Rodney Campbell's Blog

Stars and Sculptures…

by on Nov.06, 2014, under Life, Photography

Some friends and I have been trying to shoot trailing stars at Sculpture By The Sea for over a week. We’d make plans for a certain day and then something (the weather) would ruin those well laid plans. Basically it would be clear blue skies during the day (no clouds is what you want for any astro photography) and then right on cue around sunset the clouds would roll in or the whole day would just be overcast and the night skies would be mush.

Our first planned night was ideal moon wise – right next to a new moon so no pesky moon in the sky to contend with. Stars in the sky are a lot easier to make out without the moon also lighting up the sky (dark skies are ideal). An additional problem for us is that as the days go on the moon is getting more and more exposed each day and it’s appearing over the skies at night at more inconvenient times.

So when a day arrived with clear skies again, I put the call out late in the afternoon for any takers for a star trails session.

Note: These photographs (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

Galactic Beacon

Galactic Beacon

NIKON D600 + 14.0 mm f/2.8 @ 14 mm, 46 sec at f/3.2, ISO 800

We’d be starting late because Sculptures is packed at sunset and even throughout most of the evening there are still many people about checking out the sculptures at night. The quarter moon was also out and we wanted it to be as far behind us (to the west as possible) – it was setting just after 1AM.

I arrived just after 10PM and headed straight out to the point at Marks Park where “Save our Souls” by the Cave Urban design collective stands tall. I was hoping we’d be able to use this as our foreground interest for the trails. Jason Baker soon joined me for this evenings session and there were still quite a few other photographers around and a few other light painters doing their thing with various sculptures.

Luck must have been on our side because Save our Souls wasn’t lit up this night (normally it has these bright red LED lights lighting up the structure). This was actually ideal for us since they would have been way too intense for the light painting and the star trails exposures.

There were a few people still doing some shots and some light painting with this sculpture so we did some test shots, setup our compositions and waited. I wanted a fair amount of sky in the shot (for the trails) so I was keen to shoot from the top of the hill behind the sculpture and allow the bottom of my frame to naturally go down the hill and include the foreground below.

The others soon finished and moved on, and Jason and I set to work.

For an hour from 10:30 till 11:30PM we experimented with various light painting techniques on our foreground landscape. My first long exposure test shot lighting just the sculpture in the darkness with a zoomable torch showed me where the stars were going to be trailing in my final shot. As luck would have it again it appeared we might get the centre of rotation of the southern stars right up in the top right corner of our extremely wide frames. We were both shooting with the same lens (the Samyang 14mm f/2.8).

We tried EL wire (both blue and red variations), Jason’s large 1+m long light wand, a handheld light strap, some white hoop work and some other multicolour madness. One of the massive EL wire runs resulted in a 811 second (almost 14 minutes) exposure (we needed more people :)).

In the end I liked the blue EL wire burning up the majority of the foreground with spectral fire (and I think it balances nicely with the blueish sky). Add a ring of red EL inside the circle and have the outer circle surrounded with some funky white LED hoop work by Jason (with some bright white below to mimic the bright stars).

So with our base foreground light painted landscape components in the can it was time to start the exposures for the stars.

Today I decided to drop the shutter speed a bit down to 45 seconds (from 60). The practical upside of this is that with a shorter shutter the stars still expose fine and trail a little, but the background ambient doesn’t expose as much (so the sky is a little darker). The downside is you end up with more frames to store and process :(.

So with the intervalometer set:
– 45 seconds @ f/3.2 and ISO 800
– 0.1 second time between shots
– infinite number of shots

we let things go – 11:37PM – time to wait… 1:02AM (an hour and 25 minutes and 111 frames later) we called it done.

Back in Lightroom and Photoshop I processed both the trails and the light painted images as per usual and blended the layered components for the final result above.

One other big advantage of starting late – I only had to manually clone out plane trails from one source image (unlike a recent trip to Waverley where I had to fix almost every frame).

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