Deep Sky Stacker Tutorial

DSS is a deceptively simple looking programme which hides some pretty powerful processing. If you speak to 50 photographers, however, you will get 50 different response on the best way to utilise this power.

I do not claim that this is the best or only way to use the tool, but I find that it works pretty well for me. As I progress and start taking more images and longer subs, it may be that I have to adapt and amend my processes to get the most out of my images. But, for now, this seems to work pretty well for me!

I am presuming you have downloaded the software and are fairly familiar with where the various buttons are. The capitals denote menu choices/tabs/buttons.

(NB, if you are stacking RAW DSLR files, make you sure have DSS version 3.3.4 otherwise the stacking will leave you with some very tall and thin images!)

So here we go, assuming you have a set of LIGHT/DARK/BIAS and FLAT frames:

  4. In the REGISTER SETTINGS box that appears I click ADVANCED and set the star detection threshold to find around 150 stars.
  5. Then navigate to STACKING PARAMETERS.
  7. Under LIGHTS, I chose MEDIAN – nothing else is checked in the main window.
  8. UNDER DARK, FLATS and BIAS I check MEDIAN KAPPA-SIGMA CLIPPING – nothing else is selected in the main window. MEDIAN settings are probably the best to ensure the processing discounts outlying images of poorer quality as well as plane or satellite trails.
  10. Everything unchecked in COSMETIC. (I was having trouble with my stars coming out like donuts and the hot pixel detection/removal settings in this tab appeared to be causing the issue.)
  11. INTERMEDIATE FILES and OUTPUT can be set to whatever works for you.
  12. Then OKAY and back to the REGISTER SETTINGS – usually I have this set to select the best 95% of pictures.
  13. Then OKAY to get the stack.
  14. When the image appears I do some basic tweaks in DSS. Firstly, on the LUMINANCE TAB, I change the bottom sliders on each of the 3 settings to 100% for DARKNESS 36.3% MIDTONE and 50% HIGHLIGHT – then click APPLY.                                                                           luminance.jpg
  15. Back to RGB/K Levels and with the LINKED SETTINGS box unchecked, line up the curves with each other and then click LINKED SETTINGS and move the combined curves so that it intersects the black curve (sorry for the lack of technical wording!) near the bottom bend in the curve with a good intersection between the two. Click APPLY. It the RGB curves become unaligned when moving them, simply unlink the settings and re-adjust.                                                                                              curves.jpg
  16. Then finally on to SATURATION and set that to somewhere between 16% and 22% to draw out some colour. Remember to click APPLY!                                                  Saturation.jpg
  17. I’ll then SAVE PICTURE TO FILE as a TIFF for playing around with in GIMP or a FITS if I am using STARTOOLS, although I am very much a learner with that one so we will leave that for a later tutorial!
  18. You can also make a selection of an area and save the image as a cropped TIFF or FITS file                                                                                    crop.jpg

Anyway, hope that helps in some way. I am sure everyone has a different way of doing things, and the results are definitely going to depend on what goes in in the first place. Some people say NO processing in DSS, while others apply a little processing, it is all, really, a personal thing, so its worth spending some time playing around to see what works for you. And, importantly, have fun with it!

Hopefully, what the above does show, is that even very small tweaks can take a washed out image and add colour and contrast to great effect!

  1. Very nice starter guide.This ought to be more visible to the DSS community. I only wish I had had something like this when I started using DSS. It’s almost verbatim the method I use myself. (in fact, I recently started using darks after a few years using SBIG’s “autodarks” and got the answer I needed wrt the integration method needed for darks from your article 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Andrew, glad you found it useful. DSS is a fairly simple program to get to grips with – certainly compared to something like Pixinsight (after a free trial, I am working up to that one) – but can be daunting to get started with. If you have good images to begin with my method works quite well, but I have struggled myself as I have progressed with “trickier” targets and getting colour and detail in them, – although I suspect much of that is to do with post processing, something I really need to spend time on.


  3. Thanks Andrew! I have been monkeying around with several tutorials (my first attempt to take star pics) and all came up gray and washed out. Following your tutorial, I finally see stars, thanks a million.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Many thanks for a good basic run down of the program. I like the program very much!
    How can I print it out for future reference? Regards.


    • Hi Frank. I am not sure if you can print from the site, but I just cut and pasted it into a WORD doc and it seemed okay, might need to play with margins a bit, but should work – might need to look into that functionality!

      Glad it was useful!


      • I did find a “print” button that could be added to the page, but that seems to only print the text, not the images, so not much better than simply cutting and pasting!


  5. Hi thanks for cutting through the flack with DSS tutorial. I’m getting great results with your basic settings. You mentioned doing the same with StarTools. How is that developing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi James, glad it was helpful! Sorry for missing your comment! Ah…Star Tools…. to be honest, I have struggled with Star Tools and haven’t found it particularly intuitive (for me). I may need to go back and spend more time with it, if I ever get to see some clear skies again! Since playing around with DSS I have moved on to trying out more Mono/LRGB/Ha imaging and have found PIXINSIGHT a much more powerful and flexible tool than DSS, although I still go back to DSS for some quick and dirty processing and it still works well when you have good data to stick in it….and, more importantly, it is free, unlike PI.


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