Star trails are basically the relative motion of stars due to Earth’s rotation that we capture digitally. So as we know how slowly this phenomenon occurs, star trails are often results of hours of hard work which not a lot of non-photographers are aware of. A lot goes into astrophotography such as knowing your camera really well, knowledge of stars in the sky, awareness of beautiful locations and of course traveling to remote places. Failure is your best friend in astrophotography, the more you fail the better pictures you take.
- A DSLR or any point & shoot with good low light capabilities, a wide angle lens is really helpful but it is not at all necessary.
- A tripod and a full battery (at least one full battery is necessary).
- A built-in intervalometer or a dedicated intervalometer is a MUST. There are a lot of mobile software’s like DSLR dashboard which can do the job of an intervalometer. I personally use MAGIC LANTERN on canon. You can google it and download their software. However keep in mind, check if your camera is compatible with the software.
Disclaimer: I haven’t faced any problem with ML after like 2 years of use, but use it at your own risk, it may void warranty. Though it is a fantastic piece of software.
- A low light wide angle lens with widest apertures is your best friend though not necessary.
- Adobe Lightroom and StarStax, here -> https://www.markus-enzweiler.de/StarStaX/StarStaX.html#download
- Avoid light pollution, you need to travel away from the cities. Light pollution will kill your Astrophotos. Use https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/ , use the legend tab on the right side to understand colors. White color means the brightest sky and black means darkest sky. The darker, the better.
- Avoid Moon and especially full moons. Shoot on new moons, or when the rises very late or sets very soon, in short, avoid moon. Use Moon calendar on smartphones.
- Click in RAW format.
- Max ISO and take a picture to set the composition.
- ISO really depends on how you want the photography to look like, ISO 400 has to be the maximum to avoid extra light in the picture.
- Aperture has to be wide open, i.e. the small number.
- I prefer shutter speed to be around 10-15 seconds, not more than that. If you keep it more than that you might miss some motion of the stars and it will look bad at the end, though it can be solved using StarStax, but avoid problems right?
- Now that you have the settings and composition set, put on the lens cap and take 5-6 dark frames for every 100 pictures. Dark frames are nothing but pictures taken with lens cap on. Dark frames are required because we have turned off in camera noise reduction and dark frames will help us in reducing noise using StarStax.
- Keep the interval around 5 seconds considering buffer time.
- Shut off the in camera noise reduction in your camera to avoid time waste, google it to know where to find the option in your camera (it can be handled in post processing). On Canon DSLR’s it is in the menu -> custom functions.
- You will have to take a couple of test pictures to check your composition and iso. Beautiful foregrounds make the picture look even better.
- The entire sequence has to be continuous i.e. don’t pause between photos as it will cause a pause in the star trails as well, we want the entire motion to look crisp and smooth.
- Now comes the main thing, for how long should I shoot? That again differs, check the below stars concept to get an idea.
- A star moves approximately 15 degrees per hour that means around 1-2 hours of shooting will give you pretty decent light trails. You can even do 20-30 minutes if you don’t want long star trails (Check the examples).
- If you shoot with Polaris i.e. North Pole star at the center of your image you will get nice circular star trails. The same applies to South Pole star i.e. Sigma Octantis.
- Use an app like Photopills or stellarium to find these stars.