Welcome back to another blog tutorial on how to post-process the night sky! In this blog I specifically go over how to adjust hue, saturation, and lightness of the colors of your astrophotography. If you’re interested in going over a comprehensive guide on how to process the night sky, check out my last blog post here.
This tutorial is all about one of my favorite aspects of astrophotography: color. One of the many things that make an image of the night sky memorable are the colors and I’ll be talking about why we get the colors in the astrophotography and how to use different adjustment layers to pull some amazing color in your photographs. I’ve been super fortunate to have been on night photography trips and captured some AMAZING coloring in the night sky. This summer has been some of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken and it’s because of the amazing color I’ve been able to capture.
In this example I’ll go over how I processed this image and was able to get the colors I got in this image.
To begin with, the color we see in the Milky Way will be dependent on a lot of factors. With the naked eye you’ll find that it’s a white/blue color, but what your camera sensor picks up in color data is amazing. Depending on the amount of pollution in the sky, geographic region (dark skies or not), and other atmospheric debris, you’ll get color data in a wide range. In post-processing though, you’ll have the opportunity to pull out some great color and saturation. Differing gases in the Milky Way and earth’s atmosphere will affect the coloring you’ll capture in-camera.
Adobe Photoshop has some incredible tools within the software that will enable you to capture/edit some awesome images of the night sky. My secret? Curves and hue/saturation adjustment layers. In the lower right-hand corner is the option of choosing a variety of adjustment layers. Here you can choose curves and hue/saturation adjustment layers. Both of these are so powerful and will give you a range of options to adjust the color and saturation of the sky.
In the curves adjustment layer you have the option of choosing from four different color channels to edit and adjust. The RGB tone curve adjust the overall exposure/tones of your image. Then there’s the red, green, and blue channels, all separated into their own, giving you the ability to add certain coloring to your images.
The hue/saturation adjustment layer is another favorite. This adjustment layer is SO powerful. Within the initial dropdown dialogue you’ll find the different color pixels that can be found in any one image. By selecting one of these colors you’re able to target that specific color and adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of that specific color.
For example, I love using this type of adjustment layer to target specific colors. In this photograph you’ll find a wide range of hues within the one image. I started by targeting the reds and yellows in this image on one layer. I love adding the warmth reds and yellows bring to a photo, so when I found that this had a pretty significant amount of reds and yellows, I was super stoked. Within the reds and yellows I like to keep it relatively natural; the reds more red and yellows more yellow. In another hue/saturation layer I targeted the magentas by adding more yellow to the image. The original file had it a little more red than I wanted, so I add adjusted the hue slider to the right towards the yellow section of the hue spectrum. And then finally, I target the blues, one specifically for blues/cyans and another to adjust more purple in the milky way. Another great thing about this adjustment layer is that I can target the saturation of those individual colors. If I want the reds to be more saturated and pop more, I simply have to slide the saturation slider on the reds to the right.
Now if you’re thinking, that’s too good to be true, don’t! It really is that simple! The beauty of using adjustment layers are twofold. 1. They’re non-destructive. Meaning that you can easily delete that layer without losing pixels and overall quality of your image. 2. LAYER MASKS. When I started using Photoshop I was overwhelmed at trying to learn a complex piece of software, but it doesn’t have to be. The foundations of Photoshop lie in the layer masks and the ability to paint in your adjustments in a certain part of your image. If you know that white reveals and black hides, you’ll be on your way to adding certain adjustments to specific parts of any image you edit.
Disclaimer: all of this takes time to learn and achieve. Don’t expect to nail the hue/saturation of your night photography. As I write this, I still have so much to learn, but I’ve learned the foundations of color post-processing through trial and error and experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try it on your own!
Again, thanks for stopping by this tutorial. If you enjoyed this or want to know more, feel free to check out my contact information on the contact page here or through social media.
Here’s to clear skies!