How to make star trails with StarStax and Photoshop

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How to make star trails

Milky Way season is here, the time of year when we can spot the core of our galaxy at night. Grab your camera gear, brave the darkness and cold and end up with amazing photos and timelapses!

Watch the tutorial below or keep reading to find out how to make star trails using StarStax as well as Photoshop!

Download the free app StarStax from this link here.
Download a free trial for Adobe Photoshop from this link here.

First up, you need to shoot photos of the night sky. To do this you need to find a dark enough spot away from light pollution. Use darksitefinder.com to see how good or bad your area is. 

Depending on where you live this can mean a few hours of driving or if you live in outback Australia then you can probably shoot from your backyard.

Secondly, you need to find the point around which the stars turn. The stars don’t actually turn, it’s us on our globe spinning around instead.

In the Northern hemisphere its easy to find Polaris aka the north star or pole star using the Ursa Major constellation, in the Southern Hemisphere you can use the Southern Cross constellation to figure out where to point your camera.

Your camera settings for this astro photography shoot will depend on the circumstances and gear used. The sequence in the star trails tutorial video used following settings: f2.8 + iso 8000 + 10 second exposure time.

How to make star trails

Keep the camera rolling for at least an hour to make sure you have enough images.

Want to learn the basics of timelapse? Check out my free e-book!

Once you’re back home, offload your photos on a drive and give them a quick colour grade using Lightroom. Then export them to a JPEG or TIFF sequence to edit in StarStax or Photoshop. A TIFF sequence is much larger in file size and slower to edit but they hold much more data than JPEG sequences and thus you will end up with a higher quality photo in the end.

How to use StarStax to make star trails

  1. Open up Starstax and import the images using the folder icon on the top left. 
  2. Adjust your settings in the settings panel on the right. The standard settings will often do the trick just fine. If you want to adjust further the built in manual is very handy and explains all the features in great detail.
  3. One fun setting you should definitely try out is comet mode, which lets the star trails fade slowly making them look like comets.
  4. Once done processing you can save the final image, then open it in Lightroom or Photoshop to edit it further. 
  5. If you enable ‘save after each step’ in the settings on the right then Starstax will save a photo after every processing step. You can then render this new sequence of photos and have a video in which you can see the trails form.
  6. Another benefit of StarStax is that it has a built in mode to fill in gaps between photos. When your interval between photos is too long this can result in star trails that look dotted instead of a continuous line. 
Four different pieces of content from a single sequence: A still photograph, an astro timelapse, a star trail image and a star trail timelapse sequence.

Now that we've made a star trail image in StarStax, let's have a look at Photoshop.

How to make star trails in Photoshop

  1. Go to File > Scripts > Load files into stack.
  2. Let all the images load then double click the newly generated smart object.
  3. Select all the layers that appear (they make up the smart object) and set the blend mode to Lighten.
  4. As you can see this generates the trails almost instantly. Apply further edits to the image or just export it from there.

I hope you enjoyed this star trails tutorial with StarStax and Photoshop. You can use code ‘ilikestartrails’ for $10 off my e-book The Astro Timelapse Guide. This e-book teaches you everything about how I plan, shoot and edit high quality astro timelapses.

If you like my free tutorials, consider supporting me on Patreon.

Got any video suggestions? Make sure to let me know in the comments!

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