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Destination, Orion: 7 Photos of Winter Stars in Shenandoah National Park

Everyone knows about Orion's Belt or maybe even the Orion Nebula, but there is far more within this winter constellation that the eye cannot see.

By: Nick Palastro + Save to a List

The winter constellation of Orion has always fascinated me and I have known for a while that there is far more to it than the eye cannot see, even in the darkest setting. I have wanted to capture some of this and for the first time recently, I did. I am sure there are images of Orion that are far more detailed, taken in the darkest of dark skies with motorized tracking technologies...I have none of this. I have my Nikon d750, a Tamron 45mm f1.8 lens, and a tripod. After sunset one cold Saturday evening I set out to capture my favorite part of the night sky within Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park in central Virginia. I had a moonless night in some of the darkest skies I could get to within a couple hours. Nowhere in the Mid-Atlantic is truly ideal, but this is what I was able to capture. Put together, this region in our night sky is called the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.

As mentioned, this was shot with my Nikon d750, Tamron 45mm f1.8 lens, and 36x6sec exposures iso 12800. All stacked together and edited with tonal curves in Photoshop to really pull out the faint nebulae that were present in a single raw file.

Now, the nebulae is this picture! (note, used crops from original image)

The Angelfish Nebula:

Rosette Nebula:

Witch's Head Nebula:

Barnard's Loop (obviously it's the loop), the Flame Nebula is above the left star of the belt, the Horsehead Nebula is below the same star, and the bright Orion Nebula below the belt:

Everyone is in awe about those summertime and early fall views of the Milky Way (I am too). If you can tolerate the often bone chilling temps of winter or if you're lucky enough to live where it is warm, point your camera at this gem in the night sky. There are a ton of tutorials out there that show you how like this one. Study what it is you want to accomplish, take a ton of shots, and stack those images!

For comparison sake, here's what a single 6 second raw file, completely unedited other than for white balance, looks like! So much detail was pulled out of this.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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