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Help ! How do I photograph star trails ?

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JanieB43
JanieB43 e2 Member 547 forum postsJanieB43 vcard England6 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 8:40 AM

I have a canon 400D and would like to attempt to take some star trail shots. I've tried recently without success so I would really appreciate some tips/help on f values,exposure times etc.Anybody with any advice ? If so please get in touch either via the forums or PM.
Thanks guys.
Jane

P.S There's some clear skies forecast for my area over the next couple of nights so a quick response would be appreciated - no time like the present,seize the day etc,etc !!!!!!!

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26 Mar 2009 - 8:40 AM

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digicammad
digicammad e2 Member 1021988 forum postsdigicammad vcard United Kingdom37 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 8:47 AM

Find somewhere away from light pollution, set your camera on a tripod on manual and in 'B' setting. Make sure you have a remote release which allows you to lock the shutter open so you don't have to stand there. Set the aperture to the lowest number (widest aperture) and the focus to infinity. Lock the shutter open and go for a brew for half an hour. Check the results, adjust the exposure time, lock the shutter open and go for another brew. Smile

Have fun.

Ian

User_Removed
26 Mar 2009 - 8:47 AM

You'll need to use your B (Bulb) setting and a remote release. The trails will only be obvious after quite a few minutes. I'd say 20 to be sure. Tripod. A reasonably sensitive ISO, say 400, but not maximum to reduce the risk of noise (which you'll get anyway). F4, focussed on infinity. Off you go.

StuartAt
StuartAt e2 Member 91029 forum postsStuartAt vcard England6 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 8:47 AM

Two methods, long exposure or stacked short(er) exposures. The argument for shorter exposure is there is less noise due to amp glow.

I've tried the stacking method that was surprisingly (for me) successful. Bunch of shots about a minute long each and then stacked in Elements.

As for settings, I think I just went with something 'mid range' for aperture (like F8 or something).

Oh and make sure you are somewhere very dark.. any light polution will kill the sky.

{Edit - typed far too slowly and two got in in front of me!}

Last Modified By StuartAt at 26 Mar 2009 - 8:48 AM
StuartAt
StuartAt e2 Member 91029 forum postsStuartAt vcard England6 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 8:49 AM

The other advantage I found to stacked images is that you can include some foreground interest by using a 'painting with light' technique. The same thing would be very hit and miss with a long exposure.

digicammad
digicammad e2 Member 1021988 forum postsdigicammad vcard United Kingdom37 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 8:51 AM

Stacking photos sounds interesting, trouble is you don't get chance for a brew. Smile

JamesAppleton
26 Mar 2009 - 8:58 AM

You do if you've got a cable release with a lock-up button - just set the camera onto AV and work up through the apertures till you hit an exposure of 30 seconds (won't take long!) at around ISO 200. Mirror lock-up and self-timer on the camera, and then lock on the cable release and head off - the camera will take each 30 second shot, then start 2 seconds after each one on the next. Gives the sensor time to cool, keeps exposures short to minimise noise, and no hassle to you!

Good luck,
James

Helpful Post! This post was flagged as helpful
digicammad
digicammad e2 Member 1021988 forum postsdigicammad vcard United Kingdom37 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 9:13 AM

Okay, come to think of it I suppose you could also use the low speed burst mode. Smile

Have to take a look at my self timer mode

How about posting a link to some advice about processing stacked images James?

Ian

Metalhead
Metalhead  61863 forum posts England2 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 9:25 AM


Quote: You do if you've got a cable release with a lock-up button - just set the camera onto AV and work up through the apertures till you hit an exposure of 30 seconds (won't take long!) at around ISO 200. Mirror lock-up and self-timer on the camera, and then lock on the cable release and head off - the camera will take each 30 second shot, then start 2 seconds after each one on the next.

That's probably the best advice I've read on the subject for getting several images to stack. Definitely going to give that one a try.

There's a recent article here on EPZ about star trails. Not exactly advice on how to capture them but this guy has gone for the stacking method and the result is quite fantastic.

magnus
magnus  9661 forum posts United Arab Emirates5 Constructive Critique Points
26 Mar 2009 - 9:28 AM

Lot's of good info in double quick time there.....

I would add one thing though - It seems counter intuitive but you NOT want the camera set at it's widest aperture. That is how you get light pollution spoiling your image. f/8 or even f/11 works fine. Stars are point sources of light so having a wider aperture does not mean more light entering the camera. At least not the light you want anyway. ISO need not be high either, certainly no more than 400. 200 is likely to be better if you have a long exposure. As for exposure time, that depends upon how long you want the trails. Remember that stars go through 15 degrees of arc in 1 hour so you can estimate from that. You can get short trails in a surprisingly short time.

Last Modified By magnus at 26 Mar 2009 - 9:30 AM
DuncanDisorderly

All good advice so far but I'll add my 2p......

Stacking - There's a free program to do the stacking for you. It works a treat, I've had some success with it. Set the camera on continuous shooting, 30s exposure and use a cable release to keep the button held down. It really seems to solve the light pollution problem as you are only exposing for the stars, not the whole scene. Take JPEGs otherwise you end up with a post processing nightmare!!! More detail at http://www.startrails.de/html/software.html

Aperture - Unless your lens is really sharp wide open I'd advise stopping it down slightly. The trails are point sources and any edge softness shows up more than usual.

Composing the shot - really tricky when it's pitch black in the viewfinder! I've been taking test shots using the camera's highest ISO to check the what's in frame, lowering the ISO once it looks right. On the 5D2 it was about 4s f2.5 ISO 25600 in the wilds of Scotland.

ISO - You will probably end up at 200 or 400 ISO, use those as a start point and experiment.

Duration 1 - I'd agree with the other posters, you need at least 20 mins to get star trails. Shorter exposures look like a snow storm at night. This applies whether it's a single long exposure or stacked images....

Duration 2 - I mentioned the high ISO test shots above; I've found the 5D2 is pretty linear and some simple maths can extrapolate the test shot into what's needed for a real exposure. e.g. One stop less ISO, double the exposure. Note: This didn't work at all on the 20D which seems to have the digital equivalent of reciprocity failure. However, well worth trying it and see what happens. you need to do this even if you are stacking as you still need a well exposed shot for the foreground; the star trails stacked image is pure star trails!

Batteries - DSLR's use a LOT of battery holding the shutter open. A fully charged battery will be nearly flat after a couple of hours exposing the sky.

Little red LEDs - My EOS bodies have a red LED on the back that is on during the exposure. Depending on where you are this may beacon 'steal me' to the entire neighbourhood. It's also SO bright once your eyes are adjusted for the night is really annoying. I'd recommend taping it over!!!!!

Have a look at one of my favourite reference sites http://www.liquidinplastic.com/2008/06/startrails/
Keep warm and have fun!

Last Modified By DuncanDisorderly at 26 Mar 2009 - 10:07 AM
BubbaG2000
26 Mar 2009 - 10:11 AM

Find the North Star too, then you can get some full circles.

DuncanDisorderly

Another thought....
Using the lens hood will eliminate stray torch light while you are digging chocolate out your bag; I think the lens hood also helps keep dew off the lens....

steve_kershaw
26 Mar 2009 - 10:45 AM

all good advice
here's some of what not to do,

I tried a 30 second exposure, completely black. 1 min, same, 3 Min's, same all the way up to about 30 Min's and still completely black, upped the ISO went full open and still completely black

just about to give up when my daughter pointed out that the lens cap was still on lol, it was very dark

User_Removed
26 Mar 2009 - 10:50 AM


Quote: just about to give up when my daughter pointed out that the lens cap was still on

Coffee/Keyboard coincidence moment Grin

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