How to photograph startrails

The newest craze in photography just got easier – just add DSLR

StarStax image copyWith a spike in the popularity of astro-photography coinciding with the drop in price of DSLR cameras, taking star-trail photography in some of the world’s most beautiful places is becoming a way of life for some travellers.

Two ways

There are two options; either you open the shutter for a long time to allow the stars to blur, or you take a series of short exposures and stack them using software. The former is the ‘old’ way and usually means a shot that’s too bright, and with much shorter trails. The latter takes longer, but is infinitely better thanks to StarStax.

HIStartrails_14Point and shoot – at Polaris

Polaris (the North Star) sits directly above the North Pole, and appears to stay still at all times. Point your camera at Polaris and you’ll get a circular star-trail. Obviously this brings limitations since your camera has to face North. For instance, if you’re on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, getting a shot of the canyon and a star-trail above is a nonstarter – you’ll need to swap ti the south side. Think about what you want to do before you settle in for a star-trail session. Here’s how to find Polaris.

How to take a star-trail

  1. Mount a DSLR camera on a tripod
  2. Use as wide an angle lens as possible (10-22mm is OK)
  3. Set to infinite focus, maximum aperture (f3.5 or thereabouts) & ISO 400
  4. Point the camera at Polaris, remembering to get some foreground in the shot, too.
  5. Expose for 30 seconds as a test shot (use a remote shutter or a timer to delay the shutter by two seconds)
  6. Once you have produced a clear/sharp/nicely exposed shot, repeat the process constantly until you have about 100 images (more if you can stand it).
  7. Download StarStax to a laptop, drag in the images, and in a few seconds it will compile a beautiful star-trail!

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