How to Shoot and Retouch the Milky Way

by | 4 years ago

Shooting the Milky Way is really cool, because your camera can capture what you often can’t see with your own eyes. Here I’m going to show you in simple steps how you can shoot and retouch the Milky Way to get the kind of photo shown here.

Tips for Capturing Stars

We’ll start out with some tips for capturing these types of images.

  1. To shoot the Milky Way, the first thing you’ll want to do is get away from civilization; the light pollution will make it hard for you to see the stars.
  2. Be patient and wait for a new moon, or for the moon to set, so the stars will be brighter and easier to catch.
  3. Open your aperture as much as possible, ideally f/2.8 or f/4.
  4. Play with the ISO: Use either a 15-second exposure at 4000 ISO or a 30-second exposure at 2000 ISO.
  5. Manually focus on a bright star; make sure it’s as small as possible.
  6. Use a remote or a 2-second timer on a stable tripod.
  7. And finally, find a cool foreground element like rocks or trees to make your photo more interesting, as in this example.

Retouching the Photos

While you’re shooting the Milky Way, don’t hesitate to try different angles, different compositions, panoramas, etc. Here I did a panorama with four photos. To make it into a panorama, just select your photos in Lightroom, Right-click on one of the photos, select Photo Merge>Panorama, and voilà!

Step One: So let’s retouch this shot now! (I don’t do my usual retouching for Milky Way shots, so I won’t be using the Shadows slider.) I boosted the Highlights to +47 because I like the halo it creates. I then boosted the Whites to +44 to enhance the Milky Way, brought down the Blacks to –24, and added a lot of Clarity (+47), as the midtone contrast works great with the stars. I initially had a pretty warm white balance, which I like, but I added a little blue by sliding the Temp slider to 3,659.

Step Two: This is a good start. Because we shot with a high ISO, let’s reduce the noise. For that, go to the Detail panel, and set the Luminance Noise Reduction to 20 and the Sharpening Amount to 80. One good thing is that noise isn’t as noticeable when mixed in with the stars. Also you can add some Masking to limit the edges that receive the sharpening; I set it to 24.

Step Three: In the Lens Corrections panel, turn on both Enable Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberration to help remove any distortion from the image.

Step Four: Here comes the fun; let’s make the Milky Way pop. For that, we’re going to use the Adjustment Brush (K). You can boost the Exposure a little bit if you wish (I didn’t in this example), then add some yellow and magenta by setting the Temp slider to 15 and the Tint slider to 5, respectively. Then, increase the Clarity to 31. Make sure your brush’s Feather is set at 100 and the Flow and Density are around 80. Now you just have to brush over the Milky Way.

And here’s the final result. I hope you guys liked this article and that you’re going to try it out and make your own awesome Milky Way photos!