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How To Capture the Most Stunning Star Timelapses

How To Capture the Most Stunning Star Timelapses

Time lapse video or time lapse as it is popularly known involves capturing a number of pictures of a scene or event over a period of time and then assembling them together to form a video. This is a very convenient way to show passage of time in a short duration without missing any information. This technique finds use in documenting evolutions, changes, progress etc. and is many times used in construction industry.

Time lapse can be put to use creatively in photography as well. Clouds moving across the sky, busy street scenes, rush hour traffic, rising or setting sun, germination of seeds to plants, bud blossoming to a flower, traveling across a scenic environment, cooking a dish are all ideal subjects for time lapse videos. In fact, the possibilities are endless as you can produce time lapses from anything that moves or changes over a period of time.

Motion of stars in night sky is a fantastic subject for time lapse too and it is our topic of discussion here.

As with any time lapse, the basic gears needed are the following,

A camera capable of shooting in “Manual” / “Bulb” mode

Wide angle fast lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or faster

A Sturdy tripod

An intervalometer, MIOPS Smart+ is an excellent option

Fully charged battery. A fully charged second battery as spare is recommended.

For capturing night sky, a dark location away from city lights is recommended. It is ideal to shoot at a time when moon is not around.

Though not essential, it would be good to consider the following as well when planning time lapse star photography.

Comfortable clothing suitable to the weather conditions

Head lamp / Torch Light

A camping chair as you would be spending few hours at the location.

Preparation: There is not much preparation needed other than finding out a good location and readiness to invest few hours.

Shooting:  Once you are at the location, mount your camera on the tripod. The next thing to do is to focus your camera. This is one of the biggest challenges at night. If you are using a zoom lens, decide on the focal length you would use and move the lens to give you the needed focal length. You may typically use widest possible position that your lens allows. The next step is to focus your camera to infinity so that you can achieve a good depth of field. Manual lenses and some prime lenses may have a focus ring which indicates infinity. If your lens has such a marking, move the focus to that position and you will have focus at infinity. If your lens does not have an infinity marking, other ways to focus is to be employed. If there is moon, you could focus by pointing the camera at the moon. This may not be an option if you are shooting on a moonless night. In this case, you could focus using the camera’s auto focus system by pointing to a distant bright star.  If the camera is not locking the focus, using autofocus, switch to live view mode and manually focus your camera. Point the camera to the brightest star and adjust the focus manually until the star can be seen as a bright spot on your screen. Another option is to focus your camera during the daytime. Focus the camera to the furthest point on the horizon and at the widest position of your lens. Mark the positions on both the lens and camera. Change to manual focus and ensure that the position of the lens remains in the same position. Once you arrive at the location, check if the position is the same as that you have marked.

Once focus is achieved by any of the above methods, switch the lens to manual mode, if you are already not in manual mode. Compose and frame your shot.

Camera Settings:  The settings to use is very important when it comes to shooting night sky. Shift the camera to “Manual” mode. Open the aperture to 2.8 or faster if your lens allows. If you are using a kit lens like me, push it to the widest it goes to. Mine goes to 3.5 at it’s widest end. Next step is to decide upon the shutter speed. Though stars appear to be constant in the night sky, they move according to the earth’s rotation. Longer exposures would therefore introduce a trail of the star’s movement in the sky. Since our intention is to create a time lapse, we could use shutter speeds of 20 to 30 seconds. Some amount of movement of stars is fine. In case you would like to have pint point stars, rule of 500 or 600 may be used. We can talk more of that on a different blog “how to shoot night sky”. ISO can be set between 1600 to 3200 depending on the capabilities of your camera sensor. Setting white balance to “Tungsten” is recommended. This would give your image a cooler / bluish bias to your images. This is by no means always an ideal setting. Take a test shot and review your image and thereafter adjust your settings.

Now that the settings are done, the next step is to capture a series of continuous images which can be stitched together to form a time lapse video. This is where the intervalometer comes into play. Some of the advanced cameras have a built in intervalometer. If your camera has one, you could use this. I am using MIOPS Smart+ to set the time-lapse parameters. Having an external intervalometer is always convenient and hassle free. Turn on your intervalometer and set the parameters. The parameters that are to be set are the total number of frames and the interval between the frames. It is also a good idea to include a delay parameter as well. This helps to avoid any camera shake at the time of triggering the intervalometer. The intervalometer can then be inserted to the shutter release / remote control port on your camera. The number of frames needed would depend on the time lapse video output you are looking to create. For 10 seconds of video at 30fps, you would need about 300 pictures. The interval between the shots is also important. Shorter intervals give a smooth transition to the time lapse video. Time needed by your camera to finish capturing the previous image is also to be considered. A three second interval between shots is ideal. You can also set the exposure time in your intervalometer and this is recommended. In this case you would need to switch to “BULB” mode. The “Miops Smart+” is multifunctional camera trigger is an ideal tool for these kinds of applications. The long exposure time lapse mode in Miops Smart+ trigger helps you to set all the necessary parameters explained above. You can now trigger your camera using the intervalometer and let the camera take the pictures. You can now put to you use the camping chair that you brought along.

Now that you have captured all the frames you need; next step is to convert them into the time lapse video. For this you would need third-party software. There are several software available for this purpose. You could use the free versions of these software. Panolpase, LR time lapse etc are some examples. You can load your frames in sequence to the software and follow the instructions and create the time lapse.

Add on Tips: Select a location with an interesting foreground- a tree, an old building, a parked vehicle or anything that would strengthen your composition. This would give another dimension to your time lapse video. If you are at a dark location, you can light paint your foreground and capture a few frames at the end. Ensure that they are captured with the same settings as that of the other images. The more images you have the longer the time lapse you can create.

Tips for using Miops Smart+ trigger:

Set aperture and ISO as explained above. Switch to “BULB” Mode. Switch ON the Miops Smart+ trigger after connecting it to the camera remote port. Set exposure, interval and total number of frames on the trigger. You can use the very convenient Miops app as well for this. Turn the camera ON  and start the trigger. Camera will start to take the pictures. You can see the information regarding numbers of images captured, elapsed time, remaining time etc on the app.

Conclusion: Creating star time lapses does not need expensive gear. However you would need to have knowledge on using your camera in Manual mode and willingness to invest a couple of hours out in the field to capture those images. As with any kind of photography, practice and patience would help you master this technique.

Author Bio

Ansari M. Joshi has developed his skills by self learning and following the works of other photographers and pursues photography as a hobby. He has a keen interest in landscape and long exposure photography. His ambition is to capture the beauty of this genre of photography and tell a story of his own to the viewers. Ansari is from India and currently living in UAE.

Instagram: @mysonans