Sometimes you have an image in your mind's eye that you just have to create. But due to limitations on technology, physics, and the environment it's is near impossible to capture the shot you want in a single exposure. This happens often when you want to capture star trails because leaving the shutter open for hours to capture the movement of the stars across the sky will overexpose any foreground This was the case with shooting Star Trails in Quidi Vidi. Fortunately, there are some tricks to creating this type of image. Read on for a step-by-step overview of the process.
Before I even left the house I had to make sure the shot I wanted was even possible. As in was the north star (Polaris) in the right place. Why does the north star matter? because That's the star in the center of that spiral. The way the earth turns causes all the other stars to move but the north star stays close to perfectly centered. Therefore I wanted to make sure that the north star would be in the frame during the shot. I opened google maps, and picked a spot on the other side of the harbor where I was facing north. This also gave me a general direction to point the camera once I got in position as it was tough to see the stars due to light pollution.
For this shot, I wanted to keep the camera as low as possible to the ground so that I would capture as much sky as possible. So I put my camera on my Platypod Pro Max with a Manfrotto Ballhead (I normally would use an Acracech Nomad, but left my QR plate for my Acratech Ballhead home by accident and had to resort to my backup ballhead that I keep in my car) and placed it on some wood near the edge of the dock. The sharp pins of the Platypod held everything in place nicely. The shot was captured with a Nikon D750, Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 lens. To help reduce the light pollution I used a NISI Natural Night Filter. And I used a generic digital timer cable release similar to this one for the intervals.
Why the Night Filter?
When shooting near urban areas there is a lot of light pollution that can wash out the stars in the sky and adds a yellow cast to the scene. This makes it more difficult to correct the colours in post and bring out the details of the stars. Here is an example of this scene without the night filter. I highly recommend anyone interested in doing night photography to look into one of these filters. http://amzn.to/2mvawAv
The Shot Details
The final image took about 30 minutes to take and is composed of about 45 individual 30-second shots for the sky and a 5 minute shot for the foreground.
The Sky Portion
The sky shots were each shot at ISO 100, f/3.5 and 30s. By shooting at 30 seconds you don't blow the sky out too much and are able to get some motion of the stars in each individual shot.
The foreground is composed of a single 5-minute exposure at ISO 100 and f/16. I wanted to keep the ISO as low as possible and shoot at f/16 to create the starbursts in the lights. Smaller apertures create those bursts.
The next step was stacking the images to bring all the trails into one frame. To do this I use a program called StarStax. After exporting all the processed sky images I loaded them into Star Stax and this created an image of the brightest parts of all the photos. Here is the final output image from StarStax.
Blending in Photoshop.
I wont go into all the steps and details on the Photoshop and processing process. but is basically involves taking the sky portion from the StarStax output and placing it over the sky portion of the 5-minute foreground. The some dodging/burning of different portions of the photo to adjust the brightness in different areas. And finally cleaning up the lens flares and dust spots.
And there you have it. All the major steps involved in creating this image. As you can see it's a little more than just pushing a button. But thats what makes this type of photo so unique. it takes planning and a a lot of time to create somethign like this. But seing these shots printed and hanging on a wall makes the work so worth it. If you are interested in a print for yourself you can order one here:
If you have any questions please leave a comment or let me knwo if you liked this type of blog and I will try to do more in the future.