Reducing noise in Milky Way photos with stacked images

I recently presented a program on night sky and Milky Way photography to a group of enthusiastic photographers at the Arizona Professional Photographers Association. Following the class, we headed out to Apache Junction south of Phoenix to put the newly acquired knowledge into practice. As I guided my students on composition and focus, I also took the opportunity to capture some images for myself. I’ve discovered that focusing on assisting others or capturing photos requires my undivided attention, as it’s challenging to do both simultaneously. Below is one of the compositions I captured during the outing.

The foreground of the photo features cholla cacti, which command respect due to their unique characteristics. These cacti, in addition to their spiky exterior, have tendrils that move with the wind and can shoot spines if approached too closely. Despite their natural defenses, photographing them reveals a beautiful texture. The path leading into the scene mirrors the shape of the Milky Way, adding depth and complexity to the composition.

In my photography endeavors, I use OM System cameras, with the OM-1 camera offering the advantage of Starry Sky Autofocus. This feature helps in achieving sharp focus on stars, a critical aspect of night sky photography. Making multiple images and stacking them reduces noise, with the optimal number of images varying based on individual preferences. Additionally, capturing dark frames can further enhance noise reduction in the final image.

Post-processing plays a crucial role in enhancing the captured images. Utilizing software like Starry Landscape Stacker can align stars, reduce noise, and ensure a cleaner final image. Different algorithms within the software offer varying results, with “Mean Min Hor Noise” often delivering successful outcomes. Furthermore, using tools like Adobe Photoshop for additional adjustments and fine-tuning is essential for bringing out the details in the Milky Way.

When working on the final image, it’s important to strike a balance between enhancing the foreground elements and preserving the subtleties of the Galactic Center. Light pollution can both enhance and detract from the overall image, requiring careful consideration and adjustments during post-processing.

Overall, the process of capturing and processing night sky images requires patience, precision, and creativity. Experimenting with different techniques and tools can lead to stunning results, enriching the experience for both photographers and viewers alike.

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