The Orion Nebula via DSLR Camera

The Orion Nebula, M42, plus surrounding stars. Click for full-sized image.

April 5th, 2020, 8:40 p.m. local time

On Sunday night, in addition to imaging Venus, the Pleiades, and the Moon, I also pointed the camera towards the Orion Nebula.  This was mostly an experiment, as I had never imaged M42 without the aid of a telescope.

As this time of year, the Orion Constellation is falling into the West after Dusk.  So the nebula, along with the surrounding stars that make up Orion’s sword, are at an angle towards your right.  This is in the Northern Hemisphere; in the Southern, I assume the configuration is “upside down” and would be angled towards your left.

I took a number of images of the nebula, playing around with the exposure and ISO settings.  The image included with this post is the best in my opinion, with only some minor post-processing touchups in an attempt to remove background noise.

I would like to do long-exposure stacking of deep sky objects again, but my “new” DSLR camera only outputs raw images in a format (CR3) that my software programs cannot handle.  The old standard was CR2.  I haven’t checked recently if any programs like DeepSkyStacker now support CR3, but I should.

Image settings for reference:

  • f/5.6
  • 2 sec exposure
  • ISO 3200
  • 260mm lens length
  • Minor post-processing in PaintShop Pro

Morning Moon and Orion, Accentuated Stars

Click to see full-sized image.

September 23rd, 2019, 06:00 a.m. local time

Early mornings on early Fall days.  These are great because they offer pre-dawn viewing of Orion high in the Southern Sky, here in the Northern Hemisphere.  This morning, the Moon was close by, so I quickly took the above picture with NightCap on my iPhone.

Besides the Moon and Orion, you also can see Aldebaran in the top right.  To the bottom left is another star, which I think may be Procyon of Canis Minor.  Sirius hung just below Orion and out of the picture, as it was behind trees.

I performed minor touchups to this image to “push out” the key stars, to make them more visible, so that you can see their position relative to the Moon.  I did this by increasing the Soft Focus in PaintShop Pro to just the selected star areas, several times over.  Generally, I don’t like to touch up images like this, but I felt it at least added a little perspective with the Moon nearby.

Sorrows of Light

Click for full-sized image.

October 29th, 2018, 6:00 a.m. local time

A melancholy view of the early predawn sky brooded over the parking lot.  Two demon eyes joined a larger hoard spreading their sickly orange blight to mask the remarkable luminescence above.

Most unfortunate is that the blinding unshielded lamps and dearth star field were exactly all that could be seen through the glare.

On a small screen, you should be able to see Sirius, brightest star in all our skies, to the left.  The full-sized image will reveal the constellation Orion in the middle, and in the upper right is the famous star of Taurus, Aldebaran.

Re-Imagining Orion

Click to see the full image.

March 3rd, 2018, 08:20 p.m. local time

After I took my first true pictures of Orion early last week, while I was pleased with the results, I felt the images were still lacking, particularly in background star detail.  On Saturday, I took to shooting Orion again, with my same new lens.  This time, I bumped the focal stop all the way down to f/2.8 and the ISO to 400.  I then stacked 30 25-second images in DeepSkyStacker.  For the next several days, I played around with the resulting image mightily in PaintShop Pro.  Subtracting light pollution, adjusting levels and curves, experimenting with colors, and trying to accentuate the brightest stars.

I have realized within the last 48 hours that there are infinite routes to take when editing astrophotography in post processing, particularly wide field views.  Imagination and artistry combined.  I feel this image provides more detail than my last Orion.  Likely, I will continue to experiment.

Constellations VII: Orion and Taurus

Closeup of Orion.

February 26th, 2018, 08:15 p.m. local time

Finally, for one night, the weather was great (likely above 45 degrees F), no wind, and an amazingly clear sky.  This is the best time of year for stargazing where I am, when the weather permits, because there are neither bugs nor humidity to combat.  If this had not been a school night, I would have pulled out my big telescope, waited the 45 minutes for it to cool down, and then observed the sky for as long as I could.

The only damper was the Moon, days away from Full, lighting up everything.

Waxing Moon notwithstanding, these conditions were perfect for tripoding my camera and trying out my new wide-field lens.  I upgraded over the stock lens of my DSLR camera last month and have have been eager to use it.  This night’s session was mostly a test of the new lens.

Here is the full image:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Orion with Taurus was the perfect target.  What most impressed me about this image, which is a single post-processed shot, are the colors.  The oranges of the giants Betelgeuse and Aldebaran, the blues of the young stars in the Pleiades.  They all pop out vibrantly.

This is a 20-second exposure and remarkably only ISO 100.  I think there is room for bringing out even more details if I bump up the ISO more and play with the focal length, set at f/2.8 for this image.  It’s worth noting here that I did try image stacking at ISO 1600 with a much higher focal length, but the end results seemed dull compared to this single shot image.  I have work to do to figure out how to take advantage of my new lens in conjunction with image stacking.

Other constellations are visible as well.  In the extreme upper left is the star Procyon and its constellation Canis Minor.  To the left of Orion, very faint, is Monoceros.  Below Orion you can see the top of Lepus, and next to that is the end tip of Eridanus.  I admit that I never thought about Lepus (a hare), Monoceros (a unicorn), and Eridanus (a river) until now.  They are simply too faint and not in any recognizable shape to take special notice of.  Still, there they are, pretty much as they were when the ancients named them.

Gemini is also barely visible at the top, but let’s save mention of the twins for when I can get a better view, when the glaring Moon is not sitting right on top of Castor and Pollux

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 29:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus

References: