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Guide to create Star Trails in Astrophotography for beginners

Welcome guys to the world of Astrophotography. I would love to share my experience in one of the favorite subjects of Astrophotography - Capturing the Star Movements.

This tutorial will be a start point for you to understand the few tips and tricks to capture the Star Trails (movement of stars) and get a cool Astro-photography shot. 

There are various tips and techniques starting from the 'shoot' to 'edit' but i will love to share my ways of working ...

To start with, you need the below minimum gears to plan for the night shoot of the infinity.

- Camera  (obviously)

- A sturdy tripod 

- Fastest Aperture Lens ( f 1.4 to f 3.5 recommended) 

- Remote Release (not mandatory)

- Torch or flashlight (remember it involves shooting in dark )

- Extra Battery pack and Memory card (good to have these as sometimes star trails involve a huge volume of raw files)

Planning for Astrophotography

Planning is the most important aspect to achieve a fruitful outcome. Always know the location where you want to spent few hours and also plan what you want to shoot. As we are interested to capture the star movements so its good to know their positions to get some cool trails.

You can also use some apps like the Star Tracker to learn more of the night sky.

Settings:

Depending on the location and the ambiance the settings may vary. There are no hard and fast rules but i use mostly the below settings to shoot at a reasonably city light pollution area.  

Shoot always in RAW format to capture the maximum definitions.

Focus is a bit tricky and Autofocus doesn't help, and so I use the manual focus and 'infinity' mark of the lens to shoot the infinity. Some lens doesn't have the mark and so the rule is to find a well lit object quite a distance, use the 'Live view' mode and zoom out and adjust unless you are satisfied with the focus.

ISO Anything between 640 to 2000 (Sometimes i use only ISO 400 as else my shots gets blown out by light pollution)

Aperture widest the better. I use F2.8

Exposure well i don't prefer single shot and so i take shots ranging from 10 secs to 30 secs exposure and stack them.

White Balance You might be aware that a white balance is the relative warmth or coolness of white light. As i tend to shoot mostly nearby to a city i prefer to use 'tungsten' or 'white light' to avoid the harsh warm effect.

Use a remote release to shoot images with the same frame so that its easy to stack them in post processing.

The Shoot:

Mount your camera on the tripod and ensure that its stable and your cable release (if you don't have a remote release) well attached. Take some trial shots to adjust the frame and judge the lighting conditions and once you are satisfied, its show time.

I prefer to capture the movement of the stars with a duration of around 1 hour and so i end up getting a set of 200 plus shots, which give me an opportunity to get a descent trails.

I often check if my shots are well as per my liking. Below is an example how it looks in RAW format.

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Also, as i shoot in relatively cold nights, so i use a lens hood and wrap the lens with some warmer material and occasionally use a blower to avoid lens fogging. For more cold temperature, its recommended to use a battery operated heater or heated hand packs.

Post processing and stacking:

To get the desired star trails out of a set of 'ordinary' night shots, i use StarStaX and Photoshop CS6.

StarStaX is very easy to use and get a faster output as shown below.

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You can also import all the images in layers in the Photoshop and use 'Lighten' options to get the same sort of Star Trails.

Once done, i open the file in CS6 to edit out the contrasts and enrich the colors to get the output below.

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And another different edit to bring out the Galactic core, milky way in addition to the star trails.

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EXIF information:

Composed of 240 shots of 15 secs each, ISO 800, Aperture 2.8 and focal length 14 mm.

Hope you have enjoyed this. Good luck for your first attempt 

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EXIF info:

Composed of 200 shots of 15 secs each, ISO 640, Aperture 4.0 and focal length 24 mm.

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EXIF: 

ISO 800, F2.8, 10 Sec, 150 images

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EXIF:

ISO 800, F4.0, 20 sec, 120 images

Also, i want to mention few more points which might help you in this venture.

Choose a day when you have clear sky and avoid to pick a day with the moon shining bright.

Try to capture the trails with a time stamp of at least an hour and a decent star trails can be achieved.

Choice of Lens:

Choice of lens is one of the vital aspects to get a satisfying result.

I use mostly Samyang 14mm F2.8 lens with canon mount for most of my shots. Sometimes i also use Canon 50mm F1.4 and Canon 24-105 mm F4.

If you are a canon user then few more choices are listed below:

Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC

Canon EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM

Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

I will also love to share more details on the Post Processing technique and will come up with another post soon ....

Thanks for your patience.

Anupam

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