Wednesday, 5 December 2012

How to photograph and stack star trails (indoors)

3 hrs 45 mins by CJ Isherwood
Meteor on the right
Star trails have been something I've wanted to photograph since I first became aware of them around a year ago. The patience of spending all night in the garden with your camera in the freezing cold put me off slightly, but lately due to a clear window and some clear skies, I've managed to get the same results indoors.

This guide will briefly (and as simply as I can) explain the process I took to get these results by stacking multiple images together to create one final long-exposure image.

The first step is to set the camera up. For these images I use continuous shoot mode, with 30 second exposure and a low ISO (around 400) to keep the grain down. I'll set the aperture once the camera is pointing at the sky as it depends on how dark/light the sky is.

I've been taking my latest star trail shots through a back window in a spare room. By positioning the tripod against the wall, I can get the camera as close to the window as possible (try make sure the window is clean too!). Adding a bit of support to the tripod legs to stop any movement or slippage during the night. 

Once my shutter speed, shooting mode ISO are set, and I'm happy with the aperture, I use a wired external remote with locking switch to begin shooting. Continuous shoot mode will continually take shots while the remote button is pressed.

I'll then, usually, go to bed. You will usually find the camera silent in the morning, having drained all battery life. I've been told that when the sensor is activated is when the camera uses the most power, so continuous shots drain it pretty quick - however you should still get 5 - 7 hours of shooting out of a full charge (on my Canon 1000D anyway).

I'll then review the photos on screen, checking every 15 - 30 shots for clouds. Some trails I have had to cut short as clouds tend to come along after a few hours, in this case, I'll discard these from the final edit.

To stack the good images I use a program on the Macbook called Starstax (will add a link). This program, simply put, takes all the photos you select and stacks them together. Very simple to use indeed so no real need to explain further in this.

The stacking will show you each image as it stacks it, 2 or 3 per second, which is interesting to watch as you can see your photo gradually building up - star trails gradually getting longer. Occasionally you may see a plane fly past, or if you're lucky a meteor suddenly appear. By watching the stacking process you can also identify any shots that need touching up, for example last night I had to edit 4 or 5 photos after noticing a neighbour used a spotlight, thus filling the shot with an over-exposed foreground and bit of lens flare. A quick touch up in Photoshop on these images quickly solves this. If you chose not to touch these up, and simply delete these images, you will have gaps in your trails.

Once the stacking is complete, you can save the final image onto your computer.

Winter Star trails
2 hours 38 minutes

I tend to open the final image in Photoshop to see if it needs any touching up or colours fixed. I generally make the sky a little darker black/blue as so much exposure can make it pretty light/purple. I may also touch up the light pollution at the bottom of the shot.

I'm now pretty confident with this process, but am continuing to play around with different angles and parts of the sky. I'm also trying to hunt down some meteors of course ;-)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Summer's here

Taking in the Sun by CJ Isherwood
Taking in the Sun, a photo by CJ Isherwood on Flickr.

So summer turned up, and judging by the weather out the window it's gone away again.

Having spent a few weeks looking after Cheryl's sisters cats, we've returned home and decided to think about decorating. No plans have been made yet other than the plan to make plans. We now have an almost clear spare room which we can do as we please with, so will start once we find the time and colour.

The weather has been nice, we went to Legoland last week for the day. It was good, a 6 hour ambush of children running around and the constant feeling of being under a spotlight from the rather intense heat. The weather said it would be cloudy, such lies.

Since then the house has been too hot to sleep in, everyone complains about how the summer in England is rubbish, then we complain it's too hot when it finally turns up!

In other news, I've finished the second book of Game of Thrones, which is still a brilliant read. I'm now reading something a little lighter to have a rest from all the medieval shenanigans before I start on the third.

I've become a little dry on the photography front lately, mainly due to doing other things. I do however have a 52 photos project coming up, which I'm sure the next blog post will give more details about. (In short, 52 photos, one per week on a given subject).

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Weymouth Seafront by CJ Isherwood

Weymouth Seafront, a photo by CJ Isherwood on Flickr.
So it's been a long time since I've updated here, I keep doing things and wanting to write about them but never get round to them, seems to be a trend lately.

Beginning of June we went down to (almost) sunny Weymouth for a weekend away, met up with Chris from flickr - top bloke.

Was good catching up, seeing the sights, the places I've seen on his stream etc. We also went to the sea life centre on the last day, followed by some pirate crazy golf, which was indeed piratey and crazy. I won, but Cheryl not scoring a hole may have seen otherwise.

Since we've got back, we've been maintaining a fish tank, slowly adding more fish. They seem pretty happy but the water isn't ideal just yet. Hoping to sort that before we buy the final batch.

Listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, Tribe called Quest, and still learning a few bits and pieces on guitar. Starting to get the hang of a little song on piano currently too.

This is starting to feel like an essay, which I have finished 4 of in the last month, so I'm going to stop now.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Great Easter

Isn't she a beauty? by CJ Isherwood
Well, as the Easter Holiday draws to a close, I thought I'd post a little something about how good it was. This Easter was spent looking after cats, spending time with both our families, shopping, egg hunts, and more shopping...

I've been continuing to keep on my Lego theme, and really enjoying it. Views have increased, but in different ways - I think people used to seeing landscape/animals/cat photos on my Flickr are slightly confused or surprised about the constant flow of small plastic men. However this has moved my audience into fellow Lego fans which has been great as things people have uploaded and shared have been inspiring and mostly amusing/fun.

As you can see, Cheryl let me buy the Millennium Falcon Lego set, which I must say (although expensive) is well worth the money. The build was fun, theres a lot of detail, and it's pretty big too for the price (along with some cool figures), I am hoping to get some photos of it soon when I get the time.

We spent 2 hours last night putting it together, and then spent a little time afterwards playing with it. I'm looking forward to the weekend when I can round up the troops and plan an attack on Cheryl while she has a lay in.

We set up an egg hunt for my niece Connie, who seemed to really enjoy it, using the clues to find the next eggs etc. and managed to do a little hunt in the garden even though it was a bit wet.

Of course, Cheryl put her skills to good use and made some Easter cakes, which looked really good and tasted even better.

It's been nice having the time off work, and having another 3 day weekend at the end of this week which will be nice too. We've also started reading more - I've started reading The Game of Thrones, which is 800+ pages of small tiny text, which I'm about 250 pages in to (and pretty hooked). While Cheryl is reading/has read the Hunger Games, which we are going to go watch in the cinema this evening! Good times!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Build a Droid by CJ Isherwood
Build a Droid, a photo by CJ Isherwood on Flickr.
Been a while since last post (probably said that in most of my blog entries so I don't know why I bother really). Me and Cheryl have just had 2 weeks off work, the first week was spent in Livigno, Italy (snowboarding). The second, we didn't do a lot, just lazed around, made a cake for Cheryl's dad, I did a presentation at university which concluded my second term and that was pretty much all. But it's nice to have some time off to just not do anything.

As far as photography goes, the last few weeks have been pretty much Lego orientated. Moving from minifigures to Star Wars figures and from a small box studio to outside in the garden. I have seen progression in my photos using the mini-studio, getting the hang of changing the lighting and aperture to make the shots come out like I imagine (attached image is one of my favourites).

Last night I was called up to the local Fire station, to take some photos of the fire crew before they part ways - the village station is being shut down due to budgets etc. (same as everywhere else in the country). It was nice to get out and try put my photography knowledge under some pressure to produce results, and I'm reasonably happy with how the photos came out.

I have fallen behind with my running, but have started it up again (slowly catching up with my goal - 17 miles behind! - was 21).

Not a lot coming up that I know of, but I'm thinking of going away for a weekend sometime with Cheryl - a mini getaway.

(judging by this post I use brackets too often)

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A New Look

I have decided to enhance this blog/site, add more to it, contribute to it more. I have recently got rid of my Facebook as I found I really didn't feel the need to keep it. I found it a bit odd that people I haven't seen for years (since school) were able to see what I was doing - not that I put a lot on there.  So it brings me here - back to a blog that I haven't been on for coming up to a year.

Eye see you by CJ Isherwood
Eye see you, a photo by CJ Isherwood on Flickr.
With 2012 sneaking up quickly and already being way into the second month - I have been trying to get back into the hobbies I enjoy doing. I've recently started getting back into photography a hell of a lot more. I've bought a few new tools to expand my horizons and parameters - a couple of macro tubes to help me zoom in, a macro 'flash' which is pretty much a ring of LED's that attaches to the front of the lens. Both of these used for the featured image of the eye. It's a shame about the white ring from the flash showing in the reflection, but I was still kinda happy with it.
Another 'challenge' I have 'stupidly' given myself for 2012 is to run 212 (2012 - get it?) miles... I've been running a few years, but never consistently throughout the whole 12 months. I've been out a few times, but due to the snow we've had recently I've not been out. I'm currently 4.16 miles behind my target - having run 18.89 miles so far (thanks to Nike+ for stats!) but with a few runs when the snow clears I should be back on track.

Cheryl is also starting a blog for her cakes (finally) it'll be a great place to showcase her huge amount of awesomely decorated cakes! Will post a link on here when it's up.