Editing Star Trails in Photoshop - a Video Tutorial

October 09, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings friends! I recently returned from a great week of photographing fall colors here in Colorado and wanted to share some of my techniques for editing star trails in Photoshop. I decided to shoot a very long 377-photo star trail sequence above Telluride, Colorado.

There were no clouds at sunset so I figured it would be a good way to salvage my trip there. I had always wanted a very interesting shot of Mount Wilson (one of Colorado's iconic 14,000 ft. peaks) from Last Dollar Road and I've never seen anyone use star trails or night photography from this location during fall colors. I feel like fall colors and night photography pair nicely with each other because of all of the dynamic colors that appear.

In this particular scene, the full moon rose at 8 PM to the east (left) and provided great light for the trees, valley, and mountains. There was significant airplane traffic on the horizon, and as always, I needed to edit them all of out of my star trail sequences. This is a very time consuming process but the end result is worth it. 

Here is my video tutorial:

...and here is the end result:

Wisp me Away to Last Dollar RoadWisp me Away to Last Dollar RoadUpon my arrival at Last Dollar Road above Telluride, Colorado, my attention was immediately drawn south to Wilson Peak, which I've climbed twice. Since I knew there was not going to be any clouds for sunset, I actually got a little excited, knowing I would be able to shoot a very long star trail sequence over the mountain. Much to my surprise, halfway through shooting this 400 photo star trail, clouds began to quickly form and dissipate, creating a really interesting effect. The full moon illuminated the aspen trees below, making for a very memorable night.

A few notes on shooting this scene:

I shot the foreground scene with my Sony A7r2 camera and the Sony Zeiss 55m FE f/1.8 lens at f/5, ISO 100, 25s right after sunset but after moon-rise (blue hour). The stars were just starting to appear. I then moved my composition up to include mostly sky (as seen in the video) and shot that scene at f/2.8, ISO 400, 30s, for 377 shots using the built-in time-lapse app on the camera. Once I finished editing the star trails, I then used my foreground image to balance it all out. 

I know my technique may feel a little crude, but it works really well for me. What techniques do you use? What questions do you have?


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