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Orion Nebula

The mighty Orion Nebula is one of the most spectacular sights you will ever see in your lifetime.  I sincerely hope that you have the privilege of observing M42 through a large telescope at some point during your life.  You will never forget it.

The size of the Orion Nebula is well suited for many focal lengths, be it a telephoto lens or astrophotography telescope. The wide field view produced by the Explore Scientific ED80 telescope allowed me to showcase the Running man nebula in the same frame.  Visible to the naked eye, the Orion Nebula appears as a small fuzzy patch in Orion’s sword.

M42 - Orion Nebula

In January 2017, I photographed the Orion Nebula in Ha and RGB.

How I processed this image: Deep Sky Image Processing the Orion Nebula with Photoshop

The Orion Nebula and Running Man Nebula

The photo above was photographed from my backyard in Ontario, Canada with a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR.  In the Northern Hemisphere, M42 begins to appear in the constellation Orion in the Fall.  As the season changes, Orion makes his way into the winter evening sky.  Vibrant bright blues and pinks are revealed through long exposure photography and create a masterpiece of interstellar gas and dust.

This celestial masterpiece is the perfect targets for beginners to shoot with their DSLR and telescope.  The bright, impressive details are quite evident in short, unguided exposures.  As you learn how to better capture and process your astrophotography images, your image of M42 will become more and more beautiful.

My first images of the Orion Nebula did not look like the version above.  I had to better learn the art of capturing and processing astrophotography images, and it took time!  Have a look at my first try compared to the latest version:

Orion Nebula through a telescope

My first “real” attempt at M42 vs. my latest version (2017)

Current “Final” Version.

As with all of my astrophotos, it is hard for me to label a version of the image a “final”, as they are all works in progress!  However, if you want to share your photos with the world you must make a decision on a version you are happy enough to share.  For all of my work on the Orion Nebula, the version below is my best attempt thus far:

The Orion Nebula by AstroBackyard - Trevor Jones

Photo Details:


57 x 180 Sec @ ISO 800
20 x 5 Sec @ ISO 800
10 x 30 Sec @ ISO 800


39 x 300 Sec @ ISO 1600

The final stacked image totaled 2 Hours, 51 minutes (57 frames) @ ISO 800.  The final stacked image was processed in Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 using the methods described on the deep-sky processing tutorial page of this website.  The shorter exposure sets were stacked separately and blended into the final image using layer masks. The Ha data acquired was also incorporated into the image using the HaRGB processing technique outlined in this video.


Astrophotographers will notice Messier 42 contains a busy neighborhood of young stars, dark dust, and hot gas.  A visually striking element of this nebula is a dense cluster of stars known as the Trapezium located in the brightest portion of the object.

In December 2017, I captured the Orion Nebula using a giant refractor telescope (the William Optics FLT 132).  The details captured in a short amount of time were impressive.  This telescope can collect more light due to its large aperture.


The telescope used to capture the image used in the was an Explore Scientific ED80 Refractor.  This telescope’s wide field of view (480mm), covers enough sky to fit the Orion Nebula and the Running Man Nebula in the same frame.  I have also photographed the Orion Nebula with my larger ED 102 telescope, which provided a closer and slightly more detailed view.

By integrating data acquired using a clip-in DSLR Ha filter, I was able to add more of the faint nebulosity that surrounds M42.  The image at the top of this page shows the H-Alpha data combined with the full-color images (RGB) to create a HaRGB composite.  To learn more about this image-processing technique, have a look at my tutorial on HaRGB processing with Photoshop.

Explore Scientific ED80

Explore Scientific ED80 Refractor

The Orion Nebula is located south of Orion’s belt in the constellation of the same designation.  The mighty hunter is full of interesting celestial delights, but none compare to the dazzling Messier 42.  It is one of the brightest nebulae in the night sky and holds the rare trait of being visible to the naked eye.  New stars are being born in the Orion Nebula and is the closest such massive star-forming region to Earth.

Orion's Belt

The photo below shows the Deep Sky Objects in and around Orion’s Belt.  The photo was captured using a 105mm Camera lens on an iOptron SkyTracker Pro mount.

In this 212 Hour Exposure of the Orion Constellation, we see that the constellation is much more than just Orion’s belt.  Needless to say, the camera picks up more color and detail than your unaided eye!  On the other hand, a shorter total integrated exposure time of about an hour will expose only the brightest details.  To photograph the core of the Orion Nebula, I shot a series of short exposures (5 seconds) and blended them with 30-second, and 3 minutes exposures.

Astrophotography Example:

Orion Nebula - 1 Hour Astrophotography Image

1 hour of integrated data on the Orion Nebula

Observe a nebula from your backyard!

The Orion Nebula is so bright, that I can be spotted with the naked eye in areas affected by light pollution.  This means the observers from small to medium sized cities like myself can observe the nebula from their own backyard.  Keen observers will notice a fuzzy “star” in the “sword” of Orion.  This patch of nebulosity becomes obvious in a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

Orion Nebula map

Star map of the Orion constellation – AstroBackyard

From the Northern Hemisphere, Orion is due South and highest in the night sky at about midnight in the month of December.  As the winter months pass, Orion will rise about 2 hours earlier each month.  January and February are great months for adding the Orion nebula to your astrophotography target list.

The pink color you see in the images on this page can only be captured with a camera.  Our eyes can not let in enough light to show the color in real-time.

How to locate the Orion Nebula (EarthSky)

Photo Details

Winter deep sky astrophotography

Photographed on: November 14, 2015

Total Exposure Time: 2 Hours, 30 Minutes (50 x 3 Minute Subs)
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Camera: Modified Canon Xsi
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

View the astrophotography equipment used to capture this image.

The Orion Nebula was the first deep sky object I ever witnessed in color through photography.  I used a point and shoot digital camera to image through the eyepiece of my Orion Skyquest Dobsonian back in 2010.  The result was a blurry smudge or purple light, and that was enough to spark my interest to where I am today!

I made a full blog post about the night I photographed the Orion Nebula from my backyard.  You can read the full post here:

M42 – The Gorgeous Orion Nebula

Landscape astrophotography