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How to Photograph Star Trails

Star trails are beautiful, and have an almost surreal look to it. All it needs to photograph star trails is knowing the right technique, and having a bit of patience. If you have wondered how to create strikingly good star trail images, you are in the right place! In the tutorial shown below, Tony Northrup (photographer, instructor, and author) shares with us the basics of creating beautiful star trail images. Have a look:

What you need for your camera:

To begin with, you’ll need a steady tripod. It’s good to have a bubble level, that you can put on top of your camera or an electronic level in your camera, as you won’t be able to see the horizons in the dark.

Use a wide angle lens. The wider the better, as this will help you capture as much of the sky possible. Set your lens to manual focus, and then adjust your focusing to ‘near infinity’.

Star Trail Photography

Shutter Speed, aperture and ISO:

Then comes the shutter speed . Keep it at 30 seconds, and then set your camera’s aperture to the widest setting. This lets more light in. An aperture of 3.5 or 4.0 is good enough. Set your ISO at 1600 and take a test shot. After the test shot is done, zoom in and check if the stars are sharp, if not re-adjust the focus and keep taking test shots until the stars appear sharp.

Set the shutter for continuous shooting, where you just hold the shutter down and click. Its a little odd to do that with a 30 seconds exposure, but it works great. Use remote shutter release, to lock the shutter open, because otherwise you would shake the camera if you keep the shutter pressed. Your camera will now shoot a new pic every 30 seconds.

Once that is done, transfer the images on the computer. Tony uses lightroom to process the RAW files, as it allows you to easily apply the same settings to the entire set of images.The images will have a orange tint, and bad colors, as happens with most night time shots. But this can be corrected. Check the white balance, and correct the exposure settings. You want the stars to be bright and nice, and the sky to be dark. Adjust the black levels and white levels and apply the same settings to the entire set.

After this he exports the set as jpeg files into a single folder, and stacks them together.

Exposure Stacking for Star Trail Photography

Things to remember:

  • It’s always advisable to set your camera beforehand in the daylight so that you can see what you’re setting, because once you reach the location, it will be pitch dark. You can hardly see anything, and you won’t know what you are doing.
  • It is also best to carry some sort of flashlight or headlight with you.
  • Don’t jostle your camera while you’re taking the images. Your camera has to be completely still when the images are being clicked.
  • Check your camera every 10-15 minutes. Clean the lens, with an absorbent lint free cloth.
  • Keep an eye on the sky too. Clouds might ruin your images. They might come and go just for a couple of minutes, but they’ll be locked in long exposures.

Hopefully, these tips will you click some amazing photographs. Do share them with us. Good luck and happy trailing!

For Further Training on Star Trail Photography:

Capturing star trails and other night sky scenes is truly one of the most technically difficult forms of photography due to the extreme low light conditions. This new in-depth guide was released to help photographers thrive in these situations.

It can be found here: Shooting Stars – How to Photograph the Night Sky

[via PictureCorrect Photography Tips]

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