North America nebula

north america nebula barn door tracker

The Sun sets by mid afternoon this time of the year in the north of the UK. This is not good news for SAD sufferers, but it’s great for astrophotography!

Because of the long nights, the summer constellations sit high in the late afternoon/early evening sky well into January. This gave me chance to revisit Cygnus a few nights ago to see if I could improve on previous efforts.

The image above is a stack of 120 x 30 second images taken over two nights. I’m amazed by the detail (once again) when compared to earlier attempts. This extra detail is mostly down to the longer total exposure time of 1 hour. Along with the 180mm f2.8 ED lens which is much more suited to the job than the kit lens I used before.

It also goes to show that you don’t need an expensive telescope to see the best of the night sky. You’re often better off with just a regular camera and lens as many objects such as the North America Nebula are much bigger than you might think.

Details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 1 hour (120 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.


  1. Pierre Naccache Reply

    Love your photos !
    By chance, I just assembled almost the same equipment: D7100, 180mm F2.8 lens, no didymium filter yet, iOptron Skytracker (yes, I am lazy). Then I found your neat site.
    Wondering: how do you automate taking n shots ? Just got Controlmynikon for that purpose, but it’s not working (with bulb mode and the intervalometer, shot 1 is correct then all shots fevert fo much higher shutter speeds… Just wrote to Controlmynikon. No answer yet).
    Think is: I live in Quebec and the winter is, well, pretty cold… Would be great to be able to heat myself in the car once in a while when the temperature is -10C).

    • Nick Reply

      Hi Pierre – glad you like the pics 🙂

      For exposures of 30 seconds or less I just use the D7000’s inbuilt intervalometer. For longer ones I use a remote release which automates the process nicely, and can be cheaply on eBay. Not sure if it’s the same with the tethering software, but I just put it in manual/bulb mode and program the shutter times via the remote.

      I would love a Skytracker or Astrotrac myself and be able to leave them going while I relax somewhere nice and warm. But our winters are nothing compared to Canadas. Plus they’re a bit on the pricey side, and to be honest, I’m a bit tight!

      Let me know how you get on.


  2. Pierre Naccache Reply

    Thanks for your answer.
    After I posted my message, I found the Vello Shutterboss. Is that what you use ?
    (I am starting to love the skytracker. Not hard to setup and, for what I can judge so far, it seems to do a good job for at least 2 minutes. Plus it supports well the weight of the D7100+ball head + the lens … Sure it is expensive but before that I was considering an APO refractor. My estimates were that I needed to spend +-3K$ without counting the guiding equipment… So the Skytracker is very cheap seen this way.)
    Cold is definitely an issue here. Spent a couple of hours at -14C the other day. Hum, I was well dressed ! Got neat individual shots of Orion (but not as good as the one you published). Had great hopes of improving with DSS. But nopes, no improvement. Will keep on it !!!

    • Nick Reply

      No worries. My remote release looks identical to the Shutterboss, except it’s unbranded. I’m guessing it’s a cheap Chinese knock-off, but it works well enough!

      I was pretty underwhelmed with my first Deep Sky Stacker results too. The initial output is always really dark, but if your individual shots look good then the data is definitely there. You just need to crank up the levels to bring out all the detail. If you have some photo editing software like Photoshop or GIMP, that’s the best way to get the extra detail and correct the colours etc.

      There’s some great advice and guides for astrophotography on reddit if you’re looking for processing or stacking tips.

  3. Pierre Naccache Reply

    Hi Nick
    If you dont mind, I would like to ask you a couple of questions (about astrophotography) directly on email (but I dont have your address whereas you have mine).
    It’s been way too cold to consider going out at night (-26C yesterday evening ! and the last time I went out, it was -14C and my D7100 just froze after an hour and a half with a neat ERR message)

    • Nick Reply

      Wow -26c is pretty chilly! The camera should cope just fine, but the battery might struggle after a while in those temperatures..
      No worries about the questions, you can email me at nick[at]noctilove.co.uk

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