How to view and photograph comets

McNaught's comet over lake
Image shows McNaught's comet over a lake (Image credit: Getty)

Comets can make fantastic subjects for astrophotographers thanks to the varying colors of their comas (the cloud of gas and dust that surrounds them) and the streaky dust tails produced by their close encounters with the Sun. However, comets are highly unpredictable, so it can be tricky to know which comets will be bright enough to photograph when they pass close by Earth. Sometimes, comets that are expected to be impressively bright end up fizzling out and becoming unremarkable, whilst, at other times, a comet that is thought to be fairly mundane suddenly flares up to glow at a magnitude that's visible to the unaided eye.

On this page, we're tracking the latest comet that's set to appear brightly in the night sky. We'll give you tips on where in the sky to look for it and what times and locations will be best for viewing. You'll also find plenty of general advice on how to get the best view of comets and the kind of telescopes or binoculars you can use to follow them as they get closer to Earth.

For those looking to photograph the latest comet, this guide will take you through all the equipment you'll need to capture the best shot, including cameras, lenses and other accessories. We'll also be sharing our top tips on composition, camera settings and other techniques to set you up for success and help you secure breathtaking comet photos.

How to view the latest comet: C/2023 A3 (TSUCHINSHAN-ATLAS)

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF photographed on Nov. 26, 2022 from Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF photographed on Nov. 26, 2022 from Yellow Springs, Ohio. (Image credit: John Chumack/ (Image credit: John Chumack/

C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS) is projected to be the next great comet. Some astronomers predict that it might even reach a brightness of magnitude 0 by the time of its closest approach to Earth on October 12, 2024. This would make it brighter than most stars and easily visible with the naked eye.

These hopes are founded on a favorable combination of a large nucleus and a very close approach to the Sun, which should allow the surface of the comet to heat up significantly before it passes close to Earth just two weeks later. As well as making it brighter, this should also allow it to develop an impressive cometary tail and offer some incredible photo opportunities. Although any projections made around comets can be highly unpredictable, with the possibility that C/2023 A3 may break up and become dimmer as it passes by the Sun instead, it certainly has the potential to be one of the most exciting comets of the decade.

C/2023 A3 is currently wending its way slowly between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars and is visible from Earth in the constellation of Virgo. It rises just before 8pm EST and reaches its maximum altitude of 45.9 degrees at around 1:30am EST, so late evening is your best bet for viewing it.

Telescopes and binoculars to view comets

Photographer using telescope under night sky

Using telescopes or binoculars can help improve faint views of comets. (Image credit: Getty)

Whilst C/2023 A3 is due to get very bright later in the year as it progresses closer to Earth, its current magnitude is only around +12, so you'll need a telescope with an aperture of around 6-inches (150mm) or larger in order to see it. By the time we reach July, it should be measuring about +8 to +9 in magnitude, making it visible with a good set of 10x42 binoculars. We've included some suggested products below, but if you want to explore further options, you can also check out our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars which feature several models that are excellent for viewing comets across a range of budgets.

The clearest opportunities for viewing and photographing C/2023 A3 will come in late September to early October when the comet will be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye and will hopefully feature a large and impressive tail. From November onwards, it will gradually lose brightness as it proceeds to exit the Solar System and it won't return for another 26,000 years, so if you're keen to capture the best photographs, make sure you don't miss this window of opportunity. It takes some preparation and planning to produce high-quality comet pictures, so you'll need to make sure you've got all the equipment you need ahead of time.

Camera equipment needed to photograph a comet

Photographer using camera on tripod under night sky

Dark sky locations can help cameras unearth hidden night sky details with long exposures. (Image credit: Getty)

There are two main ways to photograph comets successfully: with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a camera lens and a tripod, or with a camera/smartphone hooked up to a telescope.

Unsurprisingly, the best camera for photographing a comet is also one of the best cameras for astrophotography. This requires good sensitivity to light, utilizing a high ISO range, keeping noise to a minimum, and having a large image sensor (ideally 35mm full-frame or larger) for lower image noise and a propensity toward a wider dynamic range. 

See our two top suggestions below, but if you want to shop around, take a look at our guide to the best cameras for astrophotography.

There are several types of camera lenses suitable for comet photography, and which one you will use depends mostly on the brand of your camera system. However, on the whole, you want to look for a lens with a fast maximum aperture (f/2.8 or narrower) and has minimal chromatic aberration (color fringing) and optical distortion. See two suggestions below that are in our best lenses for astrophotography and best zoom lenses guides.

For the best images, you'll need either a DSLR/mirrorless camera or a dedicated CCD or CMOS camera attached to a long-focal-length telescope, all on a sturdy mount that isn't going to shake and is controlled by a laptop or tablet.

For comet photography through a telescope, we would recommend at least 4 -inches (100mm) aperture, a 1.25-inch eyepiece kit (as they fit the majority of telescopes), or binoculars that have large objective lenses with good magnification like 7x50 up to 20x80. See below for our specific recommendations on the latest and best telescopes, binoculars and accessories that will help you view comets.

Camera accessories for photographing comets

Camera on tripod and mount shooting night sky

Camera accessories aid in the photographing of comets and other night sky objects. (Image credit: Getty)

There is a bagful of camera accessories astrophotographers can buy to make comet photography easier. However, the key items to get to take better, more accurate astrophotos of comets are as follows.

Tripods and tripod heads

Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod: image shows Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod white background

The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod features in our Best tripods buying guide. (Image credit: Amazon)

A good tripod will keep the camera and lens stable even during strong winds. Long exposures are required when photographing comets because they are usually best viewed at night because they are pretty dim. If the camera moves during the exposure, the entire photograph will become blurred, so one of the best tripods for astrophotography will keep the camera stationary when shooting. Pay attention to the maximum payload of each tripod, though. The max payload can be calculated by adding the weight of your camera (with memory cards and battery inserted) and your lens, plus any accessories like lens warmers or star trackers. If the weight of all the gear you'll be using exceeds the tripod's maximum payload the tripod may be unstable and it is unlikely you will get sharp photographs of comets.

Star trackers

MoveShootMove Star Tracker review: image shows MoveShootMove Star Tracker

A star tracker, like the Move Shoot Move tracker pictured, will help reduce long exposure blur due to Earth's rotation. (Image credit: Dave Stevenson)

Star trackers are mounts that move with Earth's rotation to allow longer exposures (or multiple long exposures over several minutes or hours) of celestial objects. While they are designed for tracking stars, they may also help keep the frame steady when shooting comets, especially on long-focal-length telephoto lenses.

Remote shutter releases

Camera with intervalometer

A remote shutter release, like the wired one pictured here, reduces camera shake blur from pressing the shutter button when capturing long exposures of comets. (Image credit: Getty Images)

It's important not to knock the camera or lens during long exposures so as to avoid camera shake blur. That's why a remote shutter release should be used when photographing comets and all astrophotography subjects. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with wires that attach to proprietary ports on cameras but also in wireless models. We would recommend wireless models on the whole because it avoids the inevitable tangling of wires when shooting, but wired options are usually less expensive.

Camera lens filters

Camera accessory on white background

A light pollution filter can alleviate the problems with orange glow from the street lights of nearby cities and towns. (Image credit: Hoya)

There aren't many filters that are useful for comet photography. Neutral density filters make the scene darker so would actually hinder rather than help, and graduated neutral density filters are usually used to darken a bright sky which isn't a problem at night.

However, light pollution filters may prove beneficial to those who are forced to shoot comets near towns and cities with street lighting. The best light pollution filters help alleviate the orange glow found in astrophotos taken near light-polluted areas. Many photographers prefer to edit light pollution out in post-processing software such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop, but for those who want a running start or who prefer to avoid image editing altogether, light pollution filters are a safe bet.

Locations and times to view/photograph comets

Comet above valley fog in amongst mountains

Finding dramatic locations and landscapes to photograph comets from helps add overall context and impressiveness to photos. (Image credit: Getty)

Shooting locations vary wildly and depend on a comet's trajectory as it travels through space and past Earth. Keep an eye on the top of this page and on our other news stories to see where the latest comet is visible in the skies near you. However, there are some key tips on the best comet shooting locations.

The best location for photographing a comet is one that is dark and free from light pollution. Avoid cities and busy towns that have a lot of street lighting as light pollution will glow in the night sky. Instead, use a website like Dark Site Finder to find dark sky locations nearby and schedule a visit.

Comet over radio dish

A landmark can improve what would otherwise be a pedestrian comet photograph and turn it into something meaningful. (Image credit: Getty)

Cloudless nights are best, so use a weather app or check the local forecast before heading out. In the northern hemisphere, the winter months give longer nights, which offers greater opportunity for shooting comets and astrophotographs, but this often comes with colder temperatures and inclement weather, so dress appropriately.

Capturing the comet hanging in the sky on its own is fine for recording purposes, but to make a truly captivating image it may be worth pre-planning a shoot in order to include interesting foreground features. A simple landscape in the foreground adds context, but seeking out local landmarks and interesting land features will help push your comet photographs to the next level. Waterfalls, ruins, rock formations or even distant tall buildings (provided there isn't too much light pollution) can all give your comet photograph the wow factor.

Comet viewing opportunities you missed

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) photographed near the star iota Auriga on Feb. 8, 2023 from Payson, AZ. (Image credit: Chris Schur)

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), also known as the Green Comet, reached its perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun) on January 12, 2023, passing by close to Earth on February 1, 2023. It afforded us some fantastic photo opportunities thanks to its distinctive green glow, but it is now rapidly fading in brightness as it gains more and more distance from Earth.

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Jase Parnell-Brookes
Managing Editor, e-commerce

Jase Parnell-Brookes is the Managing Editor for e-commerce for Space and Live Science. Previously the Channel Editor for Cameras and Skywatching at Space, Jase has been an editor and contributing expert across a wide range of publications since 2010. Based in the UK, they are also an award-winning photographer and educator winning the Gold Prize award in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. After completing their Masters degree in 2011 and qualifying as a teacher in 2012, Jase has spent the last two decades studying and working in photography and publishing in multiple areas, and specializes in low light optics and camera systems.

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