How to take star trails

Photographing star trails may sound challenging, but it is not, and is also rewarding. If you’ve never tried it, these tips will help you get started.

Pre-requisites: Have you ever wondered why we don’t see stars from our big cities anymore? Answer is mainly light pollution. You must be far away from any city lights as it will make the stars less visible. If you live in a big city, this could mean traveling some distance. I was travelling to Egypt and one of the things I was looking forward to was stars full of sky above Sahara desert.

For the photograph to have a sense of place, you will have to include something interesting in the foreground. It can be something that doesn’t move like a mountain or a building or a tree.

Plan your star photography adventure for a moonless night. Or at least the moon cannot be above the horizon while you are photographing. Similar to what happens with city lights, the stars are not as visible when the moon brightens the sky.

It should also be a clear night with no clouds. Star trails above above our campsite at Sahara desert

Method: The best way to go about making an image of star trails is to take multiple exposures and combine them in post processing. While it is possible to take one very long exposure (20-30 minutes), but the heat coming from the sensor will cause hot spots in your final image (and you will end up cleaning it up in post processing). I usually use a 60 second shutter speed and make few images images. Just like any long exposure shot – most important things you will need is :

  • Sturdy tripod
  • Cable release (you can create exposure of more than 30 seconds using a bulb mode of your camera)
  • Fully charged battery (on cold night and by keeping your shutter open for long time will drain camera battery very fast).

Taking a shot! Remember once you have set the correct focus to turn your auto-focus off so your camera does not attempt to re-focus at night. Also, your image stabilization should be off anytime your camera is on a tripod. Also – cover the eyepiece of viewfinder and light leak may cause noise and incorrect exposure.

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