Capturing nightscape images is only half the battle. The flat, raw images have to be processed in software like Lightroom, Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw, ON1, Luminar...the list of possibilities goes on. It can seems like a daunting task but it's surprising easy to get results.
Raw image of seawall at Old Lighthouse Beach, Cape Hatteras
Before we get too far in this post please understand I won't be going very deep into processing. I do have plans for some longer posts that will breakdown step by step how I process my nightscape images but I'm trying to keep these tips fairly short. This will be a short explanation on why it's needed.
RAW vs JPEG
Modern DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have the ability to capture images in either raw format or JPEG or both at the same time. JPEG is a smaller file and what is usually exported and shared and has it's own color profile and very little ability for adjustments. Raw on the other hand can be quite large files and have tremendous ability for adjustments but they look flat until processed. Most people can shoot JPEG with no problem however night photography requires raw files and raw files require post processing.
To begin with night photography has an obvious lack of light rendering the auto-white balance feature of the camera useless. The white balance is going to have to be adjusted in post processing.
Exposure, Highlights and Shadows
Night images by nature tend to be dark and typically need some adjustments to exposure. Post processing raw images give you the ability increase exposure while reducing highlights and shadows to give your image more depth and a broader range.
Fully processed, stacked image.
My process starts with Lightroom. I import, catalog and perform basic edits with this very easy to use program. It's slider based, quite intuitive and can be picked up by simply playing around with a few images. There are tons of Youtube videos that will show you everything you need to know about how to get started.
Images are exported out of Lightroom directly into Photoshop and that's where the real fun begins. I have several helper apps that integrate with Photoshop and are essentially shortcuts to the power of the software. Topaz Denoise, DXO Nik Collection, Luminar, AstroPanel, RAYA Pro and Pro Panel all play different parts in my workflow but not all are used in every image.
I have heard some purists claim that it needs to be right in camera and that post processing is cheating. I don't believe that's always true, especially when it comes to nightscapes. I do believe that you can go too far with processing and put out some overcooked images that aren't a true representation of what was there at the time. However, if you keep it under control and be true to yourself and your photography, you can produce some amazing and accurate images.
If you'd like to learn more about how I post process my nightscape images please check out my Youtube Channel below. I also offer one on one coaching where we will work with your images. Just send my a message on my contact page.
Have a topic or tip you'd like me to cover just leave me a comment.
Please check out my YouTube Channel for more tips, tutorials and walkthroughs.