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The Andromeda Galaxy – A Rewarding DSLR Astrophotography Target

The Andromeda Galaxy is a beautiful spiral galaxy located about 2.5 million light-years away from Earth. It is the largest galaxy in the local group, which also contains the Triangulum Galaxy.  This is a sought-after target for DSLR astrophotography enthusiasts.  As well as being the closest major galaxy to our own Milky Way, M31 is one of the brightest objects in the Messier Catalog.

The image below was captured using a stock Canon 450D and ES ED80 Telescope.

M31 - Andromeda Galaxy

Click the image for a larger version

The Andromeda Galaxy: Astrophotography Details

Photographed on: July 20, 2012
Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 46 Minutes
Sub Frames: 47 x 210″ @ ISO 1600)
Mount: Celestron ASCG-5 GT
Camera: Stock Canon Xsi
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in DeepSkyStacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

View photo details on AstroBin

Latest Version (October 2017)

In the summer of 2017, I brought a new astrophotography telescope with me on a camping trip.  My target of choice was the beautiful Andromeda Galaxy, and this time I had a wider focal length. I feel that this version benefits from the better color and sharpness (mainly present in the surrounding stars) captured using the new refractor.

Andromeda Galaxy with a DSLR

The Andromeda Galaxy – Combined Data through 2 telescopes

The details of that trip and the equipment used are showcased in my video: Let’s Photograph the Andromeda Galaxy.

Imaging the Andromeda Galaxy

Large objects like M31 benefit from the wide field of view provided by a small refractor.  Using the ED80 at 480mm, the galaxy fills the frame perfectly, with a little room to spare.  I also used a field flattener/reducer to widen the view even further.

From a dark sky site, your subframes will show the gorgeous outer arms of the galaxy, with an ultra bright core.  Shorter exposures from the city will not show much more than the core, so you will have to coax out the details in post-processing.

Andromeda through a Camera Lens

Because the Andromeda Galaxy is a such a large target, it is possible to capture impressive results using a DSLR camera and lens.  The photo below showcases M31 through a Canon EF 28-135mm F/4L Camera Lens, on an iOptron SkyTracker camera mount.

Andromeda Galaxy using a camera lens

At this focal length, you can really get a feeling for the vastness of space surrounding this galaxy.  The images were captured with a Canon 600D DSLR, with a SkyTech CLS-CCD Light Pollution filter installed.

The individual frames were 2 minutes each, at ISO 800.  In total, 75 frames were stacked in DeepSkyStacker to produce the image above.

Deep sky astrophotography setup

The Explore Scientific ED80 used for the photo at the top of this page

Perhaps this photo of Andromeda has changed your opinion on what’s possible with a “cheap” astrophotography mount.  The Celestron CG-5 was responsible for all of my deep-sky images from 2011-2014. That mount has since been replaced by the Celestron Advanced VX.

Celestron ADvanced VX astrophotography mount

The Celestron Advanced VX

The Early Days

Astrophotography telescope

I captured the photo above back in the summer of 2012.  I was getting comfortable with my current deep-sky image acquisition process and was delighted at the results I was getting.  That old Celestron CG-5 was a real performer for me.  I captured a large number of Messier objects using the CG-5 and autoguiding with PHD.

I had lots of help from my local astronomy club, as the members were quick to offer me some good astrophotography advice.  A number of the other members were interested in DSLR astrophotography as well, and we all had a great time shooting with one another.

I certainly miss shooting the night sky with a group of guys at a dark sky site.  The backyard is convenient and comfortable, but nothing beats the sound of the countryside settling in for a long clear night.

The Benefits of Dark Skies

Astrophotography Images

Dark skies make a real difference in both visual observing and astrophotography.  My photo of M31 was much easier to process than usual because it was captured under dark skies.  The beautiful area where this was shot was a blue zone on the Light pollution map.  The site looks south over Lake Erie, creating some incredible views that I can not experience from home.

Add in the sound of the crickets and the fresh smell of the countryside air, and you’ve got a real chance at making some memories.  Being outside and experiencing the transition of duck to nightfall is unforgettable.  This aspect of the hobby is one of the many magical moments I did not realize I would experience when I got started.

This was the location of my video: Let’s Photograph the Eagle Nebula

Where is the Andromeda Galaxy?

Andromeda Galaxy Star Map

Star map for the Andromeda Galaxy – EarthSky

 

Use Cassiopeia to help you locate Andromeda using the Schedar

The Andromeda Galaxy is located in the constellation of the same name.  It is easiest to locate M31 by looking east of the bright stars in Cassiopeia.  Once you have found the center of the main 3 stars in the Andromeda constellation, follow the 3 smaller stars upwards from there to find the galaxy.  The star map above makes this easier to visualize.

Find Andromeda in Binoculars

Andromeda is so bright, that it is visible to the naked eye under moonless, dark conditions.  It is one of my favorite binocular targets to observe, right up there with the Orion Nebula. The visual appearance of M31 through a large telescope has mixed reviews.  The bright core of the galaxy dominants the eyepiece, with little else to discern visually.

My old Celestron Mount

Astrophotography Tracking MountGone but not forgotten:

Celestron CG-5 Astrophotography Mount

This was back when I had my old Celestron Advanced Series CG-5 GT tracking mount.  This mount handled my compact Explore Scientific ED80 with ease and provided me with countless hours of enjoyment and consistent results.  The image above is a testament to the quality of what was possible with that humble piece of astrophotography history.  Unfortunately, after 3 years of heavy use in the heat, frost, snow and every other weather condition you can think of, that old mount began acting up, and eventually not work at all.  I still have it, with hopes of one day restoring it back to its former glory!

Video Tutorial – Processing The Andromeda Galaxy

Processing the Andromeda Galaxy is a lot of fun.  Some of the faint nebulae and tiny galaxies I photograph show very little detail, even after hours of processing.  That is definitely not the case with Messier 31!  This is probably the most rewarding deep-sky object one can image, second only to maybe the Orion Nebula!

I am a huge fan of Neil Heacock’s astrophotography work, especially because he has produced some tremendous images using modest equipment similar to mine.  Until I have the proper resources to put together my own tutorials, I hope you can find as much value in Neil’s video below as I did.

Andromeda Galaxy – Astrophotography Processing Tutorial: Neil Heacock

Related Posts:

Over 50 Images of the Andromeda Galaxy (AstroBackyard Facebook Community)

Finding Darker Skies – Camping Under the Stars

DSLR Astrophotography Tutorial: Deep-Sky Processing

Resources:

All about the Andromeda Galaxy – EarthSky

I can’t wait to give the Andromeda Galaxy another shot using my current imaging telescope.  The modified Canon 600D I now use should capture some of the nebulae located within the galaxy for a complete photo.  Follow AstroBackyard on Facebook for the absolute latest news and images.