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04-27-2016, 02:41 PM   #1
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How to point my camera at something particular in the sky?

Hello all,

Please forgive me if this is a super dump question. I googled it but could not find any straight forward answer. I started wide field astrophotography last summer. Beginner things such as capturing milkyway and shooting star trails etc. I always wanted to get a picture of Andromeda galaxy as it is probably one of the easiest galaxies to capture without using tracking mount or expensive telescopes. I saw a bunch of videos on youtube about shooting Andromeda Galaxy with a 200mm lens using stacking technique. I also have an astrotracer which would probably give me a little more advantage. The only thing I am unable to figure out is how to point my camera in the right direction? With the field of view being so narrow with a 200mm lens, how do I point my lens at the right spot without using a computerized mount. Any pointers?

Thank you.

04-27-2016, 03:27 PM   #2
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I'm planning to take the step into astrophotography soon so I can't tell you for sure if this will work properly. But my plan is to buy a hot shoe mount for a smartphone. Those can be had for very little money. I will then mount my phone to my camera and use a star mapping app like Sky Guide or Redshift to point the camera at what I want to shoot.
04-27-2016, 03:30 PM   #3
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You will need a planetarium program that can show you where your target is in the sky at your observing site. Many use Stelarium, I prefer the old version of Cartes du Ciel/Sky Chart (ver. 2.76), but there are many other freeware planetarium programs available - just Google for them.

Once you have found you target on your sky chart, you will notice which constellation to look for first and then some characteristic star patterns to follow that will lead you to your target. You may find one example here: How to Find the Andromeda Galaxy: 7 Steps (with Pictures)

With a 200mm lens, it isn't too difficult to 'star hop' to M31, but if you are not well versed in the Constellations (you WILL have to learn them!) and if you have never tried this before, you may find a hot shoe mounted red dot finder or a finder/spotting scope mounted in parallel with your camera to be of great assistance.

Good luck with your hunt! (And remember: All beginnings are difficult, but practise makes master....).
04-27-2016, 03:47 PM   #4
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I use a green laser pointer taped to the lens hood to figure out the general direction the camera is pointed in. Just be careful of planes overhead!

Even then there is some trial and error. I usually take a few shots at very high ISO to see if I have the target in the frame.

04-27-2016, 06:26 PM   #5
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Yes, do learn your constellations. This will take a while but after it has all sunk in, you will always know what part of the sky you are looking at. The best season to image M31 is the autumn in the northern hemisphere, then it will be high in the sky before midnight. Wait for the period a week either side of a New Moon to maximize your dark sky opportunities.
04-28-2016, 03:54 PM   #6
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I sometimes use "Sky map" app. on my galaxy s5. Works ok.
I also run "Orion starry night" on my PC.

Last edited by Ex Finn.; 04-28-2016 at 04:02 PM.
05-24-2016, 02:01 PM   #7
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If you have dark enough skies (and this is really a MUST) will be able to see it naked eye (as long as you know where to look). You then ought to be able to see it/find it through the view finder. Once there, use live view/zoom to verify & frame. Without tracking you will be limited to very short exposures. 1600 iso minimum, yet may want to do some @ 400 & 800 for the core area, and perhaps test out @ 3200.
05-25-2016, 10:44 AM   #8
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there is an app called Star Tracker (pro version is much more useful)
you point your cell phone in the air and it will show you where the stars etc. are, even indoors!


05-31-2016, 12:09 PM   #9
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Good comments here. Do learn the constellations, there are plenty star chart programs out there, I like K Stars. Originally developed for Linux it was ported to Windows a while back.

Here's how I find Andromeda.

Find Cassiopeia. At one end is a triangle of stars. When Andromeda is visible it should be a the top. The star on the right points almost straight at Andromeda. Follow that imaginary line to the right until you get into the next constellation, I can't remember its name but it's basically a large rectangle. If you find the two end stars of the lower line, Andromeda is about 1/3 of the way from the end furthest from Cassiopeia. On a dark night, usually in the dead of winter, you should be able to see it with the naked eye as a fuzzy spot in the sky. Once you learn what those two constellations look like, it takes about 10 seconds to find.

At the other end of Cassiopeia is a cool star cluster named the Double Cluster. Not hard to find, sometimes barely visible by naked eye as a fuzzy spot. I haven't tried, but it might be possible to get a picture of it too. Not hard to find with a telescope though.

Another interesting one might be the Hercules Cluster, I thought it was a star cluster then found out it's actually a galaxy cluster. Look for it in a star chart program in the Hercules constellation.

Another very interesting one, and probably the most photographed deep space object, is the Orion Nebula. It's in the Orion constellation, one of the easiest to identify. Look just below Orion's "belt" for a group of stars in a straight line pointing mostly downwards, the "sword". The nebula is right there. I found it by accident star hopping one night, thought I had a smudge on my lens. Cleaned the lens and it was still there so I looked it up in Kstars...

Planets are actually more difficult to find, but once you learn their path, it's easier. Planets follow the same path, and it's the same path as the moon. Learn where the moon rises and sets, the planets all follow that same basic track. Some are easy to spot, some can only be seen with a telescope. Jupiter, Venus and Mars are easiest. Jupiter and Venus will often be the brightest objects in the sky except for the moon, and Mars has a reddish tint. Don't expect to get a sharp picture of Venus, it's too close to the sun and surrounded by clouds, I've never gotten a sharp view of it with my telescope. Mine is a 6 inch, I've looked with a 8 inch and a 12 inch, always fuzzy no matter what lens I use. I found Saturn by accident star hopping too, it was much closer to earth than it is now, and as bright as Jupiter, I thought I'd look at that bright "star"...I had also just changed lenses, so I had to refocus. As I got close to focused I realized it was oval...what the??? It turned out to be Saturn. It's very impressive. I was at a friend's house, just showing him around the sky a little. Moon, Orion, simple, basic stuff. I barely knew my way around a little. After seeing Saturn, he was looking for a telescope the next day...
06-16-2016, 10:25 PM   #10
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I use one of these attached to the hot shoe. Apologies for the ebay link, it was the only image I could find.

Linhof Wire Sports Finder 1 | eBay

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