Editing Star Photos in Lightroom

Following on from my first post on ‘A Guide to Star Photography’, and assuming that you’ve had a few weeks to get out and practice those pointers yourself, we are going to take those images of yours and see how post processing can make your start photos really pop. Rarely do any digital photo taken today need some sort of tweaking, and the main workflow will always depends on how the editor (that’s you) interprets the photo. So here are a few common adjustments that I make to my star photos, that you can also adopt in your own workflow.

First of all, I personally use Adobe Lightroom for photo editing, as generally I only need to make a few minor adjustments for the final image look good to outstanding. However, if you are not able to get the shot as close to perfect in the camera, then you may need to use Photoshop to correct parts of your image. For the sake of this tutorial we’ll go with using Lightroom as your editing software, and once I’ve uploaded your images, the first step is to identify the primary subject in the photos, which is what will dictate your adjustments to bring out the best of that primary subject. Generally, the main subject of a star photo are the stars themselves, but you can consideration other elements such as foreground objects, framing elements, and leading line; which may influence the editing process as well. However, the basic tonal and detail adjustments are a little more straightforward and the areas that I will normally adjust include:

  • Exposure;
  • white balance;
  • sharpness/luminance; and
  • minor brush adjustments.

The second step is to set your exposure and white balance. The white balance of the night sky usually falls around 3800-4200 K with the exposure trending more towards the darker spectrum. The next step is to adjust the sharpness/luminance of the image and is less about remembering to use a specific number as it is about finding a balance between increasing the sharpness of the image, while managing the noise from using such high ISO setting. However I usually sharpen to 30-40% and luminance of 20-30% as a starting point. Finally, I use a brush adjustment tool and lightly brush over the densest part of the Milky Way, and also increase the warmth of it to around 4700 K; this gives the image more visual contrast as well as a bit more depth. And here’s a before and after shot of a night sky with both a foreground subject (the internally lit ruins) and a background subject (the Milky Way), for you to compare:

Before

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After

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You will notice in this image that I chose to bring back the black just a little bit on the lighthouse ruins to enhance a little more detail of the carved sandstone bricks. However, leaving it completely silhouetted against the night sky would be fine as well, remembering that it depends on the preference of you, the editor.

Lastly and most importantly is that there are no right or wrong ways to edit your photos, nor is editing the photos at all necessary if you are happy with the photo you’ve captured in the first place. For me, the ability for a powerful yet easy to operate editing program like Adobe Lightroom software makes it easier to make the captured image really shine. Have a go yourself and let us know how you went and share your final night sky image with us on Facebook!

Photography by Auyeung Photography.