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How to do Astro Photography - timelapse of the stars with a Canon 550D - a beginners guide to settings
Have you ever wondered how to get the perfect star trails photograph - like the pictures displayed, or indeed how to capture the movement of the stars (or the rotation of the earth to be correct) over a couple of hours. This is called star lapse photography, otherwise known as astrophotography.
This hub will help you perfect this technique, giving you advice on the settings, and suggesting tips which you can utilise to avoid the many things which can ruin your timelapse or astrophotography compilation.
The main thing to take into consideration when starting out with a starlapse during astrophotography, is that trial and error is key, and even if your first, second, or even third attempt fails, I guarantee you'll be able to produce a good star trails photo like the one shown in this article with perseverance!
What will I need?
1. A DSLR camera, or a camera which can expose for at least 30seconds
2. A remote controlled timer. These can usually be purchased very cheaply of ebay, and work brilliantly (just as if you were to spend triple the price on a canon/nikon manufactured timer)
3. A tripod (essential to keep the camera in one position, completely still)
4. A clear sky and a good location is essential if you want to photograph good clear star trails. Try not to point towards city lights (you can check this by taking a 30 second exposure and note from which direction most of the light shows up in your photo). However, if the location is good, you can overcome this by taking shorter exposures and more pictures.
Which direction do I point my camera (in the sky) during astrophotography?
Generally, the area at which you point your camera depends on what you want your star trails picture to look like.
- If you look at the picture of example 1 - the photographer has selected either the North star (if he were in the northern hemisphere).
Currently there is no "south star" but the southern pole constellation on which to base south is called the "Southern Cross"
Details on how to find both of these stars can be found below. It is important to focus your camera at or near this point, as this will enable you to photograph star trails in a circle.
- If you look at example 2 - the trails are not in a circle, this means the photographer did not point his/her camera directly north or directly south, but rather more towards the east or the west.
This might sound very complicated, but it is in fact very easy! it just takes practice.
What settings should I use during an astrophotography timelapse?
The best way to work out which settings you should use is to take a few test exposures. If you are in a dark area (middle of the forest), then exposures of 5 minutes of more are entirely possible, without producing too much noise from city lights.
If you are near city lights, then exposures of less than 2 minutes will usually be better for producing good star trails pictures.
Although you might not see the stars on your camera display that well, don't worry too much. After 200 shots combined, and small amount of editing in Photoshop or similar programmes, you will be amazed!
For details on how to find the north or south star visit the hub below:
Settings to use during a timelapse in urban areas
The main technique to mastering star photography is trial and error.
If you are near urban areas try starting off by using an exposure: of 40 seconds with ISO 100
View your picture to see how the image turns out - here are a few points to remember:
- If you intend to have an object in the foreground - make sure it can be seen in the photo, otherwise the image will be too dark
- If you cannot see any stars, even when you zoom in on the image, adjust the exposure time to 70 seconds
- If this is still not enough, keep adjusting the exposure until you can see stars on your image
- If you can see stars, but the image seems a little dark, don't panic.After - when you edit your photos you can adjust the light levels.
Settings to use during a timelapse *in dark areas*
If you are away from urban areas, star trail photography becomes a little easier.
You can start with exposures as long as 1 hour, and often this enough to have a decent looking star trails photo.
However, sometimes this can introduce "noise" from sources of light, and sometimes it is still best to try exposures of 4 mins, and then compile the photos at the end.
How to edit your timelapse startrails photos
So, now you have probably in excess of 100 photos - you now need to compile them.
This can be done on photoshop, but if you do not have it, the link below provides a great programme that will automatically compile them for you
scroll to the bottom of the document and click on the blue link with "startrails.exe.
Once you have downloaded the programme, load the photos, and click the button which looks like a picture of stars to commence editing.
Other important settings during a timelapse!
- Once you have focussed your camera, turn off the auto focus - this will ensure that each exposure happens as programmed, and will also save battery life.
- Make sure your camera is not set to AWB, "cloudy" or "tungsten" is much better, and ensures each shot is the same.
- To save battery life further, turn off the automatic viewing which shows the picture after it has been taken.
- DO NOT move your tripod, make sure it is sturdy and wont be moved by the wind or fall over! this would ruin your star trails shot.
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