Thursday, May 1, 2014

Star Trails

Have you ever wondered how photographers get those great star trail shots? You know the kind I mean, right? The streaks of light in the sky that show star movement over time? I've done my share of night photography, but never a serious attempt at star trails. When trying something new I generally consult the all-knowing source of information for the universe (YouTube), and bingo, multiple instructional videos right at my fingertips! Here are the basics, in case you're interested:
1] Pick a night when there is no moon and no clouds. This is critical!
2] You will need a sturdy tripod, a wide angle lens (the wider, the better), and a shutter control device.
3] Figure out where the North Star is, and point your camera in that direction (assuming you are in the northern hemisphere). All the other stars swirl around the North Star.
4] Camera setting:  Manual focus set at "infinity", 30 second exposure, ISO at 1600, and aperture wide open. For most lenses, this will work pretty well, but some tweaking may be necessary. Take a test shot and adjust accordingly.
5] Using your remote shutter device, set your camera to shoot continuously, one shot after another, every 30 seconds, for about 2 hours. At 2 shots per minute, this will give you 120 shots/hour. Two hours is plenty of time to track the movement of the stars across the sky. The video said the longer, the better.

I pretty much followed the above guidelines. I used an 8mm fisheye just to try it out, and to capture the entire night sky (true 180 degree view). Here's what a single image looks like through the fisheye lens with the camera mounted on a tripod and pointed straight up at the sky (camera settings as above). Look closely, you can see the Milky Way.
I started shooting about 11 PM on a nice, dark night last weekend. I stumbled back outside after waking up sometime between 1:30 and 2 AM. I had 341 images, and the camera will still shooting (battery still charged), so I could have taken even more shots. I went in the house and looked at a shot on the camera's screen... very disappointed. It appeared to be solid black, and I couldn't make out any stars. It wasn't until later on my computer screen that I could make out the detail of the stars. Lesson learned: don't try to judge photos viewing the back of the camera. Wait until you can view it on your computer screen! I used a free program called StarStaX to layer the shots on top of each other. This program makes it very easy to manipulate a large number of photos and generate your finished shot.
Pretty crazy shot, don't you think? Sometimes it looks like a globe to me, other times a funnel. If you look closely, you can see city lights and creosote bushes around the perimeter of the shot. Oh yes, and easy to see where the North Star is! Here's a cropped version of the shot.
So overall, I'm pretty happy with my first attempt at star trail photography. Next time I'm out in the desert on a dark night, I definitely want to try it again. I'm going to use a different lens (not the fisheye), and I'm going to try to find something in the foreground (boulder formation or a big Joshua Tree) to make it a more dramatic and interesting shot. 

Thanks for putting up with my photo-experimenting, and I hope your weekend is a good one! Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world!!

35 comments:

  1. I have done the same, but only 95 exposures. My star trail is more spotted. because I had the for long intervals between images. Great fish eye trails from you.

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  2. I have been seeing so much written about this lately and thought it seemed too complicated. But you broke it down enough for me to understand. Thank you!! I think these are awesome...especially considering it's your very first attempt!

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  3. Whoa! This is mind blowing. You have explained it well too.

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  4. Oh my gosh, these are great! Thank you for the wonderful explanation, I will bookmark this post in case I ever get the confidence to try and replicate.

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  5. Wow! Love the effect. I quite enjoyed the explanation and the final shot.

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  6. This is a great tutorial for me. And, your shots are excellent.

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  7. I love your whole can do attitude, and admire these cool results!
    ALOHA from Honolulu
    ComfortSpiral

    =^..^=

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  8. Absolutely stunning - and amazing - and fascinating. I'll be watching for more of your experiments. I loved the fish eye lens views.

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  9. Wow. Cool beans. Thanks for the tips. Maybe I can give this a try. If it works I will post it.

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  10. Wow, cool beans! Thanks for the tips. I my give this a try and if it works I will surely post it.

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  11. I have to say that your first attempt at getting star trails is excellent. I'm going to have to try it if we ever get a clear night.

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  12. I have a flicr contact who does some great star trails, it is somthing I would like to try and I know just the place. I love the first photo you took.

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  13. Thanks for all this info! I'll pass it on to hubby, 'cause he's the "technician":) Thanks for coming by my blog!

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  14. It is true, you can learn anything and everything on youtube!
    Beautiful captures, all the stars in the sky all at once, amazing!

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  15. Great experiment and shots. I like the deep blue color of the first one. The lighter spots in the top must be the milky way. Only to see in parts of the world were you don't have to much human interference with city illuminations. So never to bee seen in the Netherlands.

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  16. I have yet to try "shooting the moon", but this looks like great fun and the results are just wonderful. Nice work. Thanks for the inspiration.

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  17. They are great pictures.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  18. Awesome post ~ most informative and photography is amazing ~ Wow! ~ xoxo

    artmusedog and carol (A Creative Harbor)

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  19. Each photo is amazing...and this is your first attempt ...really looking forward to seeing more.

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  20. Amazing :) I am again and again scrolling up and down to view photos :)

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  21. Fun and awesome capture Peter! I know you have a the best destination to grab these shots and look forward to seeing more of them from you :). What a great job you did for a first time... WOW really awesome.

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  22. This is amazing !!! The first pic is breathtaking !

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  23. Oh! Very cool... and the city lights adds some bonus interest.

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  24. Waaaay cool! Thanks for the how-tos. Glad I live in a area with dark night skies.

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  25. These star trails are amazing! I love the first photo too.
    Thanks for stopping by to visit me today.

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  26. It's fantastic, Peter. I could never do that. Kudos to you for learning something so impressive! Thanks for your kind thoughts on IHATH. Have a great weekend and keep looking up.

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  27. I have never seen it done like this before. It is very cool! Nice work. :)

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  28. Wonderful pictures. I will just be an admirer of your fine work if you don't mind and not try to emulate it.

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  29. "Spare Parts and Pics" has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that I hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-sunday-drive.html

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  30. Amazing captures and images.. The first photo is gorgeous. Lovely sky shots.

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  31. Pretty amazing thanks for the post

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