Messier 63 Sunflower Galaxy Image by Sean Killian

The images you see of space nebulae, dust or galaxies takes many hours to not only capture one exposure at a time but to also piece together using capture software, processing software and post processing software.

Astrophotography is oftentimes more than just one image. Sure there is the one image you see at the end but to get there you must stack multiple images with single exposure times of 30 seconds to 10 minutes or more.

Capture Software – Software used to assist in EAA or Electronically Assisted Astrophotography such as Astrophotography Tool (APT), SharpCap, FireCapture, Nina and many others. Some capture software can be better at capturing images of planets while others are better at capturing deep-space objects such as nebulae or galaxies. Choose the software based on what you will be imaging. For me, my capture software is part of the equipment I use. Check out the Equipment page to see what I personally use.

Processing Software – Software used to help identify the best frames from a night of imaging. Once the best frames are identified they are aligned and stacked together to form one single image that is then used in post-processing.

There are many different processing tools out there and DeepSky Stacker, AstroPixel Processor, Pixinsight, Photoshop or Siril are a few of the most well known and widely used. Some can be downloaded and used for free while others do have a cost.

For me, I started with DeepSky Stacker then moved to AstroPixel Processor and now solely use Pixinsight for processing. The choice is yours.

Post Processing Software – Software to help bring out the finer details in an image or to highlight color or depth. Once the image(s) have been captured and stacked together now what? Well this is where your own personal artistic expressions come into play. Some people like the realistic color or structure to an image while others prefer to highlight and deepen color maybe even changing it a bit. Astrophotography is an amazing hobby because the end result is your work, your expression.

I use Pixinsight for processing as mentioned above but also as part of my post processing routine. Pixinsight is an amazingly powerful tool fully capable of handing any processing/post processing you can throw at it. However, I use Photoshop in conjunction with Pixinsight for all of my images starting in December 2020 forward.

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