Startrails are becoming more and more popular since Dslr cameras are easier to come by. Many people that are unfamiliar with cameras and photography would say, "Oh that is all photoshop!", like many photos that you can't take with a simple camera phone. But Startrails are different than most kinds of photography, it's something new, something most people haven't figured out how to do. I first got interested in it when I saw a friend's photo that he captured when I first started shooting and I was blown away! I had to know how to do it!
What are Startrails?
Startrails are a kind of long exposure photography that captures the stars for a given time, giving the stars a rotation like look. But it isn't the stars that are moving, it's the earth. So you capture the stars and the earth rotates giving you a rotation look.
What do I need to take Startrail photos?
Although you can take a startrails photo without a Dslr, the results aren't nearly the same and your photo won't come out looking good at all. A Dslr camera will give you strong and sharp photos. A tripod ( Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod ) is a MUST! You have to have a tripod in order to take these kind of photos. You have to have something reliable in order for you to have a steady shot. Most of my Startrail shots last a minimum of 30 minutes. Lastly, I use a shutter release to start and stop my photos. The better the shutter release the better.
How do I take a Startrails photo?
First off, you need darkness, and a lot of it. Like the photo above I drove an hour outside of San Diego because there is too much city light in SD. So I drove out towards the desert and found a side road to shoot on. The darker, the better, and the more stars you can visibly see with your eyes, the more stars that are going to come out in you photo.
Setup. Setup your camera how you want your photo to be taken. Since you are trying to capture the stars, your main focus should be the stars, but make sure you have an interesting foreground also. Also since it is so dark out, I recommend having a good flashlight with you to have lighting. In the photo above I lit the road with a flashlight, called 'Painting with light'.
Once you have your camera setup to how you want to take your photo, there are a few steps you should take before shooting. What I do is take test shots, probably about 5 of them. I setup and do about 30 second exposures with a very high ISO to see how the foreground is going to come out, if my horizon is straight, and if my images are sharp. ALWAYS PUT YOUR LENS ON MANUAL! Most of the time your lens will be searching around to find the right focus, and can often change at night. It is MUCH MUCH MUCH easier to just put it on Manual and then put the focus ring at "infinity". Infinity on your lens looks like a sideways 8.
Now there are 2 ways you can go at taking Startrail photos...
First method: You can either set you camera up on Bulb and leave the shutter open for however long you want... Which when I first started Startrails, that is exactly what I did, and my photos came out like this:
The photo above is what Startrails look like if you leave the shutter open, allowing for you to only have 1 exposure. I do not recommend this method of Startrails because the stars aren't as visible, your picture comes out too bright, the photo isn't as sharp, and there is much more Noise.
Second method. After using the first method for far too long, I invested in a good shutter release NIKON MC-36 Multi-Function Remote Cord ( 33.5 inches ) that allowed me to set up shots however I wanted to. I am able to program the remote to start and stop taking pictures however I please. So instead of taking 1 shot at 60 minutes, I take 60 shots at 1 minute each.
Why use the second method?
Using the second method gives you nice sharp photos. The sky will remain dark and the stars will still come out looking bright. Your photo will have less noise by far also!
How do I stack Startrail photos?
I use this free program that I found years ago that is VERY easy to use! http://startrails.de/
What settings to use for Startrails...
If you are using the first method I mentioned I would shoot with an ISO around 400 to keep the Noise down, but it is high enough to have the stars visible. Also I would use an Aperture of 5 or so.. You need as much light going to your camera as possible. Depending on how dark it is, I would set the camera to Bulb and leave it for 20-40 minutes. This will give you nice rotation and hopefully the stars will still be nice and visible if it is dark out.
If you are using the second method, I would set my cable release OR my camera, (because many new Dlsr cameras have a setting to do mult exposures, I know my D300 does) to 400 ISO, Ap of 5, and 30-60 second photos each with 1 second at the MOST in between photos.
Now if you don't have a fancy shutter release but still want to use the second method, you can always get a cheap shutter release and start and stop your photos as you please and overlay them in the program I gave you above. Just make sure you don't shake the camera!!
Cheap shutter releases:
-Use tripod to keep camera steady and to avoid camera shake
-Use multiple exposures to reduce ISO and for better sharper photos
-Go somewhere dark, the darker the better
-Bring a flashlight to light the foreground
-Do test shots first to see what you are shooting before wasting a 30 min exposure
- 400 ISO, F/5, 30-60 second exposures each
-Excellent free program: http://startrails.de/
-Lastly, bring somebody with you or have something to keep you occupied, it can get scary and boring at night in the middle of nowhere!