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!!