Star Trails: What is and how to..

Shooting at night, and in long exposure is quite fun, one must agree. With a little tweak, the night can be turned  into dusk, if not bright day.
This shot, 0230 h. 30 seconds of exposure does this trick.

Long exposure photo of lake with landscapes mirrored into the lake.

We get enamoured by the photos of trails of lights across the sky, often in round or elliptical patterns about a stunning landscape. Some of my readers may already know what it is. What you have seen, is a star trail.
What is it? Well, as the earth rotates, from our point of view, fixed on the earth, we find the stars shifting. If we capture this shift, over considerable span of time, we shall get the path traced by the star. That illuminated trail, is the star trail.

Star trail photo over landscape. Multiple long exposure photos combined in one.

Things we need are quite minimal. We need a tripod, a camera with a means to take a certain number of shots over a period of time, a landscape and a starry night.

Set the camera appropriately on the tripod. In the settings menu, make it take photos till the battery runs out or at least 8gb worth of photos are captured. For the exposure settings, you ll have to take a couple of cold shots. Try with the minimum ISO and shutter speed at about 15 seconds. Take a shot and inspect it, if you can see at least one star in your display screen. A few trial and errors and you shall get the exposure right. Once done, set the camera on the interval shooting mode, and wait.

Now, what you shall get out of the shots is a series, where the only movement, preferably, will be of the stars. Get hold of the software, StarStaX, and load up the images. Follow the instructions and let the software process the photos. If done correctly, you should get yourself a beautiful star trail photo.

If you have reached till here, you have definitely earned the right to know what may go wrong. Take a look at the photo above, once more. Zoom it. Do you notice that there are tiny gaps between each trail. That gap is what 5 seconds looks like. Between each of my exposure, I had set a gap of 5 seconds. If you want a continuous trail, ensure, no gaps. You may have to shoot on JPEG for that, turn noise reduction off, so that as soon as the camera shoots one image, it can continue to the next one. You have got to ensure that there are no movements on your end. Before you put the photo into StarStax, it is advisable to convert them in JPEG, if you have shot in RAW. And while you are at it, make the uniform changes in all the photos using sync (Lightroom) or similar functions.

My exposure is about 120 photos, half an hour long. This was a proof of concept shot, to try out whats and hows. Now that I know, in near future, better, seamless shots should be expected.

Till the next post.
Cheers!!

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7 thoughts on “Star Trails: What is and how to..

  1. I remember you once advised me to try star trail, with some historical building in the background. I’m yet to experiment on this, partly because I usually don’t get time to shoot at night. But some day, sure…

      1. Ha ha! I found a partner recently who’s into night photography too…will plan something very soon. Do we need to find some place away from the city (lights)?

      2. Thats really lucky, to find a partner who shares the enthusiasm. Yes, you ll have to go away from the city to avoid the light pollution thats around the city. Few kms out of the city…and you shall get the clear views of the stars. And….also the milky way 🙂

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