The Soul Nebula | DSLR Astrophotography
The Soul Nebula is a large emission nebula located in the constellation Cassiopeia. The apparent size of this deep sky object from Earth makes it a wide-field astrophotography target that requires a large field of view to capture in a single frame.
There are several small open clusters embedded within the Soul Nebula including IC 1848, which the designation this object is often referred to. In November of 2017, I used my DSLR camera and telescope to photograph the Soul Nebula from my backyard in the city.
The Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia – Canon T3i through 70mm Telescope
IC 1848 – The Soul Nebula
In the fall, this deep sky target rises high into the Northern Hemisphere sky. For me, this meant that it cleared the height of my house by about 6 pm in November. The telescope was aimed in a Northeast direction, and I was able to track the Soul Nebula on my equatorial mount for hours before having to perform a manual meridian flip.
I am quite pleased with the amount of detail shown in my image, considering the challenges of astrophotography in a light polluted area. The addition of narrowband h-alpha data helped create contrast in the image. Clip-in filters were used in my DSLR camera for both the color and hydrogen-alpha light collected on this target.
The SkyTech CLS-CCD filter does a great job at blocking much of the unwanted city glow while preserving the light emitted from my target. This light pollution filter is especially effective when used on emission nebula such as IC 1848. The complete details about the equipment used and camera settings for the photo above are listed at the bottom of this post.
Astrophotography with a DSLR and telescope
The Soul Nebula is often captured using a camera lens to include the nearby Heart Nebula. To photograph the two object together, a focal length in the 200mm range is recommended. Most telescopes are not wide enough to capture the Heart and Soul together in the same frame.
The telescope I used had a focal length of 350mm, which is considered to be an ultra-wide field of view. This is ideal for photographing large deep-sky objects such as the Soul Nebula, North America Nebula and more.
The Meade 70mm f/5 Quadruplet ED APO Astrograph is a high-performance refractor telescope that excels in wide-field deep sky astrophotography. The telescope was mounted to a Sky-Watcher HEQ5 equatorial mount, with an autoguiding system attached. The DSLR attaches to the back of the ‘scope and can be locked when a precise focus is achieved.
A small refractor telescope or a telephoto camera lens is the best choice when it comes to photographing large deep-sky targets. The Quadruplet-lens design of the Meade 70mm APO means that I did not require a field flattener when imaging through this scope.
A Modified DSLR Camera with Filters
The camera used for this photo was a modified (full-spectrum) Canon EOS Rebel T3i. The stock IR cut filter was removed to allow the deep reds found in many astrophotography targets (especially those rich in hydrogen gas) to be recorded by the sensor. I used 2 filters to create my portrait of this nebula:
Through the Broadband RGB Filter
The SkyTech CLS-CCD filter captured my color data for the Soul Nebula. This data alone was impressive considering my location but lacked the luminance boost a narrowband filter can provide. The following image includes exactly 5 hours of total integrated exposure time.
Through the Narrowband Ha Filter
The Astronomik 12nm filter captured my narrowband h-alpha data on the Soul Nebula. Using a Ha filter on an emission nebula like this almost completely ignores all artificial light from the city, as well as the bright glow of the moon present when shooting the images. The following photo includes 1 hour and 16 minutes of total integrated exposure time.
Combining Ha and RGB images
The true-color RGB version of the image was combined with the grayscale narrowband version to produce an HaRGB composite. The h-alpha photo was used as a synthetic red channel, as well as a luminance layer. To learn how to combine RGB and Ha images, please watch my HaRGB Photoshop Tutorial.
Soul Nebula Location
The time for photographing the Soul Nebula (Northern Hemisphere) is in the fall. The Heart and Soul Nebula rise high into the sky together from late Septemeber through November. The following star chart shows where to find the Soul Nebula.
I find it easiest to first locate the recognizable constellation, Cassiopeia. Then look downwards towards the Double Cluster in Perseus. You’ll find the Soul Nebula to the Northwest of Perseus, between the 2 constellations.
The Soul Nebula Photo Details
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Telescope: Meade 70mm Quadruplet APO
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i (Modified)
Filters: SkyTech CLS-CCD, Astronomik 12nm Ha
Guide Scope: Altair Starwave 60mm
Guide Camera: Altair GPCAM2 AR 0130
Photographed on: November 8, 15, 24, 2017
RGB (Broadband) Images
Total Exposure: 5 Hours
(150 x 120s)
Ha (Narrowband) Images
Total Exposure: 1 Hour, 16 Minutes (19 x 240s)
If you would like to try processing my color data on this subject, you can do so here. Then, you can follow along with my Photoshop Image Processing Tutorial to get a better idea of how my astrophotography images are produced.