About Foreground and Post-Processing

To edit your RAW milky way in post, there are many ways to do it. Each of your milky way shot might require different way to post-process them. Some might require more advanced techniques like isolating your foreground using layer mask. Or in some cases, it might require to shoot multiple shots to expose the foreground and the night skies differently to achieve the final outcome you are looking for.

You might find that combining multiple photos are not what you are intend to do. Or some even say that is cheating. Personally, it came a long way before I agree the needs of blending multiple exposure manually in Photoshop. Let me give you a brief idea of why you might need to expose your foreground different than your night sky background exposure settings. The whole idea of getting to a location that is far away from the cities is because you want to be at a real dark location in order to shoot the milky way. That might also means that all of the surrounding are also pitch black. In this case, all the surrounding will likely be as silhouette outlines against the milky way.

Duffey Night
Duffey Night

Canon 7D Samyang 8mm f/3.5 30 sec, ISO2500

That might not be too satisfying after you got your first few shots of a good milky way night shots. And yes, one of the solutions is to do light painting to your foreground. And here I included an example of a single exposure shot with light painting to the foreground object.

Night Digger

Canon T3i with Samyang 8mm f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO3200

In this case, it is this construction digger parking at the parking lot up on Mt. Baker in Washington state. I was just using my iPhone to light paint it as that’s what I’ve got at the time. I was using my flashlight app and using a colour with the screen lights, and NOT the actual light on the iPhone cause that will be too much light for a 30 seconds shot. And with this light painting method, there are alway so much you could do to lit up some foreground as long as your light are able to light it up in term of the size of your foreground object. And as far as I know of, there are photographers teaming up with Walkie-Talkie, one stay with the camera to press the shutter as the other lighting up the foreground that might be in a distance. And having 60% of your framing to include the night sky really require some distance if you also want a decent foreground in your shot.

And when the scale is getting bigger, your light will failed at some point… Yeah, I mean like a mountain range from a distance! There are just no way you can have any kind of light source to light up a mountain range in distance. And your only hope to take a single exposure shot to have milky way and a mountain range lit up nicely is the moon!! Yes! Moonlit is pretty destructive when it come to shoot a milky way photo. But to have lights on a mountain, you really got no other choice. And there are only a few nights in a month that you can do that. The key is to have a very small crescent moon right around the new moon nights. Cause you want to have the least amount of lights from the moonlit on to the mountain, and still have the remains night sky dark enough to expose the starry sky!! Also will be best the moon is behind you when you facing the mountain with the milky way above it. And you will also be hoping the weather will be nice around those few nights with new moon. Oh yes… there are lots of conditions that affects that. And to be honest, that night still haven’t happen to me yet

So the other solution is to expose the foreground differently, as long or as short as it takes to expose the foreground. The photo below are using 2 different settings for the background and foreground because it was too dark to see the valley.

Moraine Galaxy

Background – ISO8000, 20 sec @ f/2.8
Foreground – ISO400, 1878sec (or 31 mins) @ 2.8
Canon 6D with a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 Lens

And another example I have below is the opposite to the one above.

Night Lights

Canon 6D with a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 Lens
Background – ISO3200, 30 sec @ f/2.8
Foreground – ISO1000, 30 sec @ f/2.8

At this location, there are light sources from behind me and also the lights around the house are not very strong. But it is still too much for a 30 sec shot at ISO3200. So I did another for the house exposed at ISO1000 instead of 3200. And they were blended together in PS.

About post-processing your shot, like I said, there are thousand of ways to do it. So here I am going to point you to some useful resources. Basically, the 1000+ ways will likely be happened inside a few applications: Camera RAW, Photoshop, or Lightroom. I personally not a Lightroom user, mainly use Camera RAW and Photoshop to do my edits. But the principle are apply to all of them. If you never use any of these programs, you might have hard time following the tutorials below. But you can still give it a try since they are step by step walking you through. There are no Photoshop tutorials here as the Lightroom tutorial below can be done by combining both Photoshop and Camera RAW to do so.

Editing the Milky Way Camera RAW 8.0 by Jason Weingart

Giving some contrast, boosting the milky way is the first step into astrophotography. I will be adding these tutorials to the Tutorials page on my blog. Just to make it easier to find. Hope these helps you getting your milky way “pop” in your shots!! 🙂

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