Back so soon? Hope you had fun reading about the Milky Way and how to photograph it. Here is a confession: You really do not need to jack your ISO up as far as I stated in Capturing the Milky Way. What happens when you set the ISO high is that you lose some dynamic range, and you will get some clipping (loss of highlights), and of course you increase the noise – BUT your processing will be a little easier because you won’t have to push any settings more than just a smidgen.
Hear are the general steps I take to attack my Milky Way images.
- Noise Reduce
- Color Correct
- Contrast and local enhancements
- Foreground/background blending
There are dozens of ways to do each of these tasks. If you love Lightroom (I don’t particularly like it because it is SO slow to load and doesn’t allow me to blend multiple images) you will find some great resources by Ben Canales. For a $20 donation he’ll walk you step by step through his processing regimen. The only downside to his tutorial is you must have web-access to view it – you can’t save a copy.
Even though I would normally noise reduce first, I am deferring the explanation for now and attacking the color balance problem. Sometimes all you need to properly color correct is to open your image in Adobe Camera Raw and use the White Balance Tool.
Much of the area near the Milky Way is “white” so clicking that diffuse glowing part with the white balance tool will properly balance your sky… or not depending on how bad the light pollution is. Where exactly should you click? Not on individual stars (though that may work too if you pick the right colored star and you do not have clipping). Just about anywhere except the brightest areas of the Milky Way should work. It will not hurt at all to “click around” a bit until you get a natural look. Here is a Milky Way image color corrected using the ACR white balance technique:
However if the light pollution is pretty bad, you don’t have a raw file or your sky is quite orange/brown, you will want to employ a more potent solution. This solution comes from Sky at Night Magazine. Below is a video we recorded during our Photo Manipulation 150 Webinar. One giveaway that your sky is not naturally colored is if it is orange, brown, green or completely blue. I am not going to tell you not to render your sky like that – after all it is your photo and your taste will dictate what you want, but if you want people who enjoy astronomy to take your photo seriously do not go too far from reality.
One of my favorite images of the Milky Way resulted from allowing the camera to select a white balance. I used a blue-white LED flashlight and that caused the night sky to go “sepia”. I did do some local enhancements to bring out the Milky Way. How I did the enhancement will be discussed in the next installment covering “Local Enhancement”.
If, however you want to get your sky naturally colored despite the light pollution, hopefully you’ll find this video informative – there are a bunch of additional tips, too!
You may have to enter the password BrownSky to watch it.
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