Star Trails a Short Summers Night

May 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Star Trails a Short Summers Night FinalStar Trails a Short Summers Night Final

Today's Tip of the Day is about How to keep a camera steady for HDR without a tripod. See end of this post.

This image was taken on 26 May from my back garden. Maybe technically still spring but it has felt like summer of late. The day had been clear and not a cloud about and it stayed the same all night. The nights here are getting quite short with sunset at 9.00 and Sunrise at 5.00.

I recently got a new Interval Timer to try out longer exposures and lower ISO settings. I used 200 iso and 2 minute exposures. The camera was set to Manual F4 and bulb. The Timer has a small screen and here first the interval until the sequence starts is set, I choose 10 seconds. Then the exposure time is set. With a 1 second gap between exposures I choose 1 minute 59 seconds. Then the gap between exposures set to I second. Then the number of shots to be taken is set. I set this at 150 for 5 hours though in the end the camera battery ran out so I got 132 exposures.

The sequence started at 10.36pm and I then went to bed and left it to it taking 2 minute exposures. I was surprised in the morning to find that the Camera’s battery had lasted for 4 hours 24 minutes. As batteries drain faster in the cold it probably helped that the lowest overnight temperature was 16C, 61F.

The shot really was the full night as there were bits of light in the first few and last few of the images. I left enough of these in there for processing to get a little blue and avoid the yellows from the street lighting.

All the settings and equipment were as follows

- Sony A700 Camera.

- ISO 200, f4, 1 minute 59 seconds, 10mm.

- Long Exposure and high ISO noise reduction set to off. Otherwise the Camera would take One minute and 59 seconds between each shot for its own noise reduction resulting in great gaps in the Star Trails.

- White Balance was set to Daylight. Auto would produce an over yellow look due to the street lighting.

- Quality was set to JPG Extra Fine. Raw is not needed for these shots as for Star Trails it will not add anything. A jpg is also quicker to write to memory and allows more shots

- Sigma 10-20 lens.

- Tripod.

- Interval timer

It would normally be very time consuming to blend all the pictures together but there is now free software available to do it for you. Search on Google for startrails.exe

With the method of stacking together shorter exposures noise is not such an issue so I turned off the Cameras noise reduction settings. If these are turned on it doubles the exposure length as a second image is taken automatically of the same length for the noise reduction process. Noise was corrected later with software.

The circular pattern is formed by pointing the camera towards Polaris the Pole Star near the Plough. As the Earth turns stars more above the pole do not appear to move as much as those more above lower latitudes. I used the HTC Android Smart Phone with the Google Sky App to locate the Pole Star

Photoshop

There was only one trail from a plane during the night and that was removed from the one image using the healing brush with content aware before stacking with startrails.exe

To avoid too much light on the houses from different lights being switched on a single image from the stack was copied in with a layer mask and brush used to apply it only to the houses

More detail was brought  in to the Trails with Topaz adjust with Vibrant preset group, detail strong 2 preset with  some foreground areas excluded from the adjustment with a layer mask.

General adjustments in levels and curves to enhance.

Brightness and Vibrance increased.

Some areas were tidied up with the clone tool

Topaz deNoise was used to remove noise from the sky.

Layers flattened before going on to sharpening.

Second duplicate layer with mask to apply extra contrast with low amount and high radius using Unsharp mask (Clarity Effect) The settings were 36 amount and 36 radius. A mask was used to exclude the effect from some parts of the foreground.

BEFORE AND AFTER

Below are the Before and After images. First one of the original images, then the image after stacking and then the final result after Topaz and Photoshop.

 

Original single image

Star Trails a Short Summers Night Original one imageStar Trails Single Image

After stacking

Star Trails a Short Summers Night Stacked imagesStar Trails a Short Summers Night Merged

Final Image

Star Trails a Short Summers Night Final ImageStar Trails a Short Summers Night Final

Tip of the Day

How to keep a camera steady for HDR without a tripod. There are often occasions when use of a Tripod is banned or you just do not have a Tripod with you. Try putting the camera on a wall. Use the floor and put the camera on a rusksack and use that to angle it. A spirit level is handy here. With my camera HDR auto bracketing cannot be done with timed release so use a remote shutter release instead. Use the legs of a Gorillapod to wrap around something. This does not look like a Tripod so you may be OK. Sometimes to get the right shot these are not possible so up the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed.

Edwin Jones


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