Neon Star Trails by Aaron Priest
Aaron Priest's picture

Neon Star Trails

December 31, 2014

On the night of August 29, 2014 I took my kids camping in the back yard. I set the camera up to shoot a timelapse from sunset to sunrise. The foreground is a stacked layer of the kids running around with glow sticks. I used 15 of my favorite shots with the glowsticks, added a couple more layers of the tent lit up inside later that night with a toy the kids have that shines stars on the ceiling/walls, and stacked everything on top of a photo of the field taken during nautical dusk when there was still a little light left in the sky. The star trails are what we would see if we could take a 24 hour timelapse with no sun or daylight. In reality, you could only shoot star trails like this during an astronomical polar night, which only occurs within 18° of the polar circle (see link below). To simulate it, I stacked a few hundred frames of real star trails with Advanced Stacker Plus and traced out / projected the rest of the path to close the circle with Star Tracer. This preserved the parabolic trails to accurately see the wide angle distortion at 14mm. I stacked 86,400 virtually rotated files to get smooth trails without gaps or dots (24 hours x 60 minutes x 60 seconds), but I think I can cut that down to a third of that total in the future. I still had to add a 1.5 pixel Gaussian blur to the trails in Photoshop to hide some of the aliasing in the lines. Masking the foreground and especially the trees back in took some patience.

Here is a timelapse video of all the footage shot that night:

Camera settings: all photos taken at 14mm, f/2.8, ISO 2500, and 30 second exposures. No bulb ramping or anything fancy. I was too busy setting up the tent, cooking supper, and hanging out by the camp fire!

Equipment used: Nikon D700, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Promote Control, DewBuster controller with DewNot heat strip, Goal Zero Sherpa 100, and Really Right Stuff TVC-34L tripod & BH-40 ballhead.

Software used: Lightroom, LRTimelapse, Photoshop, Advanced Stacker Plus, Star Tracer, and Premiere Pro (for the timelapse video).

Useful links:

14mm · f/2.8 · 30s · ISO 2500
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