Milky Way Photography Lightroom Tutorial

Let’s unpack it together in this photography tutorial.

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Milky Way Photography Lightroom Tutorial

How to edit long exposure star photos inside of Lightroom

Learn how to edit Milk Way Photography and Astrophotography of the night sky inside this Lightroom editing tutorial.

Taking long exposure photos of the milky way, light trails and night sky can be one of the most fun photography techniques to learn. Editing these nighttime photos inside Lightroom takes some special techniques to draw the best out of your star photos. Luckily, its actually pretty easy once you know how to edit them.

We’ll start with a flat & boring RAW file taken with a DSLR with barely any stars visible, and then transform it into colorful, dynamic galaxy photo step by step. Enjoy!

[powerkit_collapsible title=”CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO TRANSCRIPT”]
hey guys Ryan here at signature edits
inside this tutorial we are going to be
editing Milky Way photography inside of
Lightroom so let’s get into it alright I
have a photo here by a tennis andonov
we’re going to go through step by step
in how I would edit it hopefully you’ll
get a few tips and editing tricks to
take into your own Milky Way photography
so for starters the first thing that I
want to do before I jump in and start
making changes is I want to know what
I’m working with to see how much
information I can pull out of the photo
because if the information isn’t there
if things have been clipped in the
blacks or the whites I’m not going to be
able to get them back so that’s going to
determine how I approach editing this
photo you can see here on the right
under the histogram panel it tells me
the image settings when this photo was
taken it was taken at ISO 100 with an 11
millimeter lens at F 3.5 with an
exposure of 30 seconds so this is great
it was taken at ISO 100 that’s really
key because that means it’s going to be
the cleanest possible image out of the
camera it’ll have the least amount of
noise here when I try and actually draw
detailing and the camera will grab more
details simply because it’s at it clean
or iso so make sure you’re starting with
a good photo to begin with that’s my
advice number one for night photography
and Milkyway photography you want to
make sure you start with the photos that
in camera was as clean as possible we
also have an exposure of 30 seconds you
can see that we have these car trails
here from a car that went by during the
exposure process and it illuminated some
of this cliff so we have some
information here now it doesn’t really
matter to me that this is a little blown
out because obviously it’s going to stay
white in the final edit okay that out of
the way what I’m going to do is just
grab my exposure and grab it and take it
all the way up here now I’m not doing
this because I’m actually going to edit
it like that I just want to see how much
information is in the photo and as you
can see what previously was completely
black has shown up to be a lot of
information we’ve got lots of great
stars up here we’ve got even some city
haze maybe in the distance I don’t know
what that is lots of information here in
the gravel this hillside we’re going to
have some issues if we zoom in over here
oh come now
if we zoom in you can see that we have
also clipped it looks like this hill and
so we’re going to have some issues
getting detail out of there but we’ll
just take that as it comes but we’re
good to go that’s the main thing we have
information now the first thing I’m
going to do
let’s just get a general exposure for
kind of my foreground of the scene
because that is going to just determine
everything else so probably around there
it looks good to me
that’s pretty nice now the next thing
I’m going to do is take the highlights
just drag them back just a little bit
and see what happens so it’s it’s worth
experimenting you can see that I am
getting rid of the highlights in this
trail a little bit taking down the
clipping however I’m also losing stars I
don’t know if you’re noticing but just
dragging those highlights up I can see
way more stars so I actually would like
to use that tool to my advantage I’m
going to have to take an adjustment
layer grab my brush here and we’re just
going to make a blank brush I’m going to
brush right on this trail so you can
press oh if you want to see what you’re
you can see that red highlight area is
showing me exactly where I’m brushing
I’m going to brush onto this trail and
what I’m going to do is I’m going to
take the highlights down on this trail
and kind of the surrounding areas that
are peaking here so go like that make
sure everything has been drawn on okay
now if I were doing this not for the
sake of time I would maybe be a little
more careful careful but that’s good
enough for now we can press again to
hide that mask open up my settings here
and we’re just going to drag those
highlights down an even our exposure may
be a little bit down there we go our
whites okay add some clarity here and
some sharpness take our blacks up just a
little bit okay so here’s before and
after that’s great I’m going to take my
highlights back a little bit somewhere
around there so here’s before and here’s
after that’s where we’ve gotten to now
if you lost some of the saturation in
this car trail so I’m going to add some
back in here like that and we can even
warm it up if we want to just experiment
and see the white balance tool is
actually super helpful for this okay
great we’ve got the car trail let’s say
that we’re happy around there next up we
want to bring out these stars how do we
do that well I’m going to make another
adjustment brush and I’m going to start
with just resetting it we’re going
to paint on here you can press o to make
sure you can see what you’re doing we’re
just going to paint on the sky now I’m
not going to paint this bottom section
yet I’m going to kind of feather that in
so I’ll turn my feather up and my flow
down and I’m just going to kind of blend
that in because this area of this guy is
way lighter than the rest of it and so I
know that if I make adjustments it’s
going to be too intense if I try and do
the same area okay so we’ve got no
changes happening now what I’m going to
do is just for the sake of time I’ve
made a preset here that comes in our
Genesis pack
it’s called add texture I’m going to
select that you can see all those stars
that just popped out well now I’m going
to drag my shadows up here and clarity
and you can go ahead and just copy these
settings you don’t have to have the
brush obviously you can just copy this
little bit of contrast little highlight
little shadows some clarity even a
little D haze you can see what a massive
difference that makes here’s before and
after Wow unreal right so what I’m going
to do is just very gently I’m going to
paint in the corner of this image now
kind of blend things in okay now for
this very bottom area along the corner
I’m going to make sure Auto mask is
selected and just go along this edge and
hopefully Auto mask is going to auto
detect the edge of that cliff side so
that I can get a nice mask without too
much going over okay that is looking
pretty good okay next step I’m just
going to adjust a few things in here
maybe I’ll take my clarity up a little
bit more and my whites up let’s just see
what happens and there we go now one
thing I could do even a little bit more
if I wanted I’m noticing some
inconsistency here just let me paint in
there a little bit is I could take my
blacks up as well and just see what
and when you’re editing night
photography a lot of it is trial and
error not every photo behaves the same
way and so you’re going to find some
things work sometimes other things do
not others
take that back and now the last thing I
want to do is I’m going to take this
temperature and I’m going to add some
blue by dragging it towards blue and
you’ll see that the sky looks more like
a kind of Spacey sky if I take it way
too far you’ll see it’s pretty dramatic
that’s a way further than we’d ever want
but just a little bit is going to give
it kind of that bluish green that we
associate with outer space so I want to
do that and maybe a little bit more down
here I might actually make a new layer
now just for the corner of this image
because I think it’s kind of ugly with
that orange going on down here from the
city skyline or whatever it is that’s
doing that light pollution that’s why
when you do Milky Way photography you
want to make sure if you can get away
from the city and you’re gonna get more
stars more detail more everything if
you’re able to do that then we’ll just
drag it on here you’ll see I’ve just
added a little bit more blue to try try
and counteract what’s going on here I’m
gonna add a little contrast to see what
happens maybe even do you saturate good
that’s looking better okay so lastly I’m
going to go down to my detail settings
you know what this is looking a little
smushy too so we’ll see if we can even
get some detail out of these trees here
you see on the edge I’m just going to go
here to maybe 1 2 3 ok 1 2 – 1 2 3 was
too generous ok and now I’m going to
just reset this brush and I’m going to
go to just some clarity turn my auto
mask off see my flow back up press o so
I can see what I’m doing and all I’m
going to do is just follow the edge of
these trees because I wanted what I want
to do is try and just define this edge
better so I’m hoping just by adding a
little clarity I’ll be able to make it
seem like it’s sharper without having to
bring the exposure up and do a whole lot
of work and I’ll do the same thing with
the rest of this with this tree up here
these cliffs
okay now let’s see if we can get away
with it
zoom in so I can see what I’m doing
again and you can see the problem is
it’s obviously making these areas around
the mask brighter so what I can try and
do is just take my contrast down that
might blend it a little bit or make it
worse of course try and find a happy
medium here there we go so here’s before
and after you can see it’s just to find
the line a little bit more and I can
even take my sharpness up just a bit
okay now the last thing in this image is
that’s really still bothering me is
these rocks right here we’ve kind of got
some intense Reds going on now there’s a
few ways we could approach this we could
go down to the HSL panel and we could
desaturate the reds maybe see how that
looks maybe take the luminance down in
them a little bit we can even change the
hue make them maybe a little bit more
Orange II so we have kind of a teal and
orange color going on
and that’s all fine and good what I am
noticing is down here we have the green
reflected from the lights of this car
and I’m not really liking a look of that
I find if you can keep your colors more
minimal if we have just red and blue as
the colors in this image it’s going to
be more powerful if we have this
smattering of green so I’m going to just
try desaturating the greens and the
yellows and see if that’ll get rid of
that perfect maybe not quite that far
you don’t want to look way too edited
you might be looking at this and saying
of course it looks way too edited
already but that’s alright this is more
for demonstration than to show you the
perfect edit okay that’s looking pretty
good you can see the difference that
makes here’s before and here’s after so
just getting rid of that green lens a
little bit I think of visual cohesion
and I am still not really impressed with
the outline of this hill if we can get
that nice and crisp we will feel way
better so I’m going to try one more grab
this see if we can maybe use the D haze
tool and I really want to emphasize this
Hill here so I’m going to go to a new
brush right over here I’m just gonna
grab that Hill
now the only problem with doing this
kind of a edit intensive tutorial is
obviously you’re having to wait quite a
while to see the changes that are
happening but if I go ahead down here
and I go to just reset all of these at
there’s before and there is after and I
think that is an improvement we can even
take our exposure down a little
something like that now I feel like this
tree is just the most iconic part of the
photo or bush or whatever it is so I’m
going to take one last try drawing out a
little bit more detail around the edges
of this something like that great and we
are looking pretty good if I wanted I
could zoom in here and just see if we
need to add some denoise probably we’ve
got some color noise going on you can
see a little bit of splotches of magenta
and purple going on in here so if we go
to our detail panel we can just look at
our sharpening hold down alt for masks
and of course this is going to be be
laggy but we can drag this mask up and
see which parts of the image we want
sharpened and which we do not the white
areas are receiving sharpening the black
areas are not so we drag that up until
only parts of the image are being
sharpened and we make sure we take our
color noise reduction up so that we’re
smoothing out you can see if we zoom in
here on the preview that we have some
weird banding going on so we just take
the color in noise reduction up and our
smoothness up and that’ll smooth those
out now if you want a more descriptive
version of what the sharpening and noise
reduction panels do inside lightroom and
how you can get the most out of them
make sure to check out my incredibly
in-depth video tutorial i did i’ll make
sure to link to it here and for your
reference we can now go over to our grid
view go to our full-screen mode and here
is our original photo here is once we
applied our edits and finally once we
apply to our sharpening and noise
reduction just to bring out a little bit
more detail and clean up that color now
if you want to you can take it one step
further and that is by going back to our
adjustment brush and we’re going to do
one extra thing and that’s just going to
enhance the highlights of this Milky way
just put
my exposure up here I’ve got some
clarity and I’m just going to brush in
you see the Milky Way is already
outlined in here I’m just going to
follow that with my brush and just
emphasize it now this is going to look
very silly at first but what I’m doing
is I’m just sitting it kind of at a
higher setting than I normally would use
and then I’m going to dial it back from
there just so I can see what I’m doing
so I’d take my time here you can see
there’s some little trails around there
maybe take my flow down a little bit
that’ll help me be slightly more subtle
here just going to follow all these
little trails as closely as I can get
you’re just looking for what’s already
in the image and we’re just going to
emphasize it like that so obviously that
looks a little bit silly but with this
rush job we’ll see if we can still make
it work okay something like that
and if you wanted to maybe you could
emphasize down here to a little bit okay
let’s pretend that was good then we go
over to this little arrow here and you
can actually adjust the intensity of
that particular effect so we’ll take it
way back like that and go down here
maybe dial my exposure back a little bit
take my clarity up you can see we’ve got
even more Milky Way goodness popping
through now all right something like
that so that is our final photo of
course you can go on tweaking for days
and for days and for days we could go
over here
back into our develop module and we
could go down to our colors in the HSL
panel and if our preview would ever load
I would show you how we could change the
different colors for days and just
experiment and see what we want to do
mate maybe we want more of a teal look
so we’d take the teal up inside of those
blues and again I’d mention maybe we
want more of an orange vibe to those
Reds on the wall so we can get that kind
of teal and orange look we can go down
to our camera calibration take that even
a step forward take our reds over like
that now we really have that orange and
teal vibe especially if we take our
blues over towards teal so you can
really take this a million different
directions but hopefully it was hell
for you you got some ideas some tools
and some tricks to editing your own
Milky Way photography now if this were
my final edit I’d make sure to go into
the masks and clean things up around
this boundary here just to get the best
possible product I could but this was
just really meant to show you a quick
and dirty tutorial on how I would
approach editing Milky Way photography
if this was helpful for you please make
sure to hit that like button for me and
leave me a comment below I like to hear
from you and if you want to stay up to
date with more great content tutorials
free stuff make sure to hit that
subscribe button also I will leave some
links below for some free presets you
can download those if you like alright
take care of peace and I will see you in
the next one


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