Andromeda galaxy is one of the most popular astrophotography targets worldwide, and no wonder! It’s beautiful, bright, and easy to locate in the night sky. If you want to capture this galaxy by yourself, then here you have the complete guide to photographing the Andromeda galaxy.
Andromeda Galaxy facts
A lot of people are wondering is Andromeda the closest galaxy to the Milky Way? The closest galaxy to our own in general is the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy. The Andromeda galaxy is our nearest spiral galaxy neighbor. Also, the M31 is one of the brightest objects on the night sky, which means that you can photograph it very fast (in minutes, not hours).
|Object type||Spiral galaxy|
|Other names||M31, Messier 31, NGC 224|
|RA (right ascension)||00h 42m 44.3s|
|DEC (declination)||+41° 16′ 9″|
|Angular size||178×63 arcmin|
|Age||10 billion years|
How to find Andromeda Galaxy (location on sky)
The Andromeda Galaxy is located in the constellation Andromeda, close to Perseus and Cassiopeia. Finding it is quite easy as the M31 is visible by the naked eye (outside of the city).
If you are not familiar with the night sky, then I recommend you to use software that will help you in locating astronomical objects. For iPhone and iPad users, I have my astronomy apps for iPhone compilation. If you are not an Apple user, then you can use some multi-platform apps like Stellarium.
Andromeda Galaxy visibility during a year
The M31 is close to the Polaris, which means it’s visible almost all year! But the best time to photograph it on the Northern Hemisphere is from late Summer to Winter when the galaxy is high on the sky. Generally, the lower the designated photography object is in the sky, the more work you will have in post-processing, and the worse effects you will have. Higher the object – less atmosphere, less light pollution. So reserve some time during August to December and shoot the Andromeda galaxy then.
Andromeda galaxy through a telephoto lens
The biggest surprise for a lot of people is that to photograph the Andromeda galaxy, you don’t need to have a telescope! Of course, if you have a small refractor scope, you can use it, the final picture resolution will be higher. But to reveal some details of Andromeda, the only piece of optics you need is a telephoto lens!
Astrophotography equipment for the M31
Cooled, expensive astronomical CCD cameras are not needed! Andromeda galaxy, thanks to its brightness, is a perfect astrophotography target for simple DSLR and mirrorless cameras! Almost every Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, and many other cameras from this decade can perfectly capture this galaxy. So don’t rush to the photo store, use what you already have.
If you don’t yet have any photography gear and you are looking for some advice, then check out my beginner astrophotography equipment guide.
As I said before, you don’t have to have a telescope to photograph the Andromeda galaxy. Of course, it all depends on the level of details you want to capture. The longer the focal length, the bigger “zoom” you have. But to photograph some level of details, I recommend a minimum 90mm lens.
Using the astrophotography “500 rule” and, let’s say, a 100mm lens, theoretically you can photograph the M31 without an equatorial mount. Calculate exposure time (500/100 = 5s), set very high ISO, and you are done. But the truth is, you won’t capture any details on that short exposure time. Unfortunately, to take a good photo of Andromeda galaxy with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, you need an equatorial mount. I use the Fornax Lightrack II, but you can select from many other entry-level options, including iOptron SkyTracker, Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer (plus a Mini version), or AstroTrac 360.
A stable tripod
I used to use a cheap tripod for my wide-filed (135mm) deep-sky astrophotography. In quietly, non-windy conditions, it worked. But any small breeze appeared, and my exposures were blurred. Today I use a very stable Manfrotto 475B and those annoying nights are gone.
An intervalometer (optional)
If you want to take a quality astro picture, then you have to stack many exposures into one frame. You can do, let’s say, 40 exposures manually. But you can just plug an intervalometer into your camera, program it to take exposures you want, and chill on the chair and watch the night sky when your rig is photographing on autopilot for you. I highly recommend using some kind of intervalometer for any astrophotography work.
Andromeda Galaxy photography settings
Generally, camera settings for deep-sky astrophotography depend on many factors:
- camera’s sensor noise
- lens focal length
- lens aperture
- equatorial mount periodic error
- (auto) guiding
I am not able to tell you what exact settings should you set your camera on. But I can give you a starting point to experiment with:
- Exposure time: 2 minutes (120s)
- ISO: 800
- Aperture: 2.0
If you have a 2.8 lens, then set ISO to 1600 OR extend the exposure time to 4 minutes (240s). Also check twice that you shoot in RAW mode because that way you will get the maximum quality. JPGs are not that good as RAWs.
My progress on photographing the Andromeda Galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy through a telescope
As you can have really nice results with a telephoto lens, using a small APO telescope will set the game to the whole new level.