Time / Date:
22:45 / March 6, 2014
Camera Body: Canon 60D
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM
Shutter Speed: 30s x 191 exposures
Focal Length: 11mm
I have been an amateur for over 20 years starting with film cameras, then briefly onto slides and then finally converting to DSLRs when the first breakthrough camera – Canon 300D – was launched. This image was taken whilst trekking through Morocco.
The trip to Morocco was an organized tour, lasting only 8 days. Unfortunately this meant we didn’t stay in locations for too long. I found it quite hard to get genuine photos in Marrakesh itself as locals are not keen on photography without being paid in advance. Once in the countryside this wasn’t an issue and locals are more relaxed. With my travel photography I always try to find a broad view of different subjects – architecture, portraits, landscapes etc as I want to appreciate everything a country has to offer and not just one aspect.
After trekking all day in the heat we stayed the night in a local guesthouse. It had a second floor balcony overlooking the valley. It was such a still night with the stars clearly visible and not so cold that the camera lens would fog, perfect conditions!
I have a battered old LowePro bag containing my one camera and variety of lenses from wide-angle to telephoto. In star trail photography you normally want to maximise the amount of sky so I choose my Sigma 10-20.
Making the Shot:
I was unable to see Polaris in the sky so knew I wouldn’t get the star trails swirling around a centre point. Therefore I pointed the camera on its tripod across the valley with enough of the foreground to add interest. I used a remote release cable in the locked position and set drive mode to continuous. This meant it would take each 30s image and then immediately exposure the next one. Our group were the only guests staying so I could safely leave the camera in place and re-join them downstairs. When I checked an hour later it had used up all the memory on the card, a classic mistake of not thinking ahead!! But I had enough shots to show a good trail of stars.
Editing & Processing:
All images were shot in RAW and processed with same settings including White Balance and exported as JPEGs. I then combined all 191 shots in Startrails.exe. I tweaked contrast, colour and shadow recovery using Canon’s DPP software.
Regarding the star trails themselves, “stacking” the individual frames gives a better image quality as digital sensors overheat with long exposures (like 5 minutes plus). Therefore in order to get longer trails you must take individual frames and post-process them later. It is possible in Photoshop itself but found startrails.exe to be more than capable of combining all the images together.
This image typifies the wilderness we enjoyed and was a stark contrast to bustling Marrakesh. Seeing another side to a country that challenges your general impression is what travelling should be all about.
Star trail photography obviously benefits from dark and clear skies. However, I’ve seen great images shot in cities and you shouldn’t be put off by light pollution. If you can find a remote location up mountains or in a desert then all the better!
I love trying new techniques and constantly amazed by the variety available all the time. Im a big fan of DIY-inspired solutions like light-modifiers and backgrounds.
About the Photographer
Im a London-based amateur photographer who loves the countryside and coastline and get a thrill waking up early for the sunrise. Family commitments often limit visiting these locations so macro photography at home is a good alternative.
Flickr: Paul Heester
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