Capturing Stars Over The City Using Lightroom 5

I was recently asked if it was possible to photograph a cityscape and the stars in the sky without having to manipulate the photograph in Photoshop (adding layers, etc.).  The answer is yes, you can capture stars without lots of manipulation in Photoshop but they may not be as brilliant as you’d like.  Now obviously your mileage will vary depending on which city your photograph (light pollution) and atmospheric conditions.

The photograph above and below was edited in Lightroom…  Extensive editing in Photoshop was not used (which should really be evident in the fact that there are only like 10 stars in the entire shot, I could have put the freaking Milky Way in the image using Photoshop).  You can click on the image below to see a larger image and if your monitor is fairly good you should be able to easily pick out the stars.


ISO 100, f/9, 16mm, 15 seconds

Is the image perfect?  Heck no, but it’s what was actually seen by the naked eye rather than a combination of multiple images or just plain fake.  The small lights along the cement path are slightly blown (due to increasing the whites to make the stars pop a little).  You’ll rarely be able to get everything perfect when trying to capture stars in your cityscape…  Somethings got to compromise.

The image before editing is below:

JMB_4865-2Raw unedited version.

As you can see, the differences between the two are not drastic.  It does not take a lot of effort to emphasize the stars in this cityscape without drastically altering the image into something it was not.

How It Was Done

  • Increase the exposure slightly
  • Reduce the highlights (-82 in this image)
  • Increase shadows (+51)
  • Increase whites (+20)
  • Decrease blacks (-15)
  • Increase clarity (+35)
  • Add ND Filter to sky (increase exposure +30, contrast +61, shadows +35, clarity +100)

I’m not sure if this would fall under Landscape Astrophotography because of the small amount of stars but it sure was fun capturing.  Be sure to grab a sturdy tripod, use mirror lock-up for maximum sharpness, and cover your viewfinder to keep light from leaking onto your sensor and discoloring your image.  Good luck!


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