Adobe details how NASA edits space photos

Those incredible space photos we see from NASA don't look that way fresh off the camera — they're commonly composite photos composed of multiple images that were taken with different parameters and then heavily edited and adjusted during post-processing. That's not to say they've been altered in such a way that makes them fake, only more appealing to the eye.

If you've wondered what processes, exactly, NASA uses to create these astounding images, you're in luck: Adobe published a long write up yesterday detailing how the changes are made, also saying that for NASA workers, "the scientific integrity of the images is their top priority." You can see one example of the editing process from RAW to finalized photo below.

In the case of the image above and others like it, the researchers use colors to represent the infrared colors that the human eye isn't able to see, a sort of translation process that allows us to fully appreciate the beauty of space. The workflow often includes multi-gigabyte files.

Said astronomer Robert Hurt:

My general workflow for this is to first take the original observational data from the telescope, which is kind of an HDR representation of the sky. Each observation involved in compiling that HDR image will then have its own layer grouping in Photoshop, to which I'll make layer adjustments and curve adjustments to bring out the contrast and important details in the data. Sometimes I'll bring in Hubble's visible-light photos of the same astronomical region, too, and layer the Spitzer data on top of those to create images highlighting the interesting contrasts between different parts of the spectrum that the general public can enjoy and understand.

Want to try your own hand at editing RAW space images? NASA has a bunch of them here to download.