Best Astrophotography Targets in September 2023

For astrophotographers, September brings a bounty of spectacular cosmic objects into the ideal observing position. The changing night sky offers new challenges and photo opportunities as summer transitions to fall. The Milky Way shifts toward the horizon, revealing more of its dusty depths. Planets put on dramatic displays. And Orion and other iconic constellations return to the eastern sky.

This month presents fantastic chances to capture breathtaking images of a variety of celestial phenomena. From the bright jewels of our solar system to faraway galaxies and colorful nebulae, September provides prime targets for astrophotography. Cooler nights create comfortable conditions for imaging from dusk until dawn. In this article, we’ll explore some of the top astrophotography opportunities in September and offer tips to help you plan a successful session. Whether a beginner or a seasoned pro, you’ll discover inspiring subjects to aim your lenses and telescopes toward. Let’s preview the cosmic wonders not to miss this month!

The Milky Way

As summer transitions to autumn in the northern hemisphere, the Milky Way galaxy shifts toward the southwest horizon after dusk. By mid-evening in September, the galactic center region that housed bright nebulae is setting.

However, this positioning reveals even more of the Milky Way’s expansive disc stretching overhead through the constellations Aquila, Cygnus, Perseus, and Cassiopeia. Darker dust lanes also come into view, providing the chance to photograph dark nebulae like the Great Rift.

For photography, the summer Milky Way still shines brightly in the early evening. Use wide field lenses to capture its layered structure and dust clouds in vivid color before moonrise. Creative compositions at this time of year frame the galaxy rising or setting over mountains, trees, or architecture.

The galactic center remains visible in the early morning before sunrise. Experiment with short exposures and high ISOs like 6400 to image central regions growing faint. September brings optimal Milky Way positioning to showcase its full extent.

Bright Planets

In addition to the Milky Way, September provides prime planetary photography opportunities as Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn shine bright in the night sky.

Mars reaches opposition on September 18th, when it will appear biggest and brightest in the sky all year. The red planet is poised for photography all month long, with features like its polar ice caps and vast Valles Marineris canyon visible through telescopes.

Jupiter and Saturn appear in the southern sky after sunset. Jupiter is at its largest apparent size. Both gas giants exhibit cloud bands and storms ideal for imaging.

Saturn. Best Astrophotography Targets in September 2023.
Saturn in September. Image credit Brandon Ghany on Flikr.

The crescent moon passes Venus on September 23rd, then Saturn on the 25th, creating brilliant pairings. Don’t neglect our own lunar neighbor – its craters and phases make dramatic subjects all month.

For planetary close-ups, employ telephoto lenses from 100-400mm. Use stacking techniques to sharpen detail and reduce noise. No matter your experience level, September offers outstanding opportunities to photograph worlds close to home.

Deep Sky Objects

September brings prime visibility for imaging a variety of deep sky objects, including colorful nebulae, distant galaxies, and star clusters. Photographing a diversity of targets allows astrophotographers to hone techniques. Here are some specific objects and tips:

Nebulae – In Sagittarius, capture the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and its nearby Trifid Nebula (M20) before they sink lower each evening. Their glowing hydrogen gas clouds make jaw-dropping targets. The Swan Nebula (M17) and Eagle Nebula (M16) also exhibit stunning gas and dust formations.

Galaxies – The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) in Andromeda rises earlier for photography in long exposures. With a fast wide-angle lens you can capture the Milky Way hovering above this spiral neighbor. The distant Pinwheel Galaxy (M33) in Triangulum also climbs higher.

Check out our ultimate guide to photographing galaxies.

Star Clusters – Look to Cassiopeia and Perseus for open clusters like the Double Cluster (Caldwell 14). Heart Nebula (IC 1805) and Soul Nebula (IC 1848) showcase clustered newly formed stars. Don’t neglect favorites like the Pleiades (M45) as winter nears.

Best Astrophotography Targets in September 2023. The Double Cluster (Caldwell 14).
The Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) is the common name for the open clusters NGC 869 and NGC 884 (also h Persei and χ Persei) which are close together in the constellation Perseus at 7,500 light years. Image credit Giuseppe Donatiello on Flikr.

Shoot wider fields with faster lenses to capture nebulae immersed in starscapes. Switch to telephoto lenses on tracked mounts to isolate smaller galaxies and bring out faint details by stacking multiple short exposures. Meticulous post-processing can further tease out highlights. September provides ideal visibility to photograph deep sky wonders before winter arrives.

Fall Constellations

As summer shifts to autumn, familiar winter constellations make their return to the eastern sky by September. Photographing these star patterns and their jewel-like stars provides opportunities for compelling compositions.

Orion, perhaps the most famous and easily recognized constellation, comes back into view in the pre-dawn hours. The three belt stars aligned in a row serve as an anchor when photographing Orion rising or setting.

Best Astrophotography Targets in September 2023. Orion constellation.
Orion Constellation. Image from Stellarium.

Taurus, marked by the bright orange star Aldebaran, contains the stellar Pleiades star cluster. The constellation Cassiopeia the Queen offers dense star fields.

Pre-dawn observations can capture brilliant planets like Mars and Jupiter amid these seasonal constellations as they rise in the east. Creative astrophotographers can use the return of these star patterns to craft inspiring images.

Astrophotography Planning

Proper planning is key to maximizing your chances of capturing phenomenal astrophotography images during ideal conditions. Here are some tips for planning a successful session:

Use software like Stellarium to simulate the night sky and preview when targets will be optimally positioned. Account for your specific latitude and elevation.

Review weather forecasts frequently and choose clear nights best suited for imaging. Having flexibility helps target ideal conditions.

Check the moon phase calendar to plan new moon windows for dark skies when photographing fainter deep-sky objects.

Scout locations ahead of time to identify vantage points with minimal light pollution and exciting compositions to include.

As seasons change, the celestial landscape shifts. Planning allows astrophotographers to adapt and take advantage of seasonal night skies. Patience and persistence are rewarded with fantastic images.


As summer transitions to fall, September brings magnificent new astrophotography opportunities. The Milky Way shifts to reveal its full extent from overhead to horizon. Planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn shine at their brightest. Nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters congregate in prominent seasonal constellations.

This month provides ideal conditions to capture stunning portraits of our solar system while also photographing deep sky wonders. With proper planning and preparation, astrophotographers can create inspiring images to recap the celestial highlights of summer while welcoming the coming autumn night sky.

The changing seasons bring fresh photographic potential. As new cosmic subjects come into view, September invites us to look up and admire the splendors painted across the universe around us.