Planning astroimaging sessions is important to make the most of your time under the stars. Charles Bracken’s The Astrophotography Planner is a useful tool, available as a paperback book or, as reviewed here, a custom PDF customized for your location.
Which target to image next? It’s a question astrophotographers often have to tackle, working out the optimal deep sky objects to collect photons from, potentially over many weeks. There are various tools to help, such as the website Telescopius, but if you want a more traditional approach then it’s worth considering The Astrophotography Planner.
It’s available as a paperback from Amazon for $23.99, but for just $19.99 you can order a Custom Digital Edition directly from the author. This PDF document contains bespoke charts for your specific observing location, plus extras such as Moon data. To receive the Custom Digital Edition, you need to follow a few simple instructions to give the author some information. The turnaround time is given as one to four days but mine arrived in my email inbox exactly four hours after making payment. Impressive!
The Planner includes 166 pages of useful information and charts covering 87 key areas of the sky in the northern hemisphere. If you’re in the southern hemisphere then unfortunately this isn’t the book for you. Content is designed for astrophotographers rather than visual observers, as the title suggests. I found the overview page to be particularly well-designed, allowing you to see at a glance which targets are in the best locations, i.e., have the most hours of darkness, at any given time of the year.
Each target has its own dedicated two-page section, with charts showing how many hours of quality imaging time you can expect on any given date; the rise, set, and transit time; and a map of the object’s location. It doesn’t take into account your own skyline though, so that big tree or neighbor’s house still need to be factored in. I find that making a custom landscape in Stellarium (instructions here) helps.
The author has also included brief notes for each target to help astrophotographers. These are insightful and well worth reading. For example, The Dark Shark includes the advice “Starless processing is the best way to stretch the nebulosity enough without blowing out the stars. The contrast of blue reflection nebula and blue and orange stars with the drab shark can be very pretty if you can keep the chrominance noise down.” The Cave Nebula has the tip, “For narrowband imaging, the SII and OIII signals are particularly weak, so allocate at least double the integration time to them vs. H-alpha.” I wish these sections were expanded as they can really help steer an astroimager in the right direction.
As good as The Astrophotography Planner is, there’s a distinct lack of actual astrophotos. The wonderful front cover is as far as astroimages go. The rest of the Planner is text and diagrams, and while these are understandably the focus, I’d have liked to see some example images for each target, perhaps using different equipment.
As it stands, The Astrophotography Planner Custom Digital Edition is a very useful starting point to choose your next imaging project, but it is best used in conjunction with additional research. Note that data is given for the current year, plus the next two years. This makes a purchase in January the best option!
* Helpful for planning astroimaging sessions
* Useful additional information for every target
* No example astrophotos
* Not suitable for observers in the southern hemisphere