How to get the correct Milky Way colour

Updated: Jul 19



Recently, I received a question from one of my students regarding what’s the right colour of the Milky Way.


I think it is a good question. It also makes me want to share the answer with you all and how to get the right Milky Way colour.


We have seen countless photos of the Milky Way in different colour variations, orange, magenta, blue and even white, but which one is correct?



From an Astronomy perspective, the colour of the Milky Way should be yellow and orange. Like the below photo.


However, it is okay to tweak the colour based on your own artistic taste to create a beautiful photo with a unique look and better colour tone. I always believe photography is more than just capturing photos; it is about creating artwork.


I use Adobe Lightroom to make the colour adjustment. You can do the same using Adobe Camera Raw on Photoshop or any other software like Luminar.


I’m going to use this RAW photo to show you how I find the right adjustment for the Milky Way colour.


P.s. for this demonstration, I have adjusted the Color temperature to make the changes more noticeable 😛



Before I make any adjustments to the Color Temperature and Tint sliders, I’m going to push both the Vibrance and Saturation sliders all the way to the max first.




Here’s what the photo looked like with both Vibrance and Saturation at the max value.


Obviously, the colour looked awkward, but no worry, we are going to revert the adjustments after this.


That the photo has a massive blue colour cast, let’s try to warm up the photo by adding a bit more yellow. Just drag the Temperature slider toward the right.

Observing the change of the colour when moving the slider, when the slider reaches a certain point, you should be able to see the colour of the Milky Way starting to separate from the sky.


I think the photo is a bit too greenish. Let’s try to reduce some green by adjusting the Tint slider. This also helps to separate the Milky Way from the sky further.

Then, I will add in a slightly warmer tone using the Temperature slider again. I feel that it is a bit too blue now.

Once we have a good separation between the Milky Way and the sky, it is time to reset both the Vibrance and Saturation sliders.



Now you have set the colour of the Milky Way right. You may feel that the photo looked plain. This is because your eyes have already got used to the heavily saturated colour.


From here, you can apply any necessary adjustments and noise reduction to the photo. You can also add back a little bit of Vibrance and Saturation to give a little boost to the colour.



Here’s the edited version of the photo, in which I have performed the Noise Reduction, Color and Tonal Adjustments. Also, cropping. 🙂


That’s all for this blog post. See you next time! 😀


Please feel free to share this post if you enjoy reading it!


Want to learn more about capturing and editing beautiful Milky Way photos? Check out my latest Astrophotography workshop.


 

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