Skip to main content

photo & video

Photographing America's National Parks

Lesson 15 of 37

Ten Steps to Processing Perfect Star Trail Images and Q & A

Ian Shive

Photographing America's National Parks

Ian Shive

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

15. Ten Steps to Processing Perfect Star Trail Images and Q & A

Lesson Info

Ten Steps to Processing Perfect Star Trail Images and Q & A

Step number one you know using adobe bridge on I prefer to use adobe bridge for the process and I'm going tio open up a window so that we can kind of go back and forth that using adobe bridge open one photo from your syriza's start trails that you like and modify their all file to your style so basically you're gonna open one of the shots on goal just show you briefly if you go over to my laptop real quick you can actually see that these are all my frames on dh then we've got the the shot I might go in and say ok what's pretty dark maybe wanna add a little vibrance or you know something to it I could go and add a little vibrance and if you want the stars to pop a little bit more you can actually burst your highlights up a little bit you might want to adjust your exposure there's a number of things you can do obviously you know if I was doing a longer exposure I wanted it to be brighter if I did that then that meant the stars will start to streak so if I wanted to just keep these stars ...

perfectly still and not streak but I wanted it to be brighter the only real way to do that would be in a photo shop here or of course getting a faster lens but this was a two eight so that's a pretty common one to work with but anyway you can go and make your adjustments in here and then whenever you're done and I'd probably worked this a little bit simply hit done and then you can go and highlight all of the images and then uh control click developed settings previous conversion and it will apply that same change to all over the frame so that way they're consistent you don't want to do each frame individually and there's a whole nother process to that which we won't get into but you want them to be consistent because it's basically going to stack all of them so whatever change you do the one you want to do to all of them I'm going back step number two once you've done that you hit done we've applied it to every thing that's what we just covered and it'll do that in the background step three you want to add all of the files in the layers in photo shop so basically what we're going to do now is if we go back to the bridge you go to tools, butter shop and load files into photo shop players I'm gonna actually just pick a very small number because if we do that we will be here all day but I'm just going to give you an idea of what it does blowed files this is where having a really fast computer helps yes and now what is going to dio is it's going to build all of those layers on the right hand side and it's going to stack them up so well it does that you see one two three four five six, seven well does that let's go back to our tips so you're creating all those layers um then you're gonna go to step number four uh in photo shop once those air all done you're going to click the little icon on the left hand side and make them all disappear so basically except for one and that's going to be your main image that you're going to work on your bottom most layer so once it's done stacking it will go in order using the image file names um it will add them all on this little eye you click it turn all the little eye off hide all of the layers except for your final top layer whatever that will be when it's all said and done then all you have to do is click on each layer including the top layer and start the blending options so you want to go through and click on the bottom most layer click layer blending options and choose lighten so my prom mine's still process it just finished perfect timing chose just the right number of images you maximize this to the screen basically I would turn off all of these eyes should probably sit so obviously we have a lot more frames and a lot more exposures, but then you go through and you want to choose you can control blending options, len mode lighten and you would do that for each individual frame blending lighten now you may be wondering, why wouldn't I do that for all of them at once? And the answer is because if you do, you won't have the opportunity to remove the airplanes or anything as easily so as you go through each layer and you see all the sudden the street for a light, you know, that's the layer that that airplane happened to go through because they're playing typically won't go, you're doing thirty second exposures might have one or two frames, but if you go through and you do one hundred fifty frames, you gotta go back to figure out where that airplane was and they're trying to match it in between all these streaking lines in the sky, it will be very, very difficult to remove all of that, so I do in one of the time it's tedious but it's also really, really gratifying because as you go through each one, you can actually start to see go blending options and then you do lightened as you go through each one and click up and click the eye you'll see that the star trail start to build and so it's a very, very, very gratifying process to go through each of those and then that way again you see if I turn this one on it goes away um and you start to see the the end result what's going back to our steps there's a crash course in star photography I'm gonna come back with the whole thing on this think um sure people are definitely asking for that of the days and you go to crave life dot com slash suggest and that is where you can just and request three days of astro photography I wouldn't cast a photographer which is a new term for me but what s so great because you're already here you're in the best place to do it in the national parks to not talk about photographing the night sky would be really remember your incredible I've really that we've gone this in depth quick question right here yes in that last process on the layers yes could you have created an action to get to each one that's a great question could you create an action? Yes, you can create an action and there's actually a lot of people and there's also a lot of aps out there that can seed out this entire process for you and a lot of people who have created actions that you can just download and use yourself so you don't have to create a new one there's a lot of different ways and this is sort of just the quick quick way of just bringing together your frames and getting an idea of what star trails are it's exactly how I created that cactus shot was through the steps very very simple a couple more steps left we've talked about airplanes that's step number six going on a step number seven is choose your foreground image now in the field that's usually the first thing I do I tend to shoot my foreground like the cactus before it gets too dark I want to do that when I have a little bit of illumination on the landscape whatever and when I mentioned that nice blue light that you get after the sun goes down probably good thirty or forty minutes later that might be a time where I get my foreground layer now I'm not going to move my composition so when I photograph that cactus I'm gonna go back to that shot when I go back to that cactus and you look at it I didn't move the camera or tripod I just simply set an exposure and painted it with light and did everything that I wanted for color at that moment then all I did was focused on the star trails now the question earlier was were you focused I also don't shift my focus if you shift your zoom you shift your focus you shift anything in this process it's not going to line up later everything has to stay perfectly still so you don't want accidentally kick a tripod leg or anything like that but at this point so I've selected my foreground I knew that's the result step number eight you've merged all your starlight layers together so that their now one layer you see your trails you see your foreground at that point then you would just go through a layer mask blending mode and actually start to paint in using a black paint brush on your layer mask that's rule number nine will make this available to everybody but step number nine rather not rule top layer you set the blending mode of normal matter enlightened creative layer mask and just simply paying around where the stars are you want to do it carefully using the brush around the edges that way the star trail shine through and ultimately that foreground that one single frame it will be your foreground elements a cz you see with the cactus here if you have any other issues or anything you know planes flying through whatever again this is your opportunity you can always kind of go back you know if you want to go in your history and go back and fix it this one was they said took me forever I had probably close to seventy five different objects that flew through this over the course of it very, very difficult to get out but generally speaking these are the ten steps it sounds like a lot it's actually pretty straightforward you go out, you get a lot of exposures you come in, you stack them into different layers go through each one you blend them together choosing lytton and then you choose a foreground make it your top layer dual layer mask painted out and then you have a photo of star trails so it's a very simple process ten steps experiment with it that's the best thing you could do even if you have a perfect guy how to do it every single time different situations as in anything with nature photography whether it's urban lighting or so on you know you have to just kind of work with what you, uh, work with what you have and see what's working for what year ultimate desire is for your composition? Fantastic. Well, I'm gonna come up here and we'll know the perfect timing we were just about in time for for our break but we do have some more questions and I'm not sure if it's okay, if I just go, please do that cool. All right let's start with our studio audience and see if you guys have any questions on this topic if not, we've got plenty coming through let's go to the phones as we like to say so in parks sixty three after another and I may have missed it, but could you please explain a little bit about how you scout for night start trail shot? Excellent question would you be looking for? I'm looking for an open sky, okay with the giant sequoia and the stars are going around if you're in the sick way for us, you rarely see any sort of open sky. I spent a lot of time during the day actually trying to figure out howto which tree I'm look for that we'll have an open sky around it. Same thing with the with the cactus organ pipe cactus here I'm sorry this is a giant saguaro, but in organ pipe cactus national monument, I went and looked for what was I was looking for an iconic looking cactus, you know, the kind where like you have one one here, one one arm like this in one arm like that, I am settling for two, three arms like this, but it was good enough for me it was it was like the perfect cactus, it was colorful and and it didn't have anything immediately around it, so allowed me to kind of isolate a single object and make that other ones that's, right? And then again that's kind of just going with the rules of composition with layers not really rule again, but something that I look for his layers foreground element this case very strong one vertical some cactus in the middle and then of course your area in the distance great. Yeah, great question sonny frank um lives in alaska and I is wondering have you ever photographed the aurora borealis and do you have any suggestions? You know that's a good question yeah, the aurora borealis I have on li had a couple opportunity and believe it or not to photograph it so iceland I think we should just do the homework I think the next location is iceland location where we get maybe upto like the arctic circle in alaska yeah it sze very similar in the sense of what you're going after I haven't done it in the sense of doing image stacking but I know all the same rules apply your you're working with them that's a very faint light and that you're trying to essentially accumulate that faint light into something that's brighter and more visible so in aurora borealis is going to be something with a higher eso more sensitive and a longer exposure that allows that wave in that light to accumulate on the sensor the better the aurora the better the results, of course, but all the same basic rules apply for photographing the sky so good question, all right let's do a few more rapid fire jimmy baker did you say if you are using a uv filter on your lens when shooting stars, I am not using a uv filter in fact, I don't use a uv filter at all on my lens ever, which one from us, which everyone knows from looking at it and this is something that my dad and still do mean whether it has absolute married or not, but early on, so why would you put a seventeen dollars uv filter on front of a two thousand dollar lens? And of course, god protects it and all this other stuff, but I like it. I mean, essentially your you've got this incredible piece of glass, you know, go out and just let it let it shine through, and I haven't honestly ever seen a huge benefit from that the most benefit I've ever seen from filters have been obviously polarizing filters and then neutral density filters, but that's more for effect as faras cutting small cutting glare, cutting through things. The polarizing filter has been the only one I've ever used. Great thank you and miss hip and their three votes on miss hips question do use mirror lock up when shooting stars to reduce the camera vibration? Did you talk about that? I did not I do not use mirror lockup to reduce the vibration I haven't had a problem with vibration on star trails so I haven't used me or lock up if I were to use mirror lock up and actually to think how that would work, I wouldn't use it because I think locking up probably wouldn't lock up the mirror the entire time. I don't see a reason not to have a mira lock up, though either somebody feels like the vibrations there was using a longer lens where the vibrations were more magnified, it would probably be more apt to use it. Rarely do I use a longer lens for star photography, though yeah question in the audience you talked about the exposure being set by the rule of five hundred, but the non rule I mean rightly, but the non exposure interval we're talking about having the camera closed for duration so that we can cool the ccd were not long disclosing that we shouldn't be closed if I could leave it open the whole time I would sew the duration we're not actually closing it to cool the ccd itt's brief it's one second essentially, but it's not even a full one second it's really closing and opening again, so you're still getting the heat buildup, but it's not the same as if it were just constantly going so that brief interval or closes and opens again immediately reduce is that he it's a very fast thing too cool is it because you're now moving the noise pixels each time you take a new exposure and that's not layering that's correct that's part of it that's definitely a major part of essentially you're getting, um yeah, if you have ever noticed on a long exposure where you're sure to get noise, you get the red and the green and they're like they're obviously not part of your picture. They're just lady look like broken pixels are g b pixels essentially they're not going to shine through, they're going to go away and they won't even blend threw in the light and if you have him and typically photo shop and in the processing and a lot of softwares, they automatically remove them anyway. It sees them as being that. So yes, that's exactly right, good question, okay, quickly from el freely and what happens if you just delete the frame that has the plane in it? Imagine the great question is, well, if you delete a frame with the plane in it and then you're gonna have a gap in your trail so that's, what happens with the clouds if they come through and you don't see the star in that particular frame, the star then picks up where it left off, so it's the same thing if you delete that frame you've deleted that path that the stars traveled in the sky, and so now you have a gap in that spot where the star was going. So you the idea is to have one consistent path of the star and kind of relating to the question that we had a second ago about having how long between the exposures you, you want to make it as fast as possible. When I mentioned a one second on the interval ometer interval ometer needs a direction to know how to open and close it's not that we're actually giving it one second it's, that we're telling the interferometer to keep going in the process that's how it interprets that if you have it at zero, which makes my opinion more sense because it sounds like infinity, it doesn't, it sees it as simply only do this command, which is open for thirty seconds, and clothes in this case would be open thirty seconds and close and open again infinitely until I hit stop on the controller and I will use a timer on my phone usually right? Okay, so we have a ton of questions coming in, but there's so much content to cover today, I would love to know if and where people could go with their additional questions that we're not. Able to cover today on dh if you're willing to kind of address some absolutely playing dress a cz many questions a cz possible? I think we probably have a lot, especially on a crash course in astro photography, but my facebook page on the national parks, the national parks, our american landscape is a great place to post questions poster on photos as well, but really not just about me putting up pictures of national parks, but I love what other people do post your questions there, and a member of our tandem team will actually be going through all those two similar as we are here today, and we'll be pulling them together. And over the next few days I'll be answering questions and hopefully posting more photos and other items to actually help illustrate that, you know, you got a lot going on e lovett's such the spirit, so that is I didn't go to facebook dot com slash national park book that's mark's book and of course, that is part of that is your book that you publishing check that out as well. Eso thank you very much in advance for that.

Class Description

Outdoor photography celebrates the varied and stunning landscapes of the natural world – in this unique course you will learn composition and shooting techniques for getting beautiful outdoor shots.

Shooting and teaching from two of the world’s most pristine parks, Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park, award-winning photographer Ian Shive will teach you new ways to create outdoor photographs that are powerful, captivating and fresh. You'll explore key elements of great outdoor photography including: composition, working a scene, selecting exposure, using filters to manage natural light, and scouting a great location. Then you'll learn how to put it all together to tell a story in a single image or series. After spending time in the field, Ian will move into the studio and present on the equally important tasks of managing and editing your work from the field.

Ian will show you how to capture images that are both technically and emotionally engaging. Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to learn how to document the beauty of the great outdoors, in camera.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Field Guide to Photographing the American Wilderness

Icons of Nature Keynote

National Park Photography Intro and Setup

Photo Editing Keynote

10 Steps to Processing Perfect Star Trail Images

Business of Photography Keynote

Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I have taken quite a few courses with createlive and this was by far one of the best. Ian is a fantastic teacher and remarkable at describing what he is doing and his thought process clearly. There is so much good information in this course, I definitely plan on buying this class. Not only is Ian a great teacher, but he also seems to genuinely want to help other photographers and see them succeed. You can tell he cares more about seeing good pictures of nature than anything else. I cannot recommend this course enough. Whether you are a beginner who shoots landscape photography as a hobby or a professional who already specializes in landscape photography, this class has something to offer and will expand your skill set. Can't thank Ian enough and I hope he does another course soon.


Ian is a great teacher and it is great when some one who "can do", can also explain how he does it. Clearly, his experience and commitment are why he is good at what he does. There is a lot more to a great photo than getting the camera settings and filters right. Ian did his best to help us understand what to look for when "working the scene" and finding a good composition without distractions. A great course. Thank you, Creative Live and Ian Shive.


Amazing course. Ian Shive is a wonderful teacher, as well as photographer, and it all comes across. I was glued to my computer for the entire 3 days when the class was live, and just had to purchase it so I don't lose any of it. The bonus materials alone are worth the purchase price. I've got a trip coming up soon and will have the opportunity to put some of what Ian said into practice; and love that I can have it with me on my portable devices so I can refresh my memory and reinforce it all. Great to have on a long plane ride. If you are on the fence, get off that fence and go purchase this great course!!! You won't be sorry. My thanks to CreativeLive, and Ian Shive for giving us this wonderful opportunity to not only learn, but to actually be in the field with Ian.