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Star Trails Photography Tutorial: Take Pictures at Night

Hi, I’m Tony Northrup and for my book
Stunning Digital Photography, I’d like to show you
how to take photos of star trails. now if you
happen to be in the northern hemisphere you’ll be able to spot the North star
which resides right up here about the planet well quite a ways in the distance and it seems to remain stationary the
trip to the North Star is that every other star guy in the northern
hemisphere were involved around and then why should
create these circular star trails anytime you’re pointed North
star trails start and and right here at your
computer per step is to identify a good night to go out and take a picture out star
trails the things you look for our really cold and dry night now you want to be cold because the air
tends to be a little bit drier and clear and they will cause class
diffraction the incoming light basically wields the
Sea The Stars much sharper you also want a night with no moon what
so ever any sort of Moon if it’s going to
be in that part this guy is going to cast light in the sky it’s going to
factory thing you just won’t be able to see the stars as sharply so what I do is I open up my there right
after this kind of thing that photographers a members its free for a Windows and Mac
I put in their location then I’m going to be at and it tells me the moon rise and set
time so you can see that the moon is rising at
643 and its setting at our 455 p am so I should be able to take pictures
in the middle of the night and not have them unlike interfere with
it now we also need to find a location the location should be as far from any
sort of street lights or city lights as possible even if the streetlight isn’t in the
frame what you find is that the life ministry they still gets to practice in
the air and mixing little bit less clear doesn’t mean you can’t go in your
backyard and neighborhood and take some star trails but it’s going to turn out
better but farther away you get from your
street lights now the next up is going to be to set up
your camera and I’m still going to do this inside for one it’s gonna be much easier for
you to see if it’s not in the middle of the night and to you’re gonna need to do this by
hand in the day like to make sure you know
how when you get out there under the right conditions for star trails it’s
going to be hitch pitch black you might be in the
seat then you’re going to see the buttons on your camera you won’t know what you doing you
probably also be cold in your fingers will start to go numb star trails can be really physically
demanding so it’s really important you know exactly how to set up your camera
and do it in the daylight first and then when you get out there is going to be
much easier for you just because it is going
to be talking or bring a flashlight or better get a head lamp
that you can easily turn on up so here’s what you need for your
camera need yourself a good steady tripod the
bigger and heavier the better it doesn’t hurt if you have
either above a level that you can put on top of your camera or electronic level in your camera and
the reason for that is that at night it’s really hard to get your
camera level because it’s going to be some dark you’re looking to the viewfinder and
China Sea The Horizon and you’re just not going to be able to
tell now they have your camera on a released a
tripod and you have a level you’re going to set up your camera
first thing I like to do is attach a really wide angle lens the more wide
angle the better because it’s good to capture as much in the sky as you
possibly can set that lands to manual focus and then adjusts the focus to be near infinity now as you look at the
focus ring on it you’re going to see a little
infinity symbol and a line you want to focus at the wine that mark
since then the and not just all the way to one end up your camera
because most lenders focus past infinity so focus your lands to the
Infinity marking now but you camera into manual
mode you want is what the shutter speed have
38 seconds and an aperture up act for or whatever
the lowest ebb that number your lawn supports is now such a I so too 1600 and take a test shot now when you take
this shot is going to take 30 seconds so start it and then just wait around don’t also your camera don’t mess with
the one can be completely still at that thirty seconds elapse is you want to zoom into your picture
preview and then zoom all the way in so you can see individual
pixels make sure that the stars are nice and
sharp if they’re not sharp then you need to go back and adjust the focus a little
bit and retested until they are sharp now that you have your camera setup and
the pixels are nice and sharp we’re going to take a dark frame shot so
what you can do is put a lens cap on your lens or keep all my advice and get
your lens caps I just put a hat or coat or something
over your lens cap so it’s completely dark
and then again take that same thirty second shot it’s going to be
mostly black frame but what happens is cameras going to record some noise this
is just Mb in no way is it will be bright pixels that don’t work properly
industry stuff going on with the sensor every camera has nothing to be worried
about but when we won the pictures too soft for
later Williams attract out that dark frame
what all do is to create Norway’s free images on the rest out the
pictures in the series we set up our camera for 30 second exposure earlier now so the
shutter for continuous shooting it’s the same mode you’d use
for sports where you hold the shutter down and just
click click click click click click click just keeps taking pictures so I do that
with a 30 second exposure but it works great so now they have your shutters that too
continuous you’re going to hook up a remote shutter release just anything that will lock the shutter open
so I have one such device here this is a fifteen dollar remote shutter timer and a I came to a brand is because
it generic and their lease under a bunch of different names that’s in it under their young own brand and such
petty and a handful Peter um anyway it’ll look like this it’ll cost
you like 15-20 bucks American and you don’t even need the timer
features for right now all you need is the slider that allows you to cold the shutter open this is exactly like holding the shutter
button down on your camera and just keeping your
finger there for hours but if you did that you be shaken a camera
around and you probably get pretty bored sup you plug this into the camera makes you
get one that matches your camera model because they’re different connectors and then lot the shower open and your on
your way you can was going to be taking new shot
every 30 seconds so go do some light painting or read a
book with flashlight and keep yourself busy
while your camera works is going to take hours does is that your camera though
because as the temperature changes condensation
can form an alliance up depends how humid as and how much
doctors changing but I like to check my camera every 10
or 15 minutes or so special concern the summer and maybe a little more humid you have to get up there and just wipe
the lands claimed so bring yourself in absorbent went free cough and just like that Lansdowne every
now and then otherwise you’ll get all this
condensation on the lands at war absolutely run the pictures get going it may be 10-15 minutes usable
pictures where can we shouldn’t keep an eye on
the sky to if a cloud rolls past will happen is it
will ruin all your star trail that has happened
time and time again I got text our jail pictures as nice and clear when I started than 20
minutes and clouds roll past and they might come and go in just a
couple minutes but they’ll be locked into your long
exposure annual to see the streak a white along
be attractive or anything and a pretty much bail on it if any sort
of clouds roll and that’s why I want to pick a nice clear
night we’re not predicting any sort of clouds what so ever up how to stay out too as long as you can I took my exposure at about two and a half
hours that was over 300 different thirty second
exposures and stack them so you will see what those look like but the long you stay out the better now
that you have your exposures it’s time to go back to the
computer and copied those pictures to your
computer now I like to use Lightroom and process
the raw files my room allows me to easily
apply the same setup settings to the entire
group photo so which is even get these pictures on
there is the same thing that you’ll see on any night photography picture your
policy is it’ll be really orange and the colors will look at it also you
need to play with the white balance some and probably need to adjust the exposure
you want the stars to be nice and bright in the sky to be nice and dark so just
the black levels and the white levels but apply the exact same settings to all those pictures now we’re going to export those pictures as Jay pag files into a single folder with those pictures exported we can now
open up the application they like to use and it’s called star stacks so let’s do that now you gonna quit that first toolbar button
to open up the images been an easy with a slight all
the pictures in a folder is to press Control day now you can see all your input images in
here that’s what that’s second to our button to subtract that your dark frame it happen captured are crammed
that’s okay it just helps reduce your noise a little bit now before you process the images you
need to go over into the Preferences tab you can open it by
clicking the gear icon here and the blending mode I’m
going to ask you to pick gap filling this works the best is not
selected by default though and if you had dark images be sure to
select the subtract dark images checkbox as we all you need to do so up next you hit that last button which is start processing and their
computers going to run for a while once it’s done you’re ready to finish up and save your final photo the gap filling no doubt stars tax will fill in
some gaps and gaps are pretty common and they have been for a couple reasons
one maybe you had to stop a camper secondly clean the condensation of the lands or if you ran
outta batteries and yes walked in a nice warm battery to keep the camera going
sometimes a somebody walks in front of your camera
and runs a particular exposure or maybe a light shine then anyone into
any had totally different if you’re really not picky about it might take out the frames that have airplanes flying
through them because you don’t like that dotted line can running your star trails and
any of those missing frames gonna cause a slight gap in your star trails so the gap billing
mode here can actually those in for you it’s pretty smart it
just looks for the star trails and then fills in any gaps in them so
what you gonna do is click this wrench icon over on the
right and it’s like the show threshold overlay checkbox they can adjust this threshold
here until it shows gesture star trails and green the causing your shot is to the
horizon the more interference gonna get and the
less useful the gap filling tool is going to
be but I still find it helpful so when a justice until pretty much just
the stars are green and you don’t have anything else in green and then just
week the amount to fill in the gaps as efficiently as possible basically with the amount you need
actually save the file file and if the salsa gaps in their
crate the amount of some save the file again and continue that
into you happy with the process so the gap filling to war tweet you can finally save your final taping
file it’s a little tricky party the user interface here but the Save As button is actually the third
button on the toolbar don’t click this button accidentally it
looks a lot like the disc button here click this button start processing and
then you’re gonna be waiting an hour again like computer processor pictures
up be sure to click that third Save As
button and save that Jay pag file I think any
picture you share with friends you should take the time to at so here
is my final edited star trails picture I had
to go in and tweak the levels a little bit make
the stars little clear and they’ve been brushed and a separate
foreground up the building just taken from one the single shots and the reason
for that is is you’re having a outing with somebody
standing digital photography readers and they were doing light
painting so that light painting showed up into my pictures not a big deal because I was stacking
pictures anyway so I just act the foreground from one image and kept the combine star
trails to produce this final result now night photography is
challenging especially in role areas so make sure you work through the
practices in chapter 10 before even attempting this and read through
the night retiree chapter in its entirety or another this is going
to make sense to you if you like this video please check out
my book stunning digital photography which is
more than three hours and videos just like this when you
buy the book you also get free updates for life and you get access to that stunning
digital photography readers group where you can have your photos critiqued
and you can even join us on our reader outings now and then the any
questions contact me on Facebook look at the
northern retiree page and get that alike and you can write me directly on their
thanks so much


  1. Tony & Chelsea Northrup Author

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  2. A simple neurose Author

    I don't personally own a camera or have too much of an interest in photography, but I have to say that this tutorial definitely sparked an interest in me. Your explanations are clear and concise, this video is great. Thanks!


    I'm trying long exposure night pics tonight with my Mavic pro drone. I think 8s is the longest I can do. Have you ever tried it with your drone? tips?

  4. Dan Vaught Author

    Thanks Tony, great video. I've never really understood the appeal of star trails. The results look like you screwed up when shooting the night sky, LOL.

  5. ckieks Author

    Is it possible to use the in camera settings for interval shooting to create a timelapse with 30" shots over a desired amount of time, rather than setting your camera up to continuous mode and using an intervalometer? Only asking because I want to go out tonight to try star trails but I don't have an intervalometer. I can see the intervalometer coming in handy if I wanted to shoot say 2 minute exposures and stack those, I just don't understand why I'd need it with the 30 seconds exposure. Am I missing something? Thank you!

  6. Steven Hill Author

    Just a tip, if any clouds do pass and you see them in your Images, just delete the individual frames and stack the rest in the Star program.
    Not all is lost!

  7. Matt Ledger Author

    Nice goatee! Seriously though, it threw me off because I just started watching you about a year ago so this is my first throwback. Great work you guys do!

  8. Užasnuti :: Horrified Author

    Here's the challenge for you, make star trails while taking a ride in a car with a constant speed… Let me know if that's possible. Thanks

  9. Dasein Dani Author
    SO i made that star trails video and i thought… can I still improve…the answer was yes the moment i found your video…thanks a lot

  10. Rids Nepal Author

    Still the best star trails tutorial on youtube, thanks Tony! May be you could update it in 2018 with the latest lenses for best star trail pics and may be there are new software tools available beside the still excellent StarStax

  11. HopeFullSpiritFlyer1 Author


    thank you for yours vidoes.

    i'm very new in all about camera pitcture… but like yours videos. when you say you clean the lens when mist on it. how you "stop" picture while cleaning?

    thank you;

  12. Prakash Kumar Shee Author

    Hi Tony! I am a regular follower of your page and videos. I really liek your videos, they are amazing. I have a question regarding this star trails image. How did you insert a different foreground in this photo? did you use photoshop for that? Is there another tutorial for that process? I am a budding photographer and I am really into this field now. Thanks a lot for reading this.

  13. Sister Mary Clements Author

    Not to go off topic, but shooting star strails proves that the earth is flat. Supposedly the earth is spinning, and that means your tripod is too (unless you're at the exact north pole). So how on earth, if your tripod is spinning for several hours, does Polaris stay a centred dot? It should be a U-shaped smere, because you're camera and tripod have shifted position.
    The only way your fixed tripod and camera can keep Polaris centred, no matter what latitude you're at, is if the stars rotate around you, with Polaris being the centre of rotation.
    The earth is stationary, and the sky is one, giant rotating something lol

  14. Ugo Salza Author

    Just bought the
    How to Create Stunning Digital Photography, and the two recommendations that goes with it… I look forward to using and will be commenting on them, thanks for the video tutorial.

  15. Tom Martin Author

    It used to be so simple with film. The most important thing was aperature setting. The rest was in the developing and printing. Dodge burn here and there. No way could you sharpen it. Amazing.

  16. All Things Eastern Author

    Just bring a flashlight with you so you can see what you're doing. The ones that you can wear on your head free up both your hands.

  17. Genial Jacob Author

    Hi friend, I will propose you a new project, I hope you can do it and upload a video to youtube showing us the result of this. I cannot do it because I don't have the ways to do that (like the camera). The project is very simple, I see many videos showing STAR TRAILS but I cannot found a video showing CLOUD TRAILS and I'm not meaning CHEMTRAILS, I'm telling you to record the clouds in the same way as you do with the stars. I want to know what is the result of this, maybe its a great clue to know more about the earth "rotation" or the movement of the skys. thanks.

  18. Derek Dailey Author

    Nice tutorial. Dew tip: You can buy USB powered lens heaters to keep the dew off of your lens, this is much better than trying to fight the dew with a cloth.

  19. Michael Author

    you mentioned in the video that this was 300+ exposures/2.5hrs. But I put some trails together and 45 exposures stacked almost seemed too much. Any reason in the disparity in the number of stacked exposures? Could it be the time of year?

  20. [email protected] DO_73327 Author

    Hi Tony. Thanks to you and Chelsea for all that I’ve learned so far from watching your tutorials. I’ve only been experimenting with photography for about a year now and I have a question. In the beginning of this video you mention that a cold night is good but I have concerns. When I bring my camera back inside, after photographing the stars, will condensation damage my camera?

  21. Boris Chiu Author

    Hi Tony, theres sth u reli hv to help me! Ive shot some photos in long exposure and edit in b&w. After stacking photos in starstax with photos edited in NEF(RAW) in Lightroom, there are colour banding in the white areas of the photo especially in the sky(as my photo has skies in it), how do i solve this prob?

  22. Abraham Moore Author

    I'm a Huge Fan Of Your Incredible Knowledge. Thanks Professor👍👏 Knowledge🌌🌞🌎Is My Number One Favorite No Matter What!

  23. Vaughn Sigal Author

    way easier way to get infinity on focus is just auto-focus something far away (30m away should do the trick) then switch it to manual focus and leave it there.

  24. Gilson Tristan Author

    Thanks Tony, very nice tutorial. I've been using that for a while and just found an issue using this technique for Nikon users, that is the maximum number of shots in continuous mode is limited to 100, after that it is required to press the shutter button again, so for Nikon users the intervalometer is necessary for unlimited number of shots.

  25. Bryan Sales Author

    I grew up with National Geographic magazine. Now I’m amazed how they did star trails back then when there were no digital applications.

  26. Happy Tang Author

    Hi Tony, beginner here. When you say wipe the lens every now and then while the camera is still shooting, is it going to affect the picture?

  27. Chris Laing Author

    30 years ago I used to take long exposure photos for the various golf courses and Sheraton Hotels in Hawaii for their advertising campaigns.
    It was all film that needed processing etc.
    I used a Nikon F4 which back then was TOP of the line in photography.

    Now, I wanted to try the same thing, but sheez, so complicated…wtf?
    I would've thought digital tech had made it easier, apparently not.

    Looking at your end result, so beautiful.
    You are obviously near the North Pole to achieve a circular pattern from the stars.
    I wish I could have been closer to the earth's axis too in order to get something amazing like that.

    In Hawaii all I'd get would be straight lines from horizon to horizon as the stars transversed the nigh sky.
    Still, it looked beautiful tho, but a circular pattern would have been impressive too.
    How far North are you, well above the Tropic of Cancer no doubt.

  28. lostintimeline Author

    I use a crop sensor camera my settings are iso 200 aperture 2.8 time 30 seconds and waiting time for 1 hour the camera takes a picture for every 30 seconds using a shutter remote release cable have the camera on continuous shooting and I wait for 1 hour and then I have 100 shots or 103 put them in starstax app and VOILA job is done


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