Shooting stars

N-Photo: the Nikon magazine|August 2020

Shooting stars
Mike Harris shoots a sequence of starry images and blends them together in Photoshop to create sweeping star trails
Mike Harris

The Mission

– Photograph and blend multiple images of the night sky to create beautiful star trails

Time

– Three hours

Skill level

– Intermediate

Kit needed

– Tripod

– Photoshop

– Head torch

– Fast, wide-angle lens

– Remote shutter release

Photography is a great way to delve deeper into something you love. If you’re passionate about astronomy, astrophotography will help develop your knowledge of constellations and celestial bodies, and nurture your interest in the night sky.

In this project we’ll show you how to photograph star trails. To do this effectively you’ll need to set up your camera in pitch-black conditions, find your focus manually, and prepare your camera to shoot a sequence of images from the exact same spot. You’ll then need to use Adobe Photoshop (or other suitable software) to blend your sequence together. The best star trail shots are often a credit to the photographer’s resolve: the longer the shoot, the more images you’ll capture and more impressive your star trails will be.

You can capture star trails while facing in any direction, but know that where you stand will impact their trajectory. With limited access to our subject, we were forced to shoot towards the southeast. If you want to capture circular star trails, you’ll need to point your camera north.

Astro is one of the most technical genres of photography. And while shooting star trails doesn’t need to be difficult, the time it takes to capture a sequence of shots means there’s more at stake if things do go wrong. Planning is the best way to prevent this from happening – a few simple preparations could make all the difference.

Photograph star trails

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS IN THE FIELD WITH THE FOLLOWING ASTRO ESSENTIALS

1 Head torch

A head torch will leave your hands free to set up equipment. Red lights are preferred as it can take many minutes for our eyes to adapt in dark settings and exposing them to a conventional light will reset the clock. A red light will help you see, but won’t ruin your night-adjusted vision in the process.

2 Camera

We used a Nikon D800, but any Nikon DSLR or mirrorless is suitable for shooting star trails, although cameras that perform well in low light will give you a leg up when shooting at higher ISOs. You could also use a bridge camera, such as the P1000 or new P950, as at the wideangle end the aperture is a reasonably swift f/2.8.

3 Lens

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August 2020