NGC 6888, known as the Crescent Nebula (or Brain Nebula in some circles), is located around 5000 light years away in the constellation Cygnus. Close to the star Sadr, NGC 6888 is an emission nebula that was discovered by William Herschel in 1792.
I didn’t start out planning to shoot this target, but after putting my new Radian Raptor 61 through its first light paces, and capturing it in the corner of gathering light on Sadr (see this post) and the nebulosity around it, I decided to hop back to the Meade 80mm and try to shoot it at a longer focal length. Along with the Crescent Nebula, I also put a focus on Western Veil (seen in my previous post) and I am now putting a focus on Eastern Veil. Going from wide field to a slightly smaller field of view can be very fun, especially when you start to make out detail in some of the smaller objects.
I was able to get just over seven hours of total integration over 3 different nights. The first two nights the moon was not really present and it it wasn’t too bright when it was. The final night the moon was around 80% luminosity and up the entire imaging session. For all three sessions I used the L-eNhanced filter by Optolong filters. This filter is great for isolating the Ha and Oiii wavelengths of light as well as suppressing the light pollution that surrounds me – especially under Bortle 8 skies here in Rhode Island.
Equipment & Image Information
Meade Series 6000 80mm Triplet Refractor
Canon EOS Ra
Ho-Tech Field Flattener
Optolong L-eNhanced Filter
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro Mount
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO asi120mm-mini (guide)
Pegasus Power Box Advanced
Astrophotography Tool – capture
SharpCap – polar align
PHD2 – guide
DeepSkyStacker – stacking
Photoshop CC – processing
– Gradient XTreme
– Topaz DeNoise / SharpenAI
– Astrophotography Tools Actions
61 x 420s (5 / 45 / 11)
Dark, bias, flat and dark flat calibration frames
Providence, RI – Bortle 8
I have been asked a few times recently about how I process my images. First, the two people I have gleamed the most information from are AstroBackyard and A.V. Astronomy. Both Trevor and Aaron provide wonderful tutorials and resources on just about everything you need when it comes to astrophotography, and I would encourage you to go and follow these two. That being said, my processing is not perfect, and in some cases probably comes off as lazy, but in the end, I am happy with my images and in my opinion, that is the most important thing there is. Obviously, improvement can always come and should be welcome, but being happy with your product is the first key to success.
I begin by stacking in DeepSkyStacker. Even though I use DSLR which is non-cooled, I still take dark and bias frames. I also take flats and dark flats. Because my camera is not cooled, I take dark frames right before I begin my imaging session. I could go through and do an average sensor temp with my dark frames that relate to the sub frames I take, but I do not. I try to take 10-20 dark frames, 50 bias and either 25 or 50 flats and dark flats.
Once stacked, I bring them to Photoshop where I do the majority, if not all, of my processing. My typical work flow is the following:
– Small crop, convert to 16bit image from 32bit
– Initial leveling – Threshold layer to find dark and light points
– Levels – each channel separate to bring them in line
– Curves – slight curve adjustment, then quick leveling (each channel individual) and repeat until my black point reaches around 36 in each channel
– GradientXTreme – Usually on the two lowest settings, never higher then the middle setting. I look at it both with leveling background checked and without
– Astronomy Tools Actions – I usually run the two Violet Halos options as well as Smaller Stars here
– Camera RAW Filter – Here is do a lot, especially on my first go through – First, I look at the Color Mixer and adjust individual saturation and luminance. Usually it is red and orange channels, and sometimes the aqua and blue channels. I then go to the Basic tab and adjust vibrance, saturation, black, white, highlights and shadow levels. I also will typically adjust the exposure a little as well. The key here, for me, is to make sure I am not clipping anything nor making anything too bright while starting to bring out the color of what I am shooting.
– Topaz DeNoise – the latest update brings us the Severe Noise option which feels a little better then the Low Light one. I usually put it on Auto then bring the sharpness down by half.
– Astronomy Tools Actions – I try the Space Noise and Deep Space Noise options here and depending on how it effects the detail of the nebula, I may or may not go with any of them. Always good to check. I’d rather have some noise and keep structure in my nebula then loose it because the software assumed it was noise.
– Astronomy Tools Actions – Enhance DSO is done here. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. If I don’t like it I just continue on to RAW filter and if I do… well, I also continue on to RAW filter!
– Camera RAW Filter – minor adjustments in the basic tab. I may repeat this a couple of times
– Astronomy Tools Actions – Contrast Enhancement – I run this then usually set the layers opacity to 50% or below.
At this point I flatten the image and save it as a 16bit tiff to run it through Starnet++ – an excellent program that removes stars but leaves the nebula.
While doing this, I attempt a mask using the Color Selection -> Highlights to bring out the nebulosity a bit more. A.V. Astronomy has a good video on it. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. By this point my starless image should be done and I bring that into Photoshop, isolate the red channel, copy and paste it as a new layer in the image I am working on. From there, I set the opacity of that layer to 10% and adjust the highlights to see if I can bring out the dust a little more. Keep in mind, this will make your image a little pink versus red. This does two things – first, you can set your black point a little lower and it will offset if you clip a little bit. You can also adjust your saturation a bit more to make it more red. This layer acts as a luminance layer – though a true Ha luminance layer will work much better. What is even better, you can use both methods I mentioned in the same image! Just be careful not to over do it!
At this point I save a main image jpg, I save an inverted version and I make one more starless version to match my current process. I always make sure to keep a working Tiff file that has all my layers available in case I want to go back and try something different.
I hope this helps!