Home Photography Ideas: Shoot Star Trails
Watch the video: Home Photography Ideas – Shoot the Star Trails
Photos of star trails, with moving stars forming trails of light across the night sky, are still popular. And now is the perfect time to photograph them, as we spend a lot of time at home and the skies clear up this time of year – especially with the reduction in pollution from lack of traffic!
In this tutorial, we’ll walk you through how to take source images for a star trail photo, and then how to merge them in Lightroom to create that perfect image.
If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, you will have to aim at Polaris, the North Star, to achieve the classic “circular” star trail look. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you will need to find the Celestial South Pole.
Light pollution means the most successful shots are taken in places with dark skies, but with a little consideration you can still get great results in your garden. The main thing is to watch the weather and get settled in advance when daylight is still on your side.
Here’s how to set everything up, capture the basic images, then take them to the digital darkroom …
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Prepare to shoot starting tracks
When working in the dark, advanced preparation is crucial
Your eyes have two types of light receptors: rods and cones. Rods are used in very low light conditions, but take a while to adjust to darkness – typically around 15 minutes. They are also extremely sensitive; all it takes is a brief burst of light and the clock resets, and you have to wait another 15 minutes. The good news is that rods can’t detect red light, but cones can, so if you use a red light at night you will be able to get your bearings without damaging your night vision.
1. Clear sky
Check the light pollution and the weather before you go, and choose a location that is safe from clouds and unwanted lights.
2. Wrap yourself up warm
Depending on where you live, it can get cold at night! Avoid fogging by using a towel or hand warmers to wrap the lens.
3. Night vision
Bring a flashlight and make sure it’s red or has a red filter. Using a red light will help you maintain your night vision (see above).
4 Twilight zone
Prepare to compose your scene. It will be difficult in the dark, which is why it is important to prepare your kit in advance.
Key Skill: Finding True North
Aim at this fixed point in the night sky to get circular star trails
No star sits as perfectly in the south as Polaris in the north. To locate the celestial south pole, find the Southern Cross and draw an imaginary line from top to bottom, then extend it about four times.
1. Navigate with a compass
Compose your photo with Polaris in the center (for circular shapes) or on one side for beautifully curved star trails, like in our photo. To find Polaris, take a compass reading to locate north, then point your camera in that direction and slightly up, and look for the brightest star.
2 Mapping the stars
You can find true north even if you don’t have a compass. You will need to know at least one constellation though, and that’s Ursa Major (The Plow). Find the end of the “pan” part of the shape (see above), then draw an imaginary line from the edge of the pan to the very next bright star.
And now … aim for the stars
The first step in creating a star trail is to take a sequence of long exposure images
1. Stay still
We used a rubber band to attach our bag to the tripod to stabilize it; when shooting long exposures, you should keep the camera as still as possible. Anything you can do to stabilize the camera is a good thing – an elastic cord takes up little space and is always worth tossing in your bag.
2. Focus manually
The AF system will not have enough light to focus properly, so you have to focus manually. If there are distant lights, focus on those, then redial. Otherwise, have a friend stand 40 to 50 feet in front of the camera and point a light at you, focus on the light, then recompose. Your best bet is to use an ultra wide angle lens to bring more sky into your photos – and don’t forget to include a foreground, to give your photos a sense of location.
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3. Heat the glass
Keep your lens warm to prevent misting up when the night gets colder. We wrapped our lens with a heated hand warmer and a small towel, with a rubber band to keep it around the barrel. Be careful not to bump the focus ring when wrapping your flannel around the lens barrel.
4. Prepare yourself
Set your lens to its widest aperture. The stars are so far away that a shallow depth of field will not make any difference to the focus of the shot. Set a shutter speed between 20 and 30 seconds at ISO 200 and take a test shot. If your photos are too dark, increase the ISO.
Change your white balance to Tungsten. This will remove the orange cast made by any nearby light pollution
5. Expose to the right
If your location suffers from light pollution, try the “expose in the right place” technique. Take a photo and check the histogram: you want the graph to stack on the right side, but without clipping. This should allow your sensor to capture more detail. You can correct the exposure in post-production.
6. Start your sequence
Open the interval timer setting in your camera’s menu; If your camera does not have this feature, use an external interval timer to set the number of shots. The number will depend on how long you want your tracks to be – we set 200 shots at an exposure time of 30 seconds each.
Short, crisp shots
Instead of filming a sequence of hundreds of short exposures and merging them together in Photoshop, it is perfectly possible to shoot a single, very long exposure of an hour or more. However, the longer the exposure, the higher the noise will be in the result. picture.
This is because image sensors generate heat from their own electrified circuits and the sensor records this heat and electrical interference in the form of noise. As such, it’s best to keep exposures below a minute and then stack them in editing software.
Stack them in the post
Do you have your pictures? The real magic operates in the digital darkroom …
If you find that your images have a lot of noise, don’t worry because you can reduce it in Lightroom. Go to the Develop module and in the Details panel (at the bottom right of the screen – you may need to scroll down), under Reset Noise Reduction, move the Luminance slider up until the noise is acceptable.
1. Import your photos
Go to File> New Catalog. Name your catalog Star Trails and click Save. The Library window (empty) will open. Go to your images, select them all, press Cmd / Ctrl + A and drag them to the gray import area. Click the import button in the window that appears.
2. Modify as needed
Go to the Develop module. On the right side you will see the tools panel. Starting from the top, switch the white balance to Tungsten, to reduce light pollution. Add fill light to brighten midtones, then crank up the glow to boost colors without clipping them.
3. Export to Photoshop
Select all the photos in the camera roll by going to Select> All and clicking the Sync button. Check Check All before clicking Sync, and these adjustments will be applied to all selected images. Click Edit, then choose Photo> Edit In> Open As Layers In Photoshop.
4. Merge the trails
Images open on separate layers. Drag the first image you took down and set the blend mode to normal. Select the top layer, change the Blending Mode to Lighten, then right-click and choose Copy Layer Style. Go to Select> All Layers, right click on any layer and choose Paste Layer Style.
5. Add a mask
If you have any traces of airplane light or an alien light leak, add a mask to the layer in question, grab your Paintbrush tool (press B), and paint black to remove the distraction. Be careful not to erase the stars as well, as this will lead to gaps in the star trails themselves.
6. Save it
You are almost done. All you have to do is save the image. Go to File> Save As and choose an appropriate file type – JPEGs are usually the most useful. Give the image a file name and click Save. Your image will be exported, giving you the final photo.
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