Star Trails – my first attempt

Copyright Gareth Fish
Star Trails by Gareth Fish

I’d been wanting to try out a star trail experiment for a while and when I recently upgraded to a Canon 80D it came with a built-in Intervalometer so I thought I would give it a try! I had been inspired by our Club talks on Astro-photography and Robert Harvey’s talk and book that I purchased on the evening.

Now, a huge caveat. I am NOT an expert and I am sure there are club members with more experience of this sort of photography and secondly, the end result is not a compositional classic!!! It’s my back garden pointing (South-west) in the direction I could see the most stars!!.

The YouTube Video

I also taught myself from good old Mr. U Tube…

Getting started

So here is what I did:

• Watched the forecast and picked a clear night. There was a slim crescent moon but it was setting.
• Checked with a stars app, roughly where the stars and planets should be.
• Used my widest lens which happens to be a 10mm on a Canon cropped frame.
• Focus was quite hard to get the stars pinsharp
• Camera on tripod and set to Manual mode. I wanted to set as long an aperture as I could, but realised that with the inbuilt intervalometer I could not use Bulb. So I set my speed to 30 seconds, aperture to about f8 and then fired some test shots. Then I fiddled with the ISO setting to get it to a reasonable visual exposure.
• I realised after about 30 minutes that I had started too early and in fact the sky was still quite bright, so I changed the exposure part way through my set by adjusting the ISO.
• Now the magic! I set the Intervalometer going with an unlimited number of exposures set at 1 minute intervals. Remember 30 seconds each exposure. My patience ran out after 165 shots.

Now for the post-processing

After downloading to Lightroom … the results were not bad.

I was very surprised at how much detail I captured given Bracknell is pretty high in terms of light pollution. I followed the basic process in the YouTube video –

• Increased highlights, whites, contrast, clarity and I think even texture a tad. Saturation a little bit too…this brought out more stars from the dark background (and a comet or satellite) and also different colours. Cool, I thought.
• Then sync these settings to the remaining 164 shots and then the hard work.
• I opened up the images as individual layers in Photoshop in batches of ten, setting the blend mode to “lighten” then flattening the image. These were massive files and my old MacBook was creaking at this point (a justification for a new one I thought!)
• This gave me about 10 composites which I opened again in PS and blended together in the same way.

What next?

And that was it – I was impressed even if I say so myself. Probably I can get a bit better in my technique – better focus on the stars, avoid the moon, improve some of my LR/PS processing, but overall this is pretty straightforward.

Kit wise, I might treat myself to an external Intervalometer which I think will allow me to use a longer exposure meaning the stars move more during one image, meaning in turn fewer images to blend. But I thought my Canon EF-S lens coped well even if most Astro guys insist on bigger optics.

The key, and I would like to try this, is to have a proper foreground and middle ground composition ie: take a proper photo rather than my quick experiment. And secondly to be able to do this where the light pollution levels are significantly lower.

I hope this is interesting and helpful and inspires some of you to come with me on an adventure on the DarKnights in the future.

Gareth Fish
Co-ordinator of the DarKnights

Gareth Fish

Gareth Fish

Generally having fun, mostly outdoor genres of photography. I look after the Night Photography SIG for the club. If you are interested in going the DarKnights, give me a call