How to Process Moon Photography
Processing Moon photography is different to Deep Sky astrophotography image processing. The first step of processing moon photography is to take all of your RAW files, crop them and convert them to TIFF image files. We do this using Planetary Imaging Pre-Processor (PIPP).
1. Select the RAW image files that you took and drag them into PIPP, or click on the Add Image Files button on the bottom left hand side.
2. Tick the box Solar-Lunar Full Disc. This will pre-select some options for us in the other tabs.
3. Select the Processing Options tab to uncheck the box called Convert colour to monochrome. This will ensure we’re working with a full colour image later in our post-processing software. Believe it or not, the moon can produce some beautiful colours!
4. Change the cropping side on the right hand side. I find that 1200×1200 produces a great sized image for sharing on Social Media, but you can choose whichever size works for you.
5. Select the Quality Options tab and ensure the Only Keep The Best Quality Frames box is checked. PIPP will score each frame and output this as a percentage in the filename after processing.
6. Select the Output Options tab and select TIFF as the Output Format.
7. Select the Create Subdirectory check box. This will save your PIPP output images into a separate folder to your RAW files to make them easier to find later.
8. Select the Do Processing tab and click on Start Processing. This process will take a few minutes depending on how many frames you have.
Now that we have our TIFF output files, we need to use another free piece of software called AutoStakkert!3 to stack our images. Stacking our images will improve our signal to noise ratio and mean that we are working with a much better quality image when we get to pro-processing later.
1. Drag and drop all of your TIFF files that were output from PIPP into the AS!3 window, or select Open in the top left of the screen and browse to the files.
2. Once your files are imported, a second window will pop up showing one of your Moon images. Select the button Place AP Grid. This will create a grid of small reference points that AS!3 will use when stacking and aligning your images. The smaller these boxes are, the more CPU intensive it’s going to be and the longer it will take. I have found that selecting the 104 radio button creates a good sized grid that won’t be too intensive on your computer but you can go smaller if you wish.
3. Return to the original window that you use to import the image files. On the right hand side there is a box called Frame percentage to stack. I usually select 95% at this point as we have already sorted and scored our images previously in PIPP so we know we’re dealing with high quality images here.
4. Select the Stack button at the bottom right of the screen to stack your images. This process runs very quickly and usually only takes a minute. This will create an AS sub-folder within your PIPP sub-folder that was created earlier and will contain a single stacked TIFF file.
We’re now at the post-processing stage where we can start to produce our final image. In this guide I will be using Adobe Photoshop but the process will work equally well in any image processing software. The difference will be in where you find these options under the menus that’s all. I should stress that this is my simple process for producing a decent, sharp moon image. Your final result will depend on your personal taste and may differ to mine.
1. Drag and drop your stacked image into Photoshop, or click File, Open and browse to your file.
2. Select Image -> Adjustments -> Levels. We’re going to be moving the slider to the edge of the data on each colour channel individually.
3. Select Image -> Adjustments -> Curves. Here we’re going to select a dark spot and a light spot by holding down Ctrl and click on our image. This will plot these two points on our curves screen. Pull the lower dot down below the diagonal line to darken the craters on the moon, and drag the higher dot up to lighten the light points. This will give the image a higher contrast of tones.
4. Select Image -> Adjustments -> Brightness/Contrast. I like to bring the brightness down slightly, to somewhere between -10 and -15.
5. Select Filter -> Sharpen -> Smart Sharpen. Here we’re going to sharpen our image to really bring out the detail. Photoshop’s default is to increase to 200% but adjust to your taste.
6. Select Image -> Adjustments -> Shadows/Highlights. Use these sliders to add more contrast to your image as best suits your taste.
How to Process Moon Photography video
Follow along with my YouTube video as I show you how to stack and process moon photography using PIPP, AutoStakkert!3 and Adobe Photoshop