For astrophotographers, the month of August offers excellent opportunities to capture stunning celestial images. With the Milky Way on full display, bright planets visible for most of the night, and meteor showers peaking, there are many exciting targets to train your lens on. From the core of our home galaxy to dazzling nebulae and far-distant galaxies, August provides ideal conditions for imaging a variety of deep sky objects.
In this article, we will highlight the top astrophotography targets for August 2023 and offer tips on when and how to photograph them. Whether you’re looking to capture your first images of other worlds or compose artistic visions of the cosmos, you’ll discover inspiring celestial subjects to point your camera toward this month. As an added benefit, August offers pleasantly warm nights perfect for late hours spent under the stars with your gear. Let’s explore some of the standout objects on August’s astronomical observing menu.
The Milky Way
One of the most spectacular astrophotography subjects in August is the Milky Way galaxy. As our home galaxy, the Milky Way contains over 200 billion stars and stretches over 100,000 light years across. During August, the core region of the Milky Way is oriented for prime viewing.
The Milky Way’s center passes nearly overhead starting around 9 pm local time at mid-northern latitudes. This provides the opportunity for dramatic wide field images, especially in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. Targets like the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae and colorful Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex come alive with a camera lens aimed near the dense galactic core.
For photography, aim for moonless nights to avoid light interference. Longer exposures ranging from 20-120 seconds at mid to high ISOs like 800-3200 bring out vivid details in the Milky Way’s gaseous arms and star clouds. Experiment with camera angles, foreground elements, and stacking multiple shorter exposures for noise reduction. August delivers ideal Milky Way photography conditions.
In addition to the Milky Way, August brings great visibility for the brightest planets in our solar system. These provide the opportunity for amazing planetary photography.
Venus reaches its greatest eastern elongation on August 13th, meaning it will appear furthest from the Sun in the evening sky. Look for brilliant Venus above the western horizon at sunset for striking photos.
Jupiter and Saturn rise around sunset and remain visible all night. Both gas giants exhibit storied surface cloud bands and moon activity. Jupiter reaches opposition on August 19th, so it will be at its biggest and brightest for the year.
The crescent moon passes near each of these planets on various dates, creating the chance for spectacular pairings. Be sure to capture the moon’s progression through phases and golden hues around sunrise or sunset.
For close ups on the planets and moon, use telephoto lenses in the 200mm to 800mm range. Employ stacking to master their motion relative to Earth. No matter your experience level, August brings amazing chances to photograph our neighborhood in space.
Deep Sky Objects
Looking beyond our solar system, August opens the door for photography of magnificent deep sky objects like galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.
With the Milky Way’s galactic core visible, mesmerizing nebulae like the Lagoon (M8), Trifid (M20), and Eagle (M16) Nebula shine in the constellation Sagittarius. These glowing star nurseries demonstrate the colorful chaos of gas and dust formations.
Prominent summer constellations also house standout galaxies like M51, M101, and M104 perfect for astrophotography. Use tracking mounts and stack multiple short exposures to draw out faint details in their swirling arms.
Open clusters like M11 and globular clusters including M13, M92, and M56 populate the summer Milky Way. Frame them amidst bold star fields.
Photographing a diversity of deep sky objects allows you to develop techniques for imaging galaxies compared to bright nebulae versus concentrated star clusters. August serves up plenty of magnificent subjects to hone your skills.
Perseid Meteor Shower
One of the most popular and prolific annual celestial events reaches its peak in mid-August – the Perseid meteor shower. Caused by debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are active throughout July and August but culminate in a spectacular display on the night of August 12-13.
Under ideal dark sky conditions, observers can witness over 100 meteors per hour during the peak. The Perseids are sought after for their frequency, brightness, and streaks that regularly leave long-lasting trains.
Capturing photos of meteors requires luck and patience. Use wide-angle DSLR lenses around 14-35mm with wide apertures of f/2.8 or faster. Choose high ISO settings from 1600 to 6400 and exposures from 5-30 seconds. Try composing with a fixed tripod to include landscape in the foreground as a reference. While challenging, successfully imaging Perseids can result in stunning photos.
To maximize success in photographing astronomical targets, thorough planning is essential.
Use planetarium software like Stellarium to preview the optimal positioning of celestial objects on prospective dates. Check the moon phase calendar and weather forecasts to identify the best conditions. Scout locations in advance to find dark sites with compelling compositions.
Having contingency plans allows you to adapt to changing conditions and still make the most of your night imaging. Solid preparation leads to the greatest astrophotography results.
August provides astrophotographers with ideal conditions to capture stunning images of a variety of cosmic subjects. The summer Milky Way glows brightly overhead, planets put on a dazzling show, and the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak. From our home galaxy’s core to well-known nebulae and faraway galaxies, there are many compelling targets to point your lenses and telescopes toward.
By understanding the best objects visible in August’s night sky and how to photograph them, you can create inspiring astronomical images. Don’t miss your chance this month to capture unique views of the universe’s wonders. As the summer season continues, keep an eye out for changing celestial scenery in September’s skies as well. Wherever you look up, the cosmos provides endless creativity and beauty waiting to be imaged.