When I was a teenager, every year without fail, we would go on our family camping trip. It was our traditional yearly pilgrimage.
On a clear night and away from the city lights, I would look up at the sky and always be fascinated at the large cluster of shining stars deep in the sky. I would try and take pictures of them with our point and click camera, but usually, the images would come out just about black.
Things have progressed since those camping nights, and so has my experience with capturing the night sky. I have learned a lot (and made many mistakes) along the way. But I am always learning and testing new techniques because once you get past the initial learning curve, the images you can capture are amazing and rewarding.
So here is my beginner’s guide to astrophotography, I’ve laid out everything you need to know in a step by step guide, by the end of it you’ll be able to capture gorgeous astrophotography images, even if you’ve never touched a DSLR camera before.
What is Astrophotography?
Astrophotography is just another subgenre of photography. While you have probably heard of the more traditional photography genres like nature, landscape, street, portrait, macro, and many others, astrophotography is all about capturing images of the night sky.
To be more specific, it’s all about taking a picture of the night sky, and the spectacular (one might say mysterious) objects either you can see with the human eye (the moon and stars for example) or go even further into deep space photography like the milky way, nebulae or distant planets.
What outcome to expect?
By the end of this guide, you’ll have an actionable plan to go out there and start capturing your first images of the night sky, even if you’ve never attempted this before.
You’ll be quite surprised by how easy it can be to learn how to start astrophotography, now don’t get me wrong, like most hobbies you can go overboard with equipment and the complexity of the whole process. But in this article, my goal is to give you an actionable and simple plan to start capturing your first night sky images.
Different types of astrophotography image
If you’re new in the world of starting astrophotography, you would think there is only one type of astro imaging, but as you see further down below, there are quite a few sub-categories of the topic. With each requiring their own specific type of equipment and set up to capture their image.
Below is a quick explanation of each of them.
wide angle astrophotography
Wide angle photography is an excellent type of astrophotography for someone just starting out as it is the least technical.
With minimal equipment required, just a DSLR camera that you have lying about at home, a lens and a tripod you can capture some fantastic images with minimal investment.
To capture this type of image, you would need a wide or super wide angle lens for your DSLR camera. The types of images you would expect to capture would include capturing images of the stars and the milky way.
milky way photography
With the milky way being some 25,000 light years away, it’s no wonder we can’t see it with our naked eye. But did you know that a typical DSLR camera can capture it because it can capture more light than we ever can?
With some quick settings, you can capture a pretty impressive image of the milky way.
Note: while the image capturing process is not too complicated, you will still need to do some photo editing and cleaning up to get it looking like the images below.
Night landscape is a mixture of your local surroundings, such as mountains or trees with either the stars or the milky way in the background. Landscape gives you added visual interest to your image foreground and adds a nice contrast and definition to your images.
Another sub-category of wide-angled astrophotography is time-lapse. This, with a camera suitable for time lapses, is the art of capturing many (we recommend shooting 250 photos per sequence) images and then combining them to creating a spectacular time-lapse video.
Solar System photography
Now we’re getting a little deeper into space; these images include capturing objects like our moon, the sun and all the orbiting planets in our solar system.
Depending on where you want to photograph, now we’re getting to the point where we need to attach the camera to a telescope to get those breathtaking planetary shots.
Note: brightness usually isn’t an issue here, but the steadiness of the camera and stability are especially important here.
deep sky astrophotography
Deep sky imaging is where I spend a lot of my time nowadays in this hobby. Capturing deep space astrophotography images can be some of the most spectacular photos you will see.
Here you are capturing images of objects like red and blue nebulae, other galaxies and their planets and solar systems.
The only downside to deep sky photography is the setup involved, to capture galaxies and nebulae, you will start to need equipment like a dedicated camera (CCD), astronomical telescope, equatorial mount, laptop (to control the CCD camera).
So here you need quite a technical setup, and it can get a little costly. But remember that with a bit of practice it won’t take long and you’ll be able to produce some stunning and unusual pieces of imagery with deep sky astrophotography.
Understanding the image process
So you have to take all these images on your camera and now what? Here I give you a quick bird’s eye view on what’s involved after you capture your images.
Later on, in this article, I go into detail on how to process your images but right now here is the basic outline on what’s involved.
Capturing deep-sky images – The basic process is this:
Steps to setup your DSLR or CCD camera and telescope.
- Pick an object and set the camera focus
- Capture multiple long exposure images
- Transfer those images onto your computer.
- Layer and combine those images to eliminate the noise from the pictures
- Edit the picture with editing software (like photoshop) and correct the brightness levels of the image.
Plan your astrophotography shoot
Ok, now you know what type of astro images you want to take and you probably already have most of the essential equipment at home (like a DSLR camera and a tripod).
But before you learn how to take astrophotography pictures, there are some things you need to plan, or you could be very disappointed with the results you get.
Keep reading below to make sure you can capture the best possible images on your photo shoot.
The first step is to find the darkest spot possible for your astrophotography setup.
A good location is where there is minimal to no light pollution. While your backyard might seem dark, that doesn’t mean there is not a large amount of light pollution in the atmosphere. This is what we need to avoid as too much light pollution (lights from your town or city or even street lights) can hurt your images if you don’t adjust for them.
To help you in that task, I’ve added a list of apps that do as I mentioned above. Locate where you live and see where the light pollution is coming from. Then you can also see the darkest surrounding areas to find a suitable spot to set up for your photography shoot.
- DarkSiteFinder.com – this site name doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination but does precisely what it says. An excellent tool for finding dark sky locations, you can use this pretty much anywhere as it covers the entire earth.
- Lightpollutionmap.info – Another site for track light pollution and is useful for finding dark photography locations close by.
There are some handy apps to help determine the darkest times of the month. Ideally, that is when you want to be planning to get out there to capture those stellar photos. The apps below allow you to see the moon phases for the month. Very useful, indeed.
Tip: Avoid any night that has a full moon. The bright light from the moon washes out all but the brightest stars from the sky.
Checking the weather ahead of time is another simple but often overlooked task when heading out for an astrophotography shoot. If you’re doing a quick photo shoot in the backyard, then it’s not such a big issue.
But if you plan on going for a drive and taking your equipment with you to setup then checking if it’s a cloudy night or a clear sky becomes so much more important.
Check your local weather forecast and look for a clear and cloudless night.
Also, another tip is to go on a clear night following a period of rain as that can help clear the usual particles of smog and dust in the atmosphere.
Where is the Milky Way?
Stellarium is a free desktop software that could be your one stop shop for astronomy. It has just about everything you need for finding the whereabouts of the milky way to constellations and even planets in our solar system.
It can be a little overwhelming when you first load it up, but it is well worth taking the time to get used to.
Finding the stars – Star Chart apps
Ask a beginner to look up at the sky and tell you what they see, and they will usually say “stars” which is technically correct. But as someone new to the hobby starts to learn a little more, they begin to want to know the names of the stars and constellations in the sky that they are photographing.
That’s where we recommend some smartphone apps that will help you locate specific objects in the sky. They’re handy and will make your job much easier.
Composition – suitable area to shoot
A Lot of photographers will suggest to scout a good location and set up for astrophotography before it gets dark, which is a great idea, by doing this you’ll get a full range of your composition to see what’s around you. You can set up after dark too, but hey, why make it harder than it needs to, right?
Location, Location, Location
If your planning to capture landscape astrophotography images, look for an area where you can use the natural surroundings as foreground objects to use for your pictures.
Things like trees and mountains work well with the night sky stars positioned as the backdrop. Then when you edit those images you can make the stars and sky pop and become the focal point of the image, we go into this in detail later on.
Many astrophotographers prefer to capture images in locations like national parks and campsites (where your away from the big city lights the light pollution is minimal).
So like everything else, try and come prepared, because if you are setting up somewhere a little more isolated away from the town you will need all your essentials with you in case of an emergency.
Wear or at least take warm clothes with you (gloves also!), since nighttime temperatures can drop significantly and become uncomfortably cold during night time.
You don’t want to stop a good night photo session just because you’re freezing, which can happen when you stand or sit around for long periods.
Come prepared to bring warmer clothing than you think you’ll need, just in case. Especially if your planning to trek on a northern lights photography trip as the temperature there can and regularly does fall below -0°C.
Again, if we’re out in an isolated area, it’s always best to bring a few extra safety items for those just in case moments. Below are only a few items we think you should add to your arsenal.
- Warm clothing
- Gloves (ones that also work on your smartphone)
- Hiking boots
- sleeping bag (while waiting)
What equipment do I need for astrophotography?
If your planning on capturing deep space images, then you’ll need to add a telescope to your arsenal. For beginners I usually recommend they stick to a wide-field refractor telescope, I prefer them for people just starting for several reasons.
- Their lightweight, so easy to move around.
- Their field of view range is very forgiving.
- No need for regular alignments (collimation).
If your on a budget or seeing if this “astro stuff” is for you, then you can always skip the telescope and stick with your DSLR camera, for now, you still be able to capture all the wide angle astrophotography style images.
T Ring Adaptor
If you plan on using a telescope for deep space images, then you’ll need a T Ring adaptor. Essentially this connects your camera to your telescope. Using a T Ring is a simple solution to making your camera and telescope work as one.
camera – which type to pick?
A camera is perhaps the most crucial piece of the puzzle as it determines the types of images you can take and what extra equipment you need.
So it’s essential to put some time into deciding what you’ll be using as it’ll set the benchmark to what sort and quality of images you can take.
As always, your camera, lenses, and the rest of the gear you use should be kept safely and securely to avoid any damage to them. I use and recommend a protective hard case to keep everything safe, neat, and tidy.
Just a quick note, If your wanting to take quality night sky images and are thinking of using your smartphone or even those point and shoot cameras then stop right there. They don’t have the image quality to be able to shoot at the standard you need for low light photography.
In astrophotography, there are quite a few different subset types of images you can take, as we discussed towards the beginning of the article. Because of this, various types of cameras are more suited than others for a specific task; below we go into detail on each one.
A DSLR camera (Digital Single Lens Relax) is always the first camera I recommend as it is so versatile and great as an entry level camera for astrophotography for beginners. Their easy to get started, have a vast range of lenses and add a tripod and you’re ready to start shooting.
The Canon series have been a staple in my astro imaging. On the more premium end of the scale, the Canon 6D does a great job, while if you’re looking for something a little more price conscious, then the Canon Rebel T7i fits the bill nicely.
An alternative to the DSLR above, a mirrorless camera has the benefit of being vibration free due to the “mirrorless” design of the camera. They do a great job at long distance landscape astrophotography, so another choice for taking astronomy photos.
Now we’re moving into the more dedicated cameras for astrophotography.
A CMOS camera, which stands for (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor), excels at the deep sky and solar system astro photography images. It does so because its capable of capturing images with a very high framerate at long exposures.
The only downside, if there was one, is it does require dedicated software to run, which adds a little to the technical setup. But the images you produce here are more than worth it.
The CCD camera, which stands for (charge-coupled device), is another type of dedicated astrophotography camera.
They excel at producing very low noise images, even when capturing at long exposure times. They can do it so well because they have their built-in fans/coolers which prevent the sensor from getting too hot and overheating. Thus the images they do capture are much cleaner than you would get from a DSLR camera.
Crop or Full Frame Sensor For Astrophotography
So you might be wondering what the difference between a crop or a full frame camera is?
If you were to put a full frame and crop sensor camera side by side and both take an image of the same object the crop sensor will capture a smaller photo area compared to the full frame camera — sort of like cropping back an image to a smaller size.
If that’s the case, then why don’t we all use full frame cameras only? Well for starters, a crop sensor camera is considerably cheaper than their full frame big brothers.
Also, you definitely can capture some spectacular images with a crop sensor camera. It’s just that the full frame makes your job a little easier because it has a larger surface area on the sensor; it captures more light so produces less overall noise in the image.
Because were photographing at night, two main traits will affect your astro photography images; they are focal length and aperture size. Below I explain in more detail what each of those means, but if you want to know what’s an excellent lens to use for getting started in astro imaging, then the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is a perfect choice.
Note – When it comes to the lens, just because you have a Canon or a Sony camera, It doesn’t mean you need to buy their lens. There are some very high-quality third-party lenses, which are excellent astrophotography lenses.
Brands such as Rokinon, Sigma, and Tamron all make some great third-party lenses for your camera and should be looked at. The bonus with these is they usually are much, much cheaper than first-party lenses from Canon or Sony.
We’re looking for a lens with a large aperture, the larger the aperture is, the more light the lens will allow to enter. An aperture of f/2.8, f/1.8, or f/1.4 would be a good choice.
Another thing to consider is the focal length of the lens. The longer the focal length, the more “zoomed in” the image will be. That’s why we recommend a wide angle lens, so it captures a larger surface area of your images. A recommended focal length is anything less than 35mm.
Below is a video that explains focal length and aperture in a bit more detail on a wide angle lens.
Tripod – Keeping it all steady
Tripods are used in most photo shoots, but they are a “must have” in astrophotography. Because we’re taking pictures that can last 30 seconds or more for each snap, the slightest movement will blur and ruin the image.
There’s no hard and fast rule here, just some things to take into account when selecting a tripod.
- Do you plan on taking it with you on a night time capture session? If so then something a little more portable and lightweight might be in order.
- Are you planning on using a telescope in the future for your deep space nebula images? Then look at something that is certainly sturdy enough and can handle the weight of a telescope and all the extra accessories that get attached to it.
Handy Astrophotography Gear To Have
The following items are not necessarily essential for you to capture your night sky images; the core items have all been discussed above (camera, lens & telescope).
But each one below is useful enough that I thought they were worth mentioning and adding them to the astrophotography gear list.
Camera Filters For Astrophotography
Camera filters will help improve your images during a night photo shoot. There are quite a few different types of filters which all do a different job. For example, the most common use is a filter to offset the light pollution from the city light glow. If you live in the red zone (DarkSiteFinder.com), then it will be quite a challenge to try and capture any long exposure.
As far as installing them, if you get the clip in style, they clip in-between your DSLR astrophotography camera sensor and your lens, so they are a reasonably straightforward and easy install.
Some other various types of filters are:
- CLS: City Light Suppression
- LPS: Light Pollution Suppression
- Narrowband Filters
- Line Filters
- Color Filters
- Solar Filters
If your planning on capturing any deep space imagery, then a mount is regarded as the essential piece of equipment for astrophotography.
Deep sky images require long exposure times for a single image, which allows the camera to capture all the rich and details from the faraway galaxies. Because of the constant rotation of the earth, on a stationary tripod, you will get blurring and streaking because of the rotation.
This is where a tracking mount for astrophotography becomes invaluable. The mount can be set to be polar aligned to move in exact sync with the earth rotation, which makes the image seem “frozen,” so you can photograph them without any worry of image blur.
Remote Shutter Release
Even the slightest movement can ruin an image and cause image-blur, a remote helps eliminate any chance of accidental camera shake when taking a photo.
Flashlight or headlamp
Once the sun sets and you’re ready to start your astrophotography, you’ll need a light of some sort to be able to see what you’re doing.
A red flashlight is recommended for astrophotography. They create a red light for you to see at night, but most importantly allowing your pupils to stay adjusted to the dark.
The last thing you want is to be midway through a photo shoot and your batteries to go flat. Because of the nature of astrophotography, you will end up taking lots of images of the night sky. Handy tips: the cooler night temperatures will drain your batteries quicker than usual, so another reason to have a few extra batteries handy.
Laptop for Imaging
When getting into deep sky astrophotography, you’ll need more dedicated camera equipment to capture your images. CCD or CMOS cameras need a computer to control them in use and to get the pictures it takes. Nothing high spec is necessary here, usually, if you have an old laptop lying around it will be sufficient.
Once connected, some of the on-the-fly adjustments you can make are,
- Manage the frame and focus of your image
- Automatically adjusting the exposures
- Adjusting the autoguiding camera
- Able to Test different exposure lengths and ISO settings
As the temperature starts to drop, moisture and condensation can begin to form on your telescope. This can obstruct the image and cause “blurring” during a photo shoot.
The solution is to use a dew heater; it is a heated velcro strap which keeps warm enough to keep your telescope dry and moisture free. Similar to what a demister does in your car window.
A telescope won’t work without an eyepiece. When you get your first telescope, it will generally come with a stock eyepiece.
As you progress on your astro journey, you may want to upgrade your telescope eyepiece, just like a camera lens, they change the telescope’s magnification.
Astrophotography Camera Settings
This is the part where many beginners start to feel overwhelmed. I know the feeling all too well because that’s how I felt when I first started in deep sky imaging. All this talk of focal length, ISO and aperture made my head spin. The learning curve isn’t as steep as it initially seems though.
With a little perseverance and some help from this guide, you’ll have everything you need to be able to produce night sky images in no time at all.
Focusing at Night
Focusing at night can be a little challenging at first, especially for amateurs, because it is so dark the lens struggles to lock-on and focus on a target.
The solution here is to always use manual focus for astrophotography. You don’t want to have your camera on auto trying to refocus during a long exposure shot.
Below are some essential points when it comes to focusing at the night sky.
Set your camera to manual mode (this is a must). Also, your lens needs to be set to manual mode too.
Adjust your lens focus and bring it to infinity (most lenses have an infinity symbol). Infinity focus is usually a good starting point for capturing the starts with a wide angle lens.
If Still Out Of Focus
If the stars look a little out of focus, make a slight adjustment to just before infinity. You’ll need to test this a little to find the sweet post for your camera lens.
Also, and often overlooked, is your lens may have just fogged up if outside temperatures are cold. Shine a light on your lens to check, and if it has, a quick wipe with a microfibre cloth will clear it up.
Use Live View
Using your cameras live view eliminates a bit of the guesswork; it allows you to check your images and focus instantly. Much easier than trying to use the viewfinder.
Focus on the stars
Point your camera towards the brightest star in the sky and make sure it is visible on your live view display.
At this point, you will most likely still need to adjust your focus slightly. Magnify the image (by 5X-10X) to make it easier to close in on the star image and see how focused you are.
Adjust your lenses focus ring in and out until the star is as small and as sharp as possible.
If while zoomed in on live view you see a blue or red hue around the edge of the stars (chromatic aberration), your view is still slightly over or under-focused. You will know when you get it right because the star will be sharp and have very little blue or red hue around the stars.
Focus on the trees
If your trying your hand at capturing landscape astrophotography, trying to focus on the trees or other foreground objects can sometimes be a little tricky.
A technique on getting the focus on point relatively quickly is to shine your flashlight or headlamp at the top of the trees. This helps the camera focus on the foreground objects easier.
How to set the aperture, shutter speed & ISO?
In astrophotography, our only objective is to capture night sky images; the only difficulty is the objects were trying to capture in the night sky are usually very faintly lit.
So to capture very faint objects, we need to set our camera settings to allow as much light as possible. There are three main astrophotography camera settings that we need to look at that will affect the light intake for our images. Below we go into detail about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. All three work together and counterbalance each other.
First one is aperture (or diaphragm), for those that don’t quite know what aperture does exactly (no shame here, I had no idea when I first started), to put it simply it is the adjustable sized hole in your camera lens which lets in the light.
The lower the aperture number, the larger the hole size becomes, meaning you allow more light to enter the sensor. The larger the aperture number, the smaller the lens hole becomes, and you guessed it, less light is allowed in through the lens onto the sensor.
Aperture size can be set in several variations, numbers like f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, and f/8 are usually seen on a lens.
Just remember when capturing night images, we need as much light as possible to enter, so a recommended aperture setting is setting your lens to your lowest number available for your lens to allow the hole to be as big as possible.
Second is shutter speed; this adjusts the time the camera shutter stays open and allows the light to hit the digital sensor. Again, if we set the shutter to remain open longer, we will enable the camera to record more light into our image.
Shutter speeds usually start from breakneck speeds (1/1,000th of a second) to 20-30 seconds or more. Another option is to set your camera to “Bulb” mode, this allows your shutter to stay open for as long as you hold down the shutter button.
So if we need more light to enter our image, why can’t we leave the shutter open for much longer? I get asked that quite often, but the answer is quite simple.
We have to take into account the earth’s constant rotation, while not noticeable to the human eye, it’s still there. Because we’re trying to capture fixed objects in the sky and we’re located on a rotating surface (earth), if we leave the shutter open too long the earth’s rotation will make our images looked blurred or smudged when the shutter is left open for much longer than 30 seconds.
Note: Star trails is a sub-form of astrophotography and can be the actual desired effect if that is the case then leaving your shutter open for much longer is the way to go to capture the star trail effect.
Thirty seconds is just an approximate number to avoid star trails (blurred objects), luckily there is a reasonably accurate way to calculate how long you can leave your shutter open before you get any unwanted image streaking. The technique is called the 500 rule; below, I’ll explain how it works.
What is the 500 rule in photography?
The 500 rule is a mathematical formula to calculate the longest possible exposure (shutter speed) you can use to make sure your night sky objects a still pin sharp, and you avoid the trailing effect.
To work out, you lenses shutter limits you need to use the 500 rule and divide it by your lenses focal length, thus giving you the shutter speed number that you can use before you start to see star trails in your images.
500 / (Focal Length) = Shutter speed time (in seconds) before you see star trails in your photographs.
Let’s use a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame DSLR camera for an example. You divide 500 by 14 (14mm Focal Length), which equals 35.71 seconds. Round it down a little and 35 seconds is the shutter speed (exposure) you should use to help avoid the possibility of any star trails.
Now if you’re using a camera with a “cropped sensor,” you need to get your focal length and times it by 1.5. So a 14mm Focal length x 1.5 equals 21. Now 21 becomes the focal length you use in the 500 equation.
Full Frame Sensor: 500 / 14 = 35 seconds
Cropped Sensor: 500 / (14 x 1.5 = 21) = 23 seconds
What is the best ISO for astrophotography?
Another setting that affects the sensitivity of the image quality is the ISO setting. While we can’t physically change the sensitivity, the ISO setting can be changed, which in simple terms is a multiplying factor.
ISO ranges do vary depending on the camera but can have the range of anywhere from very low sensitivity (100) up to very high sensitivity (12,800) in high-end cameras.
The higher we set the ISO setting, the brighter the image will be that we capture. The offset to this is the higher we go in ISO range, the more noise and grain we add to the picture.
A recommended starting ISO range is usually between 800 – 1600. If the image is still too dark, then adjust the ISO up to 3200.
Shoot In RAW mode
So why shoot in RAW instead of JPEG?, in most types of photography it is recommended to shoot in RAW format to preserve as much data and detail in the picture.
Astrophotography is no exception, as we try and capture the minimal amount of light in the night sky by pushing our camera settings to the limits.
We need to preserve and keep as much of the data uncompromised inside the image because later we will be importing that image into a photo editing software (like photoshop). You’ll need those high dynamic ranges when editing.
So as a general rule of thumb, always shoot in RAW mode.
Quick Start Camera Settings
Ok, so we’ve discussed all the main camera settings in detail so far. But what if you’ve just come across this blog post and you want the quick answer?
I hear you, so below are my recommended quick star settings to get you up and running in the shortest amount of time.
Note: these settings are to get you started; every camera and lens combination is slightly different. Thus the required settings will change ever so slightly. Take a few test images with the settings below and then adjust one setting at a time till your happy with the results. The settings you should be looking at to change are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Recommended camera settings
- Set camera file type to Raw format.
- Set camera to manual mode
- Set camera lens focus to infinity (or close to it)
- Set Aperture to lowest possible setting
- Set shutter speed to 25 seconds (use the 500 rule to adjust for your lens)
- Set ISO to 1600
- Set White Balance to Auto (can try Daylight or Sunny as an alternative)
- Set the camera’s self-timer to 10 seconds (eliminates shaking)
Editing the images
Note: this is a quick beginner post production section about photoshop when it comes to post-production software and to edit the photos, this topic deserves a whole dedicated tutorial and guide just on its own.
You can get into some advanced techniques to improve your images, but to stay on topic for this beginner theme, I’ll keep it short and to the point.
The first part of astrophotography is taking the pictures; the second part is the editing (post-production). The more time you take in the first part (getting cleaner images), the easier the post-production part will be.
While you can process your images with a multitude of different image editing software, I’ll be talking about photoshop as that is what I usually use.
Although that isn’t to say that the other alternatives are not as good, software like Gimp, Lightroom and many others are more than capable of doing the job. Just depends on which program you feel most comfortable with.
What Software to use for astro image editing?
As I mentioned above, there are quite a few choices when it comes to editing your astro images. Below are just a few that you can have a look at and see which you feel comfortable with. I’ve listed both free and paid choices.
Stacking your images
Hopefully, you have taken multiple photos of the same object, this way we can layer them over each other to smooth out the noise from the photos, also known as stacking.
Many ways to do this but a free way to do this is to use the software Deep Sky Tracker, it does just one job but does it well. Only using the default settings will work well.
Cleaning Up and finishing your image
Once you finished with Deep Sky Tracker, the final image you export from it will be a large TIF file.
You then import the TIF file into photoshop, and now this is where we start to edit and try and bring out the deep night sky colors from the image.
Remember we’re using TIFF format because it is an uncompressed format, so no data loss. Whereas JPEG is a lossy compressed format, meaning you lose too much date from within the image. You may not notice any difference to the naked eye, but once within photoshop, you will see the JPEG data loss.
Here is a short description on astrophotography RGB histogram, this shows (and explains) the histogram we want to see from an uncompressed file image.
Don’t be disheartened if the image you just imported looks a little dark or has minimal color; it’s all there we need a few tweaks to start to bring them out.
To bring out the deep colors from your image, you’ll need to edit the curves and levels with photoshop. Below is a quick example of how it can be quickly done in just over 10 minutes.
With a little trial and error, it won’t be long before you start capturing some amazing night sky images. The beauty of astrophotography is there are so many objects you can capture; there is a whole universe to explore.
By now, you should have a much more definite idea of how a beginner should get started in astrophotography. Hopefully, you’re just as excited as I was when I first learned what I need to do because this is where the fun begins :).
So get out there and capture some great images. If you do, feel free to submit them here to nightskypix, I always love showcasing what people have been able to capture from around the world.