Night photography can be challenging, time consuming, very rewarding and sometimes disappointing. For example, creating this star trails photo at Double Arch in Arches National Park required hiking in the dark to the location, finding the right angle, waiting for the moon to fall below the mountains, then waiting an hour while I set the camera to take roughly 120 individual photos...oh yeah not included in that time were other tourists walking into frame and creating havoc for my timelapse. Patience, patience, patience.
Initially I set up this shot to create a video timelapse, but then decided I could get a 2 for 1 and created a star trail photo from the timelapse photos!
First lets look at the gear:
Camera: My trusted and reliable Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/ 2.8 II USM
Tripod: Mefoto RoadTrip Aluminum Travel Tripod
Intervalometer: Canon Time Remote Controller TC-80N3
Memory Card: SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro
Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm
Lighting: Manfrotto Lumie Series Muse (or similar)
Taking the photo. My camera settings were as follows:
Shutter: 25 sec
Aperture: f/ 2.8
Focal Length: 16mm
Intervalometer duration: One 25 second photo every two seconds. I set my intervalometer to take a 25 second photo, wait 2 seconds after the photo was completed, then take the next 25 second photo. This gave me roughly 2 photos per minute (actually 2 photos every 54 seconds). For video I want at least 24 photos per 1 second of video (24fps).
Normally the arch in this photo would have been silhouetted, but along with some friendly photographers from England, we lit the arches with 2 small Manfrotto LED lights. Because our exposure was 25 seconds, we really didn't need the lights to output a ton of light. Here is a single frame photo with Hillary hanging out under one of the aches.
Its good to note that a star trails photo can be taken a couple of different ways. I could have adjusted my intervalometer and set 1 single hour long exposure instead of having it take individual photos for an entire hour. One advantage of doing this is having a bit less editing afterwards. A disadvantage is possibly getting your settings wrong and having the photo turn out not the way you planned. Also this might create a photo that has a lot of camera noise. I opted to choose the star stacking method because I would have more control over the final image.
Post Production: Editing Star Trails:
Post production editing will vary depending on the software you have. Personally I use a combination of Adobe Bridge, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.
Now that you already have several hours of your life invested in making a single picture, the fruits of your labor are finally about to pay off! For this part of the tutorial, I’m going to be assuming a basic understanding of Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. Organization is key, make sure you have all of the photos you want in your star trails photo together in a folder.
PetaPixel.com has a tremendously helpful tutorial online for editing your star trail photos! Remember to take a few test shots before you commit to your timelapse. Setting your focus so your image is tack sharp can be challenging. Have patience and remember these photos take time! Bring a snack, a book, or just enjoy nature's show.
We love to see your star trail photos. Share in the comments below or on Instagram with the hashtag #travelepic and tag @andtheretheygo! We would love to feature your photo!