Best photo editing apps for astrophotography 2024

The best photo editing apps for astrophotography can upgrade your shots of the night sky and turn them into beautiful images. 

Editing photos is something photographers do regularly, and it's especially important in astrophotography due to the difficulties of shooting in low-light conditions. Even NASA edits the astronomical images it produces using image editing software.

As celestial objects are obviously very distant, they often appear faint, so editing can bring out details that might not otherwise be visible. And while the best cameras for astrophotography can deliver incredible results, they have their limitations in terms of zoom. As such, astrophotographers often reach for photo editing software to reduce image distortion on their astro shots, such as vignetting and barelling. 

Even the best telescopes and best binoculars can't reveal all the subtle colors and intricate patterns that post-shoot editing using photo editing apps can. RAW images might not appear very vibrant or exciting when first captured, but with the help of the best photo editing apps, astrophotographers can enhance and improve their astro images significantly.

Photo editing software offers a wide range of possibilities, from making colors pop to highlighting intricate details. Keep reading to discover the ideal software for your specific needs.


The quick list

Best photo editing apps for astrophotography 2024

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Best photo editing app for astro

Best photo editing app for astro: There are some useful preset astro features available on this editing app and it's more reasonably priced than some of its rivals

Specifications

Payment type: One-off
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iPad
Mobile app: No
Cloud storage: None

Reasons to buy

+
Cheaper Photoshop rival
+
Some useful dedicated astro features
+
Excellent tutorials

Reasons to avoid

-
The layout will be unfamiliar to Photoshop veterans
-
No cloud integration or storage
-
One-off payment
Buy it if

✅ You specialize in astrophotography: Overall we were really impressed with the extensive astrophotography stacking persona, and there are a ton of astro macros to speed up your workflow.

✅ You like to own the software: There's no option to subscribe to Affinity Photo, so once you buy the software, you own it.

Don't buy it if:

❌ You want in-built organization: We'd love to see them adopt some kind of library system, as currently it relies on the folders on your computer.

The bottom line

🔎 Affinity Photo 2 The best app for astrophotography, its astrophotography stack persona is like no other, although it has a way to go in other areas to live up to Adobe. That said, it's affordable and fairly user-friendly, and has a bunch of useful features once you delve in. ★★★★½

Towards the end of 2022, Serif released this newest version of Affinity Photo, loaded with great new tools for editing and manipulating photos. Among our favorites are the masks, which now offer functionality comparable to what you'd find in Lightroom and Photoshop. They also introduced non-destructive RAW development, so your original photos stay safe regardless of your edits. The live mesh warping feature and layers panel further enhance the software's already impressive capabilities.

While these updates may not be specifically designed for astrophotography, they significantly enhance Affinity Photo's overall capabilities and user-friendliness. 

Serif Software's alternative to Photoshop is divided into five distinct 'personas.' Each persona serves a unique purpose within the software, namely Photo, Liquify, Develop, Tone Mapping, and Export. Think of these personas as separate workstations in a photo studio, each designed to handle specific tasks.

Develop and Photo are where you make initial edits, much like in Lightroom or Photoshop's Camera Raw. Liquify is to warp or distort your images, Tone Mapping is most typically used for 32-bit HDR files, and the Export persona is self-explanatory. During our Affinity Photo 2 review, we spent most of our time in the Develop and Photo Personas.

There is a dedicated 'Astrophotography Stack' function and we were very intrigued to see how it compared to Adobe Photoshop, which we found wanting in this particular department.

To put it simply, astrophotography stacking in Affinity Photo 2 is an easy way to combine your calibration and light frames seamlessly. With just a click, you can import these frames and let the software stack them automatically. In our testing, Affinity Photo 2 impressed us with its performance, especially in aligning stars to create perfectly lined-up images. However, we did notice a slight misalignment in the foreground, which differs from what we observed in Photoshop. This won't be a problem if your focus is solely on capturing images of the sky, such as nebulas or constellations, without including the foreground, and many astrophotographers often replace the foreground entirely. In terms of stacking capabilities, we think Affinity Photo 2 surpasses Adobe Photoshop.

Another Astro-friendly function we enjoyed is the 'Remove Background' filter. AI helps to restore the dark sky around the stars back to its original dark color and removes color casts that may have crept into your images.

Affinity Photo 2 is now available as part of their universal license — you pay a one-off fee of $164.99 for Affinity Photo, Affinity Publisher, and Affinity Designer. If you don't need these, you can still purchase Affinity Photo 2 individually for a one-off payment of $69.99, or $18.49 for the iPad version.

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Affinity Photo 2
AttributesNotes
PricingSubscription free.
User interfaceSplit into five different personas.
Key featuresNon destructive RAW editing.
Astro featuresImpressive astrophotography stacking tools.

Best editing app overall

Best editing app overall: Lightroom has a brilliant and non-destructive workflow that will suit busy photographers

Specifications

Payment type: Subscription
Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Mobile app: Yes
Cloud storage: Up to 1TB

Reasons to buy

+
Unrivaled image organization
+
Great for batch editing using presets
+
Available for desktop, tablet and mobile
+
Non-destructive workflow

Reasons to avoid

-
Monthly subscription only
-
RAW image conversion could be more advanced
-
Not many astro-specific features
Buy it if

✅ You want an all-in-one image editor and catalog: Lightroom excels in both image editing and organization, making it hard for many other editing apps to beat.

You want excellent noise reduction: Lightroom introduced an AI noise reduction tool in 2023, which we think is very impressive, albeit a bit slow.

Don't buy it if:

❌ You want to stack or create composites: One feature lacking is the ability to blend layers and create composites which are often used in astrophotography.

The bottom line

🔎 Adobe Lightroom If you're looking for image editing software to rule them all, you won't be disappointed with Lightroom. It has unrivaled catalog organization and all the editing tools you need to create stunning images. ★★★★★

Lightroom is mostly used by professionals, but as time goes on, more hobbyists and amateur photographers are also using it. It's a robust piece of software packed with many features and tips that can streamline your workflow and simplify post-processing. It's no wonder it's considered the most popular and highly rated image-processing software out there.

It's versatile and comprehensive, including organizing and cataloging features as well as image editing. Lightroom excels at enhancing RAW images, so it's suited to a wide range of users. You don't necessarily have to work with RAW files in Lightroom, but we do recommend shooting your images (in particular, your astro images) in RAW because of the increased detail and color depth that RAW provides.

Importing your images to Lightroom after a photo session is quick and easy, and you can create a database of all the shots from that day, including geotags and facial recognition. Then, you can use flags, stars and colors to organize and rate files, choosing the best photos and getting rid of the ones you don't want.

The organization tools in Lightroom make it stand out from other editing apps, although some apps are starting to offer similar features. Photographers who shoot events and weddings will find these tools especially helpful, as they often have to manage thousands of images after a shoot.

The editing toolkit is also very extensive and, in our opinion, the best out there in terms of capabilities and layout. When editing in Lightroom, you have complete creative control over contrast, brightness, texture and clarity, color hue and saturation. You also have the option to smooth out any distortion and lens idiosyncrasies. You can create and save presets, edit with masks and heal any unwanted dust spots in your images. Then, once you've finished editing, a high-quality JPEG image can be watermarked, exported and shared, all while keeping your original RAW file intact.

In 2023, shortly after we published our Adobe Lightroom review, they introduced an AI denoise tool into their setup, which is fantastic news for astrophotographers. With just a click of a button, it will intelligently remove noise from your image based on the percentage you set. We've found that it works incredibly well and rivals DxO's deepPrime tool, but the bigger the file and more noise reduction you do on a particular image, the longer it takes — sometimes it can take up to 5 or 6 minutes per image, and again, it'll depend on the speed of your computer. 

Lightroom's workflow is also completely non-destructive, meaning you can preserve your original files without any risk of overwriting them when you make edits. It's only when you choose to export an edited image that any changes become permanent, and even in that case, your original RAW image remains untouched, and the edited file is saved separately.

Lightroom also excels at batch processing photos so you can import all of your images at once, batch edit (essentially copying and pasting the same editing settings onto each image), and then export them to another app for stacking. If there was one photo editing app to rule them all, it's Lightroom.

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Adobe Lightroom
AttributesNotes
PricingSubscription only, but included in good value Photography bundle.
User interfaceNot a very exciting layout, but simple to understand.
Key featuresUnrivalled cataloging and organization.
Astro featuresNew AI-based denoise proves a hit with astrophotography.

Best for large projects

Best for large projects: This powerful image editor works seamlessly across desktop, iPad and mobile

Specifications

Payment type: Subscription
Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Mobile app: Yes
Cloud storage: Up to 1TB