Star light, star bright – taking pictures of star trails

When the stars exploded billions of years ago they formed everything that is this world.  Everything we know is stardust.  So don’t forget, you are stardust.

– Before Sunset (1995)

Leaving a long exposure while pointing at the night sky results in circular patterns in the frame.  It’s slightly surreal, but I like it.

This is my first attempt at trying to take pictures of the stars.  A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have even tried, but there was a reverse panning assignment for my class this week.

I don’t thing that this type of photography is meant for me, but I’m glad I gave it a try.  I like the instant satisfaction generally associated with photography.  This picture took a lot of time and patience.  And battery life.

This would have worked better in a rural area, away from the city lights, rather than my backyard.  Also, there was a half moon, which didn’t help.

Obviously, this works best on a clear night.

Here’s what I did:

–       Charge the battery (it really does suck up the battery life)

–       Set up the tripod.  I extended the front two legs and left the back leg shorter.  I kept it fairly low to the ground and tilted the head up.

–       I cranked my ISO to 6400 and set the shutter speed to about 10 seconds to get a test shot.  It’s hard to figure out what is in and out of the frame while it’s dark.  A test shot lets you adjust your position before committing to a really long shutter speed.  This was a great tip from my instructor.

–       Set the shutter speed to BULB.  Bulb lets you release the shutter with a remote and keeps it open until you press the remote again. (I bought my remote on Amazon for $6).

–       Set the ISO to 100.  This reduces the digital noise.

–       I set my aperture to f/16.  I don’t know if that’s right, but it’s what I did.

–       Use a wide focal length.  The best I could do was my kit lens (18 mm).  Set the focus to infinity, and then back off just a bit.

–       Take a guess about the location of the North Star and point your camera accordingly.  I missed a bit.  If you do manage to get it bang on, the stars will form a circle around this point.

–       Keep a stationary object in the frame, like a tree.  Find one in the distance or it will just look out of focus.  I think it provides a bit of context.

–       Commit to a long exposure, whatever that might be.  Mine was 1024 seconds.  Why?  That’s when I went back outside to turn it off.  The longer your exposure, the longer the trail.

–       Use your remote to close the shutter.

–       Charge your battery when you’re done.


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