Star Trail Photography

There are few things you need to make great Star Trail photos:

  1. Be as far as possible from light pollution and preferably during new moon or when the moon is below horizon. Apps for sunset/moon/stars: LightTrac, Sunrise, Star Walk, TPE (The Photographer's Ephemeris).
  2. The image below is a great example of light pollution. Bear in mind that I am at least 30 miles to nearest small town (population less than 700 and 3 miles higher)
  3. _MG_0194
  4. Be as close as possible to ozone layer without any clouds.
  5. Camera with very good image quality (low noise) at high ISO (1600 or higher)
  6. Cable release or intervalometer is essential.
  7. Tripod is extremely essential (mostly).
  8. Warm clothing, headlamp with red or green light, collapsible chair and refreshments.
  9. Fast wide angle lens is essential (2.8 or faster)
  10. All camera setting on manual including focus and color balance with image stabilization and noise reduction off; exposure drive is set to multiple exposures.
  11. Be on location 2 hours before sunset to find Polaris star, compose the image and include as much sky as possible.
  12. Photographing just the stars makes boring photos. Create scale by including foreground in the photo.
  13. LOCK the camera to make sure it does not move in the next few hours. Most tripods have a hook at the bottom of center column. I usually hook my backpack to it to make tripod more solid or bring a lightweight bag, fill it with rocks and fasten it to the hook.
  14. Be creative and take a photo/s of foreground before/during or right after sunset.
  15. Change the focus to almost infinity.
  16. Start photographing stars at least 2 hours after sunset Test exposure with different ISO to determine proper exposure.
  17. Keep exposures to 30 seconds or less.
  18. Take at least an hours’ worth of exposures. Two hours is even better.
  19. Believe in higher power that what you are doing will turn out OK because you cannot see it in the camera.
  20. I also need to mention that you need a way to bring your camera on the trail. If you are only hiking  short distance to a location, this is not an issue. But if you are going to wilderness and going to hike for days, carrying your camera properly is very important. I tried ones to bring my camera on the trail while hanging it by it's strap over my neck. After 10 hour hike, I could not move my neck for several days. I also tried to carry my camera inside my backpack. I ended up not using my camera at all because of the effort it took to get camera out. Until I found ThinkTank product Digital Holster in conjunction with Digital Harness Here is the photo of me in Patagonia and the above mentioned products attached to my backpack:Fima_Photography2-


Post Processing: Computer with lots of ram Bring all images to Lightroom.

  1. Select the first image from the series and adjust it but stay away from radial and graduated filters.
  2. Select ALL images from the series and batch sync to match first one.
  3. While all images are still selected, Edit in Photoshop >Open as Layers
  4. Blending mode to lighten and clean all planes and satellites lights.
  5. This was my very first Star Trail image. Total of 181 exposures. Exposure #1 was during sunset of your truly. This is where I positioned my camera to face North and found decent foreground.
  6. _MG_0273-2
  7. I left my camera on a tripod in the same spot and came back several hours later and took hour and a half worth of exposures at 30 second interval (total of 180 exposures). This is how star trail image looked like:
  8. _MG_0273
  9. I then combined the image I took during sunset with star trail image and called it "Loosing my religion".
  10. Here is the final image:
  11. Star Trail Photography
  12. Here are several more samples of Star Trail Photography:
  13. _MG_0123-Edit _MG_1137-Edit Star Trail Photography