Tips for Awesome Star Trail Photos with Spotlight Photographer, Jim Cossey

Jim Cossey, one of our very own Spotlight Photographers, is a bit of a specialist when it comes to star trail photography. So who better to pick the brains of to get some useful top tips for shooting these stunning images?

Over to Jim!

Hey I’m Jim Cossey and one of my favourite things to do when it’s a clear night is to go out and shoot star trails. I’ll be sharing my top tips on how to set up and what to look out for. So go and try it for yourself and start shooting amazing star trails with Triggertrap.

Find a strong foreground

Star trails are amazing when you have an interesting foreground subject. This can be anything from a lonely tree to abandoned buildings to rocky coastal locations.

Find the North Star (Polaris)

If you want to look for the North Star so that you can find the centre point of the star trail then it is always handy to have a compass on you. You literally find north and look straight up and you’ll be in the right direction. If like me you don’t carry one then your compass app on your smartphone also works really well. Of course, this will only work if you’re in the northern hemisphere.

Turn off noise reduction

Before you start shooting turn off the camera's long exposure noise reduction as this can delay the camera between taking shots. This will cause gaps in your star trails when you come to editing them together.

Wear a head torch

Most of the time you will have to walk out to the destination you wish to shoot from. Apart from helping you to see where you’re going so that you don’t find yourself down a rabbit hole or something else equally unpleasant, a head torch will also allow you to be hands free when setting up your camera gear. Its soft light is also good for a little light painting on the subject should you wish to light it up

Check your camera, then check it again, then once more

Triple check your camera set up; you should take your time and make sure that everything is good to go before starting. There is nothing worse than realising you’ve forgotten something after taking all those exposures.



Aeroplanes can wreck the shot

Planes can be a nightmare; you may not notice them if they are in the distance but when you get home you will see plane trails zig-zagging across your star trails and they can be hard to remove in post editing. If you have a certain location in mind for a star trail it’s worth checking it’s not under a busy flight path.


Check the weather and the moon

Checking the weather and the phase of the moon may seem fairly obvious but we all know how changeable our weather is. You might start off with clear skies, but the last thing you want is for the sky to cloud over mid way through your star trail shoot. Same goes for the moon; just because the moon isn’t out it doesn’t mean it won't start rising during your star trails.

Keep warm

Pack a warm jacket. Even if you don’t feel cold at first you will be sitting around for about an hour, or even longer and you can grow cold fast.  Also take a thermos flask full of your favourite hot beverage.

One essential tip!

Take a mate along with you. Having someone else with you can be pretty handy when setting up as they can shine a torch onto the subject so you can set the focus right. You’re going to be sat around for around about an hour or even longer if you want to really get a good rotation on your star trails so having someone there you can chat with really helps to pass the time. It’s also worth remembering that some places may be quite remote so having a buddy is good for safety purposes and to help you feel more at ease.

You can also use your companion as part of your picture. Once you’ve got your desired number of shots for your star trails, you can experiment with using her or him as a foreground subject. One cool effect is to get them looking up at the stars with their head torch on. Then you can blend that shot with the completed star trails in Photoshop.

A massive thanks to Jim Cossey for sharing these amazing tips! If you haven't already, take a look at Jim's profile on our spotlight page!

How to shoot star trails

If you've not given Star Trail photography a go, check out our How To below!

Share your star trails shots with us!

As always, we'd love to see what you guys come up with. Whether you've been out shooting epic star trails, or if you get up to anything else cool. You can tag us #Triggertrap and @Triggertrap on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Don't forget you can also add your photos to the Triggertrap pool on Flickr.