How To {Photograph} Star Trails


Studying easy methods to seize star trails is a satisfying expertise and an amazing one to start out with astrophotography. Capturing the obvious motion of stars throughout the sky because the Earth rotates can provide you surreal and compelling photos, and star path images is extremely rewarding when you’ve got a little bit of persistence.

Consideration: Seize your free cheat sheet for Milky Means images! Click on Right here

Apparently, the Milky Means Galaxy is house to billions of stars out of which we’re capable of see solely a fraction within the evening sky from the place we stay (round 2,500 to five,000 stars at any given time).

Certainly, in the event you do have the persistence, (significantly if you’re going to take a 2-hour lengthy single publicity) you’ll be able to flip an in any other case mundane shot into an otherworldly picture.

Understanding The Fundamentals For Photographing Star Trails:

Earlier than you {photograph} star trails, you could get the fundamentals proper. Simply pointing the digital camera in the direction of any location or level within the evening sky won’t aid you get the star trails photos that you simply want. Generally you could be seeking to create circumpolar star trails, which suggests you have to to level your digital camera in a selected route relying on the place you reside.

Listed below are some staple items that you could be taught earlier than photographing star trails.

For Round Star Trails Find The Polaris or Southern Cross:

As you could have observed, a number of of the instance photos used right here have a round sample.

If you’re on the lookout for round star trails photos, you have to to find the North and South Celestial poles (relying on the place you reside), which is the pole alongside which the earth rotates.

Be aware: A celestial sphere is a dome that you simply see once you search for within the sky and that is what astronomers use to undertaking stars, planets, and different objects within the sky. The poles on the celestial sphere are known as the celestial poles and the equator is named the celestial equator.

Earth spinning inside a celestial sphere, depicting stars, the ecliptic – Picture by Tfr000 [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

Should you stay within the Northern Hemisphere, search for the Polaris (The North Star) which is the final star within the small dipper.

Should you stay within the Southern Hemisphere, Sigma Octantis is the star you have to be on the lookout for to find the South Celestial Pole, however it is vitally faint and can’t be seen with bare eyes.

As a substitute, search for The Pointers and the Southern Cross. Draw imaginary strains, one alongside the Southern cross stars and one other perpendicular to the road becoming a member of the pointers.

The purpose of intersection of those two strains is the South Celestial Pole (see illustrations beneath for reference).

Illustration created for Light Stalking
Illustration created for Mild Stalking. Picture for illustration was taken from Marko Obrvan on Pexels
Picture by By Szczureq [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Of Course, There Is An App For That!

If you’re a newbie and discover it troublesome to find these stars within the evening sky, use an app to find The Polaris for the North Celestial Pole and the Sigma Octantis for the South Celestial Pole.

These apps can precisely present you the situation of the celebs at any time or let you know what time the celebs rise and set.

  1. The Sky Information app for iOS that we normally use provides an correct location of the celebs and alerts you of astronomical occasions.
  2. If you’re on the lookout for a free app for the iOS, we have now tried the Sky View Lite that may be a adequate app to find the celebs. The Sky View is free for Android.
  3. For Android customers on the lookout for a very good app Star Stroll 2 is the one to go for and it’s free. We’ve personally discovered these apps to be correct and have tried them ourselves.
Screenshot of the Sky Information App used to find the Polaris and Octans
Picture by InstaWalli on Pexels

How Are We In a position To {Photograph} Star Trails?

Star trails are nothing however recording the motion of stars and in star trails images, we seize the motion of stars which might be brought on by the rotation of earth. Longer publicity instances give longer star trails.

Really, stars don’t rotate or revolve across the earth, however it’s the earth that rotates alongside its axis serving to us file actions which might be recorded as star trails. If you wish to visualise your outcomes as to how a lot publicity time you have to for a sure size of Star Trails, you need to use the Star Trails Simulator within the PhotoPills App.

star trails simulator photopills
Screenshot of Star Trails Simulator in PhotoPills App
star trails comparison photopills
Simulation that exhibits comparability of size of Star Trails for numerous publicity instances within the PhotoPills App

PhotoPills App is offered for each iOS and Android.

Right here Is The Final Information Explaining How To {Photograph} Star Trails:

First Up – Perceive The Location You Want For Star Path Pictures And Preserve An Eye On The Climate

When fascinated about easy methods to {photograph} star trails, your purpose is to permit your digital camera to choose up gentle it wouldn’t usually (i.e. the celebs) through the use of further lengthy exposures.

So to realize this you have to to first search for a location that’s free from gentle air pollution and a good distance from the town lights.

Whether or not from a close-by metropolis or the road lamp on the finish of your driveway, gentle air pollution can tremendously have an effect on lengthy exposures. This is not essentially a foul factor although – the truth is, it might add to the ambiance of your picture, reminiscent of a star path picture that begins through the blue hours (shoot after the astronomical twilight ends).

Be aware: If you’re not sure of the astronomical instances, use apps like PhotoPills, Magic Hour, Golden Hour, Photo voltaic Watch to seek out out the instances. These give info for each the solar and the moon.

Experimenting with atmospheric gentle generally is a artistic strategy to shoot star path pictures which might be distinctive – simply remember that the lighter your sky is, the much less distinction your star trails may have.

Additionally, you will want to verify the moon is not shining brightly. Nonetheless, if you’re on the lookout for little ambient gentle to illuminate the panorama, 1 / 4 moon is ok – however be sure that it’s out of the body that you’re composing.

Keep watch over the climate and just remember to exit to shoot on a day when the skies are clear. Clearly, you do not need to shoot star trails photos beneath a cloudy sky, however different atmospheric filters can intrude along with your evening images – air air pollution and humidity being the highest annoyances.

The easiest places for a transparent sky could be excessive up and away from any congested cities, and tackle an evening with very low humidity.

Picture by Walid Ahmad on Pexels

Gear Required To Seize Dazzling Star Trails

  1. Any digital camera with a guide mode, bulb mode and lens mixture can be utilized for star trails images. Sure, your equipment lens is greater than sufficient!
  2. So, you have to a digital camera that may shoot guide mode and if it has an inbuilt intervalometer, you can also make use of it to take pictures repeatedly. Please observe that cameras with higher low gentle efficiency and excessive iso efficiency are most popular to seize evening sky photos.
  3. An intervalometer in the event you digital camera doesn’t have an inbuilt one.
  4. A huge angle lens (14mm to 24mm, the broader the higher) with a large aperture of a minimum of f2.8 for higher photos (However equipment lenses are good for a begin until you improve. Shoot on the widest aperture doable for a given focal size). In case you have a fisheye lens, go for it as they’ll embody plenty of the sky and foreground within the body and this could result in spectacular photos.
  5. Don’t hesitate to experiment with longer lenses just like the 50mm, 85mm or the 135mm as they’ll inform a distinct story.
  6. A sturdy tripod that may maintain the camera-lens mixture and face up to windy circumstances. Even slight actions can wreck your photos (break your star trails or trigger blurry photos)
  7. Spare reminiscence playing cards, charged spare batteries to get you thru the entire shoot (a number of hours). Have reminiscence playing cards which have a better pink/write pace so that they save the recordsdata faster with out inflicting delay between pictures. Additionally be sure you have bigger ones like 64GB with a view to have sufficient area for storing all pictures from a sequence.
  8. Safety to your gear beneath very chilly circumstances to forestall lens fogging up
  9. Have a headlamp to seek out your means round at nighttime and that will help you have a look at what you’re doing. Ensure you don’t disturb different photographers round you if any with the sunshine out of your headlamp.
  10. Have flashlights or different lights to light up the foreground when vital. Once more be sure you usually are not hindering the works of some other photographers round you. Generally 1 / 4 or half moon low within the sky behind you’ll be able to assist illuminate your foreground.
  11. Preserve your self heat as effectively and have heat drinks to get you thru the shoot
Behind the Rocks at Night
Picture by Scott Ingram on Flickr

NOTE: It’s essential to make the most of correct lengthy publicity strategies and keep away from digital camera shake: locking your mirror, mounting your digital camera on a safe tripod, and utilizing a distant cable launch to your shutter.

A Widespread Aperture False impression Defined For Sharp Star Trails: Huge Open or Slender?

A typical query – or moderately a false impression – with star path images is why wouldn’t you employ a small aperture (say f/8 or above) for a sharper picture moderately than shoot huge open? You’re already taking pictures hour-long exposures so the timing isn’t a priority….absolutely it’s higher to have a sharper picture, particularly when you’ve got different focal factors (foreground curiosity, and so forth).

The difficulty with photographing stars is that they transfer – because of this we need to {photograph} their trails within the first place. With that in thoughts, there’s a delicate stability to seek out along with your publicity that’s extra than simply how lengthy your shutter is open.

Wider apertures permit for shorter publicity instances as a result of they let extra gentle in than slim apertures. Deal with that final half – they let extra gentle in.

Contemplating that stars are continuously transferring, you could ensure that they’re registered in your sensor earlier than they transfer – in any other case, your star trails will probably be very dim, even perhaps non-existent relying in your chosen f/cease. Think about doing a two-hour shoot the place your foreground is lit properly, however your star trails look not more than a slight variation in tones on the evening sky.

So it is a good suggestion to have a lens that’s able to very huge apertures – reminiscent of f/2.8 and even wider. The broader your aperture, the brighter your star trails will probably be.

Some Widespread Digicam Settings To Take Care Of:

Publicity Time:

Relying in your chosen aperture worth and iso, select a shutter pace. For instance, you could possibly begin with aperture worth f/2.8 or f/4 or f/5.6 relying on the lens that you’re utilizing. Set the iso to between 640 to 3200 relying on the digital camera that you simply use (keep inside iso 1600 if doable to protect the colors of the celebs). Begin with an publicity time of 20 to 30 seconds for a begin and relying on what’s recorded, you’ll be able to improve or lower the iso and/or publicity instances.

Be aware: Since you’re creating star trails photos whereas stacking the ultimate photos, you do not want trails within the particular person photos. So make use of the 500 rule, 600 rule or NPF rule to calculate publicity instances for spot stars – whichever works greatest for you. You may as well use the “spot stars” function within the PhotoPills app.

Some Apps for Spot Stars are:

  • Pin Level Stars for Android- helps to calculate the perfect publicity instances to seize star and milky means photos
  • Sharp Stars for Android – helps to find out the longest publicity time that can produce sharp stars when printed

Some excessive finish cameras and lens mixture can file brilliant stars at decrease iso values and shorter exposures. So you have to to mess around with the settings to seek out out what works greatest to your digital camera / lens mixture. A superb understanding of the publicity triangle and reciprocity legislation will turn out to be useful.

Picture supply: Wikimedia Commons


Though the histograms could not all the time be the perfect place to search for greatest exposures on a regular basis, it’s good to keep watch over the histogram to verify it’s impartial and there usually are not an excessive amount of spikes in the direction of each ends. This manner, you don’t lose particulars as blown out highlights within the brighter areas or as very darkish shadows in very darkish areas.

For instance, if you’re utilizing foreground parts, you have to acceptable publicity and never need it very overexposed or an excessive amount of underexposed. It is because it’s close to to unattainable to recuperate misplaced particulars from blown out areas or darkish shadow areas. Checking the histogram will assist keep away from these eventualities.

Thermal Noise:

Earlier than the precise shoot, verify your cameras response to lengthy exposures. That is primarily vital once you go for single lengthy publicity star path {photograph} or once you shoot for longer hours like greater than an hour or 2 or when the skin temperature is heat. Some sensors can warmth up and thermal noise can present up within the ensuing photos as sizzling pixels. So relying on this you have to to cut back your publicity instances.

Degree The Digicam:

Earlier than the shoot, all the time just remember to degree the digital camera with the assistance of a bubble degree. It may be a busy job straightening it later whereas publish processing.

How To {Photograph} Star Trails By 2 Totally different Strategies

So you have chosen a location and you’ve got the gear, so the subsequent step…how do you get these improbable strains of sunshine?

There are two strategies standard with star photographers:

  1. Utilizing one very lengthy publicity (lengthy sufficient to register some noticeable star motion; a minimum of half-hour) OR
  2. Taking many shorter exposures and stacking these photos in a means that exhibits sequential motion.

Listed below are the 2 strategies defined

1. Utilizing One Very Lengthy Publicity

To seize star trails utilizing one lengthy publicity, there are a few vital issues to think about. It’s worthwhile to let as a lot gentle into your lens as doable for these stars to register (the why’s of this are defined beneath) – this implies utilizing a quick lens, ideally within the f/2.8 vary.

When photographing stars beneath one publicity, you could do it throughout a brand new moon evening – which means that the moon is nowhere to be seen. In case you have something greater than a crescent, your publicity will probably be restricted to the 10-minute vary due to the ambient gentle, which gained’t do a lot for star trails. For this sort of images, darkness is your greatest good friend.

In the end, you’re aiming to your atmosphere to be illuminated by the celebs themselves – sure it’s doable! Nonetheless, this completely relies on the size of your publicity. The picture beneath is the results of an 80-minute publicity taken beneath a brand new moon – you’ll be able to see that the foreground is uncovered properly and the star trails are excellent.

When calculating your publicity, it might be greatest to do a shortened take a look at shot so that you’re not ready a ridiculous period of time simply to see in case your settings are appropriate. Many evening photographers will jack up their ISO so far as it’ll go and shoot huge open – you’ll not often discover an occasion the place you’ll be taking a photograph shorter than 30 seconds right here. After all, the take a look at shot will probably be completely unusable as a consequence of noise and lack of trails, however it gives you a base to calculate what settings are wanted with an ISO of 100.

Right here it’s step-by-step

  1. Make it possible for the moon is nowhere within the sky
  2. Base your publicity time in your take a look at pictures. In case you have an f2.8 lens, shoot at ISO 100 and if you’re utilizing a slim aperture like f4 or f5.6, use ISO 200 or 320
  3. Preserve your ISO actually low to cut back noise. Begin with a average aperture of f4 and make modifications later.
  4. Do a take a look at shot first for 20 or 30 seconds to see if stars get recorded within the body. If the take a look at shot doesn’t go effectively, widen the aperture or improve the ISO, whichever is feasible or do each and take take a look at pictures until you get a very good picture.
  5. As soon as you’re pleased along with your take a look at shot, improve the shutter pace to round 10 or quarter-hour. Take the shot and see how a lot trails you get and the way brilliant the paths are. Do a number of take a look at pictures by doubling the publicity time to get the star path digital camera settings proper.
  6. Don’t activate noise discount as that course of can eat an enormous period of time after every publicity.
  7. Now relying on what you observe from the take a look at pictures, calculate how a lot publicity you have to to get first rate star trails in your picture. You’ll positively want a minimal of 60 minutes publicity, however a 90 minutes publicity can get you some good trails in your photos.
  8. Keep in mind, complete darkness is your good friend for this very lengthy publicity images, so be sure that there isn’t any moon within the sky. Search for new moon nights or shoot earlier than moonrise or after moonset.
  9. Ensure you have your battery totally charged to final by your entire publicity.
Picture by Free-Photographs on Pixabay

Disadvantages of Capturing One Lengthy Publicity:

  • The digital camera sensor heats up badly throughout this very lengthy publicity resulting in noise/sizzling pixels within the ensuing picture. That is extremely evident in low and mid vary cameras.
  • It’s worthwhile to watch out about surprising clouds coming into the body and even cloud cowl for a shorter time frame.
  • You have to to fret about different surprising parts coming into the body
  • It’s worthwhile to be sure that your battery has sufficient cost to undergo your entire publicity.
  • Many a time, the foreground can grow to be very overexposed making the picture unusable.
  • On the finish of the shoot, you’re left with just one picture which will or is probably not usable.

2. Picture Stacking Shorter Exposures

A substitute for ready for an hour or extra to your publicity to complete is to take sequential photos and stack them collectively within the publish course of to get your star trails.

In brief, your publicity ought to be simply lengthy sufficient to register your stars as brilliant objects within the sky earlier than transferring on to the subsequent one. It’s not unusual to have a number of hundred photos to stack took over the course of some hours.

Right here it’s step-by-step:

Digicam Settings:

  1. Have your aperture set to the widest, ISO round 320 to 640, and shutter pace 20 seconds. Manually give attention to a brilliant star within the sky (do that by zooming in on stay view). Take a take a look at shot and evaluate your picture.
  2. Ensure you flip off in-camera noise discount like lengthy publicity noise discount, excessive iso noise discount, low gentle noise discount (something that’s within the taking pictures menu of your digital camera) as this could trigger an enormous delay in time between lengthy publicity pictures
  3. Make a take a look at shot and relying on how the celebs get recorded within the picture, you could want to extend ISO and/or shutter pace. Don’t improve the ISO above 3200 because the picture high quality will begin to degrade.
Turn off all noise reduction settings in your shooting menu
Flip off all noise discount settings in your taking pictures menu

Getting The Shot:

  1. Arrange the intervalometer in your digital camera or in the event you do not need an inbuilt one, make use of an exterior intervalometer to take the variety of pictures that you simply want to take on the specified interval (in the event you digital camera would not have an inbuilt intervalometer, if doable choose up a distant shutter launch that has an intervalometer on it).
  2. The variety of pictures relies on how lengthy trails you want within the ultimate picture. I’d counsel to have a minimal of a minimum of 50 exposures (quick star trails) and extra if you’ll be able to. You need to shoot as much as 200 and even 300 pictures to get an honest star trails.
  3. Ensure there isn’t any delay between pictures (lower than one second) as a result of this could trigger a break within the star trails moderately than a clean one.
  4. Set the suitable white stability and this ought to be roughly round 3000K to 4000K relying on the extent of sunshine air pollution. If you’re uncertain, set the white stability to Auto after which make changes when publish processing. Because of this, all the time shoot uncooked.

Be aware: In case your publicity time is 20 seconds and also you want 100 pictures, you have to to set the shutter pace to 20s and set the intervalometer to take 100 pictures repeatedly at an interval of lower than 1 second (perhaps 30ms) to keep away from breaks between trails.

Picture by EvgeniT on Pixabay

Benefits Of Capturing A number of Publicity Pictures:

  • Since you’re taking pictures a number of quick exposures, that’s a number of photos, you’ve got management over sensor warmth, which suggests much less noise/sizzling pixels.
  • You may simply take away undesirable objects coming into the body or discard the body itself wherever doable.
  • You can also make a number of quick exposures for as many hours and get the longest trails that you simply want.
  • Should you arrange the publicity instances proper, you’ll get effectively uncovered photos and appropriately lit foreground parts.
  • You should utilize these photos to create a surprising timelapse video!

Submit Processing And Stacking Your Star Trails

After you have your photos completed, do some fundamental changes to your photos and use your favourite software to stack/mix the pictures.

There are a lot of completely different post-processing purposes accessible reminiscent of Star Trails for Home windows and Mac, ImageStacker and DeepSkyStacker – these will mechanically throw all of your photos collectively and produce a surprising star path.

I usually use Adobe Lightroom for fundamental changes and use Adobe Photoshop to mix/stack the pictures to get the star trails.

A number of the fundamental changes that must be made are:

  • White Stability changes if required
  • Publicity and Distinction changes
  • Highlights and Shadows changes
  • Whites and Blacks changes
  • Readability and Dehaze the place vital
  • Sharpness and Noise Discount Changes if required

Should you assume it is vitally time consuming doing it in photoshop or in the event you do not need photoshop, we have had a have a look at a free software known as StarStax which is offered for Home windows and Mac.

We have downloaded and tried StarStax and actually, it’s a very fast course of. 43 pictures of measurement 2000px on the longer aspect, took simply 5.40 seconds to be processed.

Check out the .gif of the method beneath.

Starstax additionally comes with an amazing hole filling mixing mode which when chosen will fill any hole in your star path picture.

Simply drag and drop the pictures, and press the processing button. 43 photos of measurement 2000px on the longer aspect took 5.40 seconds to course of. Gif by Dahlia Ambrose

Bonus: Why Not Make A Time Lapse Video?

One other advantage of picture stacking is that now you’ve got all the required pictures to make a time lapse video.

Here is a brief video of what you’ll be able to accomplish with this technique of star path images: each the time lapse video and the composite path picture are proven right here.

Picture by Free Nature Inventory on Pexels

Some Ideas For Higher Star Path Pictures:

Listed below are some star trails images ideas for higher images of star trails:

  • If utilizing a DSLR, make use of the mirror lockup function as this could scale back digital camera shake.
  • Flip off picture stabilisation on each lens and digital camera physique.
  • Take away any filters off the lens.
  • If together with foreground parts within the body, you’ll be able to focus on the hyperfocal distance or one third into the scene to have all the weather within the scene and the celebs (as much as infinity) in focus.
  • You may as well give attention to the brightest star within the sky by zooming in on liveview. Generally this could render your foreground parts barely out of focus.
  • All the time use guide focus for star path images so your focus doesn’t change in between pictures.
  • As a substitute of simply photographing the star trails, be sure that to incorporate a good looking foreground or one other topic within the body for a significant and interesting star path picture.
  • Search for places with the least quantity of sunshine air pollution as this can assist file extra stars and their colors. All stars usually are not white and a few have their very own colors like blue, pink, orange, yellow.

Be aware: Use these apps and web sites to seek out darkish places close to you.

  • Location scouting through the day and on the lookout for compositions will aid you get your means by within the evening simply when framing for highly effective photos.
  • Search for gorgeous topics and make use of compositional pointers to create partaking photos of star trails. Some topics to look out for are deserted buildings, architectural buildings, lighthouses, bridges, lonely timber, windmills, roads, and so forth.
  • Throughout chilly climate, utilizing the lens hood can generally delay any condensation processes.
  • Search for inspiration on-line. Look although works of profitable photographers and be taught from their expertise.

Right here Are Some Inventive Concepts That You Ought to Attempt!

Circumpolar Star Trails:

long exposure of photography of brown tree
Picture by Harrison Haines

To be able to {photograph} circumpolar star trails, you have to to level your digital camera in the direction of the circumpolar stars – Polaris (North Star) that’s near the the North celestial pole or the Octans, Southern Cross which might be near the South Celestial pole. This manner, you’ll get round star trails as a result of the earth rotates concerning the celestial pole.

As mentioned earlier on this article, when you’ve got problem finding the Polaris or Octans and Southern Cross, use one of many really useful apps like Sky Information, Sky View or Star Stroll, as it is vitally straightforward that means.

Celestial Equatorial Star Trails:

Should you level your digital camera in the direction of the celestial equator, it is possible for you to to see the star trails observe three paths. Straight strains are traced in the direction of the celestial equator after which they curve away on both aspect of the straight strains in the direction of the celestial poles.

To be able to {photograph} the celestial equatorial star trails, level your digital camera in the direction of the East or West. Subsequent time you exit to shoot some star trails, don’t forget to do this!

time lapse photography of body of water at nighttime
Picture by James Wheeler

Right here Are Some Inventive Compositions To Attempt When Photographing Star Trails?

Mix Star Trails With Site visitors Lights:

Search for a darkish location the place you’ll be able to {photograph} the star trails, however nonetheless a location that has some site visitors you could embody as a part of your composition. Countryside roads ought to be a greater location if you’re seeking to compose star trails together with site visitors lights!

{Photograph} Star Path Reflections:

Search for nonetheless water options the place you may as well embody the reflections of star trails in your photos. Relying on the panorama round, you’ll be able to shoot some spectacular star path photos together with their reflections.

Body Your Topic Creatively With Star Trails:

Body your foreground topic creatively with the star trails. Particularly if you end up photographing circumpolar star trails, you’ll be able to body your topic in the midst of the circle.

Like within the picture above, if you wish to body your topic beneath an arch of star trails, then level your digital camera in the direction of the south celestial pole in the event you stay within the Northern Hemisphere and in the direction of the north celestial pole in the event you stay within the Southern Hemisphere.

Ultimate Ideas On How To {Photograph} Star Trails

Photographing star trails is difficult however the outcomes are superb. The motion captured in our photos can characterize the vastness of the universe and our small place in it.


This final information to star trails has been up to date by Dahlia Ambrose.

Dahlia is a inventory photographer and full time educator at Mild Stalking. Yow will discover her on Gurushots and see a few of her extra standard articles at The American Society of Media Photographers. Get to know her higher right here.

Additional Sources

  1. Star Trails Pictures Tutorial
  2. Photographing The Evening Sky: Star Trails
  3. Star Path Examples
  4. Capturing Star Photographs



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