Sunday, November 8, 2015

Star Trails

 
I have always admired the beautiful star trail photos, but they seemed a bit
daunting to tackle.  I knew you have to shoot multiple long-shutter photos
and I didn't really want to be out in the middle of the night doing it.
 
I finally decided to take the challenge and found out it isn't all that difficult!
 
The photo above is my favorite result after testing the technique
in various situations.   It was taken with my Canon 50mm 1.4 lens.
 
This next photo was taken that same night with my wide angle 20mm lens,
and as always with a wide angle lens, the trails look farther away and wispier.
 
 
You will need a DSLR camera
A tripod
A location with an open sky that faces NORTH
NO CLOUDS!
And preferably, something in the foreground
Patience
 
First, locate the North Star in the sky.  This star will become the
center of your star trail circle, so plan your composition accordingly.
 
  It's easy to locate the North Star if you can identify the Little Dipper. 
Thanks to SurvivalTopics. com for this diagram!
 
 
 
Scope out a location facing the North Star.  Look for an area that is not lit
up with street lights, etc....but I like something lit in the foreground to give
the photo perspective.  Or maybe include an interesting tree or structure in silhouette.
 
I started setting up at 7 pm (Sunset was 6:37).  It took awhile to find the best
composition with the house and aiming north.
 
Shoot on a tripod!
 
I tried various settings to get correct exposure.
 
Here's what worked with my Canon 50mm 1.4 lens.
 
ISO:  100
Aperture:  f2.0
Shutter: 30 seconds
 
You will have to play with your settings to capture the
correct exposure for your camera, lens and location, but keep the
aperture fairly wide open.   I had to change the settings as the sky got
darker, so constantly check your exposure throughout the session.
 
Lock your focus on infinity by switching to manual on your lens.
Or, if you have a foreground subject, focus on that and lock focus.
 
Once this is all determined, get comfy in a lawn chair by your camera.
I had my tripod lower so I could work the shutter while sitting down.
 
To avoid camera shake, I used a remote, but you can also set your camera to a 2 sec. delay.
 
Click your shutter and wait the LONG 30 seconds. 
When it finishes, just click the button again. 
 
Do this for at least 60 photos...the photo at top was 80 photos.
You can take as many photos as you wish for different effects.
 
I could barely see any stars in the sky when we shot this, but
they were there...just trust that you are capturing them.
 
This process takes between 30 and 60 minutes depending on how many photos you take.
 
You can also buy remote switches that will do all the clicking for you,
and you can go inside and watch TV!
 
It was so much fun, my photo pal Lucy and I tried it at a beautiful mosque
near us.  I thought the lighted dome would be lovely in the foreground.
 
Lucy took this photo with her 50mm lens.  She had to sit back farther
than me.  You can see the silhouette of me sitting on a lawn chair at the edge of the building.
 
 
But my location was obviously too brightly lit.
I over-exposed the mosque.  Correct exposure of the subject is extremely important!
 
I actually took 130 photos and this is the result...UGH! 
Was very bummed after all that effort.
 
 
Our photo club met in a beautiful Bavarian town near us called Frankenmuth
to try shooting star trails.
 
We wanted the exquisite covered bridge as our subject,
but you can see we were bombarded with surrounding lights!
 
 
It was also a bit cloudy...with wispy clouds in the sky.
 
That's when we learned...the sky must be totally clear!
 
Despite shooting 85 shots, the star trail had many breaks because of the clouds.
Note that the bridge and town are beautifully exposed.  DARN those clouds!
 
 
Next, I tried shooting right in my own backyard.
 
I started shooting at 10 pm and took only 60 photos because
I was freezing!  (Early November)
 

I tried it again the next night and this time, I had my neighbors
turn on lights in their house and I turned on some in mine.
 
Here it is with the 50mm 1.4 lens
 
 
Change your composition and try it again.
How great that the North Star was right over my neighbor's house!
 
 
After you have your photos, you can stack them in Photoshop
by watching this video tutorial.
 
I thought this process would be difficult, but it was a cinch and I had my
finished star trail photo within a few minutes.
 
If you don't have Photoshop, you can download a free stacking program called
 
Now you can edit your photo however you wish.
 
I hope you take the challenge and capture some beautiful star trails!
 
If you get a good one, send it to me and I will share it in the newsletter!

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