Rammell Photography

Surrey Wedding Photographer

18: Star Trails Between Weddings

Michael RammellComment

In between shooting weddings I'm a huge fan of photographing Landscapes, nature and things that I call 'alternative': things like long exposure and light painting.

This week I gave 'Star Trails' a try...

Star Trails

So, I gave star trails a try on Saturday night. I was putting the rubbish in the outside bin when I noticed how clear the sky was and how many stars there were. I'm very fortunate to have just moved into a new house with my wife and daughter; we've got a little cottage in the middle of some farm land and horse stables so there isn't very much light pollution. The stars were extremely bright indeed!

Seeing as I didn't have to go very far I thought I'd just go out with the camera for a short while to see what I could get.

The Method

I'd seen plenty of star trail images before and knew I wanted to give it a try. I had done some research on the various methods and remembered 2 possible ways:

Option 1: One long exposure
Option 2: many exposures layered to create the effect

I chose to go with option 2. My reasoning was that this was my first attempt, that It was late and I didn't want to be out for too long and come home with nothing, and that ultimately, I wanted to get an idea of what I was shooting as it was happening. The 'Hit & Hope' method of taking a few test shots and then leaving the shutter open for an hour to see what I got sounded like chance to me and at this point I hadn't really done any reading on how to ensure that I could get my settings right for an hour long exposure.

So, I left the house at 10:30pm. Took a short walk over the field just opposite my house until I came across a small vineyard with a collapsed brick wall (the vineyard belongs to the family who own the stables and much of the surrounding land). I remember from a walk I did from when I first moved in that the wall had collapsed and thought it would make an interesting feature for the static part of my star trail image.

The First Attempt

So, I setup the tripod and set my camera to Hi Speed Continuous. I plugged in my shutter release cable and tried a few 30 second exposures by simply setting the shutter speed to the 30 seconds.

After finding a composition and focusing just so the stars were in view just fine, I set the focus to manual and started: I pressed the shutter release button and slid the button onto the hold setting. The reason why the camera was on Hi Speed Continuous was so that immediately after each 30 second exposure was over my camera would detect that the shutter release was still being held and would immediately do another 30 second exposure.

This meant that all I had to do was leave the cable hanging and then sit back and sit tight for an hour or so...or so I thought...

The problem I had was that after a short while, say 20 minutes, clouds started to appear and a mist started to come across the field...
I continued to shoot thinking that it would be fine, but every so often I'd take a look and the mist on the field was getting closer to me and the clouds even thicker.

I had a quick look at my lens and realised that it was getting a bit misty. I immediately thought 'Oh no'. I let the shutter release off hold mode so that I could look at the most recent image and realised that the wall was beginning to look seriously orange! What had happened was that the mist (getting ever closer) was being illuminated by the Orange street lights at the other side of the field and the Orange light was almost being carried by the mist and this was hitting the orange wall. To the eye this wasn't too much of a problem but I guess during a 30 second exposure this Orange was 'magnified'. The image was also being effected by the mist - it was washed out and just wasn't too clear.

I opted to call it a day (or night) and head home to see what I had got.

Post Editing

So, I decided to shoot in RAW, despite there being 60 images. The reason being was so that I could take the images into Lightroom, edit one image and sync those changes to the other 59. I didn't do too much editing though. I then exported the images to JPG's and then put them into a piece of software I'd found some time ago that stacks the images. I had looked at videos on how to use Photoshop to do this, but I had also seen software whereby all you have to do is point the software at a selection of images and it will go head and stack them up. (see link at bottom)

This was the result.

Had I had longer I would have been there for at least another 30 - 60 minutes and tried to get 120 or 180 exposures to create light trails that were much longer.

But, I'll give it another try the next time there is another new-moon and clear sky.

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