How to get started with star trail photography

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Shooting star trails is easy but it takes a lot of time to obtain the final result.

We cannot expose the sensor for 3-4 hours in a single shot and expect to obtain a neat star trail. All you will get is an over-exposed image. So what we do is take a few hundred of shots at exposures between 30-60sec  and stack them up. Make sure to use a lens with low “f” number. Here is everything to help get started with star trail photography.

 

Minimum required gear

 

1. A DSLR with “Manual Mode”  and Intervalometer; if your cam doesn’t have a built-in Intervalometer you can purchase an one separately.

2. A sturdy tripod.

3. 18-55mm kit lens–wider the better.

4. A fully charged battery.

 

Gear recommended

1. DSLR with good ISO performance.

2. An Intervelometer device or if you are a Canon user adding Magic Lantern helps saving money on the cord (install at your own risk, though )

3. A sturdy tripod.

4. Fast wide angle lens ( Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, Samyang  14mm f/2.8).

Now that you have the gear, let’s find a good location.

Finding a location with a dark sky

Places with less light and dust pollution are the ideal places for photographing the star trails; rural areas may help. This map is made by Blue Marbles navigators. Dark sky map and google maps with NASA’s data will help you to understand the light pollution in your region.

http://www.blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012

 

Locating the North Star

Star trails can be achieved in any part of the night sky. If you like to shoot the star circle formation you have to locate the North Star. Here are a few apps that can help.

 

1.Star Chart (Android)

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.escapistgames.starchart

 

2.Google Sky Maps

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.stardroid

 

 

On field

After you’re done with the preparations, here are a few tips for shooting star trails.

 

1. The most important…SHOOT IN RAW. RAW files are uncompressed files and it gives you flexibility over the image while post processing.

 

2. Turn OFF noise reduction. If you want to know why the noise reduction must be turned off, you must first know how noise reduction works on your DSLR. For example, if you shoot at an exposure of 30sec your camera will take another 30sec to complete the shot. What your cam does is it takes a shot at the same setting with the shutter closed and subtracts the frame from the first shot which helps to remove noise to an extent. When you are shooting star trails it’s important to avoid gap formation between the lines, so turn off noise reduction.

 

3.  Set Shooting mode to Manual mode. This is to get a uniform exposure across all the shots.

 

4. Set your camera to manual focus and set the focus to infinity or focus at a far away light using live view. Turn OFF Autofocus so that your camera won’t attempt to refocus.

 

5. Set your White Balance manually.

 

6. Metering Mode – Evaluative Metering on Canon and Matrix Metering on Nikon (both are the same).

 

7. Try to keep the ISO around 400 to 800 or above depending on your camera’s noise performance

 

Instructions

 

1. Set up your cam at the desired location you want to shoot the trails.

 

2. Adjust your exposure in such a way that you will be able to get trails. Use the straight opposite rule of 500. If you are using an 18mm the exposure at which you don’t get a trail is 28 sec. Here all we want is trails, so crank up the exposure a bit more adding 10 to 15 sec more.

 

3. Take a few test shots to check your framing.

 

4. Set your Intervalometer to the desired number of shots, a minimum of 150 shots will give you a decent star trail.

 

5. After you’re done with the settings and framing, turn on the Intervalometer and after you’ve done that DON’T touch your camera, because even a little jerk may change the frame and it’ll cause improper trails and overlapping trails.


Post Processing

 

1. Load all your images using Adobe Lightroom, set your desired brightness, contrast, etc., and sync them with the rest of the shots. Selecting all the images and clicking a “SYNC” button helps to sync the rest of the frames with the settings you applied.

 

2. Export all the images as JPG format.

 

3. Photoshop helps you to stack the images and get a decent result but loading them up will consume a lot of RAM power, so I recommend using software like “Startrails”  and “Starstrax” to stack your images. These are freeware. Here are the links where you download them:

Startrails – http://www.startrails.de/Startrails.zip

Starstax – http://www.markus-enzweiler.de/software/software.html

 

4. Load the images into the software and click “stack”, the software comes up with options on how you want the star trail such as “ falling star” or “round circle”.

 

5. After you’re done with the settings, the program stacks your images, save the output as “TIFF” format, this will give you good flexibility if you want to process them further.

Happy clicking folks !!!

 

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