A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Community > Forums > Casual Photo Conversations > How to take star trail...

Featured Equipment Deals

Equipment Basics (Video Tutorial) Read More

Equipment Basics (Video Tutorial)

This video tutorial introduces the basic equipment--from extra lenses and tripods to reflectors and flashes--that you may want to invest in when getting started with your first DSLR.

Latest Equipment Articles

Sony a6300-First Impressions Read More

Sony a6300-First Impressions

When Sony's invitation to spend a couple of days shooting with the new a6300 in Miami arrived via email, I didn't have to think twice before sending my RSVP. Announced in February and shipping this...

How to take star trail photos?

Jayanti Basu , Mar 30, 2009; 10:36 p.m.

Fascinated by the star trail photos of this site, I aspired to shoot one, but failed miserably. Would anybody help me understand what went wrong? Mine is a Nikon D40X, I tried it twice. Once it was a very dark night, the place where I was shooting is a remote rural place and has no electricity, and so it was practically pitch dark. The sky was full of stars and no moon. I angled my camera toward a densely starred portion of the sky, and kept the lens open for 20 minutes, (aperture 4.5) but presumably it could not focus and the shutter did not release.
A friend told me that probably I need some atmospheric light and also something to focus on, so next day, I tried again, setting the frame with some trees at the left side and the rest being the sky. The camera worked fine till some light was available, but then there were no stars, and when the stars started coming out, again the shutter did not release. By that time it was pretty dark, though not as dark as the earlier day.
Please comment. Should I have tried on a relatively more moonlit night? Thank you.


    1   |   2     Next    Last

Michael Axel , Mar 30, 2009; 11:25 p.m.

First, may I suggest that one of the best I've ever seen is Daniel "Kodachrome" Bayer: http://photo.net/photos/Kodachrome_Project. Stunning star trail and night photographer (as well as the rest).

Second: I don't know the D40X, but you should set the lens manually on infinity to ensure it doesn't try to focus. The camera may not fire at all if it can't find anything to focus on. So get as manual as you can. If you only have AF, then you may be out of luck.

Jack Welsh , Mar 30, 2009; 11:35 p.m.

You want the sky to be as dark as possible. Because the moon will wash out the stars. I don't know about your camera. But, you want it to be as manual as possible. Manual focus, etc. Don't know about digital cameras. The old manual film cameras, Minolta SRT, Olympus OM-1, stars trails are easy. If you set the shutter at the longest setting, and focus the camera, manually for infinity. That, might help.

Steven F , Mar 31, 2009; 12:20 a.m.

Focusing in the dark is very difficult Manually. Auto Focus will not work. With a fast lens, I have a F1.4 50mm, you can see the stars in the viewfinder, and manual focus is possible. With a slow lens (f4) I cannot see any stars in the viewfinder and focusing is a big problem.

The best way to solve this problem is to focus the camera during the day on a distant object and to use a pen to mark the focus point on the manual focusing ring. Then at night all you need to do is to turn the ring until the mark lines up. This method works best for fixed focal length (prime) lenses. If you are using a zoom lens be aware that on most zoooms the focal point will very with the zoom setting. So a zoom at 50mm will have a slightly different focus point than it will at a zoom setting of 75mm.

For a single exposure of 20 minutes sensor noise and hot pixels will be a big problem. One way to avoid this is to take a string of 30 second exposures and to merge them with software. You can find some information on this here. Battery life is also a big issue with digitals. For star trails I am thinking of bringing my old film camera out of retirement. Battery life is much better (some cameras don't even need batteries), and film doesn't have the noise issues associated with digital. However with film you can get color shifts on long exposures.

Jack Welsh , Mar 31, 2009; 12:43 a.m.

While this might be better suited to telescopes. It might also work with a camera lens. it's a focusing aid that consists of 2 holes in cardboard that puts the star as double when out of focus. As, a single object when in focus. Focus on a star manually.

Bueh B. , Mar 31, 2009; 12:44 a.m.

Do not autofocus. Manually focus the lens to infinity in manual focus mode.

White balance set to Tungsten, but shoot RAW that can play around with the colors and contrast.

Check that the batteries are fully charged.

Remember that if you use long shutter speed automatic noise removal, your camera takes a second picture as long as the actual exposure with the shutter closed. Only when having finished the second, "blind" exposure the camera will write the image. Again, your batteries must be able to sustain this.

Use "M" mode with "bulb" speed, medium aperture and ISO around 400.

Post your results here.

Stephen Penland , Mar 31, 2009; 02:30 a.m.

As long as you have Nikon lenses, you might consider getting a Nikon FM2N, which does not require battery power to keep the shutter open, and hence no battery drain during a long exposure. It's a 35mm film camera, can be found used for relatively little money, and is wonderful for star trails. I'm a Canon user, but I bought the FM2N and a couple of lenses specifically for this purpose.

Jayanti Basu , Mar 31, 2009; 08:55 a.m.

Thank you so much, everybody. I am overwhelmed by the in-depth and detailed technical information I get from all of you in response to my question. Michael, I opened Bayer's portfolio and dwelt over it for an hour. Truly amazing. Jack and Steven, thank you for the rich information you have provided. Steven , I browsed the site you have stated, could not grasp the whole of it yet; I'll return to you shortly. Bueh and Stephen, thank you for your advise.
What I understand in sum is that, I need to go to Manual mode (which I did, but stuck to auto focus), I also kept it with bulb speed, and at ISO 400. But I did not go for medium aperture, manual focus and fixed length as suggested by Steven and Jack. I also did not adjust white balance and shot JPEG.
Bueh, unfortunately I cannot go immediately for taking another star trail photograph, as I went to some rural area, and now I am back to my old polluted city, where the stars have long since abandoned us. I will get back with the product of my attempt as soon as I can. I cannot thank you enough, friends.

Steven F , Mar 31, 2009; 11:26 p.m.

As long as you have Nikon lenses, you might consider getting a Nikon FM2N, which does not require battery power to keep the shutter open, and hence no battery drain during a long exposure. It's a 35mm film camera, can be found used for relatively little money, and is wonderful for star trails. I'm a Canon user, but I bought the FM2N and a couple of lenses specifically for this purpose.

There actually are some canon autofocus camera that don't need battery power to keep the shutter open. It was discussed here on photo.net.

Jack Welsh , Mar 31, 2009; 11:40 p.m.

Jaynanti, That hartmann mask template I suggested will work on a camera. It will help in focusing. Use the brightest star to focus on. If your camera can take a filter, say 58mm. Then, on the template website, put in 58mm for the outside of the lens. Then, measure the width of the objective of the lens. Put that into the template calculations. It will give you a full size template to print out.Place that on paper, then onto an old clear filter. Such as a haze or skylight. Focus onto the star. Take the filter off the lens, then take the photo. It does work. I have used it on an old Minolta.

    1   |   2     Next    Last

Back to top

Notify me of Responses