Making that star trail photograph

From the first time I saw a star trail photo I was instantly “hypnotized” by its Awesomeness!! not the spirals that are created from the stars due to earths movements but just how amazing the concept was to me at the time. Since then I’ve tried many times but there were always a few issues, “light pollution” being the number one culprit. A few weeks ago while on an Island Gem Feature for the Jamaica Gleaner’s Outlook Magazine I saw the perfect opportunity. Its almost as it was destined. It was the weekend of a new moon meaning there would be no moon which means less light over the long exposure and also there was a beach which for the most part was in complete darkness at night and due to the location of the Jamaica in right by the coast there was no light pollution coming from the open ocean.


Star Trail Trial One

I would be spending 3 days and 2 nights at the location so I know I had two chances and no more. The first night I attempted it i successfully made a star trail just not a very good one. The image was extremely grainy due to long exposure noise which apparently comes from the heat generated while the shutter is in its open state doing the long exposure. Here are a few images from the failed attempt.

TGP_Star-Trail-Fail_TGP2054 TGP_star-trail-fail_TGP2053 TGP-star-trail-fail_TGP2049

So I returned to my room, reviewed the images an thought there must be a better way, examples of these that i’ve seen were not this noisy. Spent some time online doing some research and decided to give it my all on the last available time to nail the image.

Star Trail Trail Two

The following night after returning from photographing some baby turtles being hatched I got to my room and grabbed all the equipment I would need and backups just in case.

Equipment Used

  • Sturdy Monfrotto Tripod
  • Monfrotto Ballhead
  • D7000
  • Nikon IR remote for D7000

Backup Equipment
  • D800
  • Pocket Wizard Plus II (2)
  • Remote Release Cable for Pocket Wizard

Now some of you may ask why in the world is he using his D800 as a backup. Simply because the file size from that thing is huge Ideally I wanted to use my D7000 but just brought a backup should one fail.

Star Trail Photo Method

The method employed for the star trail was different from the previous night, instead of doing one long exposure I went with the stacking method. took approximately 3 minute exposures for maybe an hour and a half which in all honesty is no where near enough to get a star trail done properly (knowledge I now have that I didn’t before). After all these exposures are acquired the images may be loaded into photoshop and manually blended or blended with any star trail stacking script or application I toyed around with Star Trails and StarStaX for mac as well as Loading all the images into a layer stack and then changing the blend mode for each layer to lighten except for the base layer. You actually get to see the trail being made layer by layer with the lighten blend mode method (kinda cool i might add). After completing that I ended up with a star trail which had gaps. These gaps may happen due to minor delays between each 3 minute exposure which sucks. All hope is not lost though. If the north star is in the image luckily you may be able to save it using the Radial Blur Filter in photoshop with the center set on??? you guessed it the North start. if its not visible you’ll have to make an intelligent guess until it looks right.

star trail

Star Trail Photo made from the Jamaica Inn Beach on the night of a new moon


Author: Taylor

Award winning photojournalist specializing in lifestyle oriented assignments but not limited to that field. My other area of interest is sports and environmental portraiture I've photographed many fashion editorials for the Jamaica Gleaner's Flair Magazine among other photojournalism assignments for the gleaners daily publications ranging from sports, special features, food, lifestyle and Hard News. My inspirations come from photographers such as Joe McNally, Chase Jarvis, David Hobby, Annie Leibovitz, Jerry Ghionis, Joe Buissink among others. The long and short of it all though is I love taking photos and Making things look beautiful..

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