Surprise View Star Trail Revised Edit

Surprise View Star Trails

Night Time Photography

Surprise View Star Trails

Well after my over enthusiastic edit on the original Star Trail for Surprise View as the link here, I have been back into the editing suites and took out the offending torch-bearer(s), and went with the moon lit version.

I wanted a hidden section within the post so you could read it only if you were interested, as sometimes there can be too much to read if you only just want the picture. Now I looked at that ‘insert more’ tag, and that did bugger all!

Well here it comes…for interested parties only..

How I did it……


  • Surprise View ( a short walk north of the car park to a clearing with some rocks). The car park has milky way class dark sky status
  • Located the pole star or Polaris (Northern Skies only) (Sigma Octantis in southern skies is its equivalent)
  • Set the shot up so I had the rocks in foreground, and the horizon about half way, I was not aiming to get Polaris in shot, just to get enough stars in for the trail effect, re – was there for the Northern Lights.


  1. Canon 550d,
  2. Lens – 17-40mm EF F4/L USM,
  3. UV Filter
  4. Infra-red remote set on zero delay
  5. Tripod
  6. FULLY CHARGED battery, and spares – cold and long exposures eat up battery life
  7. Big torch to light up foreground for focal point. (Speed light flash if you have one – which I do not)
  8. Flask of coffee, wrapped up warm


  1. ISO800,
  2. Aperture F4
  3. Focal length 17mm
  4. Exposure time 30 seconds
  5. Delay to next picture – minimum if possible (up to 1 second)
  6. Turn off all playback functions, noise reduction etc to conserve the battery
  7. Live view
  8. Bulb mode


  1. After setting the camera up on the tripod at the widest angle, my partner lit up the rocks in the foreground, so I could auto focus on them. I then switched to manual focus to lock the focus. The torch was then turned off.
  2. I did not set to infinity, I have tried this before, and the foregrounds remained out of focus. On this occasion the focus ring settings were at the start of the infinity line (near infinity) and there I left it (setting to infinity is supposed to make sure everything stays in focus during long exposure, as it is harder to focus in the dark, hence the manual setting on camera, and manual focus)
  3. I used my dinky infra – red remote and the timer on my live view display to expose 4 dark frames (which in StarstaX these are used to remove noise).
  4. Fore the exposed frames as quickly as possible press again to re – expose, before this I ensured the timer switch on the rear was set to 0 and not 2; 2  = 2 seconds delay. This repetitive action is laborious over 20 minute period repeating this for the exposed shots every 30seconds. (Thus an intervalometer is much easier, it does the work for you, although not as much ‘fun’ in testing your reflexes)
  5. I carried out 37 exposed frames over a period of 18.5minutes total exposure time and 4 dark frames at 30seconds (with lens cap on for same exposure time and same conditions).

Software and Editing

  1. LightRoom –  Synchronising the 37 images for camera profiles, to highlight/whites and black adjustments, or anything else you feel is necessary, then convert to jpg including the dark frames. The 16bit TIFF is too big to view in StarstaX.
  2. StarstaX – to stack up the images – favoured by lots of star – trailers. It is very easy to use; I used the lighten mode.
  3. I tried the gap fill however this created some patchy areas in the sky near the horizon. The save the output image where it suits you best. You can leave it as it is or do some further editing.
  4. CS6 – can use this to stack, I used it for some post editing. During the shoot a man shone his torch directly at us, while I was part way through an exposure. I was annoyed, the man had lost his way a little. My partner lit up the rocks during this exposure. I thought it helped the foreground in the final image. He only used the torch as he was helping the man find his way – bless.
  • I decided that it was not good to keep this frame in the final image and removed it using two output images one with and one without in StarstaX, and opened them both in CS6.
  • I dragged the image without the torch – bearers onto the one with, used history brush to get the correct sky. I left the foreground without the additional torch-light
  • This is very useful technique if you want to have a good foreground object in the final processed image.
  • I carried out some unsharp – mask, dodged the rocks, messed with the shadows and highlights before saving the image as a TIFF for final tweaks in LightRoom

Other Information

  • An intervalometer could be used on remote cable attachment as the crop frame camera does not have one. This way you can set it up for as long as you need, and set the exposure time and if you do not want a delay between exposures (only if you want dotted lines you could set up 1 or two second) for a smooth lined finish, zero delay is recommended. Or just even set up timer and set your camera to continuous shoot, and lock the release button the console, this will lock the shutter open, so you until you release it to stop taking anymore. I used a simple infra-red remote, as this is trial to decide whether to get one 😀
  • It is recommended 30 minutes or more for total exposure time to appreciate the movement of the earth in creating the arc of starlight. Most full frame or recent camera’s tend to have intervalometers already built in.
  • To protect the lens warm around the barrel, gel hand warmers are recommended, someone used a thermal sock with cut out toes, to prevent the lens for fogging if it drops below freezing or temperature increases.
  • Shoot in suitable dark place and no moonlight away from cities and towns – light pollution can affect the exposure. We had 1/2 moon….well what is wrong with a little practice while waiting for some Northern Lights (that did not show) 😕
  • Have a foreground / point of interest
  • It pays to check your images are sharp before continuing…..
  • Remove your lens cap after dark framing…!
  • A clear night – preferably cloudless and moonlit free

Here are some links to my research, I thought they deserve a mention, although my efforts are not as superb as these, but you have to start somewhere 🙂


3 thoughts on “Surprise View Star Trail Revised Edit

Add yours

  1. Brilliant! I really like that you share how you produced the image. Even down to the flask of coffee 🙂
    The level of information lends an interesting dimension to your blog.
    I have only ever dabbled in night time photography and would be clueless as to how to go about producing an image like this.
    I look forward to seeing what treats you have in store for us in 2014…

    1. Thank you so much Nigel. It took me a few hours to get my information together. I am sure I have missed out a few things. I did not have all the said things people advised about. I do this blog to showcase or occasionally to share the love, and that I am happy to help others in one way or another. so dabble away my friend..:D

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