night photography

How To Photograph Star Trails

How To Photograph Star Trails

Have you ever tried to photograph star trail and end up with ugly looking pictures? If you've ever witnessed this situation, it is not peculiar to you. Photographing star trails is challenging and most photographers struggle with it. But the result is always very rewarding when you do it right; it is a surreal experience that will make a huge difference in your photography career when done right.

In this article, you will learn how to photograph star trails like professional photographers. Follow this step below to overcome the challenges you've been encountering as it relates to photographing star trails:

How To Photograph Star Trails

1. Choose the Best Location and Time

This is an obvious tip, but it won't hurt anyone to point it out again. You need a really good location and choose the best time when you can see the most stars. The location and the time you will choose will have attributes such as:

§Your perfect location should be far from any city lights. If there are city lights, it will make the stars less visible. If you live in the city, you may need to travel to a small town.

§ Look for a location that has something that can make your scene more interesting. Ideally, the location should contain non-movable object such as a tall building or mountain.

§Plan your timing well. Target to do your shooting in a moonless night or at least when the moon is not yet above the horizon. You won't get as many stars as you would like when the moon brightens the sky.

How To Photograph Star Trails ‫‬

2. Go With the Right Equipment

Make sure you have all the equipment you will need. This will mean preparing days before the actual shoot. You don't want to get to your location to find out you forgot your tripod, filter or your leg is freezing because you don't have the right footwear.

You must plan everything you need from the right wears to the right camera and tools.

Don't forget your tripod. You definitely need it to stabilize your camera during the long exposures. Also, you need a shutter remote control so you won't have to press the shutter manually.

Finally, make sure that your battery is fully charged and go along with an extra battery. A cold night may cause your battery to run down faster than it should.

3. Plan the Method to use

You need to decide on time which method you want to use. Ideally, I would recommend you take multiple exposures and then combine them when you are post processing the images.

You can as well take long exposures. But in some cases, you would have problem with the heat coming from the sensor as it will cause hot spots in your final image. Personally, I prefer using a thirty-second shutter speed and then make about 60 images.

4. Taking the Shots

When you are ready with your location, tools, and equipment, it is now time to take your shots.

First thing to do is to locate Polaris, that's the North Star and set up your composition. The trick here is to get the Polaris in the frame and you would notice that every other star will circle around it.

The star will appear to move in a semi-circle if you don't have success getting Polaris in your frame. You can go a day before the shoot to study the stars, otherwise, make use of your compass to get as much sky in your frame as possible.

A trick I will recommend is setting up your composition before the sun goes down. This will help you to get the right amount of foreground in the frame and also help you to adjust the focus so that the foreground looks sharp. You can easily do this when the sun is still up than when it goes completely dark.

Turn your auto-focus off when you have achieved the correct focus. The reason for this is to prevent the camera from attempting to re-focus at night. You should as well turn off your image stabilization when your camera is on the tripod.

When it is time for you to start shooting, do some basic tests to ensure that you have good exposures. I will recommend that you first make use of a large aperture to check if you are having the adequate amount of light going into the camera. Don't use a smaller aperture or your star trails will be very dim.

With a small aperture such as f/4 and 30 second shutter speed, you can get proper exposure with the ISO. You could as well do some test shots at ISO 1600 to check if you can see the stars in the image. If you are not able to see the stars, try and increase the ISO to 3200.

Another recommended tip is to turn off your in-camera noise reduction or you would end up with little gaps in your trails. Start taking your shots when the tests confirm that everything is perfect.

How To Photograph Star Trails ‫

5. Processing Star Trail

The final step here is to process your image. To do this, you can use a free editing tool known as StarStax. This tool is very simple to use and you can use it to process your star trail with little or no help.


Photographing star trail is pretty complicated. However, your final result will depend on how much effort you put in preparation. Ensure you have the right tools you need for the job and get ready to inspect your location a day before the actual shoot.

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