Astrophotography Software & Tools Resource List

Being more science than art, in astrophotography, even if you get your camera settings “just right,” you still aren’t exempt from post-processing and editing your shots afterward.

Astrophotography requires many steps before you have the finished piece of artwork. Luckily there is an assortment of tools available on the market (both Free and Paid) that can either automate or at least speed up the process.

This article will list some of the best resources and software for your astrophotography.

astrophotography software and tools
Lightroom and Photoshop is just two of many options when it comes to astrophotography software.

Windows Vs Mac: Which One Has More to Offer?

Before going into details with the software, let’s briefly discuss the difference between Windows and Mac environments. If you are on Linux, such as SiriL, the offer is very limited.

Whatever is your operative system of choice for your working or everyday use, it is a fact that when it comes to astrophotography, the largest selection of software is for Windows, particularly if you are looking for freeware software.

How To Install And Use Windows On Your Mac

If you are a Mac user and feel frustrated by the lack of software, particularly freeware software, there are few ways you can run Windows software on your Mac:

  1. Bootcamp. With Bootcamp, you can install Windows on your Mac on a dedicated partition of your hard drive. Bootcamp is free, but you need a Windows license for this to work.
  2. VMware ($) / Virtual Box (free). With these virtualization software, you can build a Windows virtual machine to run Windows alongside Mac OS X. This is the most flexible solution, but you need a valid Windows license.
  3. Wine. Wine is a free windows emulator that allows you to install and execute windows software without the need for Windows. Not all software can be properly emulated, and even if it does, it will be slower than usual. 64-bits support for Wine In Mac OS is yet experimental, and since Mac OS X Catalina does not support 32-bit software anymore, this option may not be viable for you.

Cross-Platform Software 

Here is a list of software you can find for both Windows and Mac OS platforms. And, eventually, Linux.

Pre-processing, Post-Processing And Editing Software

In this category, we list all the software you need to pre-process light frames, stack images, and perform the final editing for the different kinds of astrophotography.

Adobe Photoshop CC

General Photography – Commercial – Windows, Mac, IOS, Android

Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop

When it comes to astrophotography, Photoshop allows you to do basic pre-processing, such as (manual) stacking, histogram stretching, noise reduction, sharpening, and the usual tweaks to the final image.

One plus with Photoshop is that you can get action sets that are specific to astrophotography, such as ProDigital Astronomy Tools and Photokemi’s Star Tools action packs, helping you to run complex and tedious tasks.

Here you can watch a great video tutorial about processing astrophotography images with Photoshop.

GIMP

General Photography – Freeware – Windows, Mac, Linux

GIMP image editor
GIMP

A neat freeware alternative to Adobe Photoshop that is quite capable. Unfortunately, there are no dedicated action packs nor plugins.

Here is a video about the use of Gimp to edit astrophotography images.

Serif Affinity Photo

General Photography Commercial – Windows, Mac, IOS

serif affinity photo
Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo is a fast-growing software and a valid alternative to Photoshop also for professionals. Made initially for Mac OS X only, it is now available also for Windows and iOS devices.

The big differences between Affinity Photo and Photoshop are that Affinity Photo has no subscription, but also no action sets and plugins.

PixInsight

Complete Astrophotography Package – Commercial – Windows, Mac, Linux

pixinsight
PixInsight

PixInsight is the ultimate software for planetary and deep-sky astrophotography, featuring a complete environment to pre-process and post-process astronomic images.

While it has excellent performances, it is rather time-consuming, with a steep learning curve, and it is also quite expensive. But if you are serious about astrophotography, it is highly recommended.

A trial is available, and if you want to test it, you can find many free tutorials from LightVortex Astronomy.

Aries Productions Astro Pixel Processor

Deep Sky Astrophotography Package – Commercial – Windows, Mac, Linux

Aries Productions Astro Pixel Processor
Astro Pixel Processor

If you are shooting mostly deep sky images, Astro Pixel Processor is an excellent alternative to PixInsight, being cheaper, easier to use, powerful, and under active development.

From light frame calibration to the final image, everything is just a few clicks away, thanks to the easy interface.

A big plus of using Astro Pixel Processor is that it is very simple to create mosaics.

Video tutorials to illustrate the software capabilities can be found here.

StarTools

Image Processing Software – Commercial – Windows, Mac, Linux

startools
StarTools

StarTools is an affordable, lightweight, and multiplatform software dedicated to post-process deep sky, lunar, solar, and planetary images that is under active development.

The free trial version allows you to test all functionality for as long as you want, but you cannot save the results.

SiriL

Complete Astrophotography Package – Freeware – Windows, Mac, Linux

SiriL
SiriL

SiriL falls in the same category of Astro Pixel Processor and Pixinsight, offering a complete astrophotography environment, from image calibration to the creation of the final image.

While not as powerful as its competitors, it is free and under active development, and they have their own YouTube Channel.

StarStax

Star Trails – Freeware – Windows, Mac

StarStax
StarStax

StarStax is a neat little software to stack images to create star trails. Simple to use, it comes with some interesting features such as a filling gap mode, to create continuous trails, and video for the stacking process.

Easier and faster than Photoshop, but requires TIFF or JPEG images.

Software For Electronic Assisted Astrophotography

If you use an astro camera instead of a DSLR, you need to connect it to a computer. Here what you can use to control your camera and guide your mount.

FireCapture

Image Capture – Freeware – Windows, Mac, Linux

Image Capture Software that is easy to use and supports many different cameras. It is most indicated for planetary and lunar imaging.

ZWO ASI Studio

Image Capture – Freeware – Windows, Mac, Linux

ZWO ASI Studio
ZWO ASI Studio

Image capture software from ZWO for their astro cameras. To control your camera via iOS and Android devices, you need the ASI Air unit.

PHD2 Guiding

Guiding Software – Freeware – Windows, Mac, Linux

PHD2 is a widely used software used to guide equatorial mounts to improve tracking and correct periodic error.

oaCapture

Image Capture – Freeware – Mac, Linux

Another image capture software for electronically assisted astrophotography with Mac. It is most suitable for planetary images, and it can support a selection of astro cameras and filter wheels.

Planning

Stellarium

Planetarium – Freeware – Windows, Mac, Linux, IOS, Android

Stellarium
Stellarium

Stellarium is a great software to explore the night sky and get to know what it is visible, where, and when. 

The computer version can also be used to simulate the field of view of your gear to help you choose the right imaging equipment for your target. 

PhotoPills

Astronomy Planner – Commercial – IOS, Android

Similar to Stellarium, this app will benefit from augmented reality and handy calculators to help you create star trails and photograph the night sky without a tracker.

Windows Software

Pre-processing, Post-Processing And Editing Software

Deep Sky Stacker

Image Stacker – Freeware

Deep Sky Stacker
Deep Sky Stacker

DSS is one of the most widely used software by deep-sky astrophotographers around the world. It is designed to calibrate and stack your light frames to produce a stacked image. 

It is free, easy to use, fast and powerful enough, and comes with some advanced features, such as drizzle and comet stacking mode. It is limited to deep-sky astrophotography.

Highly recommended.

Sequator

Image Stacker – Freeware

Sequator
Sequator

Sequator is another free and easy to use image stacker. While it is not as powerful as Deep Sky Stacker, it gives good results on deep-sky astrophotography, and it can be used to stack starry landscapes too, where the foreground is visible.

Planetary Imaging PreProcessor

Image Pre Processor – Freeware

Planetary Imaging PreProcessor
Planetary Imaging PreProcessor (PIPP)

This is a must-have software to prepare your lunar and planetary images and video for stacking. Among the many functions, it has a planetary detection and can center the target on the frames, crop, and resize the frame and score them based on their quality.

Autostakkert!

Image Stacker – Freeware

Autostakkert!
Autostakkert!

Free image stacker for lunar and planetary work. Fast, easy to use, and reliable is best used in combination with Planetary Imaging PreProcessor. It is not really suitable for deep sky astrophotography nor for starry landscapes.

Astra Image

Image Post Processor – Commercial

Astra Image
Astra Image

Astra Image offers a set of advanced tools to improve image quality, such as wavelet sharpening, deconvolution, noise reduction, etc. Its use is not limited to astrophotography images.

Image Capture Software

SharpCap

Image Capture – Freeware, Pro Version Commercial

SharpCap
SharpCap

SharpCap is arguably the most commonly used image capture software for lunar, planetary, and deep-sky astrophotography with dedicated astro cameras.

Easy to use, it exists a commercial Pro version with added functionalities such as electronically assisted polar alignment.

BackyardEOS and BackyardNIKON

Image Capture – Commercial

BackyardEOS and BackyardNIKON
BackyardEOS and BackyardNIKON

BackyardEOS and BackyardNIKON let you enjoy the wonders of electronically assisted astrophotography with your DSLR Canon EOS or Nikon camera.

Mac OS X Software

Pre-processing, Post-Processing And Editing Software

Starry Landscape Stacker

Image Stacker – Commercial

Starry Landscape Stacker
Starry Landscape Stacker

If you are a starry landscape photographer and a Mac user, this little software is a must-have. Extremely simple to use, it allows us to properly stack the sky and the foreground independently to create a compelling starry landscape.

Starry Sky Stacker

Image Stacker – Commercial

Starry Sky Stacker is dedicated to deep-sky astrophotography. From the same author of Starry Landscape Stacker, it shares with it the same easy to use experience and quality results, even if not as sophisticated as Deep Sky Stacker, Astro Pixel Processor or PixInsight.

Conclusion

Whether you are an amateur or seasoned astrophotographer, whether you are after a starry landscape, the Moon, or a distant nebula, you cannot get away without editing your images.

As you saw from this guide, a plethora of software is available, from the likes of Photoshop to dedicated astro programs.

All depending on the kind of astrophotography you do and the different steps you are considering.

Choose wisely, don’t be afraid to experiment, keep practicing, and your astrophotography will continuously improve and get better and better.

About Andrea Minoia

Andrea Minoia works as a researcher in a Belgian university by day and is a keen amateur astrophotographer by night. He is most interested in deep sky photography with low budget equipment and in helping beginners along their journey under the stars.