Salvaging Your Dark & Grainy Astrophotos

20 Feb

Recently, I re-edited some photos I took of Orion in late January 2012 to make them “pop”. To do this, I used some new software I came across on teh interwebs. I was able to turn some poor astrophotos into very decent images with just a few tweaks.

Brightening Things Up

Let’s start with a 12 second exposure of Orion taken under thin cloud conditions. The .jpeg version that came out of the camera was *extremely* dark:

Original shot of Orion. Where are the stars? And why isn't the constellation centered, Andrew?

So, after cropping the photo to a “portrait” orientation, I used the Photoshop “Fill Flash” tool to brighten the entire scene:

Much brighter but VERY grainy!

Removing “Noise” with Neat Image

The updated photo was brighter, but the grain or “noise” from this low-light exposure was very evident. I left Photoshop temporarily at this point to use a small but powerful program I just discovered called Neat Image. A free version is available, and veteran amateur astronomer Mike Weasner has an excellent Neat Image review and “how-to” on his website.

Neat Image allows you to smooth out a noisy/grainy image like the one above, and it gave me the following image:

A much smoother view.

Boosting the Contrast & Making Tweaks

With my filtered image in hand, I returned to Photoshop where I boosted the contrast a bit and used the Clone tool to remove any dead or hot pixels (red and blue dots that are camera artifacts and not actual stars). I ended up with the following image:

Voila! A nice shot from humble beginnings.

I also used the same process to turn this photo of the Full Moon…

You can see the Moon, but the foreground is too dark.

…into something much more visually interesting:

I see trees! And snow!

So, boys and girls, don’t put those dark or grainy shots in the recycling bin just yet. With a few tweaks, you may be able to improve them dramatically!

Check out some my latest astrophotos on Flickr and follow me on Twitter.

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