Star Trails Photography Tips

Many of us like to look at the clear night sky with the stars sparkling all around. This human deep interest in the space above is a great reason to try star trail photography.

Unlike we think that the stars are standing still in the sky, it is actually moving slowly either because its own movement or the earth movement. We can hardly notice this movement without recording it using digital cameras (The Magic Of Long Exposure Photos).

The star trails photography aims to record the movement of the stars so the results appear like a light path for each star and it is movement in the sky.

Shooting star trails depend on simple photography technique to keep the shutter open as much as possible to expose the largest amount go light. Subsequently, the camera records the light along with the stars movement to appear like continuous tail of light.

Where to shoot start trails

The first step in star trails photography is to choose the proper place and time to take the shots especially when the camera settings will be sensitive to light.

    • Stay away from the distracted lights such as the city lights and the lights near you while taking the shot. The view should be as dark as possible in order to maintain a high contrast between the dark sky and sparkling start.
    • Avoid the moon nights as its light will be you enemy for this type of shots as stated above.
    • Choose the time where the sky is very clear with no clouds with the stars filling the sky.
Mono Lake Star Trails by Joe Parks
Mono Lake Star Trails by Joe Parks

Camera Gear for Star Trails Photography

It is good to be prepared with the right equipment in order to ensure good and high quality shots, you will need to bring with the following (Tips to Choose Your First DSLR Camera):

    • Your camera full charged with backup battery if possible as this type of photography consumes the camera battery especially in the cold weather.
    • A tripod as you cannot stand still holding the camera for long time
    • A cable release to ensure the sharpness of your shot and avoid shaky photos
Star trails above the Grand Canyon by Justin Kern
Star trails above the Grand Canyon by Justin Kern

How to Shoot Star Trails

It is good planning to visit the location early or in the previous night in order to be prepared for the shot. Usually you to focus your camera to the Polaris star to make sure that all the stars are rotating around it. If you did not choose it as a focus point, the stars will appear to be rotating in a half circle.

You can also find an interesting composition by combining the sky with sightseeing such as the mountains, trees or rocks. This will help build a connection between the starts the landscape below (Bringing Out the Beauty in Your Night Photography).

Little Redfish star trail with moon light by Charles Knowles
Little Redfish star trail with moon light by Charles Knowles

Camera Settings for Star Trails

Before starting to setup the exposure level in your camera, you need to set turn the auto-focus off as your camera do not have a light to set the focus automatically.

In order to allow the largest amount of light to get exposed, increase the shutter speed to 30 seconds. This will help keeping the shutter speed as much open as possible (Understanding Camera Exposure).

Use a low aperture value such as f/4 to increase the diameter of the lens blade open. Additionally, the ISO is experimental value. Although the high ISO value can increase the light sensitivity, it produces grainy shots. So, it is good practice to try the ISO on different levels such as 1600 and then increase it to 3200 (Understanding Camera ISO).

Now, after setting the camera, you need to take multiple start trail pictures to create a sequence that documents the stars movement.

Tree and Star Trails by Brian Tomlinson
Tree and Star Trails by Brian Tomlinson

Processing star trails in Photoshop

After shooting the star trails image sequence, you can use Adobe Bridge to arrange the shots and open it inside Photoshop. Once of the useful command is to choose File> Scripts> Load Files Into Stack. It will help you to load all the images based on its sequence into one Photoshop file. In the Layers panel, select all the layers and choose Lighten from the Blending mode.

You can also try different blending modes for more surreal and unusual results. Now, you can merge the images and modify any part using the healing brush if needed.

The star trails photography is one of the interesting techniques that allows you to experience different type of night photography and create excited shots for the stars moving around the sky, this is something few people can see unless they keep looking in the sky for hours.

If you enjoy this article, share with us your camera setting in the comments below and make sure to check the related artless below:


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