Star Trails, Clouds and the Milky Way in One Image

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

The best way to learn, have fun and create interesting images is to play around and on our recent Tuli Nature Photography Workshop we spent a night out under the stars and that is exactly what we did.

After our dedicated star photography session at 02h00 some of the people continued to play around with all manner of low light and star images.

As things got quieter and some people went back to the fire I stole a few minutes for myself to mess around and try a few different things.

It was about 03h30 and the small bank of clouds drifting in from the east was already starting to change colour – something I could only see on the long exposure images on my camera’s LCD.

I shot a few images of the clouds and milky way but the results was nice at best.  Nothing special.

Earlier in the morning we played around with zooming in and out during the long star exposures so I thought I would try something similar – panning.

After my first attempt I looked at the screen and was quite intrigued with the result.

This is one the 30 second exposures I took.

Yes, 30 seconds.

No layers or funny Photoshops skills.

Just one 30 second exposure.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife photography

Nikon D800, 14mm, f/2.8, 30 sec, ISO 3200

Northern Tuli Nature Reserve, Botswana

Here’s how I did it:

  • Set up my camera as if I am going to shoot a normal milky way shot.  (You know how yes?)
  • Make sure my final composition is right and the Milky Way is in the right place.
  • Rotate the camera to face 180 degrees away from the Milky Way.
  • Start slowly and smoothly  rotating the camera and start my exposure.
  • Keep the rotation going for  20 seconds and then leave the camera facing the Milky Way for the last 10 seconds.
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So how does it work?

  • Trails: Due to the high ISO setting the bright stars will, as the camera rotates, be rendered as streaks of light.  The spherical front of the lens caused the streaks of light to bend and look like star trails which is normally created through a much longer exposure.
  • Foreground:  The foreground in front of the Milky Way was higher than the area behind me (where I started the exposure).  This means that while I was moving the camera around the foreground would not be rendered properly but rather a as a black blur.  The last 10 seconds would then render the higher foreground sharp as the camera stood still during this part of the exposure.  On the raw file you can see the two different foregrounds – the sharp one and the blurry on a little lower – in the frame.
  • Milky Way:  As with the foreground, the Milky Way requires a bit of exposure time to be rendered and the last 10 seconds of the exposure, after the camera has stopped moving, ensured that this would happen.  Same goes for the clouds.
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The best way to learn, have fun and create interesting images is to play around and I will most definitely be playing more with images like this in future.

Why don’t y0u give it a bash when you next head out into the wild place of Africa?

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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Comments 0

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  1. Harvey Spears

    Thanks Gerry for this wonderful shot and the technical info on it. I have had various success on shooting night shots and this encourages me. One question, I see you shot the with an ISO of 3200. Isn’t that a bit much for noise?

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      Gerry

      Hi Harvey. Thanks a lot for your comment. I normally start shooting stars at between 2000 and 2500 ISO which on my Nikon D800 and D3s renders pretty good results. As I was playing around with this image I was trying a whole lot of different things and ended up on 3200. With a bit of noise reduction in LR and Nik filters the resulting image is pretty clean. 🙂 I’d always rather get a slightly noisy shot than no shot at all. Good luck with your star photography! 🙂

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