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Pro Tips for Photographing Star Trails

star trails

Camping trips lead to stunning landscapes and natural habitats that are sure to excite any budding photographer: crystal-clear lakes glimmer beneath glacier-covered mountains; mossy green trees sprout with new life in moist rainforests; and radiant stars speckle the night sky like diamonds overhead.

Whether you're looking to populate your Instagram feed with a wanderlust-worthy photo, immortalize your evening spent sleeping beneath the stars or take your photography skills to the next level, a great place to start is by capturing star trails.

Looking to photograph star trails? Here are some handy tips for pro-level results:


Equipment: Camera (DSLR/mirrorless achieves the best result. Must be capable of manually-adjusted long exposures); tripod; remote or self-timer.

1. Find a location far from light pollution on a cloudless and dry night.

2. Mount your camera on the tripod; compose the shot with some stationary elements in it—mountains, trees, tent, etc.—and preferably with the North Star within the frame (as the northern celestial polar centre, stars will rotate counter-clockwise around this point). Ensure the moon is not, and will not be, in your shot; New Moon Phase offers the least amount of light pollution.

3. On “manual” mode, open aperture to maximum; set shutter speed to “bulb;” use 100 or 200 ISO.

4. Lock autofocus on a bright star, then switch to manual focus (don’t change focal point).

5. Open the shutter (via remote or self-timer) and leave open for 60 to 180 minutes. Voila, star trails!

6. Be a Star Trail Pro: Rather than one long exposure, which can introduce digital noise, shoot a series of 30-second exposures in succession for 60 minutes or more. Use Photoshop (or similar program) to “stack” the images on your computer for pro-level, noise-less results.

Note: Long exposures devour battery power. Pack an extra.