Capturing Star Trails

capturing star trails

Capture some of the most mesmerizing shots of night sky full of stars, like the star trails as shown above. You might need to bit of patience to capture this kind of images as it’s not just a click of a button. There are lot many other things to consider while capturing star trails. But, it not too hard either as the latest cameras that are available in the market can help you in capturing the best of best images under low light. Many say it’s the Photoshop effect and is unreal, but in real that’s how the stars move but cannot be seen/recognized by human eye. Maybe if human eye were to be like camera shutter speed and you had control over it.

Star trails can be created in two ways – one is the long exposure 40-80 minutes single shot like the one shown above, which can create dramatic effect to create star trails that streak across the sky. Other way is to capture multiple shots each of 20-40 seconds each and then stack them using Photoshop to produce a single image, which can bring a very similar images as that of a long exposure shot.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Capturing single long exposure shot will require a lens which supports an aperture of f2.8 lens or lower for good quality images. To get the best images try using a fast lens of this kind and also see that the location is free from any kind of stray light, moon light and industrial/city light. Best is to go to some village where there is no stray light. The long exposure shot can capture any stray light as the exposure is very long, about 60 minutes. You camera might heat-up a bit as its a very long exposure shot and also, you battery might drain in no time. Consider having an external power supply or extended battery. Also, see the your camera memory has a higher write speed as it takes equal time to write/ save to your SDXC card, and might take even more battery. Long exposure shots of star trails will have a smooth streak across sky, but that may not be the case when you capture single shots and then stack it using photo editing software.

Capturing star trails using multiple shots are easier to capture and you have better control over images, but there is additional work of post editing and stacking. See that the shots are continuous and there is no interval between each shot, else the star trails streak across sky might appear as a line or curved line full of dots. So, you need to capture sequential set of images over a long period of time and then stack them together.

Here are few things that you need to keep in mind when you capture star trails in either of the ways mentioned above.

  • A sturdy tripod is a must. I would always say go for a good quality tripod instead of those free cheap quality tripods that you get free with the camera.
  • Battery backup. To capture star trails you need to have a good battery backup. If possible/if the camera supports, connect the external power cord or use extended battery as each long exposure shot and the writing of that captured image to SD card takes lot of time and battery.
  • See that the sky is clear and no other light/moon/street light source. Perfect dark sky would be ideal. I had captured this image when I had traveled to a village. The place where I stay is a city. There is a refinery and port nearby and there is no way I can get an image of this kind. You can still try by increasing the aperture to around f8 instead of f2.8 so that you allow less light to enter as you cannot bring down the shutter/exposure.
  • To get circular star trails point your camera to north pole. There are apps available that you can download to identify where the north pole is.
  • It’s always good to have something on foreground, else the image might look boring.
  • Use wide angle lens (I have used Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 with Nikon D600) to get best results.
  • Keep the ISO at around 800, and then play around with this value and other settings.
  • If you are capturing multiple shots (the second method mentioned above) for a long period of time then focus on the star/infinity for the first shot and once focused, switch to manual mode.
  • Use wireless trigger to avoid any kind of camera shake and set the sequence so that there is no gap in between.

Give it a try and let me know how good it was. Follow me on social media for more articles of this kind.