This post is a breakdown of how I typically edit Milky Way photos. I will typically follow this Lonely Spec tutorial but tend to skip it if I get satisfactory results on my own.
The first thing I do is exposure, so adjusting overall exposure, highlights, shadows, and contrast via the sliders. You can see I felt the image was over exposed. I’m not good at getting that right in camera, so my Milky Way photos typically have +/-0.5 stops.
Next I’ll adjust the contrast via the tone curve. I don’t do anything fancy here, just starting at medium contrast and pulling highlights and shadows to be where I want them. You can see I dropped the shadows and pulled up the highlights. This increased contrast in the dust cloud.
After the tone curve I adjust white balance and tint. Original white balance was 5350 and tint was 0.
And finally, I’ll adjust overall vibrance (+20) and saturation (+20). Then I’ll play with individual color saturation and luminance. I typically don’t move the hue around much.
You can see I increased saturation in the orange dust cloud and decreased some purple. I also decreased luminance in the blues to make them darker.
Obviously this process is iterative and things all get some fine tuning. The purpose here is to show what each type of edit does and how it contributes to the overall photo. The final histogram is shown to the right.