Thursday, January 14, 2010

Badlands star trails

For something that resembles an other-worldly landscape, it's hard to beat Badlands National Park. Shooting at night and combining it with other astronomical features makes it even more so.

Creating this shot could have probably been done fairly easily in one take, but instead I used two. The star trails are roughly a half-hour exposure taken at a completely separate time and place than the landscape and taillights. A crescent moon complemented the blue-black sky in my original shot of the Badlands. It didn't convey the feeling of time and space that I had envisioned, so in Photoshop I removed that sky and dropped in the star trails. Now we have something right out of a science fiction movie.

Having a friend drive through the frame in a minivan while dragging his foot on the brake to make sure the upper third brake-light glowed added the "flying saucer trails." Keeping the exposure timed so that only the red taillights from one vehicle and no headlights coming in the opposite direction showed was the key.


Larry said...

Neat shot Chad. Tell us more about how to do star trails. Which part of the sky do you aim towards, what settings, how do you compute for a 30 minute exposure (because I have to use the bulb setting for a long exposure)?

Maybe this could be a session for the BH Shootout!

Chad Coppess said...

Thanks! I've been playing around with these for the last year or so, but I'm by no means an expert at them.

Where you aim the camera depends on how you want the stars to streak. They spin around the north star as in this shot, so if you want a full circular path you want that in the shot. or you can just have arcs across the sky.
I usually use a medium aperature like f8, and then time my exposure with my watch. I've not liked anything less than 10 minutes because the streaks are too short, and I haven't gone longer than 30 minutes yet. I know some people let them go for a couple hours. Just haven't tried that yet.

Daniel Merchen said...

What ISO did you end up with for the star trails?

Chad Coppess said...

I try to keep my ISO as low as possible for all shots, and especially for what's going to be a long exposure anyway. So this is ISO 200.