Inspired by Art Wolfe’s wonderful star trails photograph, I decided to try it myself. Knowing I would have limited opportunities, I did some research to make sure I used the right technique. Here are some tips:
– Look up the moonrise times for your area and pick a night when the moon doesn’t rise until daylight or at least the wee hours of the morning. You dont want the moon to be out when you shoot the stars or there will be too much light in the sky.
– Pick a location away from any city lights. A long way away.
– Find a location where you can have some other feature in the frame such as a mountain or an interesting tree.
– If possible, go one night ahead of time and locate polaris (the north star) in the sky. If you can manage to get polaris in the frame, all the stars will circle around it. If polaris is not in the frame, the stars will appear to travel in a semi-circle. If you can’t go a day ahead of time, use your compass and try to get as much sky as possible.
– Set up your camera during the day when you can see all your buttons clearly, choose your composition, and set your focus. Once the focus is set, turn your camera to manual focus so it doesn’t try to re-focus later.
– Use a cable release with a lock on it so you can open the shutter, and then go do something else rather than holding the button down for up to an hour.
– No campfires! You dont want the light or the smoke to ruin your shot.
– Do a test shot at the highest ISO your camera has to get the exposure right, however, you want to use a relatively low ISO for the final shot. When I did mine I found that at ISO 1600, the right exposure time was 5 minutes. Then I calculated that equalled 40 minutes at ISO 200. I added an extra 10 minutes on for good measure since it is getting darker all the time.
This shot was taken at ISO200, 50 minutes at f/4. I used my flashlight to paint light on the pebbles in the foreground. This was my very first attempt at shooting the stars.
I’d love to hear about your experience shooting the stars. Leave me a comment!