Add “Star Glow” to Your Milky Way Photos

Use a Simple Lightroom Adjustment Brush to Add Glow to Stars.

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Star Glow Cover
Image Shot by Aaron Martinez in Southern New Mexico at 24mm, f/2.5, ISO 6400, 20s.

For this week’s Tuesday Tip, I will show how I add “star glow” to some of my images in Adobe Lightroom with an adjustment brush.

Every photographer has their own unique workflow that works for them. In my case, my workflow is long, intricate, and likely over-complicated. But if I shoot an image that I won’t be running through the Photoshop wringer, I use good ole Lightroom to process images.

I won’t be going through how I process an image from start to finish. Instead will use an example photo to quickly show how I add “star glow” to the brightest stars to give the picture a little more pop.

The Star Glow Technique

This technique isn’t super complex. It is a simple way to add a little bit of glow to some of the brightest stars that look somewhat similar to stars that are behind thin, high-altitude clouds when shooting the night sky.

To explain it in an even simpler way, it’s essentially dodging the stars with the intent to make them slightly brighter with some haze added to make them look like they’re behind some haze.

My Star Glow Brush Preset

I would recommend a simple preset brush below that I made a few years ago.

Star Glow Brush Preset - Copyright 2020 Aaron Martinez
My very simple “AM Star Glow” preset I made a few years ago.

It includes an exposure increase of half a stop as well as a -50 dehaze. It is essentially a fine contrast reduction, to add the light glow.

Tip: In this particular brush, I add a little bit of warmth to add some color to it. Used with the white balance sliders, it can create multiple brushes of different colors to fine-tune your adjustments and do a simpler form of color dodging.

How To Pick Stars to Add Glow

Choosing stars CAN seem overwhelming because, as we know, there are a lot of them. However, you do not have to (nor would you want to) add glow to all of the stars.

I start adding glow with a larger star that I don’t think needs a lot of it. That’s because the dot from the adjustment brush can get in the way if I want to add more glow to the first star later.

Before Step 1
Start by adding star glow with an “unimportant” star that won’t be touched again because the adjustment brush dot can get in the way.
Glow After Step 1
I then add glow to stars in the general area of where I started only adding glow to the largest stars.

Then I scan the entire image for the brightest stars only. I don’t do any small stars in the frame. Below, I added a small amount of glow to the stars in the Rho Ophiuchi.

Before Step 2
A heavy crop in on the Rho Ophiuchi before adding any star glow.
Glow After Step 2
A heavy crop in on the Rho Ophiuchi after adding star glow.

You can also use the technique to add glow to things like planets, bright meteors, or even the moon. In this case, I added some glow to the planet that was visible in the middle of the galactic center.

Before Step 3
A heavy crop in on the a visible planet before adding any star glow.
Star Glow After 3
A heavy crop in on a visible planet after adding some star glow.

You’re Done!

Here is a quick before and after to show you the changes we made.

Image BEFORE Adding Glow
The semi-final image after dodging and burning and all of my basic adjustments have been made.
Image After Adding Star Glow
The final image after adding star glow to some of the stars.

If done carefully and with a light hand, this is a very simple and subtle technique you can use to make your images a little more whimsical and even surreal.

Hopefully, you learned something useful from this Tuesday Tip.

Keep exploring and creating!

Tuesday Tips

Check out last week’s Tuesday Tip here: How to be Honest in Your Photo Captions.