[Infograpix] How To Shoot Star Trails

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The Infograpix

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Download the card via the link above, print it, cut it, fold it at the dashed line and glue together the two clean sides to have a card on the size of a credit card. Note: This image is resized for web only: use the link above to download the infograpix in full size.

Legend

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Remarks

Some numbers are indicative and may be adapted to your need, like the focal length to use or the number of images to take.

Focal Length

From a fisheye lens to a moderate telephoto lens, anything will basically work: the important thing is to have a good foreground, as the sky alone will not be enough to have a nice, interesting photo.

 Bad (top) Vs good (bottom) foregrounds.

Bad (top) Vs good (bottom) foregrounds.

Exposure Settings

Exposure settings are based on my experience. I would not recommend to use apertures narrower than f/5.6 (higher f number) or ISO higher than 800, as you want to retain the most of the star colours and not clipping them to pure white.

Because most of the stars are like our Sun, use the Sunny white balance setting. This is important if you will shoot the trails in jpeg.

As you will be on a tripod, disable any image stabilisation and turn off the long exposure noise reduction, to avoid gaps in the star trails.

Number of Photos For Star Trails

It is best to take more exposures rather than a single one, to contain digital noise. Take at least 60 photos each 30 seconds long, to have trails of decent length (particularly if you are using a wide angle or fisheye lens).

Set your camera to jpeg for these photos, as you will save space on your memory card.

The Foreground

Set your camera to save your photos as RAW when you are working your foreground, as you will do the most of the editing on it. Expose it properly, so that the details are visible (except if you are doing silhouettes).

You may want to consider some light painting or light trails to make your final image more interesting.

With fast aperture (small f- numbers) you may have not enough dept of field to keep all in focus and you may need to focus for the foreground, and refocus for the stars.

The Sky

In the Northern Hemisphere, if you want circular trails you should aim for Polaris, the North Star. Any other directions will give trails with a different amount of curvature, but no circle. In the Southern Hemisphere you should aim towards Octan to have circular trails.

 Simulated star trails when looking in different directions (Software:  Stellarium ). 

Simulated star trails when looking in different directions (Software: Stellarium). 

Accessories

Asite the tripod, you should have an intervalometer, to automate the process to keep shooting through the night.

If you have one, consider to use a power grip with a second battery, keep your camera shooting for hours. In winter, wrap the camera body in a cloth with an hand warmer near the battery compartment, to keep battery efficient.

In humid and/or cold weather, to avoid condensation (dew) on your lens, use the lens hood and consider a USB heat strip to wrap around the lens. You can power it with a simple powerbank.

Software

Starstax is a great and easy software to use to stack all the images you took for the trails. It is freeware and cross platform.

Once you have the trails, you can blend that image with your foreground in Adobe Photoshop

Further Readings

To know more in detail how I shoot Star Trails you can read this how-to article I have published on the Expert Photographywebsite:

How to Photograph Star Trails at Night | From Landscape to Cityscape

As a case study, I have written about editing Moon shots in this article on Expert Photographywebsite:

Post-Processing Astrophotography: All You Need To Know