During 2010 I did shoot a number of star trails which culminated in this final image which I’m very pleased with.
If you get into star trail photography you will find most of the time you are wandering around doing nothing whilst the camera does all the work.
It was seeing these views and then reading up on them using google that I realised that what you can see with your naked eye is only a fraction of what your camera can see and capture even with basic equipment.
Using a standard DSLR or even a point and shoot camera it is possible to take images of the stars that you can be very proud of BUT you do need to plan what you are going to do. The camera should have interchangeable lenses, most DSLR cameras will do this, this will give you the flexibility to frame the subject you want to photograph. Access to the manual functions of the camera is important to let you control the camera rather than the camera trying to help you out and failing. For simple astrophotgraphy, using a static tripod, you will be using fairly short shutter speeds, typically 30 seconds or less. The camera should accept a remote shutter release cable or have a remote control that allows the shutter to be released without actually touching the camera. Most cameras have a tripod socket on them, this will allow you to securely fix the camera to a tripod. There are literally hundreds of cameras that have the basic requirements, how much you want to spend is upto you.
The standard kit lens can be used successfully but, in my opinion, the glassware is far more important than the camera body for every type of photography including astrophotography.
The tripod should be sturdy enough to hold the camera securely so that it doesn’t move if there is a breeze or if you touch it.
Set the ISO to something like 800 or 1600, you should be aware that the higher the iso value the more noise is generated in your photograph so it is a compromise that will vary from camera to camera. Connect your remote release so you can take your photographs without touching the camera body. Set the lens aperture to the smallest numerical value so the aperture is wide open to gather the maximum amount of light. Mount your camera on a tripod and aim it at an area where there are some bright stars, ideally away from built up areas which will spoil your images with light pollution. Now all you need to do is wait for the clouds to go away and wrap up warm in the winter months and get out there and take images. Once you have some images captured take them back to the computer and take a look, with luck, you will have something to make you smile.
This entry was posted in PhotosbyKev and tagged Andromeda, Astrophotography, B mode, beginners, Darks, Deep Sky Stacker, DSLR, flats, lights, Long exposure, M31, manual mode, Nebulosity, Pleiades, star trails, subs, The Milky Way, tutorial. As with shooting images of the Milky Way, you’ll want to shoot star trails around the time of a new Moon in order to avoid light pollution problems coming from the Moon.
Remember to pack plenty of warm clothing and provisions for your shoot and don’t forget to bring a good-quality torch – and spare batteries. A strong tripod and equally reliable tripod head is a must for capturing star trails, as you will be capturing exposures of at least several seconds. An interval shooting mode is the ideal option on your DsLR, as this enables you to program the camera to take a certain number of exposures at intervals that you specify yourself. Focus your lens on infinity using the markings on the lens barrel and frame your composition so that the north star – or the south Pole star, if you are in the southern hemisphere – is at, or very close to, the centre of the image.


Set your camera to Manual focus mode and dial in an exposure of something like 30 seconds at f5.6. With your images stacked as one document with multiple layers, convert each one of them to Lighten blend mode. Our provides the latest photography news and our fan page is the best place to communicate with other Digital Photographer fans. They are certainly one of the most challenging subjects to shoot, as they require meticulous planning and require you to stay up for hours on end while everyone else is tucked up in bed.
Choose a spot as far away from any cities as possible, or at least point the camera away from that area to reduce light pollution.
Avoid shooting star trails during a full moon - the light will overpower the starlight in a matter of minutes.
Long exposure star trails will drain your camera's battery in no time, and the effect is even worse if you are using in-camera noise reduction. Wrap insulation around your lens to prevent it fogging (particularly bad on very long exposures on cold nights). Optionally, take a star chart or planisphere along to help you identify the North or South star (see below). Finally, you may want to take a warm coat, a flask of coffee and a good book to while away the time! The Earth rotates around the north and south poles, so all star trails are centred above them.
Long exposure star trails on their own make stunning photos, but you may also want to include some foreground objects.
If you do use foreground objects, the ambient light will often illuminate them nicely, but if not consider using them as silhouettes instead. Exposure time is really a matter of trial and error - it can be anything from a few minutes to several hours depending on the conditions.
It is worth bearing in mind that a longer exposure will produce longer star trails, but will also usually dim the brightness of the trails. The Channel Mixer is easy to use but gives you complete control over the appearance of your photo when converting from colour to black and white. Vertical panoramas offer a unique and interesting alternative to the normal horizontal kind. This post will cover all the mistakes, frustrations and other screw ups I’ve made taking my first baby steps into a wonderful new world. During this free time I was fortunate to see some beautiful sights in the dark skies like; The Milky Way, Pleiades the Seven Sisters, Orion, a large number of meteors and comets and plenty of airplanes lol. If you have the time and patience it’s possible to record lovely wide view star fields and given time and some investment your only barrier to capturing stunning images is the weather and your own ability. If it doesn’t then using the self timer will help reduce camera movement when you take your photographs. You will find that the newer the camera is the less noise there will be in the final photograph.
Personally I use fast prime lens rather than the more typical slower zoom lens which are supplied as a kit lens. A sturdy heavy tripod will always be better than a cheap tripod but use what you have to see if you really want to shoot the stars to a high standard.


The longer the exposure the more stars you will see in the final picture but the exposure length will often be limited by light pollution in your area so it’s another compromise. Gradually move the lens towards the infinity setting BUT please be aware that the infinity setting on your lens is actually beyond infinity (a Buzz Lightyear moment). Don’t be afraid to play with the camera settings as each location and subject will need some adjustments to get the best image.
Remember to make some notes on what settings you’ve used so that next time the setup becomes easier and you can spend more time photographing.
You’ll also need to find yourself a location with limited light pollution from cities and towns so that the stars are as clear and visible as possible. You do not want to be using a tripod that’s vulnerable to the slightest disturbance as this will, obviously, ruin your shots.
This means that each layer will build on and add to the layer directly beneath it, creating the sense of motion. I love the fascinating colours, textures, and shapes that are revealed under limited lighting conditions, and you can experiment with long exposures to add even more interest to your shots. They produce some fascinating patterns, and can give a landscape a truly abstract, almost surreal edge.
However, they are certainly worth the effort as they can make for some truly breathtaking photos.
If possible, shoot near a power supply so that you can hook up your camera using an extension lead, or alternative take a portable power source (e.g. An ideal, cheap solution is to wrap socks around it and hold them in place with elastic bands.
If you want to position this centre point exactly you'll need to locate the North Star, Polaris (northern hemisphere) or the South Star, Sigma Octantis (southern hemisphere). The stars complete one full rotation in 24 hours, or 15 degrees every hour, but my advice is to concentrate on getting a good exposure, and not worry too much about the length of your star trails.
Once you get close to the right exposure time, use your judgement and previous results to decide whether to increase or decrease the exposure time. Long exposure star trail photos are technically quite easy to shoot - the hardest part is staying awake! A fast lens with an aperture of around f1.8 will allow more light to hit the sensor for the same shutter speed as a slower lens with an aperture around f4 so you will capture more stars. The tripod head should also be adjustable so you can position the camera to aim at the sky you want to photograph. If you need to just take a photograph and check the focus on the image and adjust it until the stars are sharp. Your star trails will form a circle around this point, so position it appropriately in your scene.



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