Nature’s very own fireworks

2013-Scotland-Highlands-New-Years-97 by Alex Baker Photography star trail

I spent New Year’s Eve (2013/2014) in a very remote part of the Scottish Highlands. The cottage was on a small island connected to the mainland by a floating footbridge. In the absence of fireworks I thought I would let the stars light up the sky.

How was it done?

  1. I made sure I had a sturdy tripod
  2. I made sure I had a fully charged battery
  3. I made sure I had a torch. You may not believe it but it was pitch dark on the night. There were no lights, no moon, just distant specs of light from houses across the bay.
  4. Check the sky for the moon. If you can, try to do this when there is no moon. I was fortunate to have no moon on New Year’s eve. The moon actually produces a lot of light so it’s best to avoid it so the sky has a chance to remain dark and the stars can still be seen.
  5. Trees or hills provide a nice fixed point for the stars to move around so position your camera with something like that in the foreground.
  6. Exact tech details: I used my Nikon D800, shooting in RAW. The lens was a Nikon 14-24mm f2.8. The lens was at 14mm to get the most amount of sky in the frame. Aperture was f8, ISO was 640, and the shutter was left open forĀ  3609sec.
  7. Once I’d locked my camera into position I setĀ  my focus to infinity and then made sure my autofocus switch was off (this ensures the focus doesn’t shift). With focus set to infinity (the stars and beyond!) and an aperture of f8 I had a good chance of having most of the shot in focus.
  8. Since the most time a shutter can stay open is 30sec, I set it to ‘bulb’ and then attached a remote shutter release cord to the front of my camera. This meant I would not disturb the camera by pressing down on the camera button myself. And it meant I ccould lock the shutter to be open for as long as I needed.
  9. It was pretty cold and wet out there so I didn’t want to leave it for longer than an hour since condensation and moisture will build up. Star trails are best taken in high dry areas so you don’t have to worry about moisture. This is why the desert is so popular. Plus the skies are clearer there. I left my shutter open for 3609secs. Which is pretty much an hour.
  10. Despite being pitch dark there was enough ambient light from the houses in the distance to light up the horizon as well as the trees in the foreground.
  11. A little contrast adjustment and colour correction in Photoshop and voila.

Happy new year!