Updated: Jul 14
Welcome to our guide about the easiest galaxies for beginners to photograph! We have selected what we believe are the best galaxies to attempt as a beginner astrophotographer. We will go through each of them and tell you why they can be imaged easily. We'll also tell you when they are available in the sky and some tips on how to get the best possible result!
Are you a complete beginner and do not own a telescope, a tracker or any filter yet? No problem! All the galaxies below can be photographed with a simple DSLR camera, affordable lens and tripod! We'll make sure to add an image with and without a telescope and tracker for each object.
Let's get started!
Messier 31 - The Andromeda Galaxy
Size: 177.8 x 69.7 arcmin
This wouldn't be a list of easy deep sky objects if we did not include the famous Andromeda Galaxy!
Messier 31 is often the first object captured by beginner astrophotographers, and it most likely will hook you for life! M31 is large, bright, and very impressive looking. It also has two small but luminous dwarf galaxies very close to it, M32 (partly hiding behind the spiral arms of M31) and M110 (the larger one, below the main galaxy).
The Andromeda Galaxy can be photographed with any instrument, and is also easy to capture using a DSLR camera and a tripod. We personally like to use a 50mm lens for this target when doing wide field astrophotography as it allows us to include another galaxy, Messier 33 in the same frame! More info on that below.
Left: Our image of M31 with just a DSRL and a tripod
Right: Our image of M31 with a DSLR and a telescope
Messier 33 - The Triangulum Galaxy
Size: 62.1 x 36.7 arcmin
Messier 33 is the second easiest galaxy to photograph and lies not too far from the Andromeda Galaxy. As we mentioned earlier, you can capture both M33 and M31 in the same frame if you are doing wide field astrophotography. You can see our image by visiting our full M33 blog post.
Below to the left you can see M33 photographed with just a tripod and DSLR camera, and no tracker. On the right is M33 with a DSLR camera once again, but this time attached to a telescope and a mount tracking the stars.
Left: An image of M33 with just a DSRL and a tripod, by "aquamarine_polyester"
Right: Our image of M33 with a DSLR and a telescope
NGC 292 & PGC17223 - The Magellanic Clouds
Magnitude: 2.7 & 0.9
Size: 299.9 x 179.9 arcmin & 645.6 x 549.5 arcmin
Constellation: Tucana & Dorado
The Magellanic Clouds are best photographed in WINTER (although they do not really set from most Southern locations)
Both Magellanic clouds are irregular dwarf galaxies orbiting our Milky Way. They are visible from the Southern Hemisphere and are very easy to photograph thanks to their size and brightness.
These objects are on our wish list if we ever travel to the south part of the world!
The Small and Large Magellanic Clouds may not be the most impressive targets out there, but long hours of exposure will reveal some incredible detail and spots of star formation, especially if using a Hydrogen Alpha filter!
The Large Magellanic cloud is huge, and spans over 20 full moons in the sky!
The two Magellanic Clouds untracked. Image by "Sayfog"
Messier 51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy
Size: 13.7 x 11.7 arcmin
Constellation: Canes Venatici
Messier 51 is actually two galaxies colliding, M51A (the larger one) and M51B (also known as NGC 5195, the smaller one being absorbed). This makes for a unique target that looks fantastic in photographs. The Whirlpool galaxy is really easy to find in the night sky, as it is located just by the famous Big Dipper.
This is a bright target that has two bright cores so make sure not to go crazy when you process your data or you might lose some detail in the center of M51A and M51B. This is a great object for any kind of astrophotography, with and without a telescope, and it is not too difficult to photograph untracked either. The main challenges lies in bringing out the faint gas that is seen expelling from each galaxy. This is something that is most likely impossible to reveal without a tracking mount.
The image on the left below was taken by Bryan Leonard. He used a DSLR camera and a 200mm lens at f/2.8 to capture the object. It is a total of 22 minutes and 22 seconds of exposure totaling 1342 frames at ISO 16000.
Left: An image of M51 with just a DSRL and a tripod, by Bryan Leonard
Right: Our image of M51 with a DSLR and a telescope
Messier 101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy
Size: 24.0 x 23.1 arcmin
Constellation: Ursa Major
The Pinwheel Galaxy is a large spiral galaxy that is seen perfectly face-on. There is also a bright dwarf galaxy very close to Messier 101 that can easily be captured, designated NGC 5474.
You can find the Pinwheel Galaxy near the famous double stars Alcor and Mizar in the Big Dipper asterism.
This object has a low surface brightness, meaning it is difficult to observe, but it actually is pretty bright when photographed!
The image on the left below is once again from Bryan Leonard. This time, it is a total of 38 minutes and 54 seconds of integration time.
Left: An image of M101 with just a DSRL and a tripod, by Bryan Leonard
Right: Our image of M101 with a DSLR and a telescope
Messier 81 & Messier 82 - Bode's Galaxy & The Cigar Galaxy
Magnitude: 8.5 & 9.5
Size: 21.6 x 11.2 arcmin & 11.0 x 5.1 arcmin
Constellation: Ursa Major
Yet another target in the constellation Ursa Major!
M81 (Bode's Galaxy) and M82 (The Cigar Galaxy) make up the most famous pair of galaxies in the night sky. Both are very different (M81 is a spiral galaxy seen face-on, M82 is a starburst galaxy seen edge-on) but very beautiful!
These two objects will fit nicely in most amateur telescope's field of view, and you should have no problem seeing them both if you are using a camera lens as well.
Are you an experienced astrophotographer? The two main challenges for you will be to reveal all the hydrogen alpha present in M82's starburst activity, which is possible if using an HA filter. The second, and hardest challenge will be to bring out the "IFN" (integrated flux nebula) all over the image. This is a part of the sky that has plenty of IFN and long hours of exposures with a Luminance filter should reveal it as long as you are imaging from a dark location.
If you are just getting started in the hobby, don't bother about these two difficult things and just have fun shooting what you can!
Left: Our image of M81 & M82 with just a DSRL and a tripod
Right: Our image of M81 & M82 with a DSLR and a telescope
We hope this guide was helpful, especially if you are a beginner astrophotographer! Depending on what time of the year it is, you might want to instead take a look at the easiest NEBULAE to capture! [post coming soon].
Also make sure to read our seasonal guides about the best targets to capture all year long.
GALACTIC HUNTER BOOKS
Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!
Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloguing photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.
Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order, so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing, and a learning journey through the ages.