Star trail photographs

It’s much easier to take star trail photographs than many people think so here’s the low down along with a link to an incredible piece of free software to help you process the images.

How to take star trail photography

Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada. Late at night with a slightly drunk friend who was willing to sit on the log.

1) The first rule for taking star trail photographs is that you need as little light pollution as possible and a completely clear night. Algonquin was perfect as the nearest town is many miles away and there is virtually no light pollution whatsoever.

2) Set your camera to manual setting and manual focus. You’ll need a tripod and then to manually focus your lens on the stars so that they appear as sharp dots of light. A wide angle lens is perfect and set it to its biggest aperture. My photo above was taken on a Nikon D4 body with a Nikon 12-24 lens @ ISO 1000, shutter speed 30 seconds and aperture F4. I then used a cable release set to hold so that the camera continually took a sequence of photos every 30 seconds over a period of about two three hours. To get the shot of my friend sitting in the foreground I took one photo of her on that same setting but painted some light on her and the foreground just using the torch of my phone.

3) After three hours you’ll have hundreds of photos that will then need processing to stack together. I use the software StarStax which is available as a free download here. It’s really easy to use and that link also has a tutorial on it.

Quiver tree forest Namibia pictures

Quiver tree forest, Namibia

Without sonething in the foreground you’ll of course just get the trail of stars as our planet turns. Find something to out in the foreground to give your photo a sense of context and then experiement with painting a bit of light from a torch or phone.

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Camping in Kidepo national park, Uganda

Camp Arowhon, Canada