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"Star Trail"

Well lets just jump straight into this one!

Who doesn’t love a good night sky long exposure snap? The thing I love the most about astrophotography is the fact that your camera can produce the most amazing night sky scenes that with the human eye alone would be impossible to see. For this reason I find astrophotography as much artwork as it is photography.

This shot, or should I say series of shots was taken at a fantastic outback campsite called Banka Banka Station right in the heart of the Red Centre, Australia. Where better than in a beautiful remote location like this to attempt to capture a star trail compilation!

After sitting out round a huge campfire chatting to people from all across Australia with a few beers in hand, we looked up at the sky and the stars were crystal clear. Next to no light pollution and no sign of the moon casting any light across the sky, made this the ideal night to try out a star trail. I think this is a really important part of photography in general, preparation is definitely important but a huge element of photography is opportunistic and you have to take advantage of these moments when they are presented to you. Likewise, other moments can be disappointing if you miss your shot or the conditions worsen and don't allow for the shot you envisioned....

But thats what makes photography so excited and rewarding!

I got back to our campervan after a couple more beers and set up my tripod and camera.

I have taken some star trails before but never been able to capture the celestial point. Using a fantastic app called Photopills I was able to quickly identify where the celestial point (point which the sun and solar system appear to be moving relative to the fixed stars) was in the night sky using their ‘VR’ feature. I set my camera up towards this directly framing the snap with our van in the bottom corner and parts of the Banka Banka campsite in the background.

I set off my camera taking a series of 30 second exposures over the course of about an hour or so. After I was happy with the number of shots taken I took a few shots with the van lights on to create a foreground I was happy with.

Background - 118 Exposures similar to the above were taken to create the star trail affect
Foreground - 1 Exposure was used to create the foreground of the finished SNAP
At this point the sky was as clear as it had been an hour before with the stars as bright as ever in the sky…perfect for astrophotography!

It wasn’t until the next day that I managed to get all 119 shots from my camera uploaded to my laptop. Now, this part of the process can seem pretty daunting to anyone that has not processed a series of shots into a star trail before. It is also worth mentioning that there are many different possible methods for creating the ‘trail’ affect.

Using a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop I stacked 118 snaps of the night sky and finally added in a correctly exposed image of the foreground to complete the star trail. This method is fairly manually but gradually watching the star trail come to life is seriously cool so I wouldn't do it any other way. It is also a great way to make sure no frames have cloud or any plane trails that are going to affect your overall image.

I have to say I was VERY happy with the result I got and even more excited by the fact that I had captured the celestial point exactly how I had envisioned. RESULT!

I really hope you like the final snap….for those of you who are looking for a bit more of the juicy details of how to find the right spot, processing methods, etc please drop me a message.

If you have any questions about the location, settings used, or any general photography questions please comment or message me directly via the ‘contact’ page.

What would you like to hear more about next month? Id love to hear from you!

Tips & Tricks:

A camera that has a reasonable noise capabilities will be a big advantage for this type of photography as you will be needing to shoot at relatively high ISO.

I used an ultra wide Tamron lens to shoot my star trail above. Not only do a lot of these allow for a very wide aperture making them ideal for astrophotography, they will also allow you to frame your shot with an interesting foreground while still being able to capture as many stars as possible.

A stable tripod is an absolute must to ensure the tripod and indeed camera is solid and doesn't move throughout the shoot.

An intervalometer is required to take multiple (in my case 119 shots in total) shots over at least an hour period. External intervalometers can be connected or your camera may contain a built in intervalometer. When using the built in intervalometer use a 2-10 second delay timer so that the camera is completely steady before the shot is taken.

Planning the shot:

A dark night with minimal or next to no light pollution is an ideal recipe to shoot a star trail. The moon can also lead to unwanted light, however if shooting away from the moon it can also act as a natural light source for your foreground. Despite this I much prefer a night sky with very little moonlight present.

I used an app called Photopills to plan where the celestial point was going to be in the sky. They have a really useful VR mode that allows you to point your phone at the sky and line up your camera and tripod as needed. Would definitely recommend this app!

Clouds can be one of the main disruptions to capturing a star trail. Ideally a crystal clear night is needed but if there are some clouds present the shots that are affected can be removed from the series during the processing stages. Similarly all plane, satellite and meteor trails need to be removed when processing all of the individual frames in the series.


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