Created November 2, 2010 Last Updated April 19, 2019
Note: Items in RED are suggestions that apply in particular to star trail captures and may be changed based on circumstances at the scene and goals.
- Sunrise, Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset and moon phase all known.
- Safe area, travel paths known
- Camera, tripod, release plate, camera batteries, memory card, lens, intervalometer + batteries, lens hood, rain protection, headlamp, flashlight/torch, and items for light painting.
- Tripod set up – no leaning (center column should be vertical) – leg locks tightened.
- Camera aimed, leveled.
- Camera locked onto tripod. Head tightened.
- Tripod weighted/secure and everything is wobble free. Keep the tripod low and out of the wind for best stability. Do not extend the center column.
- Neck strap removed or secured to prevent wind throw. Intervalometer and any other cord, or wiring also secure. Velcro on the intervalometer and the tripod leg is a handy trick.
- Save GPS coordinates and/or mark site with glow stick / other?
- Manual Mode, Bulb exposure
- ISO 200 (varies but from 100 to 800, and up to 6400 if capturing meteors or the Milky Way)
- Single Exposure
- LCD brightness down
- Image review time off
- Record in RAW
- White Balance = daylight (Auto not recommended)
- Aperture f/4 (f/1.4 to f/7.1)
- Auto focus OFF
- Image stabilizer (vibration reduction) OFF
- Long Exposure Noise Reduction OFF
- Mirror Lockup OFF
- Auto Exposure Bracketing OFF
- Focus Assist OFF (this often fires an infra-red beam/red beam and will annoy other photographers). On many cameras this feature is on the flash unit/speedlite. On Nikons, this resource may help.
Timer Setup & Test
- No delay, length of exposure = 1:59 minutes (adjust based on conditions. A 2 minute total interval is a good starting point), interval = 1 second, Num exposures >= 120
- Timer cabled to camera
- Test sequence (lens cap on) – Verify that second shot starts before canceling.
Focus & Final Framing
- Check image composition, field of view.
- Set camera to Aperture priority mode (not needed if it is already dark)
- Take several bracketed shots in daylight or twilight: if it is already dark take a high ISO “range finding” shot. E.g. 2000 ISO for 30 seconds.
- Pixel peep and adjust focus until sharp.
Battery and Card Shuffle
- Remove memory card and insert second card. Format new card in camera.
- Take second set of bracketed shots.
- Return camera to Manual/Bulb mode.
- Turn off camera and remove battery.
- Reinsert battery (or insert fresh battery).
- Verify that all settings are correct (See Camera Settings, above)
- Check for wobble. Start by lightly jostling the camera, tripod, center column and even walking around in the area to make sure no movement occurs.
- Set DELAY on interval timer appropriately (at least 5 seconds). Goal is to start and/or end in twilight.
- Secure cables for timer, external batteries (and neck strap). Do not block battery or memory card access.
- Switch to aperture priority mode (so that your manual settings do not change), take a single image and re-verify focus. If already dark, take a high-ISO range finding shot for this task.
- Switch back to Manual/Bulb.
- Verify all camera settings as described in Camera Settings
- Start Timer and verify that the timer is running.
- If practical wait for first two shots to complete.
- NOTE: You can leave the lens cap on for the first few exposure to collect DARK frames.
My thanks to Mike W. for comments and improvements to this checklist.