Friday, December 28, 2012

Star Painting on the Beach

While digging through the "picture box" I discovered this classic star painting photo. It was made on one of those family beach camping trips at Chinaman's Hat in Hawaii. Those were beautiful trips for sure. My next visit back to Hawaii needs to include another camp out like this.

Set Up 

Star trails are easy. You only need a tripod, camera, and a cable release. Most DSLRs don't include a remote but you can buy a wireless or wired release.

The reason for the release is two fold:
  1. To obtain longer exposures than the 30 seconds most DSLRs allow.

  2. To avoid camera shake while holding down the shutter release if your camera has a "Bulb" setting.
Any kind of star trail is effective but if you want a North Star center of interest, you might download one of the iPhone or Android apps for star gazing. Or if you know a little something about astronomy you can locate it yourself using the Big Dipper.

Foreground Interest

While scouting around for a place to set up your tripod, remember to position something in the foreground. It can be a tree, bush, or even your camping area. Including a foreground focal point leads the eye into the star trails behind. It creates a map for the eye to follow and helps your viewers "wander around" your image.

In this photo I used our geodesic tent as a lead in for the foreground. The orange flair to the right of the image is the result of pointing the flashlight toward the camera from the inside of the tent. You can avoid the flair by keeping your light aimed away from the camera, or optionally you can "paint" the outside of the tent with your flashlight.

The goal is to give interest to the foreground. When you first look at this photo, you see the lighter colored tent and then the darker tent seems. (Your eye is naturally attracted to the lighter portions of a photo.) As your eye follows the rounded dome it notices the blurred stars above and then it finally moves to the center of interest, the North Star.

You can easily light your foreground with a small flashlight or lantern. I moved a light around inside the tent for about 30 seconds to make sure it was well lit. Depending on the camera settings you choose, the length of time and intensity of the foreground lighting will vary. You'll need to experiment a little. Although lighting the inside of the tent only took 30 seconds, the star trails required an exposure of 20 minutes.

A great time to set up is during a late evening meal. Position your camera, open the shutter, and enjoy the starry entertainment while your camera captures something your eye can't see, the star trails.

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. – Henry Thoreau