Updated: Jan 12, 2021
Most of my classes or lessons on processing revolve around a basic understanding of the computer's primary operating system. The challenge I find is that many students have a lack of knowledge of operating the computer. Once you have a basic understanding of working the computer, you'll see a lot of the software follows suit.
It's much the same when it comes to photography. The myth is the camera does all the work, and you point it in the right direction. Replace the word "camera" with the word "computer," and you have the same fallacy.
Think of these tools, like learning to drive a car. When you are learning, you are expected to make mistakes. Over time you discover how to work with the vehicle, and your driving becomes more effortless. That's the key to acquiring any new skill set, understanding what the equipment can do for you first. Instead of expecting it to do something it wasn't meant to do. If the tool doesn't do what you need it to do, you probably are using the wrong one.
Frequently people ask me about how I processed the file's data. Here is my basic workflow for processing.
Get a decent exposure with little to no light pollution, if possible. (See Parts 1 through 7)
Save as RAW files. (See Part 8)
Archive the files and catalog them in Lightroom Classic
Take a long nap.
Edit in Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar 4, Aurora HDR, Capture One - I use either all, some, or one.
Export as a JPEG for Social Media and printing
Archive JPEG in Lightroom Cloud, Amazon Cloud, and iCloud
Make a giant print - 20x30 on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic
My workflow presented here is a guide and not meant to be a strict set of rules. It is what I've developed over time working with the software. Each program has its pros and cons that are unique to the user.
I work primarily on a Mac, and I know the Mac OS pretty well. If I run into something new I don't know, I turn to the internet. Its resources are nearly endless. Also, I will follow and watch others who use the same tools like me and see if they are doing anything different.
Lightroom Classic, for now, is my go-to for helping me keep my files organized. It also has a handy image editor that works well with RAW files. However, I've found Capture One to be a better color manager when editing RAW files. So I frequently go between each of the programs. However, Lightroom is my primary tool for organizing the image files.
I frequently also use Aurora HDR after I've edited the RAW file, as it's HDR algorithms and templates produce a better result for me. Luminar 4 is an excellent tool for my landscape photography, but it doesn't factor too much into my Milky Way photography. Photoshop is still the King for me in working in a layered editing environment. It's handy for creating composites images. A composite image is an image that sources multiple image files to create a brand new picture.
Once I've completed my edits, I make sure they are archived and backed up. So I use multiple resources, like external drives and cloud storage. My primary cloud storage divides between iCloud and Amazon Photos. My online portfolio and repository of current work are archived in Lightroom Cloud. I use either Dropbox or Google Drive to share images with my clients.
The final steps are preparing for social media and printing. Sometimes the files will work fine for both. For most social media and small prints up to 16x20, my exports work well. Files are JPEG, and sizes are about 3 to 10 MB and are about 4000 PPI. However, if I'm proud of an image and print 20x30, I create a larger file. The files are usually a TIFF and saved at the original PPI. Files sizes tend to be 24 to 34 MB.
Remember, it is my workflow. It would be best if you only were using this as a guide or reference for building your own. Another thing to think about is that you will be adapting your workflow as technology improves. Don't be too dogmatic in how you archive and store your data.
DEALING WITH LIGHT POLLUTION:
Light pollution can be troublesome. However, if you know that your area has significant light pollution, you can sometimes use it for your benefit. For genuinely dark skies, you have to travel several hours away from most cities and urban areas. Even then, there is the occasional house or neighborhood that casts some light into the sky. Gone are the days when campfires were the only light source.
The image on the left is the one recorded by the camera. There is a very faint cloud in the shape of the Core. It was taken on the East Coast of Florida, just South of St. Augustine. It wasn't the best location for a stock photo of the Milky Way. I photographed it to emphasize how much light pollution obscures the night sky. If you were looking into the night sky with just your eyeballs, you wouldn't be able to see it. Unless you knew what you were looking for.
I edited the image on the right in Lightroom, Photoshop, and Aurora HDR. I broke the picture into sections - the sky, the stars, the Milky Way, the color temperature, and the foreground. I didn't add other files into the mix. My final result looks as if the sun is coming up over the trees. In reality, it's the city lights from St. Augustine Beach.
I shot the image in RAW with an ISO of 1600, f/2.8, and 15 Seconds.
Settings - ISO 1600 f/2.8 10 Seconds - Equipment - the Olympus O-MD E-M1 MK II and the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO.
In the above photo, the light pollution is from the city of Englewood. It was also a partly cloudy night and they were moving quickly. I've been here many times to photograph the Milky Way, and I have a couple of spots picked out. I set up the equipment and started shooting. The clouds moved in and created the formations you see here. I edited the image in Lightroom, Aurora HDR, Capture One, and Photoshop. I broke the image again into the same sections I mentioned before.
If you use it correctly, light pollution can be useful. However, I'd rather have less light pollution and more dark skies. I've been to areas where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye, and the view is breathtaking.