Star trail movies – learning by doing

I have enjoyed developing my skills in creating star trail movies using my Nikon COOLPIX P900 camera. I am grateful to my sister for sharing and inspiring me about creating star trail movies. I had not come across them previously. Some friends have asked what is involved, so sharing what I have learned so far in this post.

I am learning by doing these over the past few years. I enjoy the random creations that are crafted by the sky you are under each time.

What is a star trail movie?

A star trail movie is created in the time lapse movie “Star Trails” setting on the Nikon COOLPIX P900 camera. It creates a 10 second movie from the 150 minute time lapse of individual exposure shots.

Star trail Darug Country

Tips and tricks

It certainly helps to prepare when taking your star trail movie. However each mistake helps you prepare better for next time. Some of this is specific to the Nikon camera – but you can adapt to your conditions and camera.

  • Location – choose a suitable location. This might be your backyard – where there won’t be much light interference for the duration of taking your star trail.
    • Being out in the great outdoors in a remote location is perfect.
  • Time – Set aside some time as this takes 2 and 1/2 hours to create the movie. Wintertime is perfect as you can start as soon as the sky is dark.
    • During summer camping adventures – I had to settle in by the fire into the later hours whilst I waited for the full 150 minutes
  • Minimise light – is important whilst you take the shots. I use my phone torch to help set up in the dark and turn it downwards once I click start.
  • Weather conditions – cloudless skies are perfect, rain will be problematic. Clouds will add a different ambience to your video.
  • Tripod – a tripod will help ensure your camera remains stable whilst you take your star trail movie.
    • Prepare your tripod in advance so that you can easily step outside to take your movie.
    • When my tripod wasn’t working one time I did use a camping table – but was concerned a creature might stumble past and knock it down.
Camera on tripod, star trails would be taken with this camera pointed upwards.
  • Camera battery – you will need a lot of battery power in your camera to be able to shoot for 150 minutes. I have 2 camera batteries and charge them, so that I can be ready for such occasions.
  • Camera lens – important to clean your lens before taking your shots- smudges don’t always look good.
    • Some nights are cold and misty – so there has been some condensation on the lens. Not sure how you can prevent this.
  • Monitor – you want to be able to check your time lapse movie throughout the shot.
    • You can hear a click each time a shot is taken.
    • Keep a look out for rain spots. Might be time to finish your shot and wait it out for better conditions.
    • turn the camera monitor (LCD camera viewscreen) to a position so you can keep an eye on what is happening with your shots.
  • Tilt – using your tripod to point your camera upwards to the sky.
    • Check that you have tightened your camera in place, as you wouldn’t like it to move whilst in progress.
    • You may like to add a focal point such as some trees in small part of view (left, right or centre) to help create some interest in your movie.
  • Variations – There will be variations in your star trail video according to the direction you point your camera to take the video.
    • Here in the Southern Hemisphere you will get a fuller arc if you point your camera towards the South Pole.
      • The Sky at Night Magazine says “if you’re shooting under a southern hemisphere sky, point south at the Southern Cross (from March to September) or near bright stars Achernar or Canopus (from October to February).”
      • an astronomy stargazing app would be good to refer to here – and I will be certainly following this suggestion for my next star trail movie. 🙂
    • Use a compass, or install one on your phone to help you determine the direction for your movie.
    • Scout out your location in the light before you set up the location for your movie.

Getting started

It certainly is very rewarding taking star trail movies. If you don’t have the Nikon COOLPIX P900 camera I encourage you to start researching your camera manual for some information on photographing stars or star trails. There also would be websites and specialist magazines that you could look at for some more information on how to create a layered shot. Go out and enjoy the great skies and your creations – I would love to hear how you go.

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4 Responses

  1. Greengardens says:

    Thanks Marianne – hope it helps encourage more star photography

  2. Phil says:

    Thanks Mary. I have the same camera as you so will definitely give this a try. Cheers Phil

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