Summer Astrophotography Targets

By Amy Barton on

The arrival of the summer brings with it an abundance of great targets, from numerous nebulae and globular clusters to planetary nebula and unique galaxies. The wealth of emission nebulae in particular mean it is a perfect season to make full use of those narrowband filters and wide field views. These months cater to beginners as well as more advanced astrophotographers, offering up some of the most iconic objects in the night sky.



Multi-panel mosaics of the entire Cygnus region, like this stunning image by Angelos Kechagias, provide an incredible insight into the relation of the amazing objects contained within and around it, from the North America Nebula, to the Coal Sack to the Crescent, while any one of which makes a great target in its own right. Read more about this image.

Crescent Nebula – NGC 6888

Mag: 7.4

Although possible to image the Crescent Nebula in RGB or with a one-shot colour camera, it really excels as a narrowband target. Try using Ha and OIII filters for a bi-colour image, and as an extra challenge, see if you can capture PNG75.5+1.7 – the Soap bubble nebula – located close by.

The North America (NGC 7000) and Pelican Nebulae (IC 5070)

Mag: 4.0 / 8.0

This region lends itself especially well to a wide field view, allowing the North America and Pelican Nebulae to be captured in the same frame. Around the Gulf of Mexico part of NGC 7000 is the Cygnus wall, where dark absorption cloud LDN 935 separates North America from the Pelican Nebula.

A target of exciting and dramatic shapes, the Pelican Nebula (IC 5070) is a hub of activity, featuring both star formation and evolving gas clouds.

The Veil Nebula

Mag: 7.0

The Veil Nebula is the debris from the Cygnus Loop, a large and ancient supernova remnant . It consists of three main components, all with a variety of designations and names, with the most common being:

  • The Witches Broom/The Western Veil/NGC 6960
  • The Eastern Veil/NGC 6992
  • Pickering’s Triangle/NGC 6979/Fleming’s Triangular Wisp


All three make fantastic targets in their own right, while wider fields or mosaics will allow you to capture the whole visible part of the Cygnus Loop in one image.

It’s possible to get good results with a one-shot colour camera or RGB filters, but the real detail and surrounding nebulosity is best captured using Ha and OIII narrowband filters.


Elephant’s Trunk Nebula – IC 1396

Mag: 3.4 to 5.1

The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula is well suited to either HaLRGB or narrowband imaging to pick up the more intricate details in the nebulosity. Small fields of view can focus on the Elephant’s Trunk itself, while slightly wider setups can aim for the whole IC 1396 complex.

Wizard Nebula – NGC 7380

Mag: 7.2

Formed by gas, dust and stars, the Wizard surrounds developing open cluster NGC 7380. Another narrowband target, going long and deep in the Ha reveals swathes of surrounding nebulosity.

Cave Nebula – Sh2-155

Mag: 7.7

The complexity of this region makes the Cave Nebula a challenging target to photograph well. However, with the sufficient exposure it can make an outstanding image. Though full narrowband can be used, HaRGB  is probably the best option to handle the areas reflection nebulae alongside the emission.


Bubble Nebula – NGC 7635

Mag: 11.0

The Bubble Nebula is a shell of gas surrounding a massive  bright star thought to be 40 times the size of our own Sun, but unusually this star is not at the centre, despite the bubble’s roundness. The Bubble is classically a narrowband target, though HaLRGB can also work well. The detail is really in the Ha for this target, particularly for the delicate structures within the bubble, so use 1×1 binning and go as long as you can.

Pacman Nebula – NGC 281

Mag. 7.0

Another narrowband target, the recognisable Pacman shape is caused by the dense cloud of dust obscuring the background stars and forming Pacman’s mouth. Often appearing to ‘hang’ in the space around it, very deep (think 30-45min from a dark sky) exposures in Ha reveal a much more complex region than usually shown.


Splinter or Knife Edge Galaxy – NGC 5907

Mag: 10.4

This spiral galaxy appears edge-on to us and is seen as an elongated flat disk. What makes this galaxy particularly unusual are the tidal streams of stars that surround it, which extend more than 150,000 light-years from its core. You’ll need to go deep to capture these, and ideally use a high resolution for fine details on a very clear, very dark night. Even if this is out of reach, the unusual splinter-like appearance of the galaxy still makes it an interesting target.

Cat’s Eye Nebula – NGC 6543

Mag: 8.1

The Cat’s Eye Nebula is a small and unusual Planetary Nebula with a bright, intricate core and faint outer shells. Try using short exposures and focus on Ha to capture the core, while OIII is where all the detail lies in the outer shells.



Eagle Nebula – M16

Mag: 6.0

A 5.5 million-year-old cloud of molecular hydrogen gas and dust, the Eagle Nebula is home to the ‘Pillars of Creation’, the subject of some of Hubble’s most iconic images. A narrower field of view will allow you to focus on the famous Pillars, while use of a wider field will enable you to capture several other pillar-like structures within the wider nebulosity of this star-forming region.


Great Globular Cluster – M13

Mag: 5.7

Found in Hercules, M13, (or the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, or the Hecules Globular Cluster, or any variation on,) is one of the brightest globular clusters in the northern sky. The challenge is to capture the detail at the bright core without losing the fainter stars at its outer edge. The trick here is to find a balance in exposure length – try experimenting with, or even combining, multiple short and long exposures.


Trifid Nebula – M20

Mag: 6.3

Dark filaments of dust weave through the Trifid Nebula and successfully capturing fine Ha detail in these is what can make a good image into a great one. The next trick is to carefully balance these dark nebulae with the surrounding red emission and blue reflection nebulae.

Lagoon Nebula – M8

Mag: 3.6

M8, otherwise known as the Lagoon Nebula, is vast in size and spans approximately 140 by 60 light years. This large gas cloud is within the Milky Way Galaxy, and the largest and brightest nebula in Sagittarius. A very wide field or mosaic will allow the Trifid Nebula (M20) to be captured in the same image, while narrower fields can focus on the nebulous core .

Omega/Swan Nebula – M17

Mag: 6.0

Another DSO of many names, the Omega (or Swan) nebula can be imaged in RGB, but the finer details really lend themselves to narrowband. A great target by itself, a wide field of view means M16 can be captured in the same image.


Wild Duck Cluster – M11

Mag: 5.8

This open cluster is abundant with stars, making it a rich and relatively easy target.  If you’re looking for detail in the cluster itself, it’s best to use a longer focal length, while a short focal length refractor can brilliantly situate the cluster within the wider starfield. Unsurprisingly, the key thing to look out for here is star colour, and the use of LRBG filters can yield great results.


Ring Nebula – M57

Mag: 8.8

Despite its small size, the Ring Nebula is a popular and accessible target located between Beta and Gamma Lyrae. Visually, the test of M57 is usually whether you can see the two stars in the centre of the ring, while photographically, the biggest challenge is to capture the faint outer shells.


Helix Nebula – NGC 7293

Mag: 7.3

Like M57, the Helix Nebula is a classic example of planetary nebulae and, just 650 light years from Earth, is the closest to us too. Once a star that probably looked much like our Sun, the NGC 7293 is in the final phase of stellar evolution. Balance the fainter outer shell with the internal cometary knots.



Dumbbell Nebula – M27

Mag: 7.4

Last but not least, the Dumbbell Nebula is something of a favourite among astrophotographers and observers alike. At mag 7.4, it’s one of the brightest planetary nebulae in the sky, and its high surface brightness makes it fairly easy to locate. Narrowband filters and long exposure will help to capture the outer hydrogen and oxygen shell and give it much greater detail.

We’d like to thank Goofi for helping us with some target suggestions from his own lists – you can find a link to them along with his list of cracking Advanced Narrowband Targets here.

Hopefully that gives you some ideas to get going with, but there are plenty more targets out there! If you have any object suggestions or imaging tips you would like to share, let us know in the comments below.


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