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How To Find the Secret and Subtle Color in the Moon

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I’ve recently tested out some quick moon photography on our new 12″ RC telescope (The Beast), and after putting the images out on Twitter and Instagram, I got a lot of questions from people about how I got so much color. It’s there, and like any astronomical image, you just have to tease it out, slowly and carefully.

So, while the RC is cooling down for another quick moon photo tonight, @AstroTanja suggested I write a quickie blog post on how to get more color from your moon shots. And, well, I do what Tanja says.

So here goes — this is how I (Ok, we, she taught me a while back), do it!
CSM30293This is the image I got straight off the camera, with no modifications. It’s nice, right? Well, not nice enough! Let’s do this.

1. First thing: SHOOT RAW!

Raw. 

ALWAYS RAW!

JPG sucks. Period. Don’t do it. Unless you’re also shooting raw.

And don’t argue with me on this. *harumph*

2. Lightroom: adjust color temperature

I use Lightroom as the first step in processing any of my photos taken as single exposures from the camera. This rules out deep-sky images, as they get processed 100% in PixInsight, but that’s another story.

Back to Lightroom. It’s awesome for editing raw images. SO, to get that extra color, start here, with the raw.

Moon_temp_LR

The color temperature used for the moon, or any night photo, is tricky, and just takes a little playing around. For this image, I set the color temperature to 4,623, because I thought it just looked right. It was a little hot as shot, so I cooled it down. In the end it could have been a little warmer, but as long as your whites (the brightest parts) are white, you’re close!

3. Lightroom: add saturation / vibrance

I’ve done a few other things to this image, like sharpening, noise reduction, clarity, etc., but we are talking specifically about color in this post. So, I’m not going to go into that. The rest are merely personal taste. As is color, I suppose, but that’s not the point. You asked, so I’m telling.

moon_LR_sat

If you shoot a low enough ISO, which you should for the moon (re: the LOWEST), then you can slam the saturation up there without adding much, if any noise. So, see where my saturation sliders are? Up there.

Saturation is at 100 and vibrance is at 80. Play around, see what happens. If it looks like absolute crap, it’s likely because your ISO was too high, or your color temperature isn’t quite right. Or, other things we won’t discuss here, because who knows what the image looked like out of your camera. Under/over exposure, etc. So many things.

But again, this is about getting color, and I get off track easily, so not going to discuss anything else more.

That’s pretty nice, right? Oh, but we aren’t finished.

Now, export that file at FULL RESOLUTION as a TIFF. You want all 16-bits of color. It’ll be a big file.

4. Photoshop: saturation adjustment layers

Ok, this is the last step! Easy peasy. I’m assuming you know how to use adjustment layers in Photoshop. If not: let me Google that for you.

Open your big exported TIFF file in Photoshop, and then add a Saturation/Hue adjustment layer. Set the Saturation level to +10, or lower.

moon_PS_1sat

It won’t change much…

…until you duplicate that layer, a bunch. You can see here I have done it 8 times. That’s 8x +10 saturation adjustment layers. It’s a lot, but you have to play around and see how  many looks good to you.

moon_PS_8sat

That color is the real deal, lots of the real deal, and it’s actually in the moon! Who said the moon was just boring grey rock that orbits our pretty blue and green marble? Well, whoever “they” are, they’re wrong!

And, the finished product

Go to it, add some color, if you so desire. I like it, because like science, it’s REAL!

Moon_5d_12RC_firstlight_2015-07-26_PS-30293_WM

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About the author

Cory Schmitz

Co-founder of PhotographingSpace.com, co-owner of several telescopes and mounts, too many cameras, and not enough hard drives, Cory is an American expat living in South Africa with his wife, Tanja Schmitz.

An avid astrophotographer for timelapse, deep-space imaging, lunar, planetary, and star trail imagery, he is an all-around jack-of-most-trades for night-sky photography.

He is also an internationally published and commissioned astrophotographer, where his photos have been used in multiple online and print publications.

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