The Andromeda Galaxy with a DSLR Camera (Astrophotography Results)
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 Explore Scientific ED80 Telescope.
The Andromeda Galaxy: Astrophotography Details
The image above includes almost 3 hours worth of total exposure time, using 47 x 3.5-minute images. The photos were shot using an ISO of 1600 and stacked in DeepSkyStacker to improve the signal to noise ratio.
It’s worth noting that the DSLR camera used was not astro-modified, meaning the stock IR cut filter was still intact. There are professional services that can modify your camera for astrophotography, or you can do it yourself if you’re comfortable with taking apart your camera!
As you can see, even a stock DSLR camera can capture a beautiful portrait of the Andromeda Galaxy. A light pollution filter was used, the IDAS LPS D1 clip-in filter for Canon APS-C camera bodies. (pictured below)
If you own a Canon DSLR, I highly recommend taking a good look at this filter if you’re looking to reduce the amount of light pollution recorded in your images.
Details for the photo above:
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
Latest Version (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.
The details of that trip and the equipment used are showcased in my video: Let’s Photograph the Andromeda Galaxy. The data captured on this trip was merged with my existing image from 2012 to create an even deeper and colorful view of this magnificent spiral galaxy.
Astrophotography tips and advice
Large objects like M31 benefit from the wide field of view provided by a small refractor. Using the Explore Scientific ED80 at 480mm, the galaxy fills the frame perfectly, with a little room to spare. I also used a William Optics 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.
To process this image, a great deal of attention was given to slight curve adjustments around the edges of the galaxy. The faint spiral arms around the edges were pulled forward, while the bright core was left untouched. This is a technique called a “layer mask”, which is useful when processing deep sky objects that have a bright core.
View over 50 amateur astrophotography images of the Andromeda Galaxy taken by the AstroBackyard community.
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 24-105mm F/4L Camera Lens, on an iOptron SkyTracker camera mount.
This was taken from my light polluted city backyard, so the colors are a little off. To get the rich blues and faint details of M31, traveling to darker skies is recommended.
The Andromeda Galaxy at 105mm (APS-C Sensor DSLR)
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 (T3i), 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.
The Early Days
I captured the photo at the top of this page 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 GoTo mount 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
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 dusk 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.
Where is the Andromeda Galaxy?
Use Cassiopeia to help you locate Andromeda from Schedar
The Andromeda Galaxy is located in the constellation of the same name. One of the easiest to locate M31 is by looking east of the bright stars in Cassiopeia.
You can also use the stars in the Andromeda constellation to locate M31. 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.
Despite it’s lackluster visual appearance, the thought of seeing another Galaxy with its own solar systems is a mind-altering experience. This is one of the many indescribably humbling moments that occur while observing and photographing the night sky.
My old Celestron Mount
Gone 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 at the opt of this page 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.