Shooting Star Trails

I  recently had a student who was interested in shooting star trails.   I was very familiar with the techniques from the 35mm days but knew digital required a new approach, so once again “hit the books”.  The new techniques necessary to do so are not all too dissimilar from 35mm  except digital requires 250+ exposures and some post production work.    So I  thought I would share, in outline form, some of the steps to successfully record star trails in the digital era.  If you are interested, you’ll find links to the recommended software in the right hand column.

Suggestions for shooting star trails

1. Shoot on a clear windless night
2. Place camera on tripod
3.  Use a wired remote, preferably  an interval meter so you
can go to bed.  Shooting 250+ exposures one at a time will take a while
(see #7)
4.  Focus the camera either at infinity or auto focus then switch back to
5.  Compose your shot
– use subjects in foreground the emphasize trails (i.e. house, trees, etc.)
– for full circle of trails center on north star
6. Moon
– keep the moon out of the frame
– make sure the moon will not move in to frame during long exposure times
– watch out for light pollution from either moon or city lights
7. Exposure
– no long exposures, long exposures increase noise
– shoot everything in manual mode
– only way to shoot star trails with DSLR is to shoot multiple exposures
(250+) then combine them in software (see#12)
8. Aperture
– shoot as wide open as possible (no smaller than 5.6)
– if foreground is overexposed at 5.6 then change location
– if aperture is wide open and foreground is underexposed bump ISO up
but do not exceed ISO 800
9. Shutter
– exposé each frame for 30 seconds
10. ISO
– shoot with the ISO set as low as possible
– noise will increase as ISO increases and as shutter speed increases
11. Test shots
-vary aperture and ISO only (not shutter speed) till you get the exposure you
12. Shooting
– shoot 250 consecutive shots each at 30 seconds
– see below links for software to combine images

Freeware software:  (will also build a timelapse video of your images)

– I personally would go with the freeware since it is free and also combines
the images into a video.

13. JPEG or Raw
– if possible shoot in Raw for white balance purposes
– if shot in JPEG the whit balance varies throughout the many exposures

Many thanks to James Vernacotola

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