Joshua Tree National Park Star Trails

I love star trails! I’ve been waiting to find the perfect location that would have something great in the foreground and dark night skies so I could try it again – and I found it at Joshua Tree National Park.

We found the most beautiful campsite at Belle Campground right in the park. There was hardly anyone there and our RV was tucked in amongst the giant rocks. There was a great rock formation right behind the RV! It was even a moonless night. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Joshua Tree National Park Star Trails, California
Please click the image to view a larger version.

Here’s how I made it:

As I mentioned, this beautiful rock formation was right behind the RV so I didn’t have to haul out my lawn chair and sleeping bag to babysit my camera while listening to Coyotes and other strange animals in the freezing cold desert night while wondering whether tarantulas come out at night. They don’t. But I know I would still be thinking about it. Like when I did star trails last time at Guadalupe National Park and all the night sounds freaked me out.

Instead I was able to set up my camera ahead of time, set my new Vello Shutterboss to take one 30 second image continuously for half an hour, and go wait inside the RV where it was warm and cozy.

When I had my 60 exposures, I made some basic adjustments to one of the images in Lightroom (such as increasing the exposure, adding a little clarity and noise reduction) and then synced the changes with the other 59 exposures. Then I exported the 60 images as jpeg’s and put them all in a folder.

After that I was ready to combine the exposures using a free program called “StarStaX”. I just pointed StarStaX to the folder that contained all the exposures, selected “lighten” as the blend mode, and let it go to work.

While I was making the exposures, a couple of them had the rocks all lit up because cars drove by. On the first attempt at stacking them, I left those frames out. But the resulting image had a really dark foreground so I tried it again leaving those frames in and it worked perfectly. So I didn’t actually paint the rocks, the couple of cars that happened to drive by did it.

Once I had the stacked image, I opened that in Photoshop to clone out the trails left by planes. In the past I have done that on the original exposures before I stacked them, but this time they were in too many frames so I decided to try it on the stacked image and it worked just fine.

After the cloning, I opened the image in Nik Color Efex Pro to add some final adjustments including tonal contrast, brilliance/warmth, and I added a vignette.


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    • says

      Hi Andy, I hope so!! It’s a pretty cool tool. I waited to buy it because the Canon version is pretty expensive, but this one came recommended to me and it’s less than half the price. Thanks for your comments!

  1. says

    What a great result Anne. I was in the jumbo rocks area many years back, very cool place. I have always wanted to try this type of photography, but there aren’t many areas without light pollution close to home. So nice of those drivers by to do your light painting for you so you could stay warm.
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