Star Trails Photography (astrophotography) How to take startrail photos at night


today I’m going to go through the
process of photographing and editing star trails star trails are basically
long exposure images which streak the stars across the sky the longer the
exposure the longer the streaks I’m going to be using three different bits
of software Lightroom Photoshop and star tracks if you don’t have the Adobe
Creative Suite but want to give it a go click on the link below this will take
you to a 30-day free trial star tracks is a piece of freeware software so you
can download it and start using it straight away to shoot the photographs
you’ll need a tripod an intervalometer a camera and obviously a clear night when
the moon’s out that’ll bleach out a lot of their stars so if you shoot around
the New Moon that’s the best time to do these types of photographs basically
it’s like any type of long exposure photography you’re gonna leave the
shutter open for extended amounts of time and you’re gonna keep the camera as
still as possible with the intervalometer it’ll mean that you won’t
be pressing the shutter button inducing movement into the camera to get decent
star trails you need your shutter open for at least an hour now if you did this
in one shot the camera would soak up a lot of lights and if there’s any ambient
light about it would just soak up all of that light and probably over expose your
shot there are two better ways to do this and I’m going to show you the
results I got from doing it these two different ways the first set of shots
was of twenty second exposures and I took around about 260 of these my
thinking behind this is I’ve taken the shots within the 500 rule so if this way
works I’ll be able to get videos and photos from exactly the same shots with
these shorter exposures I had 3 second intervals in between each of the shots
the second set of photographs is of 2 minute exposures and I took 48 of these
they had a 5 second gap for the camera to process the images the advantage of
shooting it this way is you have less images and therefore less data however
due to the longer exposures you’re more likely to
get long exposure noise in this instance you have to turn off long exposure noise
reduction this is because when you have this on it processes the image and takes
about the same time as the shot if I was doing a 20 second exposure I’d have to
wait another 20 seconds before being able to take the next shot and this
would ruin the start rails so just remember long exposure noise
reduction off to get the shots basically follow my astrophotography rules that’s
in the video linked in the corner or down in the description then all you
need to do is change the exposure length if you’re doing the first way it’s
exactly like it is in the astrophotography video except you will
be using your intervalometer to get a large number of shots with exactly the
same framing around about an hour’s worth should be okay if you’re doing it
the second way you just extend your exposure time to about two minutes once
you have the images import them into Lightroom and then you’ll probably have
to do a little bit of editing before taking them into star Stax star Stax
doesn’t accept RAW files it just accepts TIFF files or JPEGs so I’ve got my 263
images here I shut them on the a 73 and there were twenty second exposures the
ISO was 6400 you can see 20 seconds I was using a manual lens I know this was
the 14 millimeter samyang and the aperture was F 2.8 so all the way along
here you can see my images what I’ve done I’ve processed them a little bit
already they were slightly underexposed so I brought the exposure up by 0.55 of
the stop I brought the sharpening down to zero noise reduction and Colour down
to zero and I’ve enabled profile Corrections and removed chromatic
aberrations so if you haven’t done that already make those changes and then sync
throughout and the way to sync is to select all of the images and then come
over here make sure you’re in the develop module and come over to sync
make sure everything’s checked and synchronize depending on how many images
you have this may take a while or sometimes it doesn’t take long at all
it also depends on processor speed so next it’s time to
export the files so click on file export in export location I have choose folder
later I prefer this method if you don’t you can just put in the details of the
folder that you’re going to save them to in this bit here next file naming if you
change rename to custom name and sequence this process only gives you one
figure and it won’t actually put them in sequential order so what you need to do
is click on edit then up here take away sequence with one number on and then
down here choose sequence with a 0 0 1 and insert so you’ve got custom text
sequence with a number done so now you can see with the example you’ll have 3
numbers now it’ll put them in a numerical order I’m going to export the
images as JPEG to speed it up you can export them as Tiff’s but you need a lot
of memory and a lot of time I’m not going to resize the image I’m going to
keep the original size I’m going to keep sharp and off and then export now I’ll
choose where I’m going to save them and this is a 7 3 star trails create and
open if you’ve taken lots of shots this process will take a while like this
process that I’ve done where I’ve taken 260 shots of 20-second exposures once
Lightroom has processed all the images next it’s time to bring them into star
stacks so open up star stacks and it’s a pretty simple bit of software so I’ve
got all of my images here so I’ll select them all and I’ll drag them to this
point where it says drop images here you can see it’s put them all down on this
left hand column next on this other side you have blending modes images and
general so the blending modes lighten or gap-filling works quite well I tend to
have it on gap-filling gap-filling basically means where you’ve had gaps in
between each of the poses there a little bit longer you’ll
actually get gaps in the streaks so the software will then process these and
fill in those gaps what’s the images processed you can then
work out how much gap filling you want to do you do have this option of comet
mode I’ll show you what this means in a minute so I have all my images down on
the left hand side you can see you’ve got these tabs along the top the first
one is open images the second one is for dark frames I’m gonna leave those for
now obviously I am got anything to save at the moment so this is ranked out then
this next one is processing over here we’ve got magnify pin and outs and a 1×1
Z so I have all of my images I have gap-filling selected so I’m gonna
click on blending again this may take a while depending on how many images you
have and how big they are what I found was if you scale your images down it’ll
be a lot quicker if you use the full size frames like I’ve done here it’ll
take a little bit longer especially as I’ve got 263 images as star stacks
processes the image you can see that it adds to the preview making the streaks
longer and longer you can actually output an image for each of these stages
then you can create a video sequence of the streaks getting longer
once star stacks has processed the image there are a few subtle changes you can
make before you save the image the threshold basically shows you where the
mask will be where it’ll start filling in the gaps so you can see if you have
the threshold high you don’t have much of a mask at all you can see some of the
lines are green and that’s about it the further you bring it down the bigger
the mask will be so I like to have it quite high and bring this amount up if
you go to a one by one crop you can see this mask as a green overlay if you take
it off that disappears so you can see if I don’t have any on at all because the
exposures are relatively short and the gap is really short at 3 seconds you
can’t really see them you’re looking at the images a whole
when you zoom into a one-by-one crop you can see it as almost made up of little
stutters what I tend to do with this gap-filling is bring it up to about to
when I’m using this process so now when i zoom in it’s made the lines a little
bit fuller when you get it to where you want it click on save file and put it in
the folder where you want it to live now we have the image in Lightroom you can
see because I used a really wide angle lens it’s produced some quite funky
distorted lines also a plane flew through the shot and the shot does look
a little bit busy because down the middle
we had the Milky Way and there were 263 exposures each of 20 seconds so I shot
this one over one and a half hours in a really dark location you could see a lot
of stars so the streaks have really filled the
sky ad gives star Stax another go with just 100 images and then 200 images and
maybe 150 images you want to play around and see which gives you the look that
you want if you like the image that you’ve processed that’s all there is to
it now all I do with this image is tidy it up a little bit even though the sky
looks quite good in this image it has produced a very strange pattern along
the bottom of the frame so you can see in this corner it’s produced a kind of a
checked pattern that might have something to do with the amount of shots
that I took you can see all the long exposure noise and there is a way of
getting rid of this so in taking exposures of 20 to 30 seconds with a gap
of 3 seconds you can get some really interesting looking at star trails so
I’m gonna try and use this initial set again but only 150 images not the 263
I’m also changing the blending mode to lighten and I’ve switched on this comet
mode just to see how it works now I’ll process and wait so now it’s processed this new image
let’s see what it’s got if you look at the image a comment mode has basically
tailed off the start rails so they’ll go from the bright head right down to
nothing so it will fade the Stars away this is
quite a different look it almost looks like there’s a huge comet or meteor
shower so now I’ll click on save and store it with the other image now I have
the two images side by side the foreground in these images isn’t
brilliant but I took these photos just for this exercise and I wanted the stars
to fill the frame as much as possible to show you the process of star trails so
this first image was of the 263 images stacked together and the second one was
the 150 images with the comet mode switched on it gives a very different
look for each image you can just about make out the Milky Way in the middle if
we switch back to the other one it’s more of just a white patch in the middle
for me this first image is a little bit too busy and I’d want less going on in
the sky the second one looks almost better it looks like the stars are
coming out of the sky and almost gives a three-dimensional look to the shot so
now we’ll look at the a7r two images so these are the two-minute exposures and I
have 48 of these images again like before in the develop module have made a
few changes have dropped the sharpening down to zero a noise reduction and color
noise reduction down to zero I took this with the zeiss batis 25 millimeter and
I’ve enabled profile Corrections and removed chromatic aberrations that’s the
only changes I’ve made then I’ll select them all and sync all of these settings
once that’s done I’ll export these images so I’ll go to export
and like at 4 choose folder later I just like this setting and then again on
custom settings I want it having two zeros before the
one this is the a7 – star trail again I’m going to export to JPEG not going to
resize it sharpening off and then export so I put this on my desktop and you
folder a7r to create and then you just wait for these to be processed next
we’re going to open up star stacks so you want to clear the images of what
you’ve had before and then a7r to and select all of these images you drag them
to this area again you can see I have my 48 images they’re gonna take comet mode
off and I’m gonna have a gap-filling then I’ll click on process with this
image with the a7 r2 and 25 millimeter batis I worked out where the north star
is and put it on the top third of the image as you can see this is producing a
circular pattern around that pivotal point so with this image I had slightly
longer gaps between the shots as you move to the edge of the frame the gaps
become more prominent this is because the stars are moving over a longer
distance relative to your camera frame obviously in the middle of that
rotational point they don’t move too much when it comes to the frame of your
camera towards the edges of the frame they’ll move a lot more and this is
similar to where you have a bicycle wheel the center point doesn’t move much
at all but the outside moves a lot therefore a 5 second gap between the
shots will produce a gap in the streaks and this is where gap filling comes into
play so if we look at them there and then we bring it up a little bit you can
see it’s starting to fill the gaps so we’ll put the threshold on so we can
see what it’s going to affect we’re going to bring it up a bit more
take your threshold off look at the whole image that seems okay
once you’re happy with it it’s time to export it so again click on save as
eight seven four two and while I’m here I’m gonna set it to comet mode just to
see how different it looks what you’ll find with the image is if any cars of
shot past because it’s blending all the lighter parts of the image if the
foreground has been lit by cars by your light by anything it’ll start to build
on these images once you’ve done that bring the images back into Lightroom so
this is the one where I set star trails and the second one is where I’ve set the
comet setting to on when you look at each star it’s quite a subtle difference
the comet setting doesn’t seem to work too well on the really bright stars but
it does work on the slightly dimmer stars so you can see these ones down
here fade into the distance also looking at these I should have increased the gap
setting you can just about see gaps in between these on a one by one crop
although when you look at the image as a whole you can’t see this as much when
you have the comet setting set to OFF the stars do seem a lot brighter it
actually affects the foreground as well so when the comet setting on the
foreground is quite dark comment setting off the foreground is a little bit
lighter this may have something to do with a different blending mode that I
used the final thing to do with these images is to get rid of the long
exposure noise in this shot that I took with the a7r and a 25 millimeter batis
it was quite warm so with the longer 2 minute exposures the long exposure noise
was there so if i zoom in on this you can see it just down here in the show
has lots of green red and blue speckles you can see it up in the sky a little
bit as well so we want to get rid of that there’s a few ways you can get rid
of this one way is to take some dark frames I forgot to take them on this
night so that’s going to be a subject for another video the other way you can
do it is use some of the filters in Photoshop so if I take this image right
click on it and edit in Photoshop I’m going to edit with Lightroom adjustments
so once it’s opened the image in Photoshop go to filter noise dust and
scratches when you click on the image you have live before and when you let go
that’s the after now play around with a radius and thresholds if you take your
threshold up to the maximum doesn’t do anything if you bring it down to the
minimum it affects the whole image so I normally have this on about 10 for
radius about 2 if you bring the radius up too much what’ll happen is it’ll
start to smooth out the image and give it that painterly look so that looks all
right to me we’ve got rid of most of that long
exposure noise without losing too much detail on this road and the car streaks
then I’ll save that image that’ll bring it back across and what Lightroom does
is creates a copy so this is the edited TIFF file and this is the normal file so
if i zoom in down here you can see on the TIFF file we’ve still got a few bits
of noise but nowhere near as much as that normal one and the last thing to do
is just edit your image after doing this exercise I found that
you can get some quite unique and different looking images than normal the
next time I go out I’m gonna take a lot more of these shots I think this would
look really great if you took a shot in the mountains with the stars streaking
above them you’re basically ignoring the 500 rule because you want your stars to
streak now I’ve learnt a few things from shooting these sequences you can get
different patterns of streaks in the sky depending on which way you point your
camera and also depending on which focal length you use if you’re in the northern
hemisphere and you point it towards the North Star you’ll get a rotational
pattern around this pivot point if you point it in other directions you can get
some interesting looking patterns wider lenses seem to distort and bend the
streaks whereas longer focal lengths produce
slightly straighter lights they will still have a slight curve to them due to
the rotation of the earth if any aircraft fly through your shot and the
lights are quite bright on them they’ll put a line of light through the shot
which can be quite distracting with this first shot you can see when I included
all 263 images towards the end of that sequence a plane flew through the shot
which causes this long line down on the right hand bottom corner when I use the
first hundred and fifty images the plane hadn’t come through the shot which made
it less distracting now the one great thing with this is you can take as many
shots as you want and then in post-processing use as many as you need
so you get to choose how long the streaks are so I’d say take as many
shots as you can afford to with the time that you have and then process those
images afterwards if you have the Milky Way in your image the more shots that
you stack will tend to blur the Milky Way another thing that may cause an
issue is air quality where we were at in this location there was quite a lot of
dust and sand and you could see this towards the horizon where the stars
started to disappear you can see this in the circular shot when I was looking
north the closer you get to the horizon the less star streaks there are and this
shows how much dust and sand was in the air and that’s about it if
you want to do star trails I suggest getting photos over at least an hour
keep the gaps in between the frames as short as possible use an intervalometer
to keep the gaps in between each of the frames the same and then use the program
star stacks to blend the images I’m not sponsored by star stacks but I think
it’s a great program it makes the whole process really easy and straightforward
the best thing with this is just to go out and try take a sequence and bring it
back into your computer and use star stacks to blend all of the shots
together once you’ve taken a few different sequences you’ll learn what
works best and what you like ultimately it’s up to you how you compose your shot
and how you like the stars streaking as always if you like what you see give me
a thumbs up if you didn’t give me a thumbs down and for weekly tutorials
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8 Replies to “Star Trails Photography (astrophotography) How to take startrail photos at night

  1. Hi Mike. I use sony a6300, i stack 50 photos and the checkboard is extremely came. My questions is, why this checkboard came and how to fix it? Hope u help me. Thanks!

  2. Mike just to clarify, if you r doing 260 shots (Technically a Timelapse) your interval time would be exposure + interval + buffer time = total interval time. In the shorter exposure exmaple, total interval would be 25 sec. Don't know if your interval is including a buffer. Would this be your total shooting interval? Thanks

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