After reading some of the many excellent online resources* describing steps to increase the likelihood making a great star trail photograph, I’ve concluded that Canmore is a great location to develop this skill. There are lots of stands of forest to screen street lights. And there’s a wide range of options for foreground subject matter, including plenty of trees, mountains, playground equipment, and more. So we’re taking full advantage of our two weeks in Canmore to improve our night photography skills.
For our third outing (on day 9, for those who are keeping track), we returned to the concrete bridge where we set up our cameras on Christmas night. Once again, Mr. GeoK opted to photograph the stars above Canmore’s most recognized mountain, Three Sisters. After tweaking his camera settings for a while, he finally found a combination of aperture, ISO, and exposure time that he found satisfactory. Then he stoically depressed the shutter button on his camera about every 25 seconds until he had accumulated over a hundred frames. About 7 or 8 minutes into the sequence he watched in frustration as a group of four night hikers equipped with headlamps and flashlights made their way into his composition, where they seemed to weave back and forth forever as they made their way up the Three Sisters Creek drainage. The he saw a couple of flashes of bright light on the Highline Trail. I think they add some good interest to his final result. What do you think?
As for me, I opted to make a star trail photograph featuring Ha Ling, just as I did on Christmas night. But I had a wider lens mounted, so incorporated Miner’s Peak and the east end of Mount Rundle into my composition. I also managed to avoid the out-of-focus problem I had on our second night out. By the time the cold prompted me to pack everything up and head for home, I had 125 exposures to stack. I was really excited to see the final result, although a little concerned about the potential consequences of the clouds that kept blowing through the Bow Valley, especially the one that sort of hung along the right edge of my frame.
Imagine my dismay as I watched a strange grid pattern form as Startrails stacked the images! I’ll do a separate post within the next couple of days, showing the original result, the different stacking software I tried (all with a similar result), and how I eventually made a star trail photograph that I’m (mostly) happy with:
As a consequence of the strange wormhole grid pattern, I purchased another stacking tool called Image Stacker by TawbaWare. It includes several different algorithms for stacking and for this particular set of photographs, I like the “average” algorithm. The star trails aren’t as bright, but they are smoother and I think it handles the clouds more delicately than Startrails did. It also mutes the vehicle headlights that flashed through at the bottom right just a few frames before the end of the series.
What do you think? Is one outcome “better” than the other technically? Or is it mainly a matter of personal preference?
*Finally, just in case this series of posts has prompted even one reader to think about trying star trail photography, here’s a list of some of articles I’ve found most helpful over the past week:
How to Photograph Star Trails by Anne McKinnell, published on Digital Photography School
How to Create Dazzling Star Trail Photos, From Start to Finish by Richard Gottardo, published on PetaPixel
How to Photograph Star Trails with a Digital SLR Camera by James Vernacatola, published on James Vernacatola Photography
How to Photograph Star Trails: The Ultimate Guide by Christopher O’Donnell, published on Light Stalking
While the general outline for these articles is fairly similar, you’ll be sure to pick up something unique from each one. Reading these articles (and others) makes it clear that photographers who take more than a couple of star trail photographs will start to develop their own personal approach to planning, composition, camera settings, cumulative exposure time and post processing. My own work flow is definitely a work in progress and will continue to evolve as I gain experience with this particular type of photography. So if you have any tips you’re willing to share, please leave a comment. I welcome all the help that comes my way!