Astrophotography Without Tracking – Easy

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There are times when you might want to consider doing astrophotography without tracking. These are for a beginner when you don’t have the equipment and are wondering how to get started or if you are travelling somewhere without all your equipment. Is it possible to do astrophotography with a camera, tripod, and no tracker?

You can do astrophotography without a star tracker by attaching a DSLR camera to a sturdy tripod. This will limit the length of your exposures to 15-20 seconds. With a lens of 17–24mm, stacking hundreds of photos will create a good image of the Milky Way. Deep Sky targets need bigger lenses and shorter subs.

If you want to take amazing photos of the night sky without tracking, you need an astrophotography DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens. Check out this Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens (shop now at Amazon) and see the difference.

We do need to look into this question much deeper because there are many variables that can make astrophotography harder without a star tracker mount. There is a lot more to answering this entirely, so stick with me. This page is filled not only with what you need to know but also with what I have learned through my own experience and research into this question of tracking.

Why do We Use Tracking?

The reason we need a star tracker mount is that astronomical objects in the sky are moving, generally from east to west, depending on where in the sky the object or star is. This movement happens because our planet is rotating. In the Northern Hemisphere, where I live, stars and other objects in the sky appear to rotate around a point near Polaris, the North Star which we can also call the Polar Axis.

In order to counteract the rotation of the stars, we need to use a star tracker mount that follows the movement of the stars and moves in the opposite direction to keep the object in the centre of the field of view.

telescope with az-alt mount tracking
Telescope, DSLR and AZ-ALT tracking mount

Another reason we use a star tracker mount is to enable us to take long exposures to photograph faint objects in the sky and capture their fine details. Without a star tracker, we will get star trails and blurry images with less detail. Most telescopes, but not all, are sold with a tracking mount, but you can also buy a portable star tracker such as the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer.

Star Adventurer Tracking Mount
  • Includes counterweight, CW bar, tripod, and pier extension
  • Goto system
  • Lightweight
  • Great product!
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Astrophotography without tracking is possible, but then we are limited to exposures no longer than about 30 seconds.

My research into this revealed that I could take up to 20-second exposures with a 17 or 24-mm lens on my astrophotography DSLR, a Canon 600D, with no star tracker as I attempted to image the Milky Way. This was possible because my target was generally high in the sky. I couldn’t see any trailing in the stars despite not using a tracker mount.

In March 2022, I went to Bali and experimented with astrophotography using a 50mm focal length lens and a DSLR with a tripod to photograph the Orion Nebula and Horsehead Nebula. I took 435 5-second exposures. Although the picture came out brilliantly on close inspection when zoomed in, the stars were trailing slightly even after 5 seconds of exposure time!

Image of Orion example of astrophotography without tracking
Orion Nebula shot by Karl Perera in Bali 435 x 5 sec.

When I photographed these two objects, I noticed they were low on the horizon and eventually heading towards setting. This may have been a reason why even 5 seconds of astrophotography without tracking was still causing small amounts of star trailing.

What is your Astrophotography Target?

Whether or not you can image the night sky without a star tracker depends on your target. Some targets, such as deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae, are so far away that they are extremely faint, so hours of integration time are usually necessary. For extremely difficult-to-image targets, it is best to use longer exposures in the minutes to get a quality image, but you can image these with much shorter untracked images if you take hundreds or even thousands of photos.

The target mentioned above, the Orion nebula, is very bright and not so far away, so short exposures can work. So to capture these kinds of bright targets, you do not need to use tracking.

Galaxies, apart from Andromeda, which is both massive and can be seen with the naked eye in dark skies, need longer exposures of one minute or more and several hours of exposure.

A Helpful Video about untracked astrophotography imaging is this one by Nico Carver:

What Camera and Lens Will You Use?

If you clicked on the link above and watched Nico Carver’s video, then you’ll have already heard him discuss the equipment you need for this kind of astrophotography. But read on, because there is a lot more to come from my experience taking astrophotos without a star tracker mount.

Doing astrophotography without a tracker is usually easiest with a DSLR camera and lens. To find out what makes a good astrophotography DSLR camera, click here. The reason is that a camera and lens usually weigh less than a telescope and camera and therefore can sit comfortably on a sturdy tripod. A telescope is heavy and long and usually needs to be well-balanced on a mount that can also include a tracking motor.

A sturdy tripod is essential for astrophotography without tracking. It will keep your camera stable and prevent blurry images. This Neewer Carbon Fiber 66 inches/168 centimeters Camera Tripod Monopod (shop now at Amazon) is a lightweight and durable tripod that can support your camera and lens.

If your lens is below about 200 mm in focal length, you can usually just point and shoot. There is no need to carefully locate objects in the sky. Also, the lower the focal length, the less obvious any star trailing will be in an image.

It is possible to image with as few as one-second exposures, and provided you have a sufficiently large number of images, you can do astrophotography without tracking. The problem is you will have thousands of images that are difficult to store and will take a long time to stack, but it can be done.

Here’s an excellent astrophotography DSLR + lens to get started with: Shop at Amazon:

Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera and two lenses
  • 24.1 MP resolution
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • 1080p video
  • 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses
  • Approx. $600
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Is Astrophotography without Tracking Possible?

Yes, it is. But is this practical? My telescope has a focal length of 650mm, so the longest I would be able to expose without any tracking could be as low as one or two seconds. My experience is that I’d need many images, and the result could never be as good as with longer exposures of a minute or longer each. My recommendation is: don’t do it. Stick to a wide-field DSLR and lens only.

It is also possible to use a manual form of tracking, and many basic telescope mounts offer this facility. This is normally more suited to observing objects because astrophotography usually requires long exposures.

Manual tracking requires that you turn a control at regular intervals that move the mount on one axis to follow the movement of the stars around the celestial pole. Of course, the mount must be polar aligned first. 

The 500 Rule

If you plan to do astrophotography without tracking, you need to know how long you can make your exposures to avoid any star trails. The formula to do this is called the 500 rule.

Simply divide 500 by your focal length, and this will tell you how many seconds you can expose without star trails in your image. Therefore, the longer the focal length of the lens, the shorter the exposure time becomes without a star tracker. The opposite is also true.

To be on the safe side, the third column in the above table would ensure that your stars are sharp and round with no trailing.


If you’re just trying astrophotography for the first time or if you have not got your trusty star tracker mount with you, you can still enjoy astrophotography without a tracker. Just be prepared for lots and lots of images at really short exposures! Clear skies!

My project-1