Processing the Stars

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

A few nights ago, during a visit to the Madikwe Game Reserve, we headed out after dinner to point our lenses skywards to do some star photography.

On any photo safari in Africa, this is always a great option and apart from being a really cool experience, the potential for great images is very real.  Our conditions on this particular evening were not quite ideal as the moon was pretty and pretty bright, but we really just went out to work through the basic setup and what to look for when shooting the stars and painting with light.  A great, relaxed session and awesome to be out in the wild with hyenas calling in the background.

The next morning Charlene, one of our guests, and I worked briefly through the processing process and how to take your star images to the next level and get the most from the RAW files.  Based on the conversation we had, I thought I’d share the Lightroom steps we worked through and which Charlene is now going to play with.

This is one of the original images from the evening.

Untouched, straight from camera.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Nikon D800, 14mm, 15 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1250

So, without getting too technical – we will leave that for another time – here are the steps we quickly ran through to process the image.

Step 1:  Lens Correction

Easy one and always the first step.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Step 2:  Exposure and Contrast

Keeping an eye on the image, as your vision and what you want from the image will ultimately guide your processing steps, the Exposure was pushed by 0.55 and the Contrast by 10.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Step 3:  Clarity and Vibrance

To get some edge contrast, Clarity is pushed to +19 and to punch the colours a bit, Vibrance to +15.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Step 4:  White Balance

Tweaking WB will bring out the blue colour in the sky.  The Temperature slider slowly pulled to the left until desired result is achieved.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Step 5:  Special Adjustment Brush

Some additional Clarity and warming up the Temperature applied to a brush with low Flow and Density.  Painting over the Milky Way brings out some of the colour and texture.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Step 6:  Sharpen

Some basic Sharpening and Luminance Noise Reduction applied to get a balance of sharpness and smooth areas.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

And that’s about it.

Gerry van der Walt - Star Photography

Quick and easy.

As mentioned, this was a very quick discussion around processing these types of images, and as with anything to do with Lightroom or post processing, there are many ways to skin this photographic cat.  Photographing the night skies is pretty awesome, so next time you are in the bush give it a try, even if just for the experience!

Let me know if you have any questions and we will then look at a more detailed tutorial on how to bring the most our of your star images using Lightroom and Nik Filters.

Until next time.


About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

Comments 0

  1. Nic Andrew

    Hi Gerry,

    Great post which details the basic outline of star photography processing. With a camera as capable as the Nikon D800, how come you decided to use a shutter speed of 15 secs instead of bumping it up to 25/30sec. Would you not have captured more stars and more star brightness at his SS?


    1. Post

      Hi Nic,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yeah, I could definitely have bumped up the shutter speed quite a bit to get more details and brightness in the frame. In all honesty this wasn’t a very serious shoot and my focus was more explaining the details of how to shoot stars to our guests than my own images. 🙂

      Haven’t taken the D800 on a full star shoot yet but very keen because, as you say, it is very capable and would love to see what I can do with it.

      Have a good one!


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