M42 - The Orion Nebula

Updated: Mar 16

  • Featured on Universe Today IG August 2016.

  • Featured on Orion Telescopes & Binoculars 2016 Holiday Catalog, page 41.

  • Featured on Orion Telescopes & Binoculars "featured member" webpage.

  • Featured on The Astrophotographer's Guidebook.

  • Featured on the cover of The Astrophotographer's Journal.

  • Featured on All About Space Magazine - Issue 87 (p90)

  • Featured on Amateur Astrophotography Magazine - Issue 61

Messier 42 is the most popular nebula to photograph! And it is easy to capture!

M42 looks amazing in photographs through both telescopes (as seen below) and DSLR lenses (scroll down!).

The following photo was taken through our 8” telescope with a total exposure time of only 1 hour!

M43 (The little ball shaped nebula on the left of the heart shape of M42) is visible, as well as the Running Man nebula (top left). When capturing it, be sure to also take a few short exposure shots for the bright core as well as the Trapezium cluster!


Camera: Canon t3i

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: 1 hour

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes for the nebulosity / 15 seconds for the core

20 lights for the nebulosity / 15 lights for the core - 18 Darks - 111 Bias

ISO: 800


The Orion nebula is almost always photographed with two other nebulae: M43 (De Mairan's nebula) & NGC Sh2-279 (The Running Man nebula). See a close up of both below.

Messier 43 is an H II region that is pretty much part of M42. Both are only separated by a lane of dust.

Sh2-279, or Sharpless 279, or... let's make it easier, the Running Man nebula, is located just to the left of M42/M43.

Make sure to frame your camera properly and get all of the Running Man, you do not want a cut nebula in your magnificent image.


M42 is the easiest nebula to find. It is located in Orion’s sword and is obvious to spot as it looks like a star. It lies between other deep sky objects, such as the Horsehead and Flame nebulae, M78, and even the Witch Head nebula.

Messier 42 is one of the brightest nebulae in the sky, and is easily visible with the unaided eye even though it looks just like a regular star. The nebula is an amazing sight through binoculars, as you can make out its shape as well as its bright core.

Any size telescope will reveal more of the gases with different shades of gray. You will also be able to spot the four stars that form the famous Trapezium cluster in the core of the nebula.

Cool Facts
  • Discovered in 1610

  • The nearest stellar nursery to Earth

  • The Trapezium is an open cluster that powers the gases all around

Wide-field Astrophotography of the Orion Nebula

M42 can easily be photographed without a telescope! We recommend that you aim for the emission nebula Barnard's Loop. You can also get IC 434 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 a 50mm lens, also tracking the stars with our Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount.

Click on the image below to visit our full post about Barnard's Loop.


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

Would you like to hang this photo in your home? Get a print HERE!


Processing the Orion Nebula is very easy! The only trick is to know where the nebulosity is supposed to be, and to not mess up the background extraction at the beginning!

If you have the chance, take the time to travel to a dark zone to photograph this target (and every other target as well...)

Below you can see the huge difference between a 30-second single shot from our parking lot in Las Vegas, and a single shot from our imaging spot near the desert. If we can, we will try to update this post in the future to show what a single shot from a Bortle 1 zone looks like!


As we said above, the Orion Nebula can easily be captured without a telescope. It is a great idea to capture the entire Orion complex with a small lens, but it is also a good target for telephoto lenses, both tracked, and untracked. See our images of M42 using a 300mm lens with and without a tracker below! Both photos have a total exposure time of 3.5 hours.

We got this image using our t3i with a 300mm lens f/5.6 on a simple tripod! Because of the focal length of the lens, we could only do 6 second exposures before getting star trails.

This image is, obviously, the same nebula, but this time using an iOptron SkyTracker !

Because of the tracking, we were able to do 3 minute exposures instead of 6 seconds!

Notice how the Running Man nebula is much more visible, and how M42's shape is more like a heart than in the untracked photo.


We imaged the Orion Nebula with the Stellina observation station from Death Valley, California. We only spent a total of 10 minutes on it but the result is impressive!

It took just a few minutes between the moment we took Stellina out of our trunk and the moment we started imaging with it. You can see our Unboxing video of this product in the REVIEW tab of this website [coming soon], as well as a full review of this futuristic astrophotography instrument.

The Orion Nebula from our backyard

February 2020

The Orion Nebula was our second attempt at doing Astrophotography from our very light polluted backyard in Las Vegas. If you'd like to see what our very first image from home looked like, make sure to visit our California Nebula post!

Using the TRIAD Quad-band filter on our ZWO ASI 071MC camera, we spent just 20 minutes on Messier 42 to see what the results would look like... We were stunned. We did 30 second exposures to ensure that the core would not be blown away, and as you can see, the Trapezium cluster is clearly visible!


Camera: ZWO ASI 071MC

Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Coma: Baader MPCC Coma Corrector MkIII

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Filter: TRIAD Ultra Quad-Band

Processing: PixInsight


Total Exposure Time: 20 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 30 seconds

Gain: 90


Below are all of our images of Messier 42. See the progression!


Messier 42 is by far the best nebula to not only photograph but observe in the night sky. We'd love to see your own versions of the Orion Nebula! Post them below if you have photographed this target before :)

If you would like to get our photo of the Orion Nebula as a print, or other, you can support us and see some options HERE.

Clear Skies,

Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Galactic Hunter


Below you will find images of the Orion Nebula taken by Galactic Hunter followers, with different types of equipment so you can compare with ours!

M42 shot with a Canon 7D on a Sky-Watcher Pro ED Apochromatic - 7.5m total exposure

Photo taken by John B.


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.

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