Capturing fantastic lines of light showing the movement of the stars is a challenge, but mastering the technique is possible by following a few simple steps. Start by locating the North Pole, which is easily achieved using a star chart app on your smartphone. Positioning yourself so that the North Pole (or the South Pole if you're in the southern hemisphere) is the focal point of your photo and using a long exposure will result in the circular pattern forming around a central location. Remember, for any long exposure shot, it's important to use a tripod to avoid motion blur.
Stars don't give off much light, so use a high ISO (800, 1600 or higher) to produce clear star trails. Take a few experimental snaps before attempting a long exposure, as the higher the ISO, the more likely you are to encounter 'noise' in your image.
Although it takes 24 hours for the stars to complete a full revolution in the sky, the appearance of a full-circle star-trail effect can be achieved with a long exposure of around 60 to 90 minutes. If you're shooting in the northern hemisphere, locating the Polaris star in the night sky will give you a reference point around which the stars will appear to rotate.
The slowest shutter speed available on many cameras is 30 seconds, so you'll need to use the Bulb exposure setting in Manual (M) mode. This allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you want to. Set your focus to infinity, and once you're ready, try an exposure of around 30 minutes. Then review your shot again. It may take a few tries – and some patience – but eventually you'll achieve results you're happy with.
Another option is to create a night sky time-lapse video. Many Canon cameras, including the Canon EOS R6, EOS R5 and EOS 90D, feature a Timelapse Movie shooting mode, utilising a built-in intervalometer. Mount your camera on a tripod and set a shutter speed of around 20 seconds or faster, setting your aperture and ISO accordingly (f/4 and ISO640 tends to work well). Take a test shot and review the results, making any necessary changes to your exposure settings. Next, set up the intervalometer to take successive shots every couple of minutes or so.
The total shooting time for the sequence will depend on how long you want your night sky time-lapse video to be, as well as your frame rate. For example, a sequence totalling 60 shots at a frame rate of 30fps will result in a two-second time-lapse video.
A well-made star time-lapse can be astounding, with the heavens appearing to gradually spin before your eyes. If you're lucky, or plan your shoot to line up with a meteor shower, shooting stars will dart across your frame, adding to the galactic wonder. Find out how the pros capture this stunning celestial display in our guide to photographing meteor showers*.
Written by Matthew Richards
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