Hello out there and welcome to another Shoot with Spike Saturday segment. Let’s jump right in!
As many nighttime shooters know, the Milky Way is not around to photograph for about another month or so (depending on where you are). And even then it can be hard to endure those extremely early morning hours. So today, I will introduce a new technique along with some quick editing procedures.
I will quickly walk you through my process from start to my finished piece. The image above is my final edit, but let’s take a look at how I got here. The first thing you should know is that there is a time of the month to do these shots. If your goal is to capture the most amount of stars in the sky, then shooting while the moon is in a new phase or well below the horizon works best. If you want to illuminate your foreground naturally, a 20-35% moon can work nicely. Similar to shooting the Milky Way, you will ideally want to be away from the light pollution. Using the North Star (Polaris) will yield the results you see here, with a pin point being the center mark. The farther away from the North Star that you shoot in the sky, the longer your streaks will be. In the southern hemisphere, you would use the Southern Cross constellation for a center point of rotation.
Once you find your location, aside from your camera, you will need a tripod and an intervalometer. Some camera bodies have this feature built in. To capture star trails, you need to either take one very long exposure or take several exposures and combine them in post processing. I prefer to shoot several 30-second exposures and merge them in post processing. This method allows me a few advantages such as dealing with airplane trails in an efficient way and not having to worry as much about movement in the frame while shooting. It’s much easier to deal with accidental movements and other surprises in a single 30-second frame (amongst many) instead of having a single hour exposure compromised.
Next up will be your settings for these 30-second exposures. For my finished piece up top, I used 202 images, all with the same camera settings. My aperture was wide open on my lens at f / 2.8 with 640 ISO. Typically, you will not go above 1000 ISO for star trail captures. As expected, all of these images should be shot on a tripod, and you should not move or disturb the camera while shooting. I would suggest shooting at least 15 minutes’ worth of photos, but the more images you shoot, the longer your trails will appear. Below is a single raw file, before I have done anything to it.