October Newsletter: How to Shoot Star Trails

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Another September and another year is gone in Grand Marais. For some reason, I always think of the middle of October as the start of a new year, because in Grand Marais our summer season is basically when we make money. We have about 2.5 months to make enough money to last the rest of the year in the tourism business here. When the season ends, it feels like the end of the year. The rest of the year is about dreaming and figuring out how to do that again. What a great September this was. The weather and temps were perfect and the fall colors were good. If you haven’t been to Grand Marais in September, you’re missing out. It’s the best month of the year, and you should add it to your calendar next year.

How to Take Star Trail Shots

Star Trails at Trail's EndStar trail shots, such as this one take a serious commitment. You not only need to get to a location that has a unique sliver of a foreground (this is what makes the shot), but you have to commit to waiting there while the camera makes the shot. I always use Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) on my night shots during which the camera takes a second picture of equal length without opening the shutter. It does this to sample the noise created during the shot. It then subtracts the noise from the original image. So, if the shot takes 30 seconds with LENR it’s going to take 1 minute to take. In the case of star trails those minutes become hours. This shot took 67 minutes to take and then 67 minutes of LENR. It was 2 hours and 14 minutes before I could use this camera to take a second shot!

Taking star trail shots is easy:

  1. Compose
  2. Lock down the tripod
  3. ISO 100 to 400
  4. Aperture of f/5.6 (ish)
  5. Take the picture for at least 30 minutes (I find 1 hour is the sweet spot for 14mm on full frame). There are a few variables such as your focal length that can change the shot and the direction of the star trails depend on where you point the camera, but the basic process is easy.

A Quick Aside on the Business of Photography

hansel_bryan_130928-937One of the difficult parts of being a professional photographer or a small (micro really) business owner is that there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done and there isn’t enough money to hire someone to help out, and once there is enough money to hire someone, then you’re running a business more than being a professional photographer. September was like that for me. The conditions were so good for photography (as they are every September) that it was hard to sit inside finishing up projects, accounting and paperwork from the summer, while shooting, marketing and just getting stuff done (I didn’t actually get any of the account stuff done). I meet lots of people who want to make a living from photography and I think that that is very admirable, but before you take the jump, I’d suggest that you consider whether or not you want to turn a hobby into a profession.

I was talking with a friend about this earlier this month. He’s a landscape painter and although some landscape painters become professional landscape painters who make their living painting, there doesn’t seem to be a huge push to become a professional, i.e. make a living from painting. In photography, it seems to me that there’s a huge push to make money at it and I’m not sure why that it. It seems to me that if you love photography and have a good job, why not just practice photography as a hobby and share your images on Facebook, Flickr, etc. instead of trying to find a market to sell them. You could also share them at holidays. Before I turned pro, I used to make a slideshow on a DVD synced to music to show at the holidays and instead of having everyone go do their own thing in different rooms, or watch a movie, or a game, we’d gather and I’d give a slideshow. It was fun. Now, I don’t have the time to put something like that together (nor the desire), because I’m busy making a living from photography.

So, before you make the jump from hobby to pro, keep in mind that you might just be giving up everything you love about photography. That trade off might not be worth it. It was for me, but I’m the kind of person that likes to devote everything I have to one or two passions.

Lake Superior Photography Workshops

Biking and the Milky WayJust two workshops are left in the year. It’s been my busiest workshop year so far and I hope to continue that trend next year. I really appreciate everyone who has come to one of my workshops. If you have a camera club, I can also set up a weekend long workshop for your club at the same price as my normal weekend workshops.

I still have space on my Great Smoky Mountain Fall Photography Workshop, but who knows if the government is going to open by the workshop date. That’s going to hurt as I already bought the $450 permit to do the workshop there. If you’re interested, let me know.

2013 Photography Workshops

2014 Photography Workshops

I’m taking reservations for these workshops, but not collecting deposits at this point. The winter workshop will open up for registration on November 4th. It fills quickly, so if you want on that one, drop me an email to get your reservation. My email is bryan@bryanhansel.com.

  • February 7 to 9, 2014 — Lake Superior Winter Photography Workshop
  • April 18 to 20, 2014 — Spring Waterfall Photography Workshop
  • June 27 to 29, 2014 — Lake Superior Kayak Photography Workshop
  • August 20 to 24, 2014 — Northern Night Skies: Night Photography Workshop – 5 day
  • September 24 to 28, 2014 – North Shore Fall Photography Workshop  – 5 day
  • October 3 to 5, 2014 – Fall Photography Workshop – 2.5 days – Photography clubs can book this entire workshop.
  • October 17 to 19, 2014 — Great Smoky Mountain National Park Fall Photography Workshop
  • November 7 to 9, 2014 — Gales of November Photography Workshop

September Shots

Here’s a sample of my favs for September. Click the thumb to see it bigger.

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  • Shirley A Page

    Thank you Bryan for sharing those beautiful photos. They are, as always, outstanding. Seems
    like they are just about ready to speak! Hope you have continued success with your classes,
    and that you have time to catch your breath!

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person with headlamp standing under the night skyThe morning sun cast low light across Oberg Lake during the fall color. Lutsen, Minnesota