From the middle of August, it is dark enough for night photography here in the southern parts of Norway. The milky way season lasts to approximately December this far north. I try to head out as often as I can when there is no moon and the forecast predicts a clear sky.
It is always a delight to see the milky way in-camera, but bringing it out in post can often be challenging. One of the key challenges is that the night sky requires quite a different approach than the ground.
When it is very dark I prefer to shoot a few extra very long exposures for the ground to make sure I have enough shadow detail to work with.
Frequently, though, based on the in-camera histogram I shoot only one exposure. This means that if the histogram isn’t pushed too far to the left I assume I can bring out sufficient shadow detail in my post-work. If this is the case I will double process the image.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how it’s done.
This is the image we will double process:
And this is the straight out of camera histogram:
The very first thing I do is to right-click on the image to create a Virtual Copy which I will use for my shadow adjustments.
When I start out editing the original file I only have the sky in mind.
Here are the settings I used:
For the sky, I have set sharpening to zero and noise reduction to 20. The white balance is adjusted slightly. I have also used the brush tool and painted across the milky way to make it stand out more in the sky. These are the brush settings:
Adding Clarity to the Milky Way increases contrast but it also adds noise. To counter this I have also added some noise reduction. Quite often I play around with various brush settings to see what works best.
Below is how I edited the ground using the Virtual Copy:
The settings I applied:
When I opened the shadows to my liking it resulted in some magenta color cast in the darkest parts of the image:
With the help of the brush tool, this is relatively easy to rectify. I paint over the affected areas with the opposite color. My brush settings:
When I have finished my editing in Lightroom I highlight both images and right-click. In the pop-up menu, I go to Edit In and click Open As Layers in Photoshop.
The Layer’s Panel in Photoshop where the sky image is the top layer:
We need to blend the two exposures. In this example I am going to use Blend-If for the blending task. I double-click on the top layer. This brings up the Layer Style dialogue box. I am only interested in the Blend-If section. I move the various arrows around until I arrive at a blend I am happy with.
By pressing down ALT while dragging it becomes possible to split the arrows and feather our selection. These settings worked best for me:
Below is how the image looks now:
To my eyes, the foreground is too dark. So I add a white mask to the top layer. With black as my foreground color I use a soft large brush at around 50% opacity to reveal more of the foreground from the bottom layer.
The Layer’s Panel:
This is the image when I have finished the blending job:
The image will provide me with a good starting point for the rest of the processing in Photoshop.