Shooting ultra-long shutter speeds at night can turn a dimly lit scene into something that’s full of detail. In particular, this can even capture the otherwise unnoticeable movement of the stars.
Capturing star trails is a great subject to photograph during the summer. It may get darker late, but skies are generally clearer and it’s a lot less cold!
The maximum shutter speed available on most cameras is 30 seconds, so to use longer exposures you need to use the bulb exposure setting in manual mode (find out the 12 common errors of night photography – and how to solve them).
Bulb enables you to start the exposure when the shutter release is pressed and keep it open for as long as it’s held down.
But setting your camera to bulb mode is only the start. Below we’ll run through the ideal camera settings you’ll need to start capturing perfect star trails this summer (or alternatively, find out how to fake star trails in Photoshop.
Best camera settings for shooting star trails
The stars radiate very little light, so you’ll need to use a high ISO such as 800 to achieve a suitable shutter speed and aperture.
With the camera set to manual, take a test exposure of 30 secs at f/5.6. If the stars are too dark, set a wider aperture such as f/4, or if they are too bright, try f/8.
Set the drive mode to continuous shooting, and set the focus to manual. Unlike most other long-exposure shots, you should also ensure that any long-exposure noise reduction is turned off so the camera can fire continuously.
Taking the shots
With the camera securely mounted on a sturdy tripod, press down the button on the remote release and lock it. The camera will fire a continuous sequence of 30-second exposures for as long as the button is locked.
To finish off your sequence, use a torch or flash to light up any foreground objects such as buildings or trees that you want to be visible in the final image.
Take a final shot using exactly the same shutter speed and aperture as your sequence with the lens cap on to create a ‘dark frame’ that will reduce noise in the final image.
Recording the motion of the stars requires plenty of patience. To achieve this result we shot 180 images over the course of 90 minutes.