Dave Morrow Photography: Dave's Free Star Photography Tutorial

Dave's Free Star Photography Tutorial


Thanks for all the visits that made this the Number 1 Milky Way, Star Trails, and Night Photography Tutorial on the web:) From planning and shooting to post processing ( editing ), this tutorial covers all the skills you will need to get started right away. Using my free 500 Rule chart provided below along with some simple tips and tricks you will be an expert in no time!
My shot of Mount Rainier & The Milky Way is the winner of the 2013 Smithsonian Photography Contest. We will be shooting from this exact location during this summer's workshops! Reserve your spot at the Summer Star Photography Workshops Page.


As goes for all of my tutorials, this one is dynamic and will continue to change & grow over time as I learn new skills, tips, tricks and other pertinent information. This being said, feel free to stop back in from time to time, or join my mailing list provided below & keep up to date.

The top of this page lists all the star photography classes and services that I provide and the free tutorial starts right below that. Enjoy!

Star Photography Workshops

On Sale Now! After a sold out year in 2014 I'm excited to announce my 2015 Schedule. Just click on the picture below for the workshop you're interested in for full details and sign up. 
Night Skies of the Pacific Northwest || 6 Day / 5 Night Star Photography Workshop
Mount Rainier National Park Star Photography Workshops
Crater Lake National Park Star Photography Workshops


Interactive Online Post Processing / Editing Group Workshops

I also provide Online Star Photography Post Processing Group Workshops where I'll teach you my post processing workflow ( Lightroom & Photoshop ) from start to finish via Google+ Hangouts Video Conference. Head over to the Online Workshops Page and sign up today!

Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials

So you're ready to capture all the beauty of the night sky? Read on, you will master the technique in no time using my free tutorial provided below. If you would like to learn exactly how I process all of these star shots in Lightroom and Photoshop ( at your own pace ), then pick up a copy of Michael Shainblum's and My Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials & Under the Stars Lightroom 4 Presets.

Morrow & Shainblum Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials

( 75$ ) 
Get my Under the Stars Lightroom 4 Presets and the Complete Collection of Michael Shainblum's and My Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials for one low price!
Add to Cart

 

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I'll also be releasing a FREE Star Photography E-book very soon that will go out to everyone on my mailing list:)


 

Dave's Free Star Photography Tutorial

Star photography seems like a daunting task, but trust me it's much easier than you think. When I first picked up a camera and decided to capture some shots of the night sky I could barely see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, 2 years and thousands of shots later, that light is shining bright and I’m here to share with you the information and experiences I gained along the way. But wait, there is one problem, from your vantage point there may be a million and one factors keeping you from seeing the mesmerizing beauty of space or the Milky Way.
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comRead the full blog post -->http://www.davemorrowphotography.com/2014/05/painted-in-sky-lost-lake-oregon.htmlI've been wanting to get up to Lost Lake to shoot the Milky Way for a while now. After a few failed attempts in the past with clouds covering the sky I finally got a few shots I liked this past weekend.There were intermittent clouds, so I waited and waited and waited until the Mount Hood ( approx 11,000 feet ) and the Milky Way were visible to click off my shutter.In this photo I really wanted to convey the soft light and color tones that the stars leave on the water and surrounding landscapes when there is not much ambient city light to ruin the scene. After standing there long enough, and letting your eyes adjust, the stars twinkle brightly in the water.Thoughts, critique and comments always welcome!This is a single exposure processed in Lightroom & Photoshop.
The Milky Way Rising Over Mount Hood, Oregon || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO3200, f/2.8, 33 Seconds

Most of us live in locations where cloud cover, smog and light pollution are the number one enemy of the night sky photographer. That’s where I come in, armed with my tutorials, presets, and simple tricks you will have all the ammunition necessary to defeat the odds and capture the beauty of space and the galaxy that lies beyond.

I do have a few small errands for everyone to run prior to departing on our trip, so grab a sturdy tripod, wide angle lens, a camera with manual mode functionality and your imagination, let’s head for the stars.

All of my other photography tutorials can be found at the link below:

Read Me First!

This page contains both a Milky Way Photography Tutorial and a Star Trails Photography Tutorial. I would highly suggest starting at the top of the page (Milky Way Tutorial) and reading through everything, ending with the Star Trails Tutorial which is at the bottom.

There are tips and tricks through out both tutorials that I think are imperative to capturing nice star photos. You can also upload star photos of your own to my Student Uploads Gallery! Enjoy.



Milky Way Photography Tutorial

I'll start out by answering the most frequently asked question of all, "How do I find the Milky Way in the sky?". Well unfortunately it is a very easy answer,  if you can’t see the Milky Way with your naked eye, it will be very hard to capture any better on camera. That being said let's get started!
Nothing's Shocking - Ruby Beach, WACheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
A Clear Night on Washington State's Pacific Coast - USA || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO5000, f/2.8, 30 Seconds

 

What You Need

  • A very dark night. I always check the moon phase prior to shooting ( see Star Photography & Camera Apps List below ). If the moon is out you are not going to capture the Milky Way very well. 
  • A VERY Dark Location. I always use Blue Marble Navigator's Dark Skies Map which is a Google & NASA collaboration that's quite useful. 
  • Tripod, the sturdier & taller the better. I have a 72” tripod by Really Right Stuff which is great for shooting stars due to the fact that I can look up at my camera while shooting.
  • A Camera with Manual Mode functionality. ( If you're interested in all the equipment I use head on over to the What's in My Camera Bag section of the website. )

The next few items will extremely improve your star shots but are not necessary.
  • A timer / intervalometer, especially if you do not have a 35mm sensor. This is key for taking exposures longer than 30 seconds.
  • A wide angle lens with a very “fast” aperture. Meaning the number under the “f” is small.  This will help you to pick up as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time.
  • I shoot with my Nikkor14-24mm f/2.8G or Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens for all my star shots. At f/2.8 they are both VERY fast lenses. Keep in mind there are other lens set ups that will work great as well. I provide some recommendations on cameras and lenses of different price points and brands in the Camera Equipment Section below.


Star Photography & Camera Apps

Here are a few great apps & computer programs that I like to use prior to going out for a star shoot as well as in the field.
  • PhotoPills ( iPhone Only ) - If you want one amazing app that does it all for photography, THIS IS IT! I have been using it for the past few weeks and fell in love.Click on the link above for full functionality, there is a lot of it, packaged in a really nice & user friendly app.
  • Star Walk Astronomy Guide  ( Android & iPhone ) Recently this is my go to for finding where the Milky Way will rise on the horizon. Using this app and holding it up to the sky you will be able to see, in real time, where all the constellations & other planitary bodies lie within the sky.
  • The Photographers Ephemeris ( iPhone, Android & Desktop )- I use this program nearly every time I shoot for sunrise and sunset. For star photography it is always good to know when the moons rises and sets and how bright/big it will be on any given night, this program also provides that functionality. I have used both iPhone and Android versions, both are great.
  • Stellarium Mobile ( Desktop, iPhone & Android ) - You can get this program for free on your desktop and for a few extra $$ on your iPhone or Android. I use it on both platforms and and find it to work great. The learning curve is a bit steep at first, but well worth the effort. Plus you learn a lot about our Universe in the process. 
  • Google Sky Map ( FREE - Android ) - Google does a really great job with this app. It provides all of the planetary / star locations that Star Walk does but it's just not quite as interactive. Then again it's free! I still use / recommend this app as well.



The 500 Rule for Milky Way Photography

How to Select Your Exposure Time for Milky Way Photography ( See Chart Below the photo )
When Worlds CollideCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
Learn to edit / post process shots like this using my Star Photography Video Tutorials || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO4000, f/2.8, 35 Seconds

Some people call this the 600 rule, but 500 is much more conservative for a sharper image which makes a great baseline to start with & is key to getting clear star or Milky Way shots. To obtain the maximum exposure time you can shoot, without getting visible "trails" behind your stars, take the number 500 and divide it by the focal length you will be shooting at.

If you exceed the noted maximum exposure time the picture will exhibit "star trails". Keep in mind that this max exposure time is just a baseline ( rule of thumb ), feel free to move up or down from it depending on your camera setup and how your photos are turning out.

If you take a picture and see that your stars have "trails" behind them, decrease the exposure time a few seconds. If you take a picture and see that the stars are not bright enough, and don't have trails behind them, increase your exposure time just a few seconds.

It's all about taking multiple shots and practicing until you get to know how your camera / lens setup operates in accordance with the 500 Rule. Once you have this down it becomes second nature. Experimentation is once again key.

Feel free to print out this chart and keep it in your camera bag when going out to shoot the night sky.

CAUTION - READ ME: For those of you that are not shooting with full frame cameras make sure to take this into account. I have provided a chart that gives a few common sensor sizes and their maximum exposure times. This will also help you understand how the rule works.

Camera Equipment

Provided below are the camera settings and equipment that I shoot with, this doesn't mean there is a correct or incorrect way to shoot, these just work best for me. Different cameras work better/worse in different situations, so experimentation is key. I have provided some camera gear that I have tested out and also recommend.
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.com
One of the locations where we shoot during my Star Photography Workshops - Mount Rainier, Washington || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO3200, f/2.8, 30 Seconds

What I Use

Camera Model: Nikon D800

Lenses:
Nikkor14-24mm f/2.8G
Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Tripod: 
BH-55 LR Ballhead 
TVC-34L Versa Series 3 Tripod 
BD800-L: L-Plate for Nikon D800/800E

See all the other gear I use on the What's in My Camera Bag? section of this website.

Night Photography Camera and Lens Suggestions

Full frame cameras offer the best quality for night photography. You can also use a crop sensor camera but will not get the same results as using a full frame. I highly recommend the full frame options, but have provided some crop sensor options as well.

Please note, I have shot with the following cameras and lenses and found them to work very well, that's why they are on my recommendations list. There are many other equipment options, but I have not personally used them, so I have not added them to the following list.

The following links are affiliate links to B&H Photo, which is a company I trust, and also where I buy all of my cameras, lenses and other equipment. An affiliate link will not increase the price of the gear, but will help to support my website each time you purchase using one of the links below.

Nikon Full Frame Cameras

Nikon Crop Sensor Cameras

Nikon Compatible Lenses
Nikkor14-24mm f/2.8G - The best star photography lens out there in my opinion.
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 - Fantastic wide angle lens at a great price.

Canon Full Frame Cameras
Canon Crop Sensor Cameras

Canon Compatible Lenses
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L - Fantastic all around lens, great for night photography and landscapes.


Camera Settings: ( What works for me )

Feel free to click on any of the titles ( below the next photo ) if you're not exactly sure what they are:)
Galaxy Number 9 - Lake Tahoe, NVread more about my trip to Lake Tahoe at www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
The Milky Way Rising - Lake Tahoe, Nevada || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO3200, f/2.8, 36 Seconds


Camera Mode: Manual

Image Format: RAW

Metering Mode: I personally use what is known as Matrix Metering on my Nikon D800. Canon calls this same function Evaluative Metering. As an experiment, when shooting star photography, I tried all the different metering modes my camera has to offer and Matrix clearly won.

White Balance: This is all up to you. I like to select the "K" or Kelvin setting and obtain a nice and natural looking night sky color. The best way to do this is trial and error.

Focal Length: Anywhere from 14-24 mm but usually wide open at 14mm unless I am shooting with the Fisheye lens then my only choice is 16mm.

Focus: I usually focus at infinity, take a practice shot to see how it looks then adjust focus from there. Usually infinity works just fine. If you really like something in the foreground then take two shots. One to get the stars then a second for the foreground. These can be manually blended together in Photoshop for a sharp image. I cover these techniques in my Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials.

Aperture: f/2.8, or whatever your lowest aperture value is will best capture the Milky Way. I prefer to play in the range of f/2.8 through f/4 for star photography.

Exposure Time: 30 seconds is my standard. Sometimes I will shoot anywhere to 50 seconds in order to catch more of the “Far away” light in my shots. Just remember a longer exposure picks up more light, which in turn means you will see stars that are farther and farther away from our planet. On the other hand light sources closer to our planet will appear brighter at longer exposure times.

ISO: Anywhere from 2000-5000, my sweet spot seems to be 5000. Keep in mind depending on your camera these high settings may increase the noise exponentially. Play around and see what you get, starting at ISO1000 and working your way up is never a bad idea. Remember only compensate with ISO after your exposure is at it's 500 Rule maximum.


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Final Words of Advice for Milky Way Photos

When We Were Stars - Palouse, WAfrom www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
Road to the Stars - Palouse, Washington || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO5000, f/2.8, 28 Seconds
Play around with your BIG THREE, aperture, exposure and ISO until you are getting the shots you like. Each of them directly reflect on each other and the amount of light that hits your sensor so a slight change could make all the difference in the stars you can see.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind!
  • If you take a practice shot and the stars are not bright enough, adjust your exposure time to the maximum without exceeding 500 Rule as denoted above. If you hit this maximum exposure time and your stars are still not bright enough, start to increase your ISO. Keep in mind that there is no reason to "degrade" picture quality by increasing ISO when you can keep the same picture quality and increase the brightness using a longer exposure. You may even try increasing the 500 Rule to the 600 Rule. THERE ARE NO REAL RULES in Photography, just good & bad results.
  • If you have a built in camera level, by all means turn it on. A level horizon never hurt anyone!
  • Stop, put your camera down for a minute, and look around and find something truly awesome to take a picture of. 100 decent shots will never top that one amazing composition.
  • The GOLDEN RATIO, learn it, use it, love it!




Star Trails Photography Tutorial

When it comes to taking star trail pictures you don't need the near "perfect" conditions that are required for Milky Way shots as described above. You do on the other hand need a few tips & tricks, as well as a good understanding of the 500 Rule which is described in the Milky Way Photography Tutorial at the top of this page. If you're not already well versed in that skill set, then head to the top and work your way down here, you will be glad you did:)
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comSo I figured it was time to give the D800 a run at high ISO and long exposure at the same time. This shot was taken as ISO640 with an exposure time of 628 seconds. I usually don't turn on Long Exposure NR, but for this it's a must. Still a lot of noise in the RAW file, but not enough to destroy the picture. Hope you like it:)
Of Time & Space - McWay Falls, California || Nikon D800 @ 18mm, ISO640, f/2.8, 628 Seconds

Please note, some of the sections below have redundancies that are provided in the Milky Way tutorial above, I have included them twice since they are needed for both types of photography to keep everything very clear and concise!

What You Need

  • Any night with a clear sky will work. I actually prefer nights when the moon is out for star trails as you can capture bright stars without increasing your ISO above 1000, thus reducing noise. Check the Apps I list below for moon phase!
  • Tripod, the sturdier & taller the better. I have a 72” tripod by Really Right Stuff which is great for shooting stars due to the fact that I can look up at my camera while shooting.
  • A Camera with Manual Mode functionality. ( If you're interested in all the equipment I use head on over to the What's in My Camera Bag section of the website. )
  • A remote, timer or intervalometer. especially if you do not have a 35mm sensor. This is key for taking exposures longer than 30 seconds or multiple shots over an extended period of time as we will be doing below. This is a must for star trail photography!
  • PhotoPills - You really don't have to have this app. But it will help you calculate how long you need to shoot for to capture a certain amount ( rotation ) of star trails. It's also great for letting you know the moon phase as denoted above. For a full list of apps reference the Milky Way Photography Tutorial at the top of this page. 
  • Star Trail photography is much more forgiving than Milky Way photography, but it still helps to have a "fast" lens that allows the most light to hit your camera's sensor in the least amount of time without increasing your ISO and inducing noise. I would recommend an aperture no slower than f/4 for this style of night photography. I usually shoot my star trails between f/1.4 - f/2.8.
  • Fully Charged battery!!!! You will be shooting over a time ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours. So change that bad boy up! You can afford to switch batteries during your star trail shoot if you are very fast. I always carry at least two batteries.

The 500 Rule for Star Trail Photography

See my Milky Way Photography Tutorial above for my Free 500 Rule Chart. You also need to thoroughly understand and read the 500 Rule concepts provided in that tutorial. Upon doing so you can apply the inverse thought process to capture nice star trails in your shots. You can even print out the chart and keep it in your camera bag!

Camera Equipment: ( What I Use )

Provided below are the camera settings and equipment that I shoot with to capture star trails, this doesn't mean there is a correct or incorrect way to shoot, these just work best for me. Different cameras work better/worse in different situations, so experimentation is key. At the bottom of the page I have also provided some other great night photography camera and lens options for both Canon and Nikon users of any skill level. Just click on "Photography" in the interactive menu to get started!

Keep in mind for star trails you don't need to have a wide angle lens, nearly any lens will work. I have used each one of my lenses for star trails and they all work well, but produce slightly different crops and results. That being said in lieu of listing all my gear, feel free to head over to the What's in My Camera Bag section of this website to see what I shoot with, or scroll up to the Milky Way Photography for more equipment recommendations.


Camera Settings: ( What works for me )

My preferred method for capturing star trail photos involves using multiple exposures each capturing a small star trail over an elapsed period of time. The camera settings for each of these exposures is exactly the same. The only thing that changes is the position of the stars relative to the earth. Next I overlay each of these images one on top of the other in Photoshop to achieve the look of one single star trail. The best part about this method is you can keep your exposure time low, between 15 and 45 seconds, while keeping your ISO fairly low thus reducing the over all high ISO and long exposure noise in your photos.
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comRead the full blog post & sign up for my 2015 & 2016 Star Photography Workshop Mailing list -->http://www.davemorrowphotography.com/2014/06/2015-2016-star-photography-workshop.htmlIn my opinion this is one of Mount Hood's most under rated vantage points, especially in the winter months. We arrived just after midnight as the rising moon was sitting low in the sky casting shadows and amazing light over most of the landscape.With a tall snow embankment on my left, the moon's light didn't touch the foreground but blazed it's light across the remainder of the landscape. Slight cloud cover gives a nice glow to the stars with Mount Hood looming in the background. When printed full size you can see the snow flakes sparkle in the light, but standing there it almost felt like there were small blinking lights covering the ground.This photo is composed of two shots ( same composition ), 1 at a short exposure time / high ISO to capture the stars without creating star trails. Another shot was taken at lower ISO and longer exposure time to capture the rest of the scene without generating as much noise. These two shots were taken seconds apart to capture what I saw that night. Fresh snow + night skies = Good times!
TIP: You don't always have to shoot under perfectly dark skies. This shot was taken as the moon was starting to rise over the snow bank to my left. || Mount Hood, Oregon

Note: You can also capture star trails using one long single exposure. I find that this method really degrades image quality, although in the right conditions it does work well. Once you have mastered the techniques below, you will easily be able to calculate and master single exposure star trails on your own:) They after all only require one click of a button.

Unless otherwise stated below all camera settings are the same as denoted in my Milky Way Photography Tutorial included above.

Focal Length: For star trails any focal length will work. Keep in mind the further zoomed in you are the longer your stair trails will appear over a shorter amount of time ( REF: 500 Rule Chart ). If you don't want to wait around all night to capture a star trail scene a zoom lens may be your best choice. If you're interested in capturing a full wide angle star trail scene showing a long star trail transition across the sky this may require a few hours for the stars to exhibit trails through the full range view for your wide angle lens. The best way to see this in physical form is to go out and try some test shots in the field and see how different lenses or focal lengths exhibit different trial lengths over a given peroid of time. Another good reference is the 500 Rule chart which I provide, this will show the direct correlation between star trails and focal length in a mathematical manner.

Focus: I usually focus at infinity, take a practice shot to see how it looks then adjust focus from there. Usually infinity works just fine. If you really like something in the foreground then take two shots. One to get the stars then a second for the foreground. Make sure you nail this down with a single exposure before starting your actual star trail sequence of photos.

Aperture: f/2.8, or whatever your lowest aperture value is will best capture Star Trails. I prefer to play in the range of f/2.8 through f/4 for star photography. 

Exposure Time: 30 seconds is my standard. Sometimes I will shoot anywhere up to 45 seconds in order to catch more of the “Far away” light in my shots. Just remember a longer exposure picks up more light, which in turn means you will see stars that are farther and farther away from our planet. On the other hand light sources closer to our planet will appear brighter at longer exposure times. Experimentation is key! Just remember the exposure time all depends on the focal length of your lens for star trails & Milky Way shots. Note: Using a longer exposure will allow you to keep your ISO low, in turn reducing noise!

TIP: I usually pick an exposure time that is just a few seconds longer than my minimum star trails exposure time @ a given focal length as denoted on the 500 Rule Chart. This seems to give a nice "flow" to the stars once I import them into Photoshop. Depending on the "look" you are going for experimentation is key. 

ISO: ISO for star trails all depends on how much ambient light is present in the scene you are shooting. I usually shoot my star trails when the moon is out, but facing the opposite way. The moon light allows you to capture well exposed star shots while keeping your ISO fairly low. I would suggest starting out at an ISO of 300 and increasing it as necessary until you have a well exposed star shot. Keep in mind you don't need to see very long trails in your shot as well will blend them together in Photoshop over an extended period of time.

TIP: Just remember, if your shot isn't bright enough, and you can still increase your exposure time, ALWAYS do this instead of increasing your ISO. ISO is the worst case method of increasing the brightness of your star trail shots.

Elapsed Shooting Time / Number of Exposures:
PhotoPills provides a nice tool within their application that will allow you to calculate exactly how long you need to take pictures for to cover the full range of star trails in your shot. The other choice is practice and/or stopping to review your picture every once in a while to see how far your stars have moved across the composition. Just remember the more of the sky you have showing your composition, the longer you will need to take exposures for if you want your star trails to cross the entire image. If you have very little amount of sky in your composition it will take a very short time for the stars to move across that distance. If you have an hour or two, it never hurts to set your timer up for 2 hours, grab a beer, coffee or some other good stuff and wait around. This will ensure that you get enough exposures to replicate really long star trails.

Note: Depending on your latitude, this number can vary, due to this fact I have not created a reference chart for this section. 

Camera Timer Settings:
I highly suggest using a camera timer / intervalometer, otherwise you will be pushing the shutter button again and again for hours. Some cameras have an interval timer mode built into them, this works as well.

Once you decide how long of a shooting time is necessary per the step above, it will be necessary to setup your timer up to mimic this time. I suggest shooting with 1 second intervals between each of your shots, or less if your camera timer allows it. This is necessary to keep your final image from displaying gaps between star trails upon overlaying all of the images in Photoshop. 



Post Processing Magic

After getting back from taking some star trails pictures here is my preferred method of post processing them explained in a very brief manner. 

  • Load all your images into a RAW photo processor of your choice such as Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW.
  • Adjust a single exposure out of the series to get the white balance, darks, lights and all of the other settings to mimic what you would like to see in your final image. Now sync all of your other images from the shoot to exactly match this image. This is very easy using the "Sync" option in Lightroom. 
  • Export all of your files to JPEG, TIFF or whatever other format you like. Note: If you choose TIFF and plan to export a few hundred picture files you either need a really fast computer with lots of RAM or some magic. I would suggest JPEG in the case of star trail pictures.
  • Layer all of the files on top of each other in Photoshop. I like to use Adobe Bridge to do this using the "Load Files into Photoshop as Layers" function. 
  • Select all of the picture layers in Photoshop EXCEPT the bottom one and change the blend mode to lighten. 
  • Boom, that's it. You should now see a picture that mimics one long star trail for each star location.  I go on to do many different other adjustments to this image after completing the steps above, but that's for another tutorial:)

Final Words of Advice for Star Trail Photos

Come Join Us - Second Beach, WAfrom www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
TIP: You can take one shot right after sunset & leave your camera in the same place until the stars come out. Next capture your star trails. Using Photoshop you can blend both images together to create a unique look of your own.

I believe the hardest part of star trail photography is nailing down the correct length of shooting time. If you don't take enough shots over a long enough period of time, then the star trails don't appear long enough in your final image. That being said, it's always best to take more shots and then discard them once you get home. Keep that in mind when out shooting:) It's also necessary to nail down the correct balance between ISO and exposure time. You will improve greatly at both of these skills after one night of shooting!


More Star Photography Resources

Once you have captured and processed some nights shots feel free to click the link directly below and upload them to my website. I will share my favorite shots every once in a while on Facebook, Google+ & my website with credit to you. Once the picture has uploaded wait 60 seconds or so to allow it to show up on the page. Once this has been done, comment on the picture with your name and website or Facebook profile address. Please note that all photos are protected so they can not be downloaded, but the "share" button is enabled for easy promotion!
You can see everyone's uploads to the link above at my Student Uploads Gallery.

SHARE / UPLOAD YOUR STAR PICTURES


If you're over on Google Plus feel free to join my star photography community. There are lots of good pictures, discussion and tutorials from star photographers all over the world.

Under the Stars Photo Community


Also feel free to check out the Star Photography Tutorial that I wrote for the Editors at 500PX & PetaPixel

Dave's 500PX Star Photography Tutorial

Dave's PetaPixel Star Photography Tutorial


Here are a few of my favorite star photos. You can view all of them in my  

Under the Stars Photo Gallery

from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comRead the full blog post -->http://www.davemorrowphotography.com/2014/05/the-wild-coast-olympic-national-park.htmlThis shot came as the 96% moon rose from the east just out of the top lefthand side of this picture's frame. The moon illuminated the entire landscape and made the pacific ocean shine and glitter in the darkness of the night. Such an awesome sight to see, and easily one of my favorite shoots of the season thus far. Over the past month I've spent most of my time exploring Olympic National Park. A few weeks ago I camped out down by those sea stacks by the little outcrop of logs and beach( seen in the photo ) on my return from 3 day camping trip up the parks from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.com read more at www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comfrom www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.com   Star Dance - Rowena Crest, ORread more at www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops The Dream Catcher - Palouse, WAfrom www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops The Night Watch- Ruby Beach, WAfrom www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops A Passing Glimpse - Mount St. Helens, Washingtonread more at www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops

93 comments:

  1. Wow, absolutely stunning shots. Thanks for sharing your techniques.

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    1. Hey Chris, glad you got something out of it:) You are welcome!

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  2. Mind boggling, some of the best photos I have ever seen. I am just getting into night sky photography. Having been a photographer for 20 years, this is an exciting new chapter, so thrilled that the sensors are now capable of this. My problem is that I live on the MS Gulf Coast. It is very hard to find spots with no light polution, so I have to get creative. Thanks again for the inspiration.

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    1. Thanks Jason, really appreciate it. Check out the light pollution map in my tutorial, hopefully that will help. Cheers & have fun out there.

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    2. It helps alot, thanks Dave! I know you have your tutorial on post processing. I would be happy to buy it but I don't do paypal due to a bad scam experience. Is there any other way to get it? I am hitting a road block when it comes to editing my photos. I am shooting single images and really having trouble pulling out those details. I know they are there, and have had some success but not without getting noise. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Again, your work is at the top of the list buddy!

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    3. Sorry you had a bad time with Paypal before, I only use Paypal because I find it the most secure way to make transactions. You can buy my products without actually signing up through Paypal upon checkout tho, credit card will work just fine.

      The key to noise reduction is luminosity masking which is fully covered in my tutorial, along with digital blending which will allow you to remove alot of it as well:)

      Cheers,
      D

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  3. you are one amazing man i have to say ,stunning images and how kind of you to share this with us,
    one thing i strugle with is the stellarium :/ is there any time better then the other to see the milky way ? im in Norway on the westside
    so when i have this figured i would be glad to pay for the hole package
    thanks Valeria

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    1. Hello,

      Thanks, happy to share and help. Stellarium is hard to use and to tell you the truth I don't use it, but I did want to offer it as part of the free tutorial for people that may want to try it. Here is how I plan for a star shoot. First make sure there is clear weather, second make sure the moon won't be out. Third find a dark spot... and that's it. Sorry I don't have anything more in depth, but I think those same steps will work for you as well:)

      Cheers,
      D

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    2. Valeria,
      I was just playing with Stellarium, and figured out how to get what I needed from it after some trial and error... I'll share what I did in case it helps. I'm using the Mac version, and I don't know if it is the same on other operating systems...
      If you mouse over the left hand side, you should see some icons pop up that let you set the location (the default is Paris) and the time you want it to display the sky for (separate menus). Once you have the location set, you can arrow through different times and dates and the sky is shown. You should see the milky way in the sky when it is visible, it was really clear for me (you can click and drag right or left to change the direction). The only problem I had was that it seems to use the time zone from the location your computer is set to, not the location you are viewing, so if you happen to be out of that time zone, it can be very confusing. (I am in Sydney, browsing for Colorado, US...) Hope that helps you...
      Anne

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    3. Awesome thanks for the tips, I am sure everyone can learn from them. The only reason I didn't take the time to learn it is because I live in an area where the Milky Way is always out, it may still be fun to mess around with on a rainy day tho.... Thanks again:)

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    4. Hi guys,
      I'm looking forward to learning some of your post techniques, but I wanted to pass along my thoughts on an alternative to Stellarium.

      When I plan my shots, I use the 'Planets' app. I appreciate how thorough Stellarium is and what it can do, but what I really need is to see where the Milky Way will be at any given date and time, with one stroke of a finger.
      The app presents a compass horizon in 2D and 3D, allowing you to see what is above you in the sky as well as what is below the horizon in real time, or you can alter date and time settings. It tells me exactly when and in what direction the milky way will appear, but the best part for me is that it shows me the moon phases and when the moon appears above the horizon on any given day. This all happens on one easy screen. I plan my outings with it and its as simple as that. As well, it provides automatic GPS location and you can turn that off to supply alternative coordinates for a future trip.
      I love using the app. Its so simple to use and hope others find some use from it as well.
      Damon

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  4. Hi Dave,
    Thanks so much for sharing your expertise. I've only had a few disastrous attempts at photographing the night sky and I think what I've learned from you will really help me get started with more success. I'd really love to purchase your presets/tutorial but I don't do PayPal due to a really bad previous experience with them... if you have any other way of accepting payments now or in the future, I'd love to support you.
    Best,
    Anne

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    1. Hi Anne,

      Really glad you found some good info in there:) The best way to get it down is to go out there and mess around for a few more hours after reading these tips. You will be a pro in no time. I only have paypay, but it is setup so you can just enter your credit card without signing up. This transfers me the money but hides any credit card info. I think you will really enjoy the presets.

      Cheers,
      D

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  5. Wow! Photos like these are exactly why I bought my D40 last year. Not a professional model like your D800, but I might try some of these settings and take some shots. Truly inspirational! Thanks for the tips.

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    1. You are welcome, the D40 is not going to be able to obtain the high ISO settings that the D800 is shooting at, just a heads up:) Depending on your lens you may still get some good ones tho!

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  6. Great Photos Dave. I look forward to learning from your tutorials I just bought via PayPal (no issues). Do you see any issues / challenges with using Aperture instead of Lightroom? I just helped boost the economy by purchasing a new Canon 5d mk3 and a EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 setup, in hopes that I will see a huge improvement in low light (e.g. lower noise) than I have seen with my Canon 7D and EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5 lens. I think the upgrade is needed both for larger aperture and lower noise at higher ISO. Thanks, your photos are great !

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    1. awesome! I have never used Aperture so I really have no clue:) Your camera setup will work perfectly tho so I am sure you will get some good results!

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  7. Nice info for those who are not familiar with this stuff !!!! The core is : play around with the big three : ISO , Av and exp time . Focussing is ALWAYS manually done , autofocus has often at night rare behaviour , it keeps on focussing :-) . Nice to use ( in my case Canon 550D ) is live view mode : you can magnify the image on your display for optimal focus adjustments ( or use remote shooting from Canon utility software for judging the image ) , works perfect . The ISO's : some camera's have ISO up to 12500 , what is completely nonsense . 800-1600 is sufficient , otherwise noise will degrade your image .

    I am almost jalous about your images : they are really beautiful ! I am living in Heerlen ( Netherlands ) and have to struggle with light pollution all the time , and believe me , that's an absolute killer and I never had the results displayed here , good work and looks great !!!
    http://baswaanders.com

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    1. Thanks glad you liked the info. If you have a nice full frame camera leaving the ISO at the settings you suggest will really limit how bright the Milky Way will be. I would suggest anywhere between 4000-5000 ISO settings for the D700 or Canon 5DMKII and up. I notice minimal noise at ISO5000 with my D800 and that is all I ever really shoot at on dark nights. My words of advice are to push your camera settings to the max, see what you get, and dial down from there.

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  8. Oh ja , I am using the Canon EOS550D , with the kitlens 18-55mm or the 100mm f2.8(macro) . I am also using this camera in prime focus attached to a telescope .
    Software I am using : stellarum ( great & freeware ) , Canon EOS utilities and Nebulosity ( for stacking )

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    1. awesome! how do you like Stellarium? It has quite the learning curve.

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  9. 很喜欢你的照片 非常漂亮

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  10. Do you really bought those expensive tripod, ball head and L-bracket for the camera?

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    1. Yeah, it is the best tripod/head/bracket set up on the planet. I never regret putting that much money into it:)

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  11. Looks like you have another full time career as a photographer - too bad aerospace engineering pays you so much better, eh? Well done site!

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  12. Wow these images are just stunning all around! I have tried so many times to take my own night time photography and it is no easy task. Thank you so much for this information and posting the amazing images along with it!

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    1. Sure no prob:) Glad you like that stuff.

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  13. Good day! I just want to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you might have here on this post. I will be coming again to your weblog for extra soon..... Photographers in NJ

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    1. awesome to hear, thanks for checking out my website.

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  14. I'm here at Penn State and have been trying to get into night photography. Great, great blog. Tonight I'm going about an hour north to try and take pictures during the meteor shower.

    I used stellarium for a high school Astro class. I also use Droid Sky on my phone (android operating system).

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    1. Darnell,

      Awesome man. Thanks, glad you like it! Those are both really cool programs:) Best of luck!

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  15. Impressive Shots..Nice Work!

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  16. Hi Dave,
    Is it possible for my D3100 and Tokina 11-16 f2.8 to take these type of shots..?

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    1. Your camera may struggle at high ISO. That lens will work fine tho.. give it a try and see what happens:)

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  17. amazing picture...i like it..

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  18. Fantastic! Got out this weekend and was able to try this out with great results. Looking forward to doing this again and improving. Thank you so much!

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    1. awesome to hear! That's what the tutorial is here for:) Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  19. Hi Dave,

    Your photographs inspired me to get out and try and capture the night sky this weekend. Since I live in Seattle, I have access to many of the locations featured in your tutorial, but this time I headed up to the Mt Baker wilderness in the hopes of pulling in some North Cascades scenery. I even rented the same lens you mention, the 14-24mm Nikon. After checking out The Photographers Ephemeris, it looked like I might have a small window of "dark sky" after the moon set at 3:00am and the sun rising at 5:30am.

    Not so.

    Because the setting moon was almost full, even after it set it was spilling so much light into the night sky that it was possible to clearly see the surrounding mountains. Not only that, but because it is still so close the the summer solstice, and we are so far north, the rising sun starting to impact the night sky BEFORE 4:00am. And the stars? Forget it. They were pretty much washed out. I did play around to try and capture some stars, but the results were disappointing.

    To make matters worse, my tripod mounting bracket had fallen off my camera before I left the house, which meant using nature's tripod - aka piles of rocks. And even though it is high summer, it gets plenty cold at 6,000ft at 3am.

    But I am not deterred. It was a great trial run. Next time I hope to go up on a true dark night, maybe during the Perseid meteor shower next month.

    Thanks for sharing your amazing photos and helpful techniques.

    Gavin

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    1. Hi Gavin,

      Great to hear , glad you got out there. I always aim to wait an hour after the moon sets, plan an hour or two to shoot with at least 3 hours before sunrise at the end. Your camera starts to pick up the sunrise light 2 - 3 hours before it actually rises. Hope you get some good ones next time you go out. Feel free to share them on my upload page which I recently added to the tutorial above.

      Have a good one,
      Dave

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    2. Hi Dave,

      I had much better luck last night with a clear dark sky. I headed up to Mt Baker for an overnight and today I purchased your presets and was able to get some nice results.

      You can view them here on a post on DPreview:

      http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/52091931

      I also gave your site a plug too :)

      - Gavin

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    3. Awesome to hear:) Baker is a great place to shoot. I'll check it out thanks!

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  20. You rock. Fabulous composition and mystical exposures. Do you ever use a Neutral Density filter? Been shooting for years, but never attempted anything like this. You have lit a fire in me to go after the stars. Thanks!
    Bob

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    1. Hey Bobs,

      First off, thanks! No filters for stars, sometimes for sunsets and waterfalls tho:) Awesome to hear, let me know if I can help with any quetsions. Enjoy

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  21. Thanks for the info. lovely work!

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  22. Your images are very inspiring! Hard work and little sleep pays. I can't wait to get out and give it a try. Just one question: Why are you able to get enough available light to show detail in the landscape (like Mt. St. Helen, Lake Tahoe and even the milky way at Picture Lake) and others have no detail (silouettte)? I was under the impression that the basic exposure for the milky way would be about the same on a moonless night yet the results on the landscape seem very different. Thank you for sharing! Dennis

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    1. Unknown,

      IDENTIFY YOURSELF ( Dennis ? ) haha ;) Anyways, it all really depends on your camera, all those shots less Lake Tahoe were taken using (1) single RAW exposure. Tahoe was two, one for stars, one ( lower ISO ) for water. Full frame sensor helps! Good luck!

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  23. Hi Dave,

    I purchased a tracking mount (ioptron) so that I could get more color / deeper stars with longer exposures without trails.
    However, I didnt account for the landscape movement. I planned on just taking 2 images, 1 tracked for stars, and one for the landscape and combining them. But the blur of the landscape in the stars makes for some really difficult 'shopping.
    Do you have any tracking methods or suggestions for getting past the 500 rule but including the landscape as well? Or is the tracking mount really only for deep space objects?

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    1. Hello,

      I have never used a tracking mount. Due to the fact that I travel light only 3 lenses and a camera are in my bag at most. But yes, if you tracked an object to remove the relative motion between us and the star or object you could catch a lot more detail.

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  24. Here is one of my first attepmts to capture the milky way.


    https://plus.google.com/113834510256125890246/posts/bQnGKwoEUwr

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  25. Hi Dave
    I am going to Oahu Hawaii the 1st of Oct and am going to try this for the first time. I was told to head to the north shore but then I read somewhere that you look South to see the milky way. Isn't that counter productive if I am staying in the south why not look from there as straight out there is nothing but water for lots of miles.I know there is a new moon thurs or friday so no light from that but now when can I see the milky way? I thought it was out all the time the light just blocks us from seeing it. I am Confused.... Help please!

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    1. Hi,

      If you can't see the Milky Way with your naked eye, you won't get good shots of it. If the moon is down and you are in dark location you will see it. That being said, the location of it all depends on where you are in the world. The galaxy is seen across the entire sky.

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  26. These photos are great.. Reminds me of my childhood looking at the stars.

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    1. Thanks Robert really glad you enjoy them. I try to give the shots a bit of a dreamy feel. Glad it's working:) Cheers!

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  27. Dave, Is it a must to have both Lightroom and Photoshop? I had demos of LR4 and LR6 and I have a full version of CS6.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Hi Steve,

      It's not a must, but it sure does help. I currently use CS6 and LR4, but probably upgrade to LR5 soon:)

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  28. Hi Dave,

    I've had a Nikon d40 for some time now and since my recent trip to enchantment lakes In Eastern Washington where I saw the stars clearer then I can ever remember, I started looking into astrophotography. I just bought a Nikon 35mm fixed lens at f/1.8 for the pursuit of this goal, and knowing that my Nikon d40 is only good to about iso 800 before noise is terrible. Do you know of any effective ways in post processing to remove it if I proceed above iso 800 or should I just go buy a newer full frame Nikon, with higher iso range? I am aware that my iso limits is at hi1/3200. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    Conrad

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    1. Hi Conrad,

      If I were you I would go for a full frame camera and a nice wide angle lens. If you look at the bottom of this tutorial page, there are a bunch of camera recommendations that will help you out:) A D600 or D800 is your best bet:)

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Thought you would say as much. :( Sadly those options are currently well out side my price range now that I am back in school. I ended up deciding on a modest increase on body to Nikon D5100 and am currently looking at off brand wide angles. :/ I'm hoping the higher and clearer iso range of the D5100 will help greatly, plus the huge bump from 6.2mp to 16.2mp. :) Thanks for the help and pointing me to great future options.

      Happy Shooting Conrad.

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  29. I love to work with Pixlr editor; it’s such a nice and handy tool to use. Some tools are new for me… will surely try it. Thanks for sharing. Photoshop Free.

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  30. Awesome photographs! Thank you for all the advice and apps, etc. I have just moved to Southern Thailand (Krabi), the night sky here is amazing!! I will be attempting first night sky photographs tonight using my D600 and 24mm 2.8D with tripod.... if i get any good ones I'll share them! :) Cheers! Tim Collins

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    1. You're welcome. No prob Tim. Hope you get some good stuff:)
      Cheers,
      Dave

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  31. Your photographs are inspiring. I'm heading off to the Namib Desert with my D800 in Feb to shoot Sossusvlei for a week. I'm planning to do a lot of night work and our tutorials are very helpful. Thank-you very much! Nic

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  32. This is a great resource - thanks very much for taking the time to do this.

    I did my very first night scapes this summer, using my D7000 and my Nikkor 12 - 24mm lens. Unfortunately, maximum aperture for that lens is f/4. I was skittish about high ISO's too, so I ended up with some star trail blurs. But, for a first attempt, I was pretty pleased. For Christmas this year, my wife offered to buy me the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens. Just ordered it a few days ago and look forward to testing it out. In the meantime, you can find my better shots on my Flickr site. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jim_babbage/9546381675/in/set-72157635144952232

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  33. What are my chances of getting either kind of shot with an olympus epm1?

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  34. Hi Dave, thanks for the tips! May I ask, what is the significance of the metering mode, if we are shooting in manual mode?

    Thanks!
    Hanyi

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    1. Hi Han Yi Li,

      Metering reads the light that your camera's sensor "sees" while exposure / ISO / Aperture allow you to control that light in an array of different ways. I choose the metering mode I do because it works best for landscape photography. Matrix/Evaluative Metering tries to "see" the entire scene and not just one small part of it such as a spot metering mode would.

      Hope that helps.

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  35. Really excellent and appreciable.

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  36. Fantastic photos, stunning in fact. I'm looking forward to trying some shots myself from what I've learned from your comprehensive advice!
    Thank You.

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  37. Thanks, Dave. I've never done this type of photography, I have ff Canon 6D with f/4 24-105mm, not 2.8, pockets aren't deep enough, but will give it a try as soon as it warms up.
    Great tut!

    Jan Armor

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  38. Are they real pictures, seems like the wallpapers.

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  39. Once you learn the basic aspects connected with digital photography, you then start to find the tools required to assemble the
    φωτογράφος γάμου craft and your company.

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  40. Hi Dave,

    First off, awesome tutorial. Thanks so much.

    Second, based on what you know about a Nikon D3200 -- will it have any chance at capturing half-way decent images of the night sky?

    Thanks again!

    Andrew

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  41. Hi,
    Thanks for all the useful information you post and your tutorials, I have found them very helpful. Just one quick question. On your flickr page do you include the metadata for each shot as I find it useful to know what exposure time, ISO etc you have used for each shot. I am fairly new to Flickr so it may be that I am looking in the wrong place.

    thanks

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    1. Hello,

      You're welcome. I've posted some meta in the examples above as of today:)

      Delete
  42. Dave,

    Thank you very much for sharing your in depth knowledge and experience. Tonight, I had my first successful night with Milky Way pictures that I am finally willing to publish. I did a significant amount of research into your lens recommendations, and bought the Rokimon 14mm F/2.8 and love this lens. Tonight, with the new lens in hand, and your advice, I hit pay dirt.

    Thanks again

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    1. Awesome, great to hear! Feel free to share the results in the gallery provided above:) That Rokimon is a really nice lens! Great price point too.

      Cheers!

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  43. Dave,

    there is a rumor , on the internet, that stars are not visible (to the eye ) in space. Do you agree ? A special lens is required.

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  44. Its always a pleasure moment for me to see the sky at night and yes taking picture is another passion for me. Thanks for some well direction t shoot the night sky.

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  45. Your blog is so beautiful and natural all are like your blog everyone appreciate your blog

    ReplyDelete

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