Mars & the Milky Way setting over the Tuross River (Australia). Cameras are far more capable of capturing and rendering the colours that shine in the blackness of night than our human eyes.
Capturing all of that colour adds up when you put together a number of images that were shot over a period of time, as in this image. This results in the coloured curved stripes–the “star-trails”–in the sky and the even more colourful reflections of the brighter objects on the river’s surface.
The bright and wide orange reflection on the water’s surface is from the planet Mars as it set in the two-hour period over which the original frames were captured.
This image was created from 470 original photos, each shot with my Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 13 sec exposure @ ISO 6400.
Round and round. Again.
I am so used to shooting my nightscape images in the autumn, winter and early spring months that I forgot to take something essential with me on this summer night in the first week of January. Insect repellant is a necessity if there are mosquitoes about and especially if you don’t enjoy being bitten by them. With none of the liquid in my kit, I took the only other measure I could and popped on a parka that lives in the back of my car. When the temperature is somewhere around 25 degrees C (77 F), and the humidity is in the low 70s, a parka isn’t what you want to be wearing. Still, it kept the mosquitoes at bay.
I set my camera up to shoot this star-trails scene and let it run itself for 3.5 hours. The camera was set to take a 25-second exposure, close the shutter for 1 second and then capture another 25-second image, repeating the cycle until I turned off the camera.
All-up I shot 463 single frames over those 3.5 hours, then used the software “StarStaX” to make the final composite photo. For each of those shots, I had my Canon EOS 6D Mk II camera mounted on a tripod and fitted with a Samyang 14mm lens set to f/2.8. As mentioned above, the exposure time for each frame was 25 seconds, and I set the ISO to 1600.
Smudges of light
A light breeze was blowing across Tuross Lake while my camera shot the images used to make up this star-trails photo. The wind disturbing the water’s surface resulted in reflections that are wider, less sharp and brighter than the points of light in the sky that created them. Clouds moving across the sky during the shoot caused the trails to have breaks in them in a few places, bringing more beauty from disorder.
The blue and white smudges on the water at the bottom left are from the stars Beta & Alpha Centauri, respectively. The pair of orange streaks that are right-of-centre and that start near the horizon are from the star Antares and the planet Saturn.
Created from 194 single frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
Round 'n' round over the ruins
The turning of our earth on its axis–its diurnal rotation, as astronomers call it–is what causes the sun and moon to seem to rise and set each day. This daily movement of our planet has the same effect on how we see the stars. They appear to move across the sky as the night passes. Some of these celestial hosts, called “circumpolar stars”, never disappear behind the horizon, and so appear to scribe complete circles across the heavens.
To show this movement I set up my camera on a tripod and connected an interval timer, aka an “intervalometer”, so that the camera would take a 25-second long exposure, pause for one second, then take another shot. Rinse and repeat! Over one hour and ten minutes, my camera shot off 155 frames, which I then combined using some free software (StarStax) to create a single image that conveys the feeling that the stars have moved in circles on the sky.
I took the 155 single frames using a Canon EOS 6D camera, a Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.8, with each frame exposed for 25 seconds @ ISO 1600.
Genesis of an Obsession
So long ago! This image was my first star-trail photos, taken back in 1979 or 1980 at Tuross Head, Australia. I pointed the camera towards the Southern Cross and Pointers, with the South Celestial Pole being out of shot at the upper-left. The diagonal trail of light across the image is from a small aircraft that passed over during the time the shutter was open.
I was a poor high-school student who was very new to this area of photography, so I made the most of the equipment at hand. The camera was my mum’s, and it was a no-name 35 mm non-SLR job. Unlike a lot of cameras at the time, it had a shutter lever, rather than a button, so there was no way to use a lockable shutter-release cable. I found that I could set the camera to “B”, press the shutter lever down, then tie a string between it and my dad’s tripod. The string would keep the shutter open for as many minutes or hours as I needed.
I’m sure I have the original negative somewhere but can’t find it, so I scanned one of the prints I made at the time. Back in those days, I used to develop and print my black-and-white photos, turning our family bathroom into a makeshift darkroom as needed.
The film’s ISO rating was 400, but since I can’t find the negatives for that roll of film, I don’t have any of the shooting data that I used to keep for all of my photos then.
Seven Mile Circles
The stars of my southern hemisphere cutting trails across the sky as they appear to orbit the South Celestial Pole over Seven Mile Beach, New South Wales, Australia.
The orange glow on the right is from some cloud that blew in, lit by the light pollution from the city of Nowra, 22km away. The clouds interrupted the trails a little which is why they stop & start at lower right. The waves are blue from the presence of bioluminescent organisms in the water.
Produced from 163 images taken over 45 minutes, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm lens @ f/4.0, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Coloured Cathedral Circles
My photo here was made by shooting multiple 15-second photos over 2.5 hours at Cathedral Rocks near Kiama, Australia. In that time the camera clicked off 530 shots. Once I got home, I imported the photos into Adobe Lightroom for basic editing, then stacked (blended) them, using the free application StarStaX, to create a single image that shows the trails of the stars on the night sky.
To capture those 530 single frames I used a Canon EOS 6D Mk II camera, a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens @ f/2.4, with each shot exposed for 15 seconds @ ISO 3200.
Circles of Friends
It’s not unusual for me to think of the stars as friends, or at least as familiar acquaintances. Orion has been a pattern in the sky that I’ve known since I was five years old, back in 1969, when an uncle pointed it out to me. I learned to recognise the other constellations and objects that I know in my early high school years when I was switched on to astronomy as a hobby.
When I arrive at a photography location in the dark of night the first thing I do after getting out of my car is to look up and see where my familiar friends are positioned. Doing that helps to orientate me and to give me ideas for where to point my camera. If it’s circular star trails that I’m going to be imaging, for example, I find the Southern Cross and from that can work out where the South Celestial Pole is. Then it's a matter of making sure that you have an engaging foreground scene to use, plus enough coverage of the sky to capture some good-sized circles and then start shooting. That simple routine is one I followed on Friday night (07 Dec 2018) at the St David’s Anglican Church in Burrawang, a small rural town in my state of New South Wales, Australia.
To create this circular-trails image I shot 329 individual photos over two-and-a-half hours. I used the same equipment & settings for each of the single frames, namely a Canon EOS 6D camera, a Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.8, a 25-second exposure @ ISO 800. To light the church’s exterior I used a small tripod-mounted LED bank that I'd fitted with a 3200K filter.
The peak of Saddleback Mountain sits at 600 metres above sea-level, just south of the coastal city of Kiama, Australia. I first visited there in late November of 2015 and tried a few star-trails images.
This one is made from 264 photos that I shot that night. Stars at the upper right are appearing to turn around the South Celestial Pole. Those at the lower left seem to be rotating around the North Celestial Pole. At the bottom, about 1/3 in from the left, you can see the light trail made by a cargo ship heading down Australia’s south-east coast.
Made up from 264 images, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 15 sec @ ISO 5000.
The sky in the shot is blue because the moon was shining and showed the colour of the sky as we see it in daylight. The fields, grass and trees can be seen for the same reason. The clouds are pink from a combination of light pollution from the townships down off the mountain, the changing colour of the moonlight as the moon got towards setting and some errors introduced when processing the images that make up this final photo.
I had planned to let the camera keep shooting away until after the moon had set, revealing more stars, but clouds put an end to that.
This photo is made up from 62 individual shots, each 25 seconds long, that were captured in sequence. Using the free software “StarStaX” those 62 images were blended to form this single shot. Each shot was captured with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm lens @ f/4.0, 25 sec @ ISO 6400.
Shot at Gerroa, New South Wales, the image you’re looking at was created from 594 single photos taken over a three-hour period. My camera was pointing due west to capture the constellation Orion and surrounding stars as they set for the night. A slight mess-up with the settings is responsible for the gaps in the star trails.
I lit up the trees with a Litra LED lamp fitted with a 3200K filter and a diffuser. The 594 images used here were shot with Canon EOS 6D, Canon 40mm lens @ f/2.8, 15 sec @ ISO 1600.
I have featured these silos in a variety of static shots in the past few years. My visit here in early December of 2018 was the first time that I tried a star-trails composition. There is a fog-piercing light a few hundred metres along the road from the silos, and it provided the orange glow to back-light the scene.
To create this image I shot 123 single-frame photos in 55 minutes. I captured each of those frames with a Canon EOS 6D camera, fitted with a Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.8, exposed for 25 seconds @ ISO 800.
Streaks on the sky
The 102 photos that make up this shot were taken over a period of 25 minutes, which equates to 6.25 degrees of turn by our planet. When I look at the photo it seems like there’s been much more movement than that because of the number of stars in the shot. In the centre of the scene, just above the rocks there, you can see an orange-brown stain on the sky. This is the part of the shot where the Milky Way’s galactic core was rising, and since this region of sky is dense with interstellar dust and gas you get the dirty sky look seen here.
Out of the frame from the top right-hand corner is the location on the sky around which the stars seem to rotate as the earth turns, the South Celestial Pole. The further away from this point you get, the longer and straighter the trails seem to be. If you went far enough across to the left and out of the shot you’d see the stars as straight lines perpendicular to the horizon.
Despite how complex the shot looks, it’s not hard to create such an image. Even - the most basic digital SLR (or mirrorless) camera can be used.
I took 102 original shots, captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.8, 13 sec @ ISO 6400 and stacked together using the free app StarStaX.
While I was snoozing
With the moon not setting until nearly 1:00 on this morning in June of 2017 there was about an hour to wait for a dark sky after I arrived at my photo location, the “Grand Canyon Lookout” lookout in the Morton National Park, Australia. It had been a two-hour drive to get to the spot, which meant a two-hour drive home when I was done for the night. I was quite tired so I set my camera on its tripod, checked focus, tested the settings of my intervalometer and started the camera shooting a time-lapse sequence. Then I went to sleep in my car.
My phone’s alarm was set to wake me about an hour from when I settled in to a comfortable position and drifted off. It was very cold in the car despite five layers of clothing, gloves and two layers of head covering, resulting in the alarm not being needed because my shivering woke me much sooner. Zero degrees C, read the car’s thermometer. I left the time-lapse sequence running for a while after I woke up then started on other shots. I’m yet to edit and compile the time-lapse but with the frames I got I was able to create this star-trails composite from 337 shots over two hours. The sky is blue and the landscape is lit because of the light from the setting moon.
Shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.4, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
Living in a very light-polluted area means that I need to travel for at least 100 km (60 mi) out of my city to get somewhere with dark skies. Ideally, I should be scouting out new locations during the day and then returning later for a nightscape photography session. Due to the distances that I have to drive, plus my family & work commitments, I rarely have the time to do a daylight scouting trip as well as several hours of shooting at night.
Most of the time I head out with a knowledge of where the Milky Way’s core will be at a particular time of night, and an idea of the kind of landscape features I want to include in my photos. There will be a few possible locations in my head as I leave my driveway, but there’s also lots of map-checking and imagining of compositions on the way.
On this Sunday night in October of 2018, Swan Lake, on the southeast coast of my state of New South Wales, Australia, turned out to be a spot that ticked almost all of the boxes. The only one that didn’t score a ten was the light-pollution category, but the white glow from the tourist town of Cudmirrah, on the left of this photo, isn’t too bad.
The photo is a star-trails composite shot, created by shooting several 25-second-long images and combining them in the app “StarStaX”. I shot the original frames for a time-lapse sequence, at high ISO, so I had to pull down the highlights and push up the saturation to finish with a trails image where the stars weren’t all white and not showing their true colours.
Each photo used to create this image was taken with my Canon EOS 6D Mk II camera, through a Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.8, exposed for 25 seconds @ ISO 6400.
Circles on sky and water
The still waters of this man-made pond provided a great natural mirror to photograph reflections of the stars one Friday night in July of 2017. The glow from my headlamp and red-light torch also reflected their photons off the shiny surface, creating the colourful smear at the lower left of the scene.
For this shot, I took 323 photos over nearly 2.5 hours. I hadn’t visited this spot until my outing that night, noticing the location on Google Maps while at a prior stop. The satellite photo showed it to be a scar on the landscape, the remains of a road construction dig, including the pond, in a national park. Since it was the only water catchment for many kilometres around, it was worth stopping at to try to get some stellar reflections.
I made this final image from 323 single photos, each shot as follows: Canon EOS 6D camera, Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.4, 25-second exposure @ ISO 6400. The images were combined using the free software StarStaX.
This view from Black Head Point at Gerroa, Australia, takes in the waters of Berrys Bay and the Tasman Sea, as well as nearly 30 km of coastline, and lots of sky. The tidal rock pools were slowly filling from the rising tide in the two hours over which I shot the individual photos that make up this star-trails composite. They acted as a shallow but still mirror to reflect and diffuse the colours of the moving stars.
Each of the single images was shot with a Canon EOS 6D Mk II camera, a Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.8, using a 20-second exposure @ ISO 6400. I used the free application "StarStaX" to combine the photos into the final image.
There are many colours in the night sky but I often find that I don’t notice most of them until I see shots like this “star-trails” photo. It can be hard to discern the colours when you see stars as little points of light. Having the light concentrated like it is here helps you to see the mix of shades of white, orange, blue and yellow that are in the stars.
As a background to all of that you can see the deep green colour of the atmospheric airglow. This image is made up from 85 separate photos and each one of those captured 20 seconds of the sky's movement. When you put the shots all together using a process called “stacking" you are adding each small movement of the stars to the previous one, giving you these apparent tracks or trails across the sky.
Created using the free software “StarStax” from 85 original images, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
I guess he just wanted to get in on the act, the driver of the 4WD who sped through the area where I had my camera set up shooting this star-trails image. He didn’t have any idea that his car was to appear in my photo, he was simply driving along this road that skirts the Bamarang Dam near Nowra, Australia. I know this because after he passed through he stopped the car, turned it around and came back to see what I was doing. “I hope you’re not setting up a police speed camera,” he joked. After I told him what it was I was up to and showed him some of the photos I’d already gotten he headed back off into the night. The LED bank on the vehicle’s bumper gave me some good foreground lighting, at least.
If you spend even just a little time looking at this photo you can see the different colours of the stars. It’s cool that we can use a camera to let us see the wonderful colours up there above us.
This star-trails image is made up from 205 single images that were shot over a period of just under two hours. Each individual photo was captured with Canon EOS 6D MkII, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.8, 30 sec @ ISO 6400.
Trains and trails
Trails on the sky from the stars, several aeroplanes, a satellite and a couple of meteors are underscored by the light-trail of a train passing through the crossing level crossing at Toolijooa, New South Wales, Australia.
Star trails created in StarStax for Mac, from 78 original frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 15 sec @ ISO 3200.
Amphitheatre of the stars
"Lights, camera, action!" They're the clichéd words used when speaking of filmmaking rather than taking photos. Still, I had all of these components in play to create this star-trails photo in the stony amphitheatre of the abandoned quarry at Bombo Headland, New South Wales, Australia.
Lights? I used the warm tungsten beam of my trusty torch ("flashlight" for the Americans reading this); a round, white photographic reflector to spread that light over the rocks and cliffs; and the glorious glow of the stars above. Some ambient light from the Kiama lighthouse–out of shot at right–plus the sodium lamps, aglow at the nearby sewage treatment works, also helped to light the scene.
Camera? My camera was mounted on a tripod, shooting a 20-second-long photo then waiting one second before grabbing the next shot. Over forty-five minutes, my faithful Canon captured 118 frames.
Action? How do you show movement in a still image? The rotation of the earth in those forty-five minutes was enough to make the stars look like they are drawing lines on the sky. The blurring of the waves breaking in the small inlet also gives a sense of movement. I was walking around, placing the torch to light up various features of the quarry, providing a further idea of motion as the beams were recorded by the camera's sensor.
Created from 118 single frames, each shot with my Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 20 sec @ ISO 8000. After shooting those 118 photos I imported them into my Mac laptop, did some editing in Adobe Lightroom then used the free “StarStax” application to put them together into one final image.
I shot this on January 4th, 2019, at Braidwood, Australia. We were holidaying on the south coast of New South Wales, where it was cloudy nearly every night of the seven full days that we visited. The drive to Braidwood takes about an hour and a half, and the cloud-cover forecast was favourable, so I headed inland and up the Clyde Mountain for some star time.
I created this composite star-trails image by shooting 124 single photos, using my Canon EOS 6D Mk II camera and a Samyang 14mm lens @ f/2.8. Each shot was exposed for 25 seconds @ ISO 800. After a few adjustments in Adobe Lightroom I used the free software StarStaX to combine the single images into the final whirly scene.
Moonlit beach and starlit sky
The sky is blue and the beach is lit up by the moon in this image, shot at Garie Beach in the Royal National Park, Australia, in March of 2016. Earth’s largest natural satellite was in the western sky and about half an hour from setting when I commenced shooting, after which it sank down into the west for the night. The large straight streak across the scene is from the lights of an aircraft that had flown out of Sydney airport, while the strip of light along the horizon was provided by two cargo ships plying their way through the Tasman Sea.
I created the composited image from 312 single photos, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 15 sec @ ISO 3200 and blended in the free app “StarStaX”.
Trees and fractured trails
Looking at the star trails in here, I guess something messed up with my settings. Star trails photos like this are created by taking lots of photos in succession, with as little gap as possible between each shot and the next, and then combining them in a process called “stacking”. The aim is to create an image where the movement across the sky of each star looks like a streak of light, or a “trail”.
Rather than trails, though, the stars in this image look like dotted lines with a break at regular intervals in each trail. This was probably caused by me not setting my intervalometer (interval timer) properly, resulting in the camera and intervalometer getting out of sync. I hope that you enjoy this photo anyway.
Created from 111 single frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.4, 25 sec @ ISO 6400.