snipes213
 
prabanjan Apr 13
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Jun, 2017
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tallgrass star trails 2



Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas
gaps in star trails caused by clouds that started to roll in, cutting total exposure time short
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Won Peer Choice AwardNovember, 2017

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Behind The Lens

Location
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, near Strong City, KS. I live almost 2 hours from here, so it's a doable drive, if I don't have much going on the next day.
Time
I had already done another star trail image from the top of the little rise to the left. By the time I started this one, it was 1:20 AM and clouds were threatening to ruin the image. I got just this much before they obscured enough of the sky to stop shooting. After this shot I turned my camera to the south to catch the Milky Way before clouds obscured that view too. Look in my profile for other night photos with the same schoolhouse and tree.
Lighting
I think the foreground is too bright, especially the closer parts. I don't have much equipment or experience with light painting. I used a Maglite flashlight with an incandescent bulb. If I had to do it over again, I would limit the light painting. I've learned since then that 25-40% moonlight can do wonders for lighting up the foreground, and the stars will still come through (not recommended for Milky Way shots).
Equipment
Pentax K-5 with vertical grip for extra battery power Pentax-DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 lens set at 16mm and f/3.5 Cheap Vanguard tripod, but with a ball head for easy positioning flashlight with incandescent bulb - certainly far from ideal, but the color temperature of the bulb is better than a typical LED 30-second exposures at IS0 800 91 images stacked in Starstax
Inspiration
I was inspired by seeing other people's night sky photos and realizing I already had the basic equipment to do it myself. It's bordering on obsession now. Perhaps an unhealthy one, since I spend a LOT of time in post making sure exposure of every element in the frame is the best it can be. Plus I make time lapse videos of the star trails forming. Plus I use my 360-degree camera to do star trails, which comes with it's own challenges (especially light painting, since the light source will always be in the shot). Plus I do Milky Way photos, which are a lot less time consuming and more popular.
Editing
Whenever I do star trails, I use the first few photos of the series to do light painting. Then I blend those first few images separate from the rest to get the right amount of light in the foreground. (I've gotten better at this.) Then I stack that image with all the rest to make the light trails come out. I use StarStax, which is free and a helluva lot easier than stacking so many photos one at a time in Photoshop.
In my camera bag
For night sky photography: Pentax K-5 with battery grip Pentax-DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 (A super-wide comes in handy a lot for Milky Way shots. I wish mine was faster.) Sigma 10mm fisheye f/2.8 (I have yet to use this for night sky photos, but it should be interesting.) Ricoh Theta S - takes 360-degree spherical photos, has an interval timer External battery for Theta Headlamp with extra batteries - used for light painting now Smartphone apps: PhotoPills and SkyView Lite
Feedback
This night was only my second try at star trails. Obviously, it's very time-consuming, and you have to stay up much of the night, so my #1 piece of advice is: Do all your homework ahead of time! I learned everything I could about night sky photography before I made my first trip because I didn't want to spend all that time and come away with junk. It paid off. I got useable photos the very first time, and obviously on my 2nd try too. I couldn't waste time worrying that I didn't have equipment more suitable for night-sky photography like a full-frame camera or a faster lens because it's just not in my budget. Like the old saying goes (and sometimes applied to, ahem, other situations) it's not so much the equipment but how you use it that matters. Also, take more photos than you think you need, as long as the clear sky holds. You can always cut off the first or last several photos of a star trail series, but you can never make it longer!

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