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How To Edit Stunning Images of the Northern Lights

Christian Möhrle shares his editing tips

Photographing the Northern Lights is a bucket-list item for many landscape photographers, but to capture those stunning otherworldly colors in all of their glory you will need to do a bit of post-production work. In a new video Photoshop guru Christian Möhrle shares his step-by-step editing tips to give your photos of the Northern Lights an extra oomph factor that will make them stand out from the crowd. Here’s how he approaches the workflow. 

#1 Basic Adjustments in Adobe RAW 

Möhrle’s final image is made up of two separate frames with very different exposures: a base shot and a second image that captured the highlights in the foreground. He starts by adjusting the white balance on the base image to get rid of the yellow color cast. He makes this adjustment by bringing down the temperature and the tint to introduce cooler colors into the scene. Next, he brings down the highlights in the base image, boosts the blacks and makes slight adjustments to the contrast, texture and clarity. Finally, he slightly increases the contrast on the base image. 

#2 Mask the Sky 

Once the basic adjustments are done Möhrle switches his focus to the colors in the sky. He uses the sky selection tool under masks to quickly make a selection of the sky. Once he has created his mask, he brings up the highlights, increases whites and uses the white balance sliders and tint sliders to make adjustments targeting the colors of the sky. 

#3 RAW Color Grading

Once he is happy with the color details in the sky he returns to the Color Grading panel inside Adobe RAW. Here he makes precise adjustments to the saturation of the orange and yellow tones by minimizing their levels and increases the amount of blue in the image. Under the luminance tab he increases the green tones and the aqua tones. Under the color grading panel, he does a bit of split toning to the image. He adds a cold color tone to the shadows and increases the saturation. He repeats the process with the gold color tone to make adjustments the midtones of the image. Finally, in the color calibration tab, he brings down the blue primary hue to help the fishing huts in the foreground of the image pop. 


#4 Sharpening

Möhrle sharpens the details in his image by bringing down the radius and increasing the details. 

#5 Synchronizing Images 

Before he moves into Photoshop Möhrle selects the base image and the image with the highlight details, right clicks and synchronizes their settings. He then makes some minor adjustments to the highlights under the basic adjustments tab. He selects them both and hits Open Objects to open them in Photoshop. 

#6 Photoshop Adjustments

After Möhrle makes his color adjustments in Adobe RAW he is finally ready to make his edits in Photoshop. He starts by making a new Layer to give the windows of the fishing huts a nice little glow. He paints the glows in using a brush to paint in the details. To add highlights to the sky he creates yet another Layer to target the stars. He uses a TK plugin to target the highlights in the sky. He adds a Gaussian Blur around the brightest stars in the sky to give them a bit of an extra pop. He targets the Highlights in the windows by using the TK plugin to brighten up the lights in the window one last time. He adds a Curves layer to give the mountain and the fishing village in the foreground a bit more depth. 

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