Spinning earth effect tutorial

Spinning earth effect tutorial cover

Ever wondered how to create the spinning earth effect for your astro timelapse footage? All you need is an astro timelapse shot and the motion tracker in After Effects. Watch the video or read on to find out how to make the earth spin!

This article and video tutorial is a collaboration with Martin Heck from Timestorm Films. If you like getting your mind blown by the most beautiful 8K timelapse footage then make sure to check out Martin’s channel!

As mentioned in my star trail article, milky way season is here: the time of year where we can go shoot gorgeous astro timelapse sequences.

An effect you see pop up on reddit and twitter every few weeks is the spinning earth effect. The footage shows a near static night sky and a rotating earth. Most people think the stars are spinning around us, but it's actually us who's spinning (obviously)!


Now you can create this type of shot straight out of camera by using a star tracker but most of us don’t have one of those. I've never actually used one, but I hear good things about the Vixen Polarie.

If you don’t have a tracker you can just shoot on a wide lens and add the rotation in post

Why a wide lens? Because we’ll need to zoom in a bit to show the rotation without showing the edges of the footage. This means that you will lose part of your framing, so you need to frame wider than you usually would.

We'll be using After Effects to track the motion of the stars and then stabilise them, making the earth turn instead. If you're unfamiliar with After Effects I highly recommend you check out my video and article explaining how to use After Effects for timelapse photography.

I know you're reading an advanced tutorial, but maybe you don't have the basics of timelapse locked down just yet. If that's the case, you can download my free 16 page e-book The Basics Of Timelapse Photography right here:

How to create the spinning earth effect in After Effects

  • Open After Effects, import your video file or photo sequence and create a new composition in 4K (or HD if you prefer).
  • Martin has provided me with ridiculous 8K footage from his Nox Atacama series so luckily I don’t have to worry about resolution today. 
  • Go to the Tracker Panel and click Stabilise motion. Enable rotation and disable position.
  • Select two stars that are visible for the entirety of the clip.
  • Click the play button and the tracker will analyse the footage.
  • Once the tracker is done analysing you can hit Apply and review the changes.

If the tracking failed for some reason then you can double click the footage in the timeline, restart the tracker and hit apply again. I'll make a video about the After Effects Tracker panel soon (it's overdue).

Make sure that none of the corners of the composition become visible. This is why you need a high resolution video file, so that you can scale in without losing too much quality.

All that's left is exporting your video and sharing it with me on Instagram! Make sure to follow me on there: www.instagram.com/matjoez

As we're at the end of this tutorial I've got a question for you: Do you want to learn how to timelapse like a pro? Check out these e-books I've written about timelapse!

Get all the best tools and techniques to become a great timelapse photographer.

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