There is little or no astronomical darkness at the beginning of July in northern latitudes, some astrophotographers this moon can be thought of as a write-off for creating images of the night sky. Incapable! July is one of the best few months of the year to capture the Milky Way high in the sky as seen from the northern hemisphere – and, crucially, its bright center – while July’s full ‘Super Buck Moon’ is one of the brightest but lowest -hanging of the year.
Add in multiple conjunctions between the planets and the moon, the first so-called supermoon of the year, the peak of the Delta Aquariids meteor shower and the second ‘Manhattanhenge’ of 2023 for New Yorkers and there’s plenty more to be excited about for astrophotographers in July 2023.
Read: A beginner’s guide to photographing the night sky
July 2-3: a full ‘Super Buck Moon’
Everyone knows that the sun reaches its highest point in the sky as late as the June solstice, but have you ever thought about the moon? Since the full moon is on the opposite side of the sun with respect to Earth, it follows that the ‘Buck Moon’ will be the lowest full moon of the year. It will also be the first of four supermoons, although detecting the slightly larger one (because it’s closer) to your eye is nearly impossible. Perhaps more importantly it will rise in its most southerly part of the year as seen from the northern hemisphere, which could provide some novel opportunities to catch the most important moment as it appears on the horizon alongside an interesting want something in front. Check your local moonrise time and the PhotoPills app and align the appearance of the ‘Buck Moon’ with something interesting – a building, mountain or a monument – for an unforgettable image. Note that although it technically becomes full on July 3rd, it will rise closest to sunset on July 2nd.
Read: How to photograph the full moon
July 12 and 13: ‘Manhattanhenge #2
For two consecutive sunsets a few weeks on either side of the summer solstice, the sun sets between skyscrapers on west-west streets in Manhattan, New York City. This is possible because the city streets on the grid are aligned with the cardinal points – and the June 21 solstice sees the sun set at its most north-western point before returning. Dr. Jackie Faherty at the American Museum of Natural History calculated that at these times you will see the phenomenon, although it is slightly different every night:
Read: Night photography techniques, tips and tricks
Sunday, July 9: Venus is shining
Venus has been hanging out in twilight after sunset throughout 2023, but that’s about to end. It’s crazy that it looks brightest as it recedes into a slim crescent (it’s only 25%-lit this week) – which is due to its reflective cloudy atmosphere. Look out for it before it sinks into the sunlight later this month, the better to use a high frame rate camera on a telescope to get it as a crescent.
Read: The best cameras for astrophotography
July 10: The dark window of the July sky opens
Today is the Last Quarter (or Third Quarter) Moon, which sees our satellite half-bright from our perspective and rises after midnight. That leaves the night sky devoid of moonlight, which is perfect for close-up astrophotography. It’s a good time to get out and photograph the Milky Way, though some crescent moonlight can help with some foreground lighting. Check a moon phase calculator when planning any landscape astrophotography trip – next week there will be a waning crescent moon in the southeast sky before dawn.
Read: The best lenses for astrophotography
July 17: New Moon and Perseids
As well as the date of the New Moon – the darkest night of the month – it’s also the start of the annual (and prolific) Perseid meteor shower. Peak night isn’t until August, but you may start seeing sporadic ‘shooting stars’ while out at night.
Read: How to photograph the spectacular Perseid meteor shower
July 19-21: Planets and a crescent moon
With Mars and Venus setting out of view and Mercury rising this week brings one last good chance to catch a wonderful view of the bright planets around a slim crescent moon after sunset. On Wednesday, the crescent moon is only 5% illuminated and close to Venus while on Friday it is 15% illuminated and aligned with all three planets.
Read: When to photograph the moon
July 29 and 30: Delta Aquariids meteor shower peaks
About 25 meteors per hour may be possible by midnight tonight as this relatively minor meteor shower peaks, but since the moon will be very bright, it won’t be easy. However, it doesn’t hurt to leave a camera in the backyard to take a few hours worth of long exposures – you might just catch a ‘shooting star’.
Read: How to photograph a meteor shower
Wide-angle shot of the moon: The galactic core of the Milky Way
The bright core of the Milky Way around the constellation Sagittarius is only visible at certain times of the year, but you also need darkness. So head somewhere really dark – with a light pollution map or choosing a Dark Sky Park yes Dark Sky Discovery Site – keeping in mind some major National Parks that are also Dark Sky Parks today prohibit the use of light painting to illuminate foregrounds and rock formations at night. Once you’re in the area, use PhotoPills, which has a useful Night AR feature that overlays the Milky Way on what you can see – and also shows how it will behave at night.
Read: How to photograph the Milky Way
The settings will depend on your lens and camera, but with a full-frame camera on a tripod wearing a wide-angle lens (14mm or more) you’ll want to start experimenting in manual mode with approx. ISO800-3200 and a shutter speed of about 25 seconds. If you want to go beyond that to get more details and colors from the core of our galaxy you will need to enter the world of star tracker camera mounts.
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The best star tracker camera mounts
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The best CCD cameras for astrophotography
The best defining ranges
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The best microscopes
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