Leonids and Star Trails - Canon 5d w/20mm

I spent the chilly early hours of Tuesday morning standing on Woodbine Beach with my camera staring up at the night sky looking for Leonid meteors. It was pitch dark around me, despite being so close to the city, and I had a good view out over the lake towards where the Leonids would be coming from. I saw a good number and managed to capture a few.

The camera was set to continuous shooting mode and the shutter locked down with a remote. The image is a combination of 86 separate 30 second exposures at f/2.8 and 800 ISO. I used a Sigma 20mm prime lens.

Back home I stacked the images in Photoshop and used the 'lighten' blending mode to build up the star trails. The light pollution gave the RAW files an orange tint but a simple tweak of the white balance fixed that. Finally, I added a base image of the beach and water that I took separately to give the image some context.

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Comments

  • Eugene

    I saw this from your Twitter link to the Torontoist today...

    This is one amazing capture! Wow...

    How long did you spend post-processing this image? It must have taken some time to combine 86 photos...

    2009-11-19

  • Michal

    Yes! I must try this method. Thank you for information under photography.

    2009-11-19

  • Kevin Coleman

    My-oh-my. This is beautiful work. I appreciate your breakdown of process. I'm inspired to try some night photography now!

    2009-11-19

  • Neil

    Very well done.
    Thanks for the info on how you did it too.

    2009-11-19

  • Luke

    Cool! Thanks for the info about the picture too!

    2009-11-19

  • Delisha Enos

    Amazing!! Love it

    2009-11-19

  • Ariel

    Well, what can I say... that's an amazing piece of work, great, beautiful image, inspiring, surreal...
    Did you use all the 86 pictures? How can you handle such a large file?
    What would have been the difference on leaving the shutter open for the same period?
    Great, great work.

    2009-11-19

  • Ben

    Wow, thank's for sharing your technique. I'll have to try this myself!

    2009-11-19

  • matt

    Find also on Twitter,thanks for tech. information,great

    2009-11-19

  • Mindaugas

    Very nice picture.
    One of those Leonids is kinda colorful.
    It's funny that you have to choose from wide and narrow angle lens, with first one you will surely capture at least some meteors. With 50mm, 85mm, 100mm etc. meteor would be so much better, maybe with particles, but then it's so hard to capture one.

    2009-11-19

  • Frida

    Amazing work, very well done. I like it.

    2009-11-19

  • Miles

    Thanks everyone!

    I did use all 86 pictures, you need a complete sequence or there will be little gaps in the star trails. I took about 156 altogether that night but it got cloudy towards the end.

    It didn't take that long to put it all together. I imported two RAW files at a time, added them to the first image, blended them, flattened the image, saved it, and started again. Other than the consistent RAW conversion (tweaking the white balance) the blending was the only post processing I did. When all the files were included I added the base image of the beach and lake. Total time was less than half an hour I think.

    I was a little worried about battery life in the sub zero temperatures but I shot all 156 30 sec frames and still had 80% of the battery left. The 5d battery is very impressive.

    Ariel, you could achieve a similar star trail by doing a 43 minute exposure but the goal here was to capture the meteors. To do that you need to have a short exposure so the sensor is sensitive enough to pick up the light from a meteor. Long exposures, over a few minutes, can overheat the sensor creating noise. I haven't tried doing an exposure as long as 43 minutes on a digital camera.

    2009-11-19

  • Andy

    Thank you for describing this technique. The result is truly amazing and very inspirational!

    2009-11-19

  • Al

    Outstanding...

    2009-11-19

  • minimodi

    thats some hard work for one picture! and you did it really good!

    2009-11-19

  • Adam

    Wow, very nice. Great idea to add the separate image for context.

    2009-11-19

  • Joe

    Amazing job.

    2009-11-19

  • owen

    Very cool! Super job :-)

    2009-11-19

  • kristi

    exceptionally great work, once again, Miles!

    2009-11-19

  • beyond bluestockings

    ★Stellar job, Miles! ★

    Seriously, I jest because I can't think of something grand enough to say about this picture: it's ....left me bereft of adequate descriptives.

    2009-11-19

  • pernilla

    Amazing capture! Thanks for the information and creative ideas.

    2009-11-19

  • Jonathan Leake

    I agree - amazing picture and thanks so much for the technique used. Your work is inspirational.

    2009-11-19

  • ROB

    To add to the processing "Long exposures, over a few minutes, can overheat the sensor creating noise".

    I have tried exposures over 30 mins, they are pretty much unusable due noise. Film is another alternative.

    Great image and effective with the beach included.

    2009-11-19

  • Miles

    ROB, I've not tried it myself but I have seen exposures of an hour or more taken with DSLRs without much noise thanks to the dark frame feature of some cameras. The drawback is that immediately after your exposure the camera takes a 'dark frame' exposure of the same length. I'm assuming that the shutter is closed for the dark frame so theoretically you could pick it up and go home while the dark frame is exposing.

    2009-11-19

  • lisa Butler

    Fantastic! Very well done,
    Lisa

    2009-11-19

  • Mark

    Great shot. I'm not sure if you are aware that there is some software available to "stack" star trails automatically using he same lighten mode that you used. It only has two images open at a time as you did to avoid grinding your computer to a halt. I stumbled across it when I was struggling with my first star trail shot (which is nowhere near as accomplished as yours. http://www.flickr.com/photos/marklandon/4086738584/.
    You can batch edit all the raws and convert to jpegs and then run a batch process on the files in a folder using this software.

    http://www.schursastrophotography.com/software/photoshop/startrails.html

    2009-11-20

  • Joaquin

    Absolutly spectacular!

    2009-11-20

  • deceptive

    Impressive!

    2009-11-20

  • RPepper

    That is amazing. Thank you so much for the info on how you completed the image!

    2009-11-21

  • Jillian

    Impressive effort. Thanks for sharing the techniques.

    2009-11-22

  • Jordan

    I'm amazed that you were able to capture this from the city. Well done!

    2009-11-23

  • thomas mueller

    impressive image and i like how you did it...

    2009-11-30

  • Drew Poland

    This is great. I may have to try this. I used to have night photography and then a few months ago I just forced myself to do it and thats pretty much all I've been doing lately. I've been wanting to try a star shot like this for awhile just haven't found a great place for it. I may head down to the beach this weekend, because thats a great idea. I live in the city so thats probably one of the only places I'll get a cool scene and actually some stars.

    2009-12-15

  • Anneli

    WOW....this is truly amazing! Beautiful!

    2010-02-05