How to Edit Milky way Photos in Photoshop

How to Edit Milky way Photos in Photoshop

How to Edit Milky way Photos in Photoshop | The Easy Way

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Hey everyone hope you all are doing good. Today I decided to share with you the way I edit milky way photos. I hope you’ll find this tutorial helpful in improving your photos. So without writing long intros, lets dive straight into Photoshop and start cooking our image.

This image was shot in Ambesh valley, Dist. Ghizer, Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan.


Canon 6D | Canon 50mm | ISO 10000 | 10 secs @ f/2.0

edit milky way photos

Step 1: Lens Correction, Noise Reduction & WB

First open the image in Photoshop and start with doing some basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw module. Here you will be doing lens correction, image sharpening, remove chromatic aberration and reduce noise and adjust the white balance.

edit milky way photos
Applying lens correction and removing chromatic aberration
edit milky way photos
Masking out image noise

Then mask out the image noise by holding ALT and moving the slider to the left. Here the white areas will be the least effected and the blacks the most effected. That is what I always go for.

Now reduce the color noise which is something you shouldn’t miss out. See the difference below after I reducing it.

Reducing color noise

Finally adjust the white balance of the image which is a very crucial part especially when it comes to milky way editing. There are tons of different ways to do this but I prefer this method.

edit milky way photos

Bump up the contract, vibrance and saturation sliders to 100 and then adjust the temperature till its on the cooler end. After you are happy with it, reset the above sliders to 0.

edit milky way photos
White balance adjusted

Step 2: Levels, Curves Adjustment & Color Balance

Now comes the fun part of the editing. After doing the basic things in Adobe Camera Raw, open the image by clicking “Open Image”. Double click the layer to unlock and grab a cup of tea or coffee, whatever you like.

Next, pop up the image by introducing contrast and brightness by applying levels and curves adjustment layers.

edit milky way photos
Levels adjustment layer
edit milky way photos
Curves adjustment layer

See the difference these simple adjustments had made to the image, its starting to pop out and getting interesting. Next add a color balance adjustment layer on top and tweak the sliders to adjust the color according to your taste. Make sure to keep it natural and don’t over do it. I only do it when I need to make the image cooler or warmer.

edit milky way photos
Adjusting the color balance

Step 3: Reducing the Stars

This is step is not mandatory, you can skip it if you want to but I found this very useful. By doing this you can easily reduce the size of the stars and make your image stand out.

Merge all the layers by hitting (ctrl + alt + E) and star working on the new layer. Go to “select” on the top menu bar and click “color range”. Select Highlights from the drop down menu and adjust the fuzziness and range and click okay. You will the marching ants showing the selection you made. You can hide these if you want to by pressing ctrl + H and ctrl + D if you want to deselect and make a new one.

edit milky way photos
Adjust the fuzziness and range

Then go to Select>Modify>Expand and set a value around 1.5 and 2. These values will vary depending on various focal length. For this shot my focal length was 50mm so the above values worked for me. You can experiment and see which suits you.

edit milky way photos

Then go to Select>Modify>Feather and set a value around 0.5 to 1 and hit okay.

edit milky way photos

Finally, go to Filter>Other and click Minimum. Enter 0.5 in the radius box or and press okay. See the difference below

Stars Reduction

Step 4: Final touches & adding Drama

Till the now, the editing is complete but if you want to add some mood, more colors and drama to your image then this step is for you. For this you will need Nik Collection by DXO. Its a very powerful plugin for both Photoshop and Lightroom and its completely FREE.

edit milky way photos

Define 2 is my go to plugin for clean and precise noise reduction. Now, go to Filters>Nik Collection and click “define 2” to reduce noise in the image. Leave the settings as it is and press okay. A new layer will be created above your previous layer and you can adjust the opacity if the effect is too strong.

To add more drama to your image, go to “select” again, Filters>Nik Collection and this time open “Color Efex Pro 4”. Here you have tons of customizable filters to choose from to apply various effects.

edit milky way photos

For this particular image I used three filters; contrast color range, tonal contrast and glamour glow. Select the filter and play with the sliders that matches your taste and the feel you are wanting to communicate. Click okay when you are done.

edit milky way photos

As mentioned above, a new layer with all the changes will be created on top. You can increase or decrease the opacity to control the effect.

Final Image

Final Image: Before & After

So here you have it, that’s how I edit my milky way photos. I hope you have found this helpful and that it would help you in improving your edits. Lastly, you really don’t need to stick to the method I used, just work with an open mind, explore new ways, try different things and find your own style.

Omer Gul

Connect with Omer Gul

Omer Gul is a professional digital marketer and owner of an online clothing brand OpenRoad Oufit. He is an avid traveler, a landscape photographer & a visual artist based in Wah Cantt, Pakistan.

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