I’ve wanted to experiment with star trail photography for some time, but the necessary conditions are not as common in Michigan as in dryer climates. For success you need a cloudless night with no moon in a location with a very dark sky. The stars finally aligned for me recently when I was camping on the shores of Lake Michigamme at VanRiper State Park.
Lake Michigamme is midway between Marquette and Houghton/Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The land north of Lake Michigamme is the most remote and unsettled in all of Michigan. I knew the night sky would be as dark as any I’d ever see.
To capture this image, I set my camera and wide angle lens on a tripod and framed the photograph so that the North Star was centered in the sky. Because the North Star is a pole star, it remains motionless in the night sky while all the other stars appear to revolve around it over time.
To get a proper exposure, I set the aperture to f/2.8, the ISO to 1600, and took a sequence of 30-second exposures over the course of about three hours. Rather than manually tripping the shutter every 30 seconds, I set my camera’s drive mode on continuous shooting and used a remote cord that can be locked in the on position. It was a cold night, so I climbed in my van and took a nap under a sleeping bag.
I ended up with 355 individual exposures. In my studio, I opened the raw files in Adobe Camera Raw and made a few adjustments to the images. Only one plane flew overhead during this time, so I removed the streaks it created in a few frames with Photoshop’s spot healing brush.
I saved the edited versions as jpegs and then opened them in software appropriately called StarTrails. The software builds the image one exposure at a time, and it is interesting to watch the process. I have a pretty powerful computer, but it still took about 20 minutes to create the final rendering using the finer of the two blending modes.