In this Photo editing tutorial I will show you how I edited a night shot of the Milky Way in Photoshop and Lightroom.I will give you the RAW images straight from the camera so you can work with them and make your own edits.
For Milky Way photography and star photography in general I use the following settings on my camera:
- ISO: 800 or higher
- Aperture: as opened as possible f2.8 or wider
- Exposure time: 30 seconds or more if I want to make star trails
If you want to take night time-lapse photography you need a remote trigger. Check out my setup and night photography settings.
High end camera handle noise a lot better when using high ISO settings so the ISO depends on the camera that you have and also your own preferences. Increasing the exposure more than 30 seconds will create movement on the stars which is not desirable so if you want a brighter photo increase the ISO or widen the aperture if you can.
Night Photography – Milky Way editing video tutorial
How to edit a Milky May photo
The first thing you need is a good photo to start with so make sure you take multiple shots with different settings. Don’t trust what you see on the camera LCD screen, take a look at the histogram. Also try different angles and shoot both horizontal and vertical. You will be surprised to see how much different is to see the Milky Way on vertical than in horizontal.
Open the image in Lightroom or Photoshop Camera RAW and start by editing the contrast, and temperature. Because you are working with a RAW file you will have more dynamic range to play and in night photography that’s really important. For this particular image I made the image a bit colder, I increased the Exposure by almost 1 stop and I increased the whites and lowered the highlights to make the light pollution a bit dimmer. I also increased the Clarity a bit and the Saturation and Vibrance to make the sky and lights a bit more colored.
I made a subtle Split Tone effect to add some blue on the shadows and some orange on the highlights and I lowered the lights using the Tone Curve. To not make your Milky Way too contrasty because it will actually look better if it’s softer.
In any kind night photography the noise is a big issue because you almost always work with long exposures and High ISO and the noise will be present on your image no matter what. You can minimize this problem by taking a dark frame with your DSLR. In Lightroom you can also reduce the noise and add sharpness using the Detail module. In Photoshop there are more sharpening techniques but you can use the Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen filters or the LAB sharpening technique.
Lens correction in Lightroom
You can reduce chromatic aberration and vignetting in Lightroom using the Lens Correction module. If you select your lens profile and automatic corrections will be made to your image to compensate for distortion and color. Distortions can also be corrected manually and reduce chromatic aberration but for this particular image we will make all the distortion correction in Photoshop.
Milky Way Photography editing in Photoshop
If you work with Camera RAW in Photoshop you can accept the changes and open the image in Photoshop. If you work in Lightroom, right-click the image and choose Edit in Photoshop. You can see that the lighthouse is leaning towards the right side, so we need to correct that. Create a duplicate of the image with Ctrl+J and on the newly created layer add a layer mask.
In order to straighten the lighthouse I selected the copy that I just created and pressed Ctrl+T to load the Free Transform and then right-clicked the image and used the Distort option to shift the image to the left. Pressing the Shift key while distorting will lock the axel so you don’t accidentally distort on vertical.
Use the created layer mask on the copy to remove unwanted areas an only show the corrected lighthouse.
If you want to enhance your Milky Way photo you can use any adjustment layer or plugins to reduce noise, add contrast or color effects but I left it as natural as I could. Night photography