Hey! This is Nico Carver. Today I’m going to show you how to take this basic stacked image of the milky way and turn it into this, using just basic stuff in Adobe Photoshop. I’d encourage you to edit along with me. To get my free milky way data that I’m going to be using in this video just visit the link below in the description and sign up for my email newsletter don’t worry it’s not spammy i’ll send it most like four emails a year and you’re welcome to unsubscribe whenever you like once you sign up for the newsletter within a few minutes get an email from me with the download links for the milky way data go ahead and download all three tiff files so you’ll have the starless.
tiff the stars. tiff and the single. tiff i prepared these ahead of time all from the same data set so that we can skip the boring time intensive stuff but if you are new to astrophotography i’ll put a card in the upper right part of the screen right now to my andromeda start to finish video which will take you through the whole process all right let’s go so with those files downloaded go ahead and just open them up i’m going to hold down shift and click to open up all three and here into photoshop and so we have our stars picture our starless picture which is just our stars picture run through star net plus plus and our single picture which we’re going to use the foreground from so let’s start with the starless picture i’m going to start by just adding a gentle s curve using the curves adjustment layer so up here i’m just going to click on curves adjustment layer and i’m just going to pick a point on this side of the histogram and bring it up a little bit and pick a point on this side of the histogram and move it down a little bit just to add in this very slight s-curve which as you can see added contrast to the picture if i turn it off and on you can see the picture is a lot more punchy now meaning the the dark parts of the picture got darker and the and the mid tones uh were raised up a little bit all right next i’m going to uh just grab my lasso tool here because i want to select all of the nebulae in the picture and give them a little bit of a saturation boost compared to everything else so i’m going to start up here with this huge sharpless object i can’t remember the name right now there’s the blue horse head here’s ro ophiuchi and you might think what is nico doing why is why is he just doing these very crappy uh not very precise selections well you’re gonna see here in a second why it doesn’t matter how precise i am with this it’s just gonna give us a little bit of an impression of a little bit added saturation all right and the eagle there we go okay so i’ve circled all of the the nebulae just with the lasso tool you could use a different tool if you want when we have made a selection on the image and then we add an adjustment layer it automatically uses that selection to make a mask just to show you how that works if i click on hue saturation you can see right here in the little thumbnail there’s the mask if i alt click it it does two things one it brings the mask up here so i can see what it looks like and two it shows the mask properties right here and i want this window up because what i’m going to do is i’m going to take the feather slider and drag that way over so that all of these sort of loose selections that i made are now really feathered out so there they there’s a there’s a nice gradient no hard edges then i can click on this little icon right here because we haven’t actually done anything yet and or double click it sorry and then it opens up the properties for the saturation and i’m just going to go ahead and grab that saturation slider and bring it over to about 30 35.
um this is going to be pretty subtle especially in the video recording but if you are following along what you can do is turn that layer off and on and you should see all the nebulae that we made those feathered selections on get a little bit of a boost of saturation which is what we’re going for all right with that done i’m now looking at this again and i think i just want to bring down the black point even a little bit more so i’m just going to do that okay with that done let’s go ahead and add in the stars so i’m just going to click on the tab here for the stars layer i’m going to select all command a or control a and copy command c control c on windows and paste and because i uh this is the exact same image one was just starless one was with stars it’s all lined up already we don’t have to do anything there i’m going to go ahead and change the blend mode over here in the layers panel from normal to screen and what screen does technically is it uh inverts uh this layer and everything below it uh two inversions and multiplies them together and then it inverts it back and the that’s not really important but what’s important is that what it does is it is it brings the mid-tones way up um and also blends uh whatever you’ve put on top here with everything else so here’s just the starless and then here’s when we add the stars one thing it does though is it the overall picture is a lot brighter now so we’re going to go ahead and add a curve again so we’re going to go up here to the curves adjustment layer this time instead of drawing an s-curve to begin with i’m going to first just grab this black point and drag that over and then i’ll add an s curve there we go okay that looks pretty good the the one thing that i noticed about it though is that it’s overall just a little bit yellow greenish um and so i want to just um cool it up a little bit maybe add a bit more blue uh to the color balance so you could do that with the color balance tool but i’m just going to use curves again but this time i’m going to go into the color channels so i’m going to choose the blue curve and add a bit of an s to that meaning just take a point here on this side of the histogram bring it up a little bit take a point on this side of the histogram and bring it down a little bit maybe i’ll go even a little bit more i’m going to do the same thing with red but even subtler okay so this looks uh pretty natural um i like how it’s looking let’s go ahead and add in the foreground so to do that i’m gonna go jump over here to the single dot tiff i’m gonna grab my quick selection tool which is four tools down i’m gonna draw on the foreground just click and drag on the foreground here it should try to find edges but it doesn’t do the greatest of jobs if we zoom in you can see it’s just doing a very basic job on finding the edges you can also see a single exposure is pretty noisy we’ll deal with that a little bit later but first we have to clean up this edge here so to do that i’m going to go up here to the quick selections options and click on this one on the far right it says select and mask if you don’t see a red overlay if instead it looks like that just click on the view and choose overlay and then over here there’s a bunch of different little options click on refine edge brush tool the second one down and just paint in around the edge of the trees here i’m really just clicking and dragging to paint just to get rid of this bright stuff along the treeline edge even though we’re probably actually going to bring this back in i just find you want to start with a fairly clean edge and then you can uh gradient it back in later um but that’s looks good okay so i’m going to hit okay it makes the selection and then we can go ahead and click on the add layer mask button which is this third little button over from the left in the layers panel and we’re going to go ahead and copy this whole layer so just do edit copy move over here to my starless dot tiff which is no longer starless and we’ll do edit paste okay and it drops that in right there we can of course move it down like that um but i want a little bit more room down here at the bottom for the foreground because i like a little bit more foreground than this and so let’s go ahead and we could use you know image canvas size to do this but i know i’m going to want to crop to 4x5 at some point anyway so let’s go ahead and just do it now and i’m going to expand the crop box down below where we’re at now like so and maybe i’ll just take off a tiny bit of that top edge there okay that looks good oh and one thing to note is you can see we have a little bit of room down here too still so we could still move this foreground around a little bit if we need to so i could grab my move tool again and see i can get a little bit more of the sky this way and now you might be wondering well you’re not being super precise about where the sky where the milky way is compared to where the you know the foreground was in your picture the thing is the milky way was moving across the sky in this foreground throughout the night so um basically you know any orientation here with the trees will be accurate at one point in the night i’m not too worried about that okay so i’m going to do something like that okay and then to add in a little bit of uh more of a blend what i usually do is you can see this is sort of like a hard blend right now what i usually do is i just take a really soft brush we want zero percent hardness and maybe 15 percent opacity and i’m just going to add in a little bit of the foreground along the edge here just to show you what that looks like something like that and this just i don’t know this just always just to me sells it a little bit more that it could be a single image even though we are mixing you know attract uh sky with a foreground the more that i’m looking at this the more that i think the whole composition should move down a little bit more though because i don’t need all this stuff up here and i want a little bit more just a tiny bit more foreground so i’m just going to bring up that crop box again and just move the whole thing down like this to basically get as much foreground as we can there we go accept okay this is looking good um the next thing that i want to do here is because i’ve now blended in a foreground with everything below i want a a new layer from visible uh this is a weird uh keyboard shortcut um on mac it’s command option shift e and on windows it’s ctrl alt shift e but all that did is it just you can see nothing changed here in the canvas it’s just over here we now have a new layer three and i’ll just call this combined because we’ve now combined the three images that we started with starless stars and single we’ve done enough work at this point let’s go ahead and save this off i’ll call it just milky way 14 millimeter and i want to save it as a photoshop document all right okay there’s there at this point there are cosmetic issues that we have to fix and then there’s the stylistic choices so this is basically like a base edit of just getting the three images together and then from here it’s a lot of just like your creativity that that would finish a milky way edit okay let’s start with the cosmetic adjustments i noticed that over here and in this corner especially it just looks like a little bit too bright remember i didn’t take any calibration frames here so that might have been fixed with something like flats who knows i’m going to go ahead and just grab a curve layer and i’m just going to draw or first i’m going to fill this mask with black so i’ll just do edit fill with black and black means that most of this curves layer i don’t want to affect the picture i really just want it to affect this corner so i’m going to raise my opacity back up to 100 but leave the brush nice and soft and i’m just going to paint in that corner and then bring down the curves on that a little bit until it sits with the rest of the picture a bit better and i think i over did it just a little bit in terms of painting that in right there okay okay so here’s before you can see the edges just look a little bit too bright and then there’s after now big stylistic choice is how much contrast and you know color changes we want to make to this this to me right now is a very sort of um low contrast very naturalistic color looking milky way and so you might like it just like this but if we want it to be a little bit punchier let’s go ahead and grab the curves and i’m going to take the green curve and bring it down and again i just want you to try this on your own monitor because it you know just bringing the green curve down we just did a tiny little bit makes a huge difference here to the image we can also just on the normal rgb curve add in a little bit more contrast at this point this is making it again what i call punchier so there’s before there’s after and these are these are stylistic sort of decisions you don’t have to do this let’s go ahead and stamp a new visible again so i’m just going to do command option shift e on mac or control option shift d on windows and here’s another thing you can do maybe a little bit controversial dodging and burning so great many great photographers dodged and burned their prints you can do it right here in photoshop it’s a it’s a selective permanent kind of adjustment that you’re making and so basically dodging is brightening parts of the picture burning is darkening parts of the picture and in photoshop here you can choose what range you want it to dodge or burn and so i’m going to burn the shadows a little bit and just bring the exposure up the the more you raise this exposure up the more dramatic the burn is so i’m going to say let’s do 20 percent just affecting the shadows okay and then if i just sort of okay that’s a little bit too much i think let’s let’s bring that down just a little bit i’m gonna do 16 there we go and then if i just sort of uh bring it out here and i’m just going to do a little bit of clicking on some of the major dark nebulae in the milky way to make them stand out a little bit more you know i i’m i like to do this pretty subtly um i don’t know how well you can see that in the video but don’t don’t overdo it don’t don’t set the exposure like to 50 or something it’s it’s it’s quite easy to overdo and make the milky way look really fake but i think that when you do it correctly the the dark uh nebulae you have this feeling like they are in front which they literally are whenever you see a dark nebula it’s covering something up meaning it’s closer to us and so by darkening them just a little bit it it helps add a little separation and give that sort of 3d effect to the picture okay from here we can continue making it a little bit more fantasy a little bit more crazy if we want and the main way that i would you know do that is again just continuing to mess with the colors basically and so if i take down the green a little bit and add a little bit of blue saturation in the highlights and then bring back in the bring back the red a little bit here we go that’s before that’s after and it just it just adds a little bit um more color variety and it i don’t i’m not sure exactly yeah it is adding more color variety it’s it’s it’s taking the picture away from natural milky way colors into much more of a fantasy um so this is is where we it’s really up to you so this is this is where i’m pretty much agnostic i i’ve shot a lot of milky way at this point but i i don’t have i’m not on a strong side in terms of this is more natural color this what i just did where i put in more blue into the highlights and took out a little bit more green is definitely not natural color but i think it looks better maybe it just it just really pops um by adding more blue to the highlights um and so i like it um i’m going to leave it like that really we’re almost done here the last thing i want to do is just address the foreground and so i’m going to stamp yet another visible stamp from visible which is command option shift e on mac or ctrl option shift e on windows and the main thing that i want to do here with the foreground is do some noise reduction because i’m sure it is quite noisy so i’m going to do that with filter camera raw filter and i’m going to open up the detail one here and i’m just going to drag the color noise reduction and the noise reduction way over and we can zoom in and turn that off and on to see what it’s doing good i’m also actually going to uh bring up the vibrance and the exposure of the foreground a little bit and maybe make it just a tad bluer and i’m only looking at the foreground when i’m doing this because i’m going to draw a gradient that is going to basically only apply this to the foreground now you might like what it did to the whole picture uh it’s sort of cool i don’t know i think it’s maybe going a little bit too far for my taste but let’s go ahead and apply that so since what we just did in adobe camera raw i mostly just want to apply to the foreground i’m going to add a layer mask and again draw a gradient on that layer mask like so maybe i can have it extend a little bit into the milky way i did actually sort of like what it did with the vibrance there to the whole picture so i’m going to go ahead and just add a vibrance adjustment layer and just bring that up a bit and at this point i just think that the the foreground and the the milky way just look a little bit too separated still and i think it’s a color balance issue so what i’m going to do is i’m going to just open up a color balance adjustment layer i’m going to drag i’m going to alt drag the this same gradient that i used here onto this mask and then i’m just going to play around with the color balance of the foreground until it matches and blends a little bit better with what we have going on in the sky which is a little bit has a little bit of like a purple feel to it so basically i just took the foreground and made it a little bit more sort of purple like the like it’s motivated from the light of our fantasy milky way here okay um at this point i think i’m done but i always just hit the f key a couple times just so i can sort of see it without any distractions and i like to zoom in and look around a little bit i mean you know it has still a fair amount of noise everywhere uh when you zoom all the way in but for instagram and that kind of thing it’ll still be quite impressive um i would have had to just maybe stack the foreground and take even more uh exposures in the night sky or done tracked exposures to to bring the noise down any more than i have um but this looks good i i’m happy with the overall presentation of it i also like to just you know maybe get up have a coffee and then come back and sit back down and look at it and think you know is this is this overboard do i think it’s like a little bit you know too much or should i because i can always one nice thing about working how we did in photoshop is you can always go back in here and and play around with okay maybe that was like a little bit too much vibrance so i could just turn that down just a little bit maybe meet it halfway that kind of thing but when you are happy with it um what i always do let’s say you want to save this for social media like sharing it on instagram i go to file export save for web legacy and basically any option in here is going to be good because just i always leave on this convert to srgb and let’s do fit in view to see how it looks because this color representation when it converts it to srgb should stay consistent on any device so um the other thing that i like is right down here it tells me uh the file size so 17 megabytes i can still email it to myself to get it on my phone and if you want to you can resize here so if i if i wanted like a smaller version for sharing on the web i could resize it right here i usually use the bilinear for resizing astrophotography so for instance i could do 2000 by 2500 and so i can keep the full size for myself but for sharing i’m going to make a little bit smaller all right that all looks good i’ll click save and there’s our final picture you know it’s it’s it’s not perfect but this was a quick edit that shows you again what we did was you know combine a starless image an image the same image but with the stars and the foreground all together in photoshop and then just played around with color and curves and saturation a little bit of noise reduction to get to this final image which i think is is pretty impressive uh and you know especially uh considering this this isn’t from like the darkest site out west or anything this is just a a bortle foresight um here on the east coast of the us and the foreground isn’t anything special um but i think that it does add when you can to the to the presentation when you can put in foreground even when it’s something sort of very basic like this because it really gives you an impression of the size of the milky way compared to the tree line here well i hope you enjoyed this edit along until next time this has been Nico Carver from nebulaphotos.
com Clear skies!.