The Pleiades

The Pleiades star tracker

The open cluster of the Pleiades is a captivating sight in the winter sky, with nebulosity visible even to the the naked eye. Longer exposures reveal the electric colour of the blue hot stars at the cluster’s heart. These bright stars make it tricky to capture the fainter wisps of nebulosity without causing excessive coma. Stopping the lens down to f4 (instead of the usual f2.8) helped a lot with this, but resulted in some diffraction spikes, which I actually think work nicely.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f4. 36 minutes (27 x 80 seconds) at iso 1600. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Pleiades-UGC2838 Just beside the Pleiades, next to the perfectly named Electra, lies one of the most distant galaxies I’ve yet managed to capture. Looking like a mere smudge in the image, edge-on galaxy UGC 2838, at 300 million light years distance, is an incredible 676 thousand times further away than the Pleiades themselves. At magnitude 17.88, it is also by far the faintest object I’ve knowingly photographed.


  1. Slavco Reply

    Hi, I am trying to build a barn door star tracker, so I am researching the Internets.
    The tutorial/instructions found on this site are different form the rest using an M8 bolt instead of M6 (or 1/4″ 200 this is the only metric tutorial). In the end of the instructions it is said that using M6 is better, but the distance from the hinge is still the same 274mm, while other tutorials state a distance of 290mm. DO you have any advice on this, or the difference of 15mm won’t make a difference?

    • Nick Reply

      Hi there,
      The 15mm will definitely make a difference to your tracking time. In my designs, the 274mm distance is the same for both the M6 and the M8 version, you’d just use the different MP3 beeps to keep the timing – you can download the MP3 for the M6 version here, and the M8 one here. With the M6 version, 1 turn of the handle is more than 1 minute, which gives it the potential to be more accurate.
      Good luck with the build!

  2. Slavco Reply

    Ok, than M6 at 274 mm it is. Thanks a lot Nick

  3. Slavco Reply

    Hi, me again 🙂
    I built the tracker, now it’s up to the weather conditions, however, I was looking through your gallery and I am wondering if you are using any extra filters to get the red light light of the spectrum Better, I was reading and it turns out it’s quite the hustle to achieve this. Also what software do you use for stacking the images of it’s not a secret.

    • Nick Reply

      Hey Slavco

      Red objects like the horsehead nebula are definitely more challenging for unmodified cameras like mine. If you have dark skies and can take longer exposures this will help a lot.

      I also use Photoshop to bring out as much of the red colour as I can, using selective colour tools etc. I’ll aim to put up a post on the techniques I use for image processing at some point – everyone has their own methods, but I’ve got a few tips up my sleeve.

      The didymium filter is mainly just a cheap version of a light pollution filter – if you have dark-ish skies you definitely shouldn’t need one of these. For stacking, I use Deep Sky Stacker which you can download for free. Pixinsight is another stacking app which is meant to be a lot better, but it costs a fair bit!

      • Slavco Reply

        Still the results you are getting with a non-modified camera are fantastic, I can’t wait for the weather to get better and I can get to dark skies with just a 15-20km drive. Plus I am looking for a didymium filter on eBay, won’t hurt to have one, and it’s not that expensive.

  4. Slavco Reply

    Never mind, I am reading your Equipment page. Thanks anyway, best site for astrophotographers

  5. Roy Reply

    Hi, I’m trying to build a tracker also but I calculated the arm lenght 228,5 mm with M6 bolt. Almost done, now waiting when the Moon is wanishing. Had opportunity to shot the Q2 Lovejoy at 4 times, unfortunately without a tail. This is my first attemt to shot Comets. You are getting with Your equpment fantastic results.My respect!

    • Nick Reply

      Thanks Roy. With the M6 tracker build you should be able to get results at least as good as the ones I have here. I’ve recently captured some better photos of Lovejoy too, so I’ll put another post up soon.. Hope the tracker build turns out well, and good luck shooting Lovejoy!

  6. William Reply

    Very impressive and beautiful photos throughout the website. Bravo from Seattle, USA.!

    • Nick Reply

      Thanks for the support William. It means a lot!

  7. Mark Harris Reply

    Thanks for a great web page. I have built a barn door tracker and had success with wide to normal lenses. Did you use a motorized tracker for your 180mm lens? Or are you able to manually turn your tracker every second? Almost seems to good to be true… I have an 85mm lens for m43 so this would be about the same focal length. Thanks for any tips.

    • Nick Reply

      Hi Mark. That’s no problem, thanks for the comment. I used the hand guided tracker for all photos on the website (up to 180mm focal length on 16mp crop sensor). I always keep the exposures to 30 seconds or below to increase the keeper rate. A steady hand and accurate polar alignment are also key. Every tracker will be different, but on mine there are certain parts of the rotation with less resistance, which I tend to get the best results from. The tracker I made was made more accurate thanks to a finer thread and a faster turn rate than the usual 1rpm (see build guide for specs). Hope that helps – Nick

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