Astrophotography is a whole different world to be explored, but here is some great new for you – shooting star trails is not nearly as scary as it looks! If you’ve never done one before, here’s what ya do:
This one is obvious, right? You’ll need:
– A DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Newer is better because you’ll get better ISO sensitivity. (WTF does that mean? A less noisy image!)
– Your widest, fastest lens. It’s hard to beat a 16-24mm 2.8, but you can be really dangerous with a 24-70mm 4.0.
– A sturdy tripod. Duh.
– A remote cable release (so you don’t cause ANY camera shake with your finger)
– Lightroom and Photoshop for post-processing
– Camping chair, warm clothes, protein bars, and cold beer. You know, the comfort luxuries!
Even better if you can do this while it’s light out. Find a spot with an interesting foreground and a clear view of the sky. I like to include the north star when I can, just because I like the look.
Things like wind, clouds, light pollution, and the phase of the moon will influence your photo. A lot of people will say not to attempt star trails with a full moon, but don’t listen to that. Yes, you’ll have LESS star trails, but the positive tradeoff is that your sky will look a beautiful shade of blue.
Make sure you like EVERYTHING that you see in the frame, because if you have to re-compose part way through, you’re essentially starting from scratch. No bueno! Make sure you like your foreground, your background, and that you have all the stars you want in the frame. If you just miss the north star, and you wanted it, that sucks.
Guess what, you’re shooting on FULL manual!
Use your autofocus to get your focus dialed in (find a far away light or something like that to focus on), then switch your focus to manual. And then DO NOT touch your lens!
Set your aperture as wide open as possible (2.8, 4.0, etc), 30 seconds, and the lowest ISO possible. There’s no hard and fast rule, just whatever is going to give you the exposure that you want.
Now start shooting, baby! Plan to spend between 30 and 60 minutes clicking your cable release every thirty seconds. Try to stay warm!
In case you’re wondering why we’re shooting dozens and dozens of thirty second frames instead of one single, very very long frame… Well, you’d be screwed if you have an airplane or two fly through your shot, right? (That’s one benefit to shooting RIGHT NOW during this stupid Covid-19 shit – there are no planes!)
I feel like this is the part that trips most people up. So follow along and it’s gonna be easy, I promise!
Dump everything into Lightroom, like you normally would with any other photoshoot.
Fix up one image so it looks like how you want it to look. Tweak your white balance (I like something on the colder side, but that’s personal preference), your exposure, contract, clarity, vibrance, etc etc etc. Everything. Make this on image perfect in Lightroom!
Now that you have one perfect image, apply the same tweaks to every picture in the series. Every photo should look the same.
Highlight all of your photos, then on the top menu bar, do Photo —> Edit In —> Open As Layers In Photoshop (see Photo 1 just below)
Go grab a drink, make a meal, whatever. You’re going to be waiting a little while for all of your images to load in Photoshop.
Once everything is loaded, highlight ALL of the layers, and change the blending option to “Lighten” (see Photo 2 just below)
With all the layers still highlighted, right click, then select “merge layers”
Perform any Photoshop work that you need to do. Dodging and burning, things like that.
Save the mahfugga!
With your image now back in Lightroom, do any final color / exposure tweaks that you want to do to finalize your image.
BOOM!! You’re done, baby! Export that bad boy out as a JPG, and plaster it all over your social media accounts to show your dominance over your friends who are afraid to leave their little green rectangle.
Questions? Comments? Hit me up in the comments below, and I’ll get to ya. And obviously, I’d LOVE to see your images, so please tag me in your social media posts so I can see.
Happy shooting, friends!
premier vancouver wedding photographer. specializing in vibrant adventure outdoor wedding, engagement, AND PORTRAIT photography.