiades Star Cluster (7 Sisters)
Astrophotography,  Software

Beginning Deep Sky Astrophotography – Planning Your Photo Shoot (DSO Targets)

Planning for a Deep Sky Astrophotography photo shoot is much different than planning for other types of photography.  First the targets are seasonal, targets only appear in the night sky at certain times of the year.  The targets also rise and set like the moon and sun. 

While weather is important for all types of outdoor photography, deep sky astrophotography requires clear or mostly clear skies.  Light pollution is also an ever growing challenge for Astrophotographers.

Topaz Labs

In the next few blogs, I will discuss how to plan for a deep sky astrophotography shoot.  In this blog, I will discuss and provide planning tips for:

  • DSLR Astrophotography targets
  • Seasonal availability of targets
  • Finding when and where your targets will be in the night sky

Some Deep Sky Objects (DSOs) are easier to photograph than others for new astrophotographers.

Here are some of the DSOs that I have photographed or researched and are on my target list for my crop sensor Canon DSLR and Canon 300mm f/4 lens.  For more information on the equipment I use, see my blog on the topic.

The Orion Nebula (M42) and Running Man Nebula (M43)
The Orion Nebula (M42) and Running Man Nebula (M43)
  • Orion Nebula.  Start here.  It is bright, large, and easy to locate.  (Late fall to early spring, Northern Hemisphere).  Can be taken with relatively short exposures (20-30 seconds).
  • Pleiades Star Cluster.  Easy to locate.  Longer exposure are better to better capture the blue colored dust. (October to April, Northern Hemisphere)
  • Andromeda Galaxy.  Large galaxy.  Closest galaxy to the Milky Way.  (June – February, Northern Hemisphere)
  • Horsehead and Flame Nebula. In the constellation Orion. (Late Fall to Early Spring, Northern Hemisphere).  Usually photographed together.
  • Cygnus Loop. The Cygnus Loop is a supernova remnant located in the constellation Cygnus. It is comprised of the Western Veil Nebula, Eastern Veil Nebula, and Pickering’s Triangle. It’s big, relatively bright target that can be taken at a shorter focal length (@200mm).

I will be posted a more detailed DSLR Target list soon.


Due to the earth’s orbit around the sun different DSOs are present in the night sky at different times of the year.  Here are some of the seasons for astrophotography.

  • Galaxy Season (March to Mid May).  Many of these galaxies require a longer focal length lens.  The Behive Cluster is a good choice for DSLR / Lens photographers.
  • Milky Way Season (Peak – Late April to Late July).  Several good emission nebula (lagoon nebula, eagle nebula) are reachable with a DSLR and lens.
  • Winter Constellation Season (Late Fall Early Spring).  Orion, Running Man, Horsehead, and Flame Nebulae in the Constellation Orion.  Pleiades Cluster in the constellation Taurus.

Planning Software

Stellarium is a free desktop software app for both Mac and Windows.  It is also available for iPad, iPhone, and Android for a small fee.  In Stellarium, you can advance the date and time and the direction you are facing to see when and where objects will be located in the sky. 

There is also a search feature, ability to turn constellation lines and figures on or off, and turn satellites on or off.  I particularly like the iPad / iPhone version where you can drag the sky to move backward or forward in time. 

With Stellarium, you can plan what you want to shoot months ahead of time or tonight’s photography session.

Deep Sky Astrophotography Tutorial – Table of Contents

Written by Martin Belan

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Beginning DSLR Deep Sky Astrophotography – Equipment
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