I had just sat down to begin processing an image of a starry sky and a faint Milky Way. I wondered, “How would Aurora HDR work on this?” After all, I hadn’t really heard of anyone using HDR for Milky Way photos before.
What would happen if I used it for something other than the more typical handling of high dynamic range needs? Let’s have a look at how it fared with this single image.
Opening up the starry night sky with Aurora HDR
I opened the image in Photoshop and launched Aurora HDR as a plugin as shown above. I photographed another frame with the exact scene for the grassy area and trees so that it would have less noise. I’ll layer that in later.
This is a photo for the starry sky only. You can see that there is a faint outline of a Milky Way, partially blotted out by a 30% moon to the back of me.
Processing the starry night sky in Aurora HDR
As you can see above, without doing very much, Aurora HDR has already brought out the starry sky more. Again, we are mostly focusing on the starry sky here, as I have a lower ISO photo of the grass and trees so there is less noise that I will add later.
Here, instead of using one of the presets, I simply tweaked a few of the sliders on the right, including HDR Clarity and HDR Smart Structure. Even with the moon out, it’s nice to see a little of the Milky Way peaking out.
Back to Photoshop
I prefer to work in Photoshop because I like the flexibility of working with layers non-destructively. As you can see above, I’ve created another layer for entitled, appropriately, “Aurora HDR.” Up until now, this has been a single, flat image. That will change.
Reducing the noise of the foreground
Prior to photographing the starry sky, I had photographed a low noise foreground image for 90 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 400 with a Pentax K-1 camera and Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. I “swept” the grassy area and the large tree with a warm light from a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device to bring out a little more of the texture.
Then I blended the low ISO foreground photo with the photo of the starry sky I had just processed with Aurora HDR and reduced the blue color of the sky a bit. You can see how this looks above.
Where did the shooting star come from?
I should explain one other thing. There is a shooting star! That wasn’t there before … how did it get there?
When I photograph the starry night sky, I frequently take 20 photos in succession. Then to reduce camera noise, I stack them in Starry Landscape Stacker. In one of these photos, there was a shooting star. I was excited about this rare capture!
But when I applied the stacking process, it disappeared. This is normal. Since it only appeared in one frame, Starry Landscape Stacker decided, “This isn’t a star. I shall eliminate it.” It also eliminates airplane trails, so this typically is a bonus.
But of course, I wanted the shooting star! I took the individual shooting star photo and carefully, carefully blended it back in its original position. Why not?
Back to Aurora HDR
As you can see, with minimal effort, Aurora HDR was able to bring out the details of the starry night sky.