One of the reasons I find photography so much fun is that I am always learning new things about technique and post processing. On my trip to Mt. St. Helens, not only did I have a new camera, but I wanted to try out a new technique of stacking images. The point of stacking images is to remove noise and improve the clarity of the Milky Way. First off I have to say that I love focus peaking. Focus peaking magnifies a section of your image and then colors the parts that are in sharp focus when you are in manual focus mode. This is a game changer for aging eyes. I was able to manual focus on Jupiter and then use focus peaking to insure I really was in focus. In the past I have struggled to get my Milky Way shots in focus. No more!
Stacking images is one of those set up and wait activities. First, I took several test shots to fine tune my focus, composition and settings. I settled at ISO 3200, shutter speed 15 seconds and aperture f/2.8. Next, I set the in camera intervalometer to take 30 pictures with a 5 second gap between each photo. Lastly, I pressed the shutter and sat in my chair to wait 10 minutes for the sequence to finish. I took two series of pictures for stacking. I also took 5 images with the lens cap on using the same settings as the Milky Way images. The black images are for noise removal.
I used a free program called Sequator for stacking the images. Unfortunately Sequator is only available for the PC. Mac has an excellent image stacker program called Starry Landscape Stacker, unfortunately it is not free. You can use the trial for an unlimited amount of time; it does put a watermark across the picture.
I chose one image from the first of my sequences and applied some initial edits. Sequator recommends that you turn of any lens correction settings. I then applied the changes to the other 29 images. My editing software is On1, but any editing program will work. Sequator uses TIFFs so I saved all 35 images as TIFFs. I then brought the 28 Milky Way images and 5 black images into Sequator, masked the sky, turned auto brightness, high dynamic range, reduce light pollution and enhance star light on and hit the process button. I opened the output image in On1, reduced the whites, shadows and midtones, and lastly lightened the Milk Way slightly. Thank you, Ed Tromble, for the excellent presentation you did for the Olympia Camera Club on how to use Sequator.
Below are two images. The first image was processed without stacking, the second with stacking. I think the stacking made a difference. What do you think?