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Capture the Soul Nebula using a DSLR Camera

The Soul Nebula (Westerhout 5, Sharpless 2-199, LBN 667) is a large emission nebula located in the constellation Cassiopeia.  The apparent size of this deep sky object from Earth makes it a fantastic deep sky astrophotography target to photograph using a DSLR camera and wide field telescope.

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.

soul nebula

The Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia – Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR

I later added even more exposure time to this project using my DSLR camera and a different refractor telescope. One of my favorite aspects of astrophotography is the ability to improve images over time as need data is acquired.

IC 1848 – The Soul Nebula

In the fall, this deep sky target rises high into the Northern Hemisphere sky, high above the obstructions in my backyard. For me, this means that it clears the height of my house by about 8pm in October, and 6 pm by November.

The telescope is pointed in a Northeast direction, and I am able to track the Soul Nebula on my equatorial GoTo mount for hours before having to perform a manual meridian flip. When it comes to long exposure astrophotography projects, I often choose to photograph objects rising in the East.

For the natural color version of the image, I am quite pleased with the amount of detail and overall quality of the data I managed to produce. Under Bortle Class 8 skies, a light pollution filter is needed to help ignore certain wavelengths of artificial light to collect usable data.

Recommended DSLR Filter for Light Pollution

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.

This clip-in style filter was designed to be used with APS-C sized modified Canon EOS DSLR cameras like my Canon Rebel series T3i (600D). The SkyTech CLS-CCD filter has a wider bandpass than a UHC filter and includes a UV/IR block.

My camera has had the full spectrum modification performed, meaning the stock internal IR block was removed. It easily snaps into the body of my DSLR over the camera sensor.

This filter suppresses the following wavelengths of artificial and natural light:

  • mercury vapour lamps
  • low pressure sodium vapour lights
  • high pressure sodium vapour lights
  • neutral oxygen emission (skyglow)

light pollution filter

The SkyTech CLS-CCD Filter used for my Color Images of the Soul Nebula

Which Telescope to Use?

The refractor telescope I used to capture my color images of the Soul Nebula has a focal length of 350mm, which is considered to be “ultra-wide field”.  This is ideal for photographing large deep-sky objects such as the Soul Nebula, North America Nebula and many more.

The Meade 70mm Quadruplet ED APO refractor 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 telescope and can be locked when a precise focus is achieved.

telescope mount

Meade 70mm Quadruplet ED APO refractor

The Quadruplet-lens design of the Meade 70mm APO means that I did not require a field flattener when imaging through this scope. I reviewed this telescope in 2017 if you would like to learn more about its specifications and what you can expect in terms in DSLR astrophotography.

I later added additional exposure time using another wide field refractor telescope, the William Optics Zenithstar 73. I again used my full spectrum modified Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR, but this time I captured narrowband images in hydrogen-alpha only.

The focal length of this refractor is 430mm, which meant I needed to scale the images taken with the 12nm Ha filter in place down to match my color data. This process is quite easy to accomplish using Adobe Photoshop and the free-transform tool.

Sky Watcher HEQ GoTo Mount

William Optics Zenithstar 73 Doublet APO

The Soul Nebula is often captured using a camera lens to include the nearby Heart Nebula. To photograph the two objects together, a focal length in the 200mm range is recommended. For this focal length, a camera lens is likely the best option.

Most telescopes are not wide enough to capture the Heart and Soul together in the same frame, although the added sensor real estate of a full-frame DSLR may be able to pull it off.

Through the Broadband RGB Filter

The SkyTech CLS-CCD filter was used 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.

Soul Nebula in True Color RGB

The Soul Nebula in Color (RGB)

Through the Narrowband Ha Filter

An Astronomik 12nm clip-filter was fitted into my Canon T3i to capture my narrowband h-alpha images of the Soul Nebula. Using a Hydrogen-alpha 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.

The following photo includes 1 hour and 16 minutes of total integrated exposure time. I later added an additional 1.5 hours of hydrogen-alpha data to further improve the signal-to-noise ratio. The images were 5-minutes each in length, using an ISO of 800.

Soul Nebula in Ha

The Soul Nebula in Ha (Narrowband)

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.

I highly recommend adding narrowband data (especially Ha) to your emission nebulae images captured using a DSLR. It showcases much more of the interesting areas of gas and dust in the object. Below, you’ll see the dramatic difference adding Ha to your RGB DSLR images can make:

Ha + RGB with a DSLR

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 September through November. The following star chart shows where to find the Soul Nebula.

location of 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

Equipment Used:

Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Telescopes: Meade 70mm Quadruplet APO, William Optics Z73 APO
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i (Modified)
Filters: SkyTech CLS-CCD, Astronomik 12nm Ha
Guide Scope: Altair Starwave 60mm, William Optics 50mm Guide Scope
Guide Camera: Altair GPCAM2 AR 0130

Photographed on: November 8, 15, 24, 2017, October 4, 2018

RGB (Broadband) Images

ISO: 800

Total Exposure: 5 Hours
(150 x 120s)

DSLR Ha filter

The DSLR Ha filter used for my narrowband images

Ha (Narrowband) Images 2017

ISO: 1600

Total Exposure: 1 Hour, 16 Minutes (19 x 240s)

Ha (Narrowband) Images 2018

ISO: 800

Total Exposure: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes (19 x 300s)

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.

Soul Nebula

Helpful Resources:

The Best Astrophotography Telescope for Beginners (My Top 5 Recommendations)

What do you Really Need for Deep Sky Astrophotography? (Video)

Building a Deep Sky Astrophotography Kit from the Ground Up