Capturing the cosmos: How to be an astrophotographer

Software processing

Physically capturing shots of cosmic objects with specialized equipment is only a small part of the final product. Post-processing my results, in most cases, is the most significant factor in how an image turns out. My journey in front of the computer screen has been significantly longer and more complex than managing the gear outdoors.

For deep-sky imaging, I started processing my images using Deep Sky Stacker and software I already used for my daytime photography work: Lightroom and Photoshop. Digging in a bit deeper, I transitioned to the more astrophotography-focused PixInsight for my entire preprocessing workflow, including deconvolution, noise reduction, and histogram stretching. I still use Photoshop for final color editing and enhancing details. I’ve also added plug-ins from TopazLabs to help in this regard.

Post-processing different types of astroimages calls for different techniques and software. For example, solar system imaging employs many different pieces of software, but much of it is available for free or for a donation. Examples include Firecapture, SharpCap, Autostakkert!, PIPP, ImPPG, and many more.

Software editing allows me to add a personal, artistic touch to my images. And it can transform a rather mundane shot into an eye-catching photograph. Honing these skills is instrumental to improving the final quality of my results, and it has been vital to achieving my goals as an astrophotographer.

The continuing inspiration

The further I became immersed in astrophotography, the more abundantly clear it became that there are many more possible avenues to explore. Space is vast and hides countless varied gems just waiting to be captured. I began with deep-sky photography of distant galaxies and nebulae, but in time I branched out and bagged shots of the Sun, the Moon, bright planets, our Milky Way, and even some unique astronomical events like comets, eclipses, satellite transits, aurorae, and more.

Astrophotography has grown to become a defining aspect of my life. Over the years, my work has been published, awarded, and shared widely. It has been truly exciting to see my photos in print, selected as NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day, and even put on display in a museum for having won an award in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in Greenwich, England.

Imaging the sky has always been a deeply personal hobby that allows me to tour the universe. The images shared in this article are postcards from that journey. I find inspiration in capturing the vast cosmos, as well as reflecting on our tiny place within it. I hope you will too.

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