Exploring Night Photography 4 – Stars and Star Trails

Published: April 27, 2016
Last Update: None Yet.


Listening to the Sky II [B_025555-714c]

Last week, in Lesson 3, we managed to get through all the creative example slides in a marathon overly long meeting.  We also talked about what makes a better camera and lens for night photography – and why “full frame” cameras are better at squelching noise than crop cameras – megapixels being equal. The bottom line is that larger sensors usually have larger sensor area to collect light. The larger area collecting light makes larger sensors produce less noise in comparison to the total light collected. A related, whimsical illustration can be found here.  Yes, rather technical, but some of our students want to know!

Inclement weather means we are stuck to an indoor session, but our photos need processing! We are took a second look at focusing tricks since it is a recurring issue. Indeed, we have covered focus in not one, but two prior articles which we reference here.  One method for focus is the Bahtinov mask. The Bahtinov mask is aimed at astrophotographers, but it works well with a regular camera, too. Our more normal list of focus tricks can be found in this article.

Like many other night photography subjects, we have done extensive writing about creating star trails. It is no wonder then that we are called “StarCircleAcademy”. Rather than try to summarize many years worth of writing it seems wisest to point you to the articles where different star trail discussions have been chronicled.

It all starts Here – A treatise on taking star and star trail shots. After that…

  1. How to combine multiple shots into a star trail is here in this step by step guide.
  2. How do you get a better star trail?  Try this.
  3. Want to do fancy stuff? Try these tricks, or our AdvancedStackerPlus (Photoshop plugin).
  4. Is there more, why of course… but we notice your head is spinning, so we will let it rest for a while.  😉

Last Week’s Homework

  1. Use the light you were given in class to write a message or draw an image in light.
    XNP_3_Marcie XNP_3_tracie XNP_3_Tricia
  2. The moon is full, if you didn’t work out settings for capturing the moon. Something on the order of 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 4000; or 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 800; or f/9, 1/200s, ISO 400 (latter is best overall as lower ISO means less noise).
  3. Find a way to make a strong white flashlight a different color… several methods were demonstrated in class. Simple examples: colored cellophane (bread wrapper, etc), bounce light off of or shine through colored paper, or even use your hand as a reflector / light bouncer.
  4. Blue “white” LED flashlight can be made warmer using your hand or something in the yellowish range – see above.
  5. Gaffers Tape can be used for all sorts of things, stopping light leaks through the viewfinder (Nikons are notorious for this), making a “snoot” for a light, covering over offendingly bright lights… and even holding stuff together.

This Week’s Assignment

  • Weather Permitting, get at least 20 minutes worth of star trails.  First determine what the best starting exposure is, then take 20 minutes worth.  More is better, though for the reasons we demonstrated in class.
  • Get StarStax or AdvancedStackerPlus for Photoshop and combine those trails. Or do it by hand in Photoshop.

NOTE: If the stars refuse to shine for you, that doesn’t mean you have to do a “star trail”. You can use the same trick to “expand time” nearly any kind of shot.  Like this daylight sunset shot, for example:

Space Time ContinuumThis is not a star trail, but it was a sequence of shots combined using the same trick. You could even, for example, do a series of light painting.

What do you think about this?