How to photograph a startrail

So I thought I'd post a reject of mine from Friday night, really just as an exercise in showing lessons learned so that others might reap the benefit too. One of my side projects has been to get some decent startrail shots. Last Friday was clear for once (hallelujah, it's been grim and cloudy in the UK for 6 weeks) so off I trapsed, set up my gear in the woods and let it do its thing there for 2hr 30. This was the result:

 

It's obviously a total reject so here are various thoughts.

 

- WB, set it low to make the sky look blue rather than ghastly orange if you're near any city.

- The longer the better, this is about 1.5 hrs stitched together I think

- I shot for longer but condensation on the lens made the rest unuseable. I've added some of the condensation in at the top on purpose to show the effect, it's that weird streak in the blue at the top. I am buying a couple of hand held fans that'll run on batteries for hrs which I'll mount near the lens and leave running to deal with this.

- Aeroplanes can be annoying, but also attractive. They're not that hard to cancel out though if you want, because they only take place in a few of the frames

- I used continuous mode on this with a remote. It gives the smallest time between exposures so the trails marry up best when you merge them all

- I used startrails.exe to stitch them, a great freebie

- Lightpainting is best done softly and before the main take. This needs a lot more experimentation but the concept is sound I think, especially on old monuments which I'll tackle once I get the machanics firmly down. I bought some big yellow 20 million lux thing from ebay for £20 for this, did the job perfectly. takes 16 hrs to charge though. Note to self, *remember to shine a lot more on the distant trees* :)

- Plan ahead with charging because this was a spur of the moment thing. My battery wasn't full nor the lamp charged

- I have a headband headlamp thing, very useful for hands free operation when it's dark. I recommend it

- To compose, set camera to highest iso, take a pic, then recompose afterwards based on the result. Make sure to remember to iso down afterwards :)

- Typical exposure was 30 secs, f8, iso 400. A little on the dark side so I had to adjust all the raws in bridge

- Be very alert when lightpainting that closer stuff is much brighter. Ie see that bush on the right

- To find polaris, the star that they all turn round, look at the bear and follow the last 2 points (google finding Polaris). In the southern hemisphere you're looking for the southern cross. I'm a geek and always carry a compass round in my car so that when I see decent locations I can check what the view is like looking towards Polaris.

- This was Pentax 10-17mm fisheye corrected with ptlens, a very cool lens correction software. You do need a seriously wide lens to get this stuff, and you'd be surprised at just how steep an angle you need to point it up

- note that I have a silly 30 second limitation on startrail work because the K-7 won't let you turn it off above 30 seconds.

 

 

if anyone else has stuff they want to add as lessons for others feel free to post :)

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Taken on February 28, 2010