June 5, 2024 | 741 Views

How to Edit Astrophotography for Stellar Night Sky Images

Picture this: You’ve braved the dark and captured stellar night sky images in the field. When you return home and start applying photo edits, that beautiful night sky image doesn’t quite match your expectations of what you were shooting in the field.

Sadly, this is the reality for many night shooters. Editing night photos is vastly different from any other kind of photo edit. In this guide, we’ll cover how to edit astrophotography, exploring techniques you need to understand to create stellar night sky images.

Adjust the White Balance

The white balance is essential when it comes to night photography. Shooting in auto white balance in the field is fine, but you’ll need to make adjustments in post-processing for the best images. Most cameras struggle to find the correct white balance in the dark, so manual adjustment is necessary when learning how to edit star photos.

Steps to Adjust White Balance

  1. Initial Adjustment: Changing the white balance will affect the whole image, and this is the best way to create warmer or cooler images from the start. Start by adjusting the temperature and tint.
  2. Continuous Monitoring: Keep tweaking white balance throughout the edit.
  3. Final Touches: Remember, adjustments at the beginning yield better results than at the end.

Tips for Optimal White Balance

  • Individual Adjustments: Since each camera renders color differently and each scene has a different kind of light, you’ll have to adjust each image to nail the white balance.
  • Experimentation: Each camera renders colors differently, so experiment with adjustments for the best results.

Remember, you won’t get great results if you wait until the end to make adjustments since you’ll have applied various effects that change your image’s colors. So don’t neglect this first step in editing astrophotography.

Cool white balance

Warm white balance
Cool versus warm white balance.

Want to simplify your process? This photography workflow guide will help.

Editing via Masking

Masking is a helpful technique when learning how to edit astrophotography. Unlike most regular edits, where you can achieve great results simply by applying global adjustments, night sky editing often involves a dark foreground and a sky full of bright stars. Because of the high amount of dynamic range, applying individual edits to the sky separate from the foreground can yield excellent results.

While the foreground might need a targeted increase in exposure, the sky will generally look best with a contrast adjustment. Here’s how to achieve the best outcome:

How to Use Masking

  1. Create a Layer Mask: Use the Local tab in the Edit module.
  2. Select Sky or Foreground: Easily select the sky or inverse the mask for the foreground.
  3. Adjust Exposure and Contrast: Increase foreground exposure and adjust sky contrast for a balanced image.

Most images will look best when you increase the exposure of the foreground, which will bring more detail into your night photo. For the sky, try increasing the contrast to your liking!

Apply Expert Effects

Apply Expert Effects

We can’t discuss how to edit astrophotography without covering effects. Many of the effects offered in ON1 Photo RAW are perfect for night images. Here are some recommended effects:

  • Dynamic Contrast: Give the Milky Way a strong pop
  • Color Adjustment: Achieve perfect colors in your scene
  • Color Balance: Go from a warm-orange sky to a cool-blue or anything in between
  • Glow Effect: Selectively adding to give the Milky Way an ethereal feel
  • Vignette: Finish off the edit with a subtle vignette effect

After you’ve applied your basic edits, you can rely on the Effects tab to do the heavy lifting in your night photography edits.

Increase your editing skills with these 10 tips to edit like a pro photographer.

Use NoNoise AI

The recent update of ON1 Photo RAW 2024 allows for seamless integration of NoNoiseAI 2024 to use alongside your photo edit. Since night images generally have more noise, applying noise reduction is crucial. With the latest update, using a quick noise reduction at the end of your photo edit has never been easier.

Steps to Apply NoNoise AI

  1. Access NoNoise AI: Go into the Develop Tab and scroll down to Noise and Sharpening.
  2. Adjust Settings: Use the luminance slider for noise reduction intensity and the detail slider for sharpness.
  3. Color Noise: Adjust the color slider to remove or retain color noise

If the effect comes in too strong, reducing the luminance will adjust how much noise reduction is applied. If the noise reduction appears too sharp, you can reduce the detail slider, and if you’d like to remove more or less color noise, you can do so with the color slider.

Apply noise reduction

How to Edit Milky Way Photos

Editing Milky Way photos can be particularly challenging but also incredibly rewarding. The key is to bring out the detail in the Milky Way while maintaining a natural look. This video by professional photographer Dylan Kotecki explains how:

Editing Astrophotography FAQs

We hope the steps to stellar night images above helped. If you have more questions on how to edit astrophotography, read on.

What is the best white balance setting for astrophotography?

There is no one-size-fits-all setting. It varies by camera and scene, so manual adjustments are necessary.

What is the best editing software for astrophotography?

ON1 Photo RAW is the top choice for astrophotography editing. It provides powerful tools and features to enhance and retouch images, including non-destructive editing, AI-powered adjustments, and precise control over color and tone. ON1 Photo RAW also includes photo organizational tools for managing your photo library, making it a complete solution for editing and organizing your photography workflow.

Is stacking necessary in astrophotography?

Stacking is not always necessary, but it can significantly improve the quality of your astrophotography images by reducing noise and enhancing detail, especially in images with faint objects.

Master the Art of Astrophotography Editing

Learning to edit your night photos takes time and practice, but the techniques outlined in this article will get you on the fast track to creating stellar night images. As you edit your photo, we encourage you to try all the sliders, seeing how each adjustment affects your image. This will help you learn how to edit amazing photos quickly and find new techniques for future edits. Happy shooting!