The Practicing Photographer
Illustration by

The Practicing Photographer

with Ben Long

Video: Shooting a series of star shots for a stack

- In a previous Practicing Photographer, you saw me do the necessary groundwork to come out here to the middle of nowhere to shoot star trails, long-exposure shots of the sky that are gonna give me nice, smearing, streaking stars circling around overhead. With all of that done, I know that I've chosen a good location and that I'm not gonna have a moon and that I've got clear weather. I've actually come out here, and I'm ready to get started. I've found that there's a colony of 14 million frogs nearby, so I'm going to be hearing that the whole time.
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  1. 17m 31s
    1. Shooting a series of star shots for a stack NEW
      8m 32s
    2. Stitching together stacks of stars NEW
      8m 59s
  2. 1m 35s
    1. Introducing The Practicing Photographer
      1m 35s
  3. 10h 1m
    1. Choosing a camera
      5m 27s
    2. Looking at light as a subject
      2m 22s
    3. Using a small reflector to add fill light
      5m 45s
    4. Editing photo metadata with PhotosInfo Pro for iPad
      6m 30s
    5. Let your lens reshape you
      7m 26s
    6. Compositing street photography images with Photoshop
      7m 44s
    7. Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings
      3m 56s
    8. Shooting without a memory card
      3m 6s
    9. Give yourself a year-long assignment
      5m 28s
    10. Working with reflections
      1m 26s
    11. Exploring mirrorless cameras
      7m 25s
    12. Batch processing photos with the Adobe Image Processor
      7m 30s
    13. Limiting yourself to a fixed-focal-length lens
      2m 13s
    14. Creating tiny worlds: Shooting technique
      4m 15s
    15. Creating tiny worlds: Post-processing techniques
      11m 41s
    16. Shooting macro shots on an iPhone
      3m 18s
    17. Using a tripod
      3m 33s
    18. Wildlife and staying present
      5m 58s
    19. Batch exposure adjustments on raw files
      6m 52s
    20. Why Shoot Polaroid
      11m 12s
    21. Seizing an opportunity
      4m 4s
    22. Four photographers do a light-as-subject exercise
      12m 24s
    23. Shooting macro bug photos with a reversed lens
      4m 54s
    24. Varnishing a photo for a painterly effect
      13m 36s
    25. Shooting wildlife
      7m 24s
    26. Discussion on how to shoot architecture
      12m 27s
    27. Using a lens hood
      4m 48s
    28. Working with themes
      2m 48s
    29. Setting up an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    30. Processing an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    31. Two perspectives on travel photography
      12m 28s
    32. Scanning Photos
      5m 37s
    33. Photo assignment: shooting an egg
      3m 13s
    34. Reviewing the egg shot images
      6m 47s
    35. Shooting in your own backyard
      4m 38s
    36. Jpeg iPad import process
      3m 17s
    37. Shooting a product shot in open shade
      9m 34s
    38. Reviewing the product shot images
      4m 5s
    39. Warming up
      3m 26s
    40. Taking a panning action shot
      10m 17s
    41. Scanning polaroid negatives and processing in Photoshop
      8m 17s
    42. Shooting a silhouette
      3m 9s
    43. Going with an ultra-light gear configuration
      5m 29s
    44. Working with masks and calculations in Photoshop
      12m 38s
    45. Working with flash for macro photography
      4m 56s
    46. Colorizing a black and white photo in Photoshop
      5m 10s
    47. Using duct tape and zip ties in the field
      4m 14s
    48. When the on camera flash is casting a shadow
      3m 4s
    49. Using Lightroom on the road
      6m 28s
    50. Listening to your camera to get good exposure
      2m 20s
    51. Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone
      7m 18s
    52. Switching to Lightroom from another application
      9m 48s
    53. Photographing animals in wildlife refuges
      6m 41s
    54. Shooting level
      2m 42s
    55. Photoshop and Automator
      8m 54s
    56. Shooting when the light is flat
      3m 23s
    57. Discussing the business of stock photography
      9m 48s
    58. Shooting tethered to a monitor
      3m 21s
    59. Making a 360 degree panorama on the iPhone
      4m 45s
    60. Understanding the three flash setup
      3m 34s
    61. Shooting a three flash portrait
      4m 6s
    62. Understanding the differences with third party lenses
      4m 43s
    63. Understanding why files look different on depending on device
      5m 25s
    64. Working with a geotagging app on the iPhone
      4m 43s
    65. Using high speed flash sync to dim ambient light
      7m 29s
    66. Using your iPad as a second monitor
      5m 46s
    67. Understanding exposure with a leaf shutter camera
      3m 28s
    68. Photography practice through mimicry
      8m 8s
    69. Canon wireless flash with built in radio control
      5m 59s
    70. Posing and shooting pairs of people
      5m 35s
    71. Shooting with a shape in mind
      3m 15s
    72. Shooting tethered to a laptop
      4m 40s
    73. Softboxes vs. umbrellas
      2m 55s
    74. Getting your project out into the world
      6m 25s
    75. Exploring how to think about shooting a new environment
      3m 56s
    76. Discussing the book "The Passionate Photographer" with Steve Simon
      6m 4s
    77. Highlighting iOS 8 updates on the iPhone5S
      10m 46s
    78. Exploring manual controls with iOS 8 and ProCamera
      5m 30s
    79. Understanding how to compose with an empty sky
      4m 54s
    80. Using an iPhone to make a print in the darkroom
      7m 16s
    81. How to use glycerin as a photography tool
      2m 16s
    82. Understanding micro focus adjustment and Lens Align
      11m 19s
    83. Working with hair in post
      3m 28s
    84. Taking a quick portrait and directing a subject
      5m 50s
    85. Getting inspired through the work of others
      11m 22s
    86. Taking a flattering portrait with flash
      4m 21s
    87. Creating an unaligned HDR image
      3m 3s
    88. Exploring how to use Bokeh
      5m 38s
    89. Shooting stills from a drone
      6m 57s
    90. Using a monitor to get a first person view of the aerial camera
      8m 0s
    91. Understanding lens profile correction
      5m 33s
    92. Working with models
      2m 40s
    93. Understanding the labels on SD cards
      10m 32s
    94. Setting up a macro time lapse of a flower
      6m 18s
    95. Taking a portrait that's tightly cropped or slightly obscured
      3m 24s
    96. Tips for shooting panoramas
      7m 16s
    97. Carrying a point-and-shoot camera
      4m 44s
    98. Adjusting the color of shadows in an image
      5m 35s
    99. Evaluating camera-strap options
      4m 42s
    100. The 100th Practicing Photographer
      3m 31s
    101. Using light-pollution maps for planning night shoots
      3m 26s

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Watch the Online Video Course The Practicing Photographer
10h 20m Appropriate for all May 16, 2013 Updated Apr 16, 2015

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.

Ben Long

Shooting a series of star shots for a stack

- In a previous Practicing Photographer, you saw me do the necessary groundwork to come out here to the middle of nowhere to shoot star trails, long-exposure shots of the sky that are gonna give me nice, smearing, streaking stars circling around overhead. With all of that done, I know that I've chosen a good location and that I'm not gonna have a moon and that I've got clear weather. I've actually come out here, and I'm ready to get started. I've found that there's a colony of 14 million frogs nearby, so I'm going to be hearing that the whole time.

I don't think that's actually gonna impact the shot. When we got here, it was actually light, so that's something to think about. Do you want to frame your shot ahead of time when you can still see, or do you want to wrestle with it in total darkness. You can do it either way. Getting a shot set up while it's still light does make things quite a bit easier because you can actually see your viewfinder, or see through your viewfinder and more accurately frame a shot. If you can't get to your location until after dark, or if you've only decided to do this after the sun has gone down, that's okay, there are still some tricks you can do to frame up a good shot even when it's pitch black.

We'll look at those in a future installment of The Practicing Photographer. I've gone ahead and set up my shot. Now, there are a lot of things to consider when you're doing this, and a lot of this, you're only gonna figure out through trial and error. You may need to do a few shots in a location before you get one that you like. But there are a few guidelines you can follow for framing. First is, it's a good idea to have something in the foreground. Just bare sky with streaking stars in it is awfully abstract. It doesn't have that much meaning, and it's not actually that dramatic.

I've framed up a really simply shot. It might be kind of boring, I'm not sure. I've just got a nice, leafless tree in the foreground that I'm imagining streaks behind, so that's gonna give me a subject. The streaking stars themselves work best as a background, not as the subject of the image. I'm talking about in terms of your compositional layout. Find something to lock the viewer's eye, to anchor the viewer's eye, and work the stars around that. Now, if you're really good, and you know exactly where the stars are gonna be streaking.

Maybe you've worked out where the North Star is, and so you know the direction they're gonna be going, and where that swirl's gonna be in the sky, you can use the swirl itself, and the specifics of it as a compositional element. You can say, "Oh, I've got this square barn "over here, that's gonna work well with "the circle of stars that's gonna go around it." That's where you really start getting into the artistry of star trails, is learning how to use those lines to your compositional advantage, and you can do that with a little research. It's really cold out here, and to be honest, I just want to get a shot and see what it looks like, so I'm not going too far in that direction.

Focal length is something to consider. For a given, single exposure, you're gonna have longer trails if you're using a longer focal length. And that's just because you're going to have a little more magnification. As you know, from shooting wide-angle, things that are far away get really small, so on a wider-angle lens, you're going to see shorter streaking. If you don't have much time, or depending on the technique you're gonna use, you may decide that you need a longer lens to get the length of streak that you want. Because of the framing we've got here, I needed a pretty wide-angle lens to get the tree that I wanted and the section of sky that I wanted.

I wanted to be sure that there was only tree, I don't want any horizon. You also, ideally, want a very fast lens, a lens that can open up to a really wide aperture. I've got a lens that can open up to 2.8, so that means that I'm gonna gather a lot more light with my exposure, and that's going to give me much better results. We're gonna talk about the technique that I'm gonna use in a little bit. But for right now, I'm just working on getting my shot set up. The last thing that I might want to consider, and this may sound odd, is white balance.

I'm shooting RAW, so I don't really care, but if you're shooting JPEG, your white balance choice is really gonna impact the color of the sky. Shooting a tungsten white balance is gonna give you a really deep blue sky, if there's still any light in the sky. It's just after sunset, so on a really long exposure, I would be seeing still, a lot of light in the sky. Here's a quick look at what I've framed up, this is just a rough shot that I grabbed just to be able to show you the framing that I've got. I think I'm pretty much ready to go, now I just need to wait for it to get darker.

Okay, it's gotten darker, and dramatically colder, so I'm ready to start this. First thing I need to do is think about focus. Autofocus is not gonna work for focusing on the stars, they're too dim so it's not gonna be able to see anything. I could focus on the tree, and to do that I could just shine a flashlight up into the tree, and autofocus would work fine, there. The problem is, I'm gonna shoot this at f/2.8, and if I do that, my depth-of-field is gonna be so shallow that if I focus on the tree, the stars are gonna be blurry.

I'm not gonna focus on the tree, I'm gonna focus on infinity, and I did that by dialing the focus manually to infinity and then backing off a little bit from it. If you're not clear on how any of this "focusing in low light" stuff works, check out my Night and Low Light class, I go into detail there on how to work in these conditions. As I said, I'm shooting at 2.8, that's gonna give me a whole lot of light gathering all at once. Now, there are two ways that I can go about doing this shot. I could dial in a really long exposure, like an hour-long exposure, and just let it sit here and track the moving stars.

That can work great. The problem is, I face a very particular noise situation, there. I get noise in an image from two different things. From having the ISO up really high, or from long exposure noise. That's what happens when I turn the sensor on and just leave it on for a long time, pixels get stuck on, and they get overloaded, and the image looks noisy. Most cameras, including this one, have a long exposure noise reduction feature that can work really, really well. But still, long exposures are tricky.

The sensor heats up more, which makes it more prone to ISO noise and long exposure noise. Rather than doing a long exposure, I'm going to do a series of short exposures, and then stack those in post-production to create a star trail effect. I've dialed in some manual settings, here. I've gone to 30 seconds on my shutter speed. I've set my ISO at 800. I chose 800 because it's fast enough that I get a lot of good light gathering, but I have practically no noise problem at all on this camera at ISO 800.

I could probably even go to 1600 and be okay, and end up with each frame having even brighter stars on it. I've got ISO 800, I've set my shutter speed to 30 seconds. Now, what I'm gonna do is use the camera's built-in intervalometer to shoot a frame every 30 seconds. It's gonna take a 30 second exposure, and then it's gonna shoot another one. I've turned off long exposure noise reduction so that there's not a big delay after each frame. I think I'm ready to go.

What I'm gonna do is just start that up, and then I'm just gonna let it sit for a while. This camera has a built-in intervalometer. Intervalometer is just something that lets you do time-lapse. If you don't have one, you can use an external intervalometer. There's one other trick you can try, and this varies in effectiveness from camera to camera, and that is to get a remote control that has a lock on it. That is, I can push the shutter button and then lock it somehow, so that the shutter button stays pressed down. I could then put my camera in burst mode.

What may happen on your camera, is every time it finishes a 30 second exposure, it just takes another one right away. Then, I don't have to deal with an intervalometer at all. But again, that varies from camera to camera. In some cases, it varies depending on how your long exposure noise reduction works. If your long exposure noise reduction works in real-time, then you're good. If it requires a period of processing after, that may not work very well. Okay, I've lose track of where the intervalometer is. Interval Timer Shooting, that's what I'm looking for.

Okay, I'm set for 30 seconds. I'm gonna tell it to fire off 100 frames. I may let it do all of those, I may not, I don't know. But I'm gonna start it up here. Here, it just fired the first one. Now it's just gonna sit there and percolate, which means that I can go sit in the car, and try to warm up and wait it out. Once it's done, all I need to do is take the card out and get to processing, and that's where a lot of different things can happen, and I have a good amount of control over what my final image is gonna look like. I'm gonna show you how to do that in a future installment of The Practicing Photographer.

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