Under the Super Moon- A Star Trail tutorial


Vermont-ski lift-night sky-star trails

Ski lift tower illuminated by the super moon with star trails at Smugglers Notch ski resort. Jeffersonville, Vermont.

 

*Prints of this image can be purchased here!

Most people will tell you not to go out shooting star trails during the super moon or full moon due to the extremely bright light but I like to go against the grain. My schedule only allows me to shoot at certain times so if the conditions are good then I go no matter what. I had been thinking of this image for quite some time and finally the conditions presented themselves to make the shot only the super moon was out causing some really bright light in the night sky. You can however still do night photography during the super moon phases you just have to be a bit creative about what you shoot!

Circular star trails are achieved by pointing in a northerly direction at the North Star which you can see here at the center of the circles. The more North you point the more circular the pattern. As you move away from North the patterns will be less circular and more linear. I personally really like the circular pattern so when I am looking for compositions I try to point in a northerly direction. Generally as a rule of thumb for myself I always try to find static objects that don’t move simply because trees and other moving natural objects tend to sway and move even i the lightest of breezes. It’s simply a personal preference for me as I do not like the blur the wind causes but I never let that stop me from shooting a particular composition.

The full moon and the super moon causes some problems with the extreme bright light they produce in the sky. My simple trick to avoid this is to shoot in a northerly direction for two reasons…1. If you look North the sky will still be dark enough to shoot star trails regardless of the brightness of the moon when it is full 2. The full Moon will illuminate your foreground which allows for lower iso’s and eliminates the need for any light painting of the subject. ┬áThe Moon lit up the ski tower which allowed me to shoot at iso 400 versus 800 or above so the image file is much cleaner. Instead of not shooting at all and staying home I used what I was given to my advantage and got an image I had been thinking about for over a year!

The processing of these shots is really quite simple with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop cc. There are a few other ways to do this but for me this is the simplest and easiest. I don’t do anything in Lightroom until after I have merged the files together…It’s easier to process one file than 150!

1. The first thing that I do is import the raw files into lightroom and then export the entire series into a separate folder on my computer as TIFF files. You can work with JPEG’s to speed up the process but I like to work on TIFF’s so I can edit the combined file later. TIFF files will take much longer to process but I have never had a problem doing 140 to 150 files in under ten minutes.

3. Open Photoshop CC and in the menu bar chose File-Browse in bridge- Then choose the folder you placed the series of images into. Select all by right clicking on the first image which should be your base image and the start of your star trail series.

4. Once all of your images are highlighted in Bridge choose Tools-Photoshop-Load files into Photoshop layers. Photoshop will place all of the images onto one canvas in their own separate layers. Here you will have to wait a few minutes depending on how many images/layers you have. If you do not have bridge then you would have to do this one image at a time. There are a few stacking programs out there to do this but since I am already paying for my Photoshop subscription I process this way.

5. Once all of the images are layered in Photoshop highlight and select all of the layers and then set the blending mode in the layers panel to lighten. Before your eyes the magic happens and the star trail will appear! The lighten mode will only blend in the lightest pixels which will be the stars. In a few convenient commands you can see the fruits of your labors in just a few minutes!