IC 434 - The Horsehead (And Flame) Nebula

Updated: Aug 28

  • Featured on PBS' "Outdoor Nevada" on 07/19/2017, channel 10: Season 2 Episode 10.

  • Featured on UniverseToday's Instagram on 11/17/2017.

  • Featured on The Astrophotographer's Guidebook.

  • Featured on The Astrophotographer's Journal.

  • Featured on Amateur Astrophotography Magazine - Issue 61

  • Used on NASA's Asterisk forum - 11/02/2019

IC 434 (The gases behind the horse’s head) and Barnard 33 (The actual horse’s head dark nebula) form the famous Horsehead nebula, not far from the Orion nebula.

Photographing this group of nebulae is easy, as long as you spend enough time on it, as the red gases of IC 434 are pretty faint and will look grainy if the total exposure time is too low. The photo below was the result of 4 hours of exposure, using an 8” telescope.

This was actually our very first target with my telescope. At that time, our autoguiding camera was glitching and did not want to work. We could only do 3m exposures and even then, there was some star trails and blur in all the images. When we exchanged the guiding camera, the horse was too low in the horizon to re-do it, so we promised ourselves that we would meet again in 2017. 

We spent 4 hours, guided, on IC 434, and it looks much better now! Still not perfect, but until we are able to get a CCD camera, this will have to do!

IC 434 refers to the pink cloud you see behind the horse head. Barnard 33 is the actual Horse Head, which is a dark nebula. 


Camera: Canon 7D Mark II

Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Coma: Baader MPCC Coma Corrector MkIII

Guiding: Starshoot Autoguider - 50mm Guide Scope

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 4 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

40 lights - 10 Darks - 30 Bias

ISO: 800


Photographing the Horsehead nebula also means capturing its neighbors in the frame. Although obvious, know that this is more of a group of nebulae than a single one.

The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) is right next to the horse! This nebula obviously got its name due to its shape, and you can see it on the left of our main image!

NGC 2023 is a small blue reflection nebula visible just on the bottom left of the horse. Make sure to bring out the details within its gases during processing, because it is pretty easy to blow out!


The Horsehead and flame nebula can not be seen with the naked eye, and are too faint to be seen through binoculars. It is also a challenging object to find through telescopes, mostly because the horse’s head is a dark nebula, while the gas behind it is made of hydrogen. The use of a filter on a large aperture telescope will help spot the group, but both NGC 2023 and NGC 2024 will be more visible than IC 434 and Barnard 33.

The easiest way to find the Horsehead nebula is to locate the bright star Altinak, in Orion’s belt. Pointing your telescope at this star will ensure that you are on target, then you will simply have to re-center the nebula before photographing it. Another way to find it if planning to do some wide field photography is to aim your lens towards the Orion Nebula.

  • Detected in photographs in 1888

  • Horse’s head would be invisible if there was no colorful gases behind it

  • Bright star Alnitak shines light into the flame


The Horsehead and Flame nebulae are an awesome target for wide field photography. Below you can see our wide field image of the target, using a 300m lens, on a Canon t3i and using a iOptron Skytracker to track the sky!

IC434 can also be obtained when imaging the huge Barnard's Loop emission nebula. You can also get M42 and M78 in the same frame if using a 85m or 50mm lens!

Below is Barnard's Loop, we spent 7.2 hours on the imaging (watch Episode 8!), using this time a 50mm lens, also tracking the stars with our Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount.


Camera: Canon 7D Mark II

Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 7.2 hours

RGB Exposure Time: 3.6 hours

Hydrogen Alpha Exposure Time: 3.6 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

73 lights, calibrated with Darks and Bias

ISO: 800

Single Shot & Processing of IC 434

Processing the Horsehead Nebula is a ton of fun! There is so much color, shapes, and nebulosity in the entire image that every processing step is both challenging and fun. The image below is what a typical mask of this target looks like, you can see it looks pretty awesome even with no color!

A single shot of 6 minutes of IC 434. You can already see so many details in the gases! Seeing this beauty on your camera screen really makes you happy and motivate you to take as many as you can!

This image is a full processing of just 7 frames at 6 minutes each. As you can see, the only way to really bring out the details is to be very aggressive with the processing steps, which is why you should really spend enough time on the imaging and not be too impatient to pack up!

All our previous images of IC 434

Below are all of our images of IC 434. See the progression!

Final Thoughts

IC 434 is one of the most beautiful targets in the night sky. It is also great for beginners who are seeking a little bit of a challenge. This nebula, being part of the Orion constellation, stays high in the sky for a long period of time, allowing you to really take your time and ace your capture!

If you would like to get our photo of IC 434 as a print, or other, you can support us and see some options HERE

Clear Skies,

Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Galactic Hunter


The Astrophotographer's Guidebook

Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!

The Astrophotographer's Journal

Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloguing photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.

The Constellations Handbook

Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order, so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing, and a learning journey through the ages.

#astronomy #astrophotography #messiercatalog #messier #galaxy #nebula #cluster #stars #space #galactichunter #nevada #lasvegas #canon #orion #telescope #IC434 #horse #horsehead #flame #horseheadnebula



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