Star Trails

Pine Glades Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida

Getting star trail images is something I have wanted to do for a good bit of time.  I tried it once a few years back but wasn't crazy about the results.  I have now found the formula for success.  Well, one of the formulas for success anyway.  Before we get into the hows lets talk about some of the components you will need.  You need a camera (duh), tripod, and Intervalometer or remote shutter release with a shutter lock.  Most Nikon cameras come with a built in intervalometer but for this image I used the remote shutter release.  Finally, a wide angle lens is best suited for this because you get more of the sky and thus more stars in the image.  Now on to the hows:

Getting the Shots

  1. Set up your show prior to nightfall as it is much easier to know what you have in the scene and what foreground elements are in focus.  You should make sure to have a foreground element as it gives a sense of size and place. 
  2. Set your ISO to 1600, your shutter speed to 30 seconds, and open your lens up to it's widest setting (smallest number).
  3. Start your intervalometer or lock down the shutter lock on the remote release.
  4. Now you wait as your camera takes a series of images.  How many is enough?  Well, that all depends on how long you want the trails etc.  For this image it ran nearly an hour.   So, if you want longer trails let the camera continue to take images.

Post Processing

If you have Adobe Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6 this will be very simple.  If you have older versions it is still possible but not as easy.

  1. Import the images into Lightroom.
  2. Edit one image exactly the way that you want.
  3. Select all the images that you are going to use for the star trails and sync all the development settings so that everything is edited the same way.
  4. Select all the images and right click
  5. Choose Edit In and click the Open as Layers in Photoshop.  At this point you can go make some coffee, perhaps a sandwich, or perhaps go back through all of my incredibly awesome blog posts because this will take a good bit of time.
  6. Once all the images are loaded into Photoshop select all the layers and change the blend mode to Lighten.  It will choose the lightest parts of each image and add them into one.  
  7. Then, merge all the layers and save the file.  It will import your new star trails image back into Lightroom.  Thats it!!!!

Now, I know you might have an older version of Photoshop and thats okay.  The reason it is a little more difficult is because you cannot select all the layers and change the blend mode of all the layers.  You have to go to each one individually and change the blend mode.  This is very time consuming but easy enough.

If you have any questions just give me a yell!

Oh, and here is the entire star trail in a 3 second video :-)