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Adobe-Photoshop for photographers

Adobe-Photoshop for photographers

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Published by Taylor Cubbie
tutorials for photographers on photoshop
tutorials for photographers on photoshop

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Published by: Taylor Cubbie on Jan 19, 2013
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09/15/2013

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Star trail photographs are photographs taken of the night sky that
record the rotation of the earth around its axis relative to the sky.
To do this the camera must be firmly fixed on a tripod, pointing
up at the sky and shot using a long time exposure. However,
this is one of those techniques where it is actually more difficult
to successfully shoot a subject like this digitally compared to
shooting film. Let’s begin by looking at the general problems
associated with shooting star trail photos.
To start with you need to find a location that offers a good
view of the night sky and is remote enough to avoid the effects
of light pollution. If you live in a town or city you will rarely get
the chance to view the night sky free of the light pollution that
obscures the fainter stars and the Milky Way. For a city person like
me, it is only when venturing out to the remote countryside that I
have a chance to see the night sky in all its glory. You also need to
make sure that the area of the sky you are photographing doesn’t
include a flight path, or the passage of the moon. Next, you need to
choose an evening where there is likely to be a perfectly clear sky
and you will ideally want to shoot in dry atmospheric conditions.
If the air is moist, there is a good chance that the camera lens may
get covered in condensation. Over the last few years, I have tried at
various times to shoot star trail images, but it has usually only been
possible for me to do so when staying somewhere that’s remote
enough and where the atmospheric conditions have been just
right. Of course, I have also needed to find locations to shoot from
that have included suitably interesting foreground elements. On a
recent holiday trip to Mallorca I made the most of the remote villa
location where we were staying to create the photo that’s shown in
the following steps.
Now you’ll often hear people like me say how digital is better
and easier to work with than film. But for this type of photography,
digital presents a unique set of problems and it is in some ways
more tricky to photograph star trails digitally than when shooting
film. So here are a number of tips to bear in mind when shooting
a star trail image at night using a digital camera. To start with you
will need to capture a total exposure time of at least half an hour,
or maybe as long as a couple of hours in order to record a decent
star trail image. When I began shooting star trails I tried doing this
using a single exposure. The problem with this approach was that

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when the shutter was left open for long periods of time, the sensor
tended to generate a lot of random background noise which would
accumulate throughout the exposure period and be most apparent
in the darker areas of the image. When shooting film, noise would
only be a problem in terms of film grain and if you were using,
say, a 100 ISO or 200 ISO film emulsion, you could capture a
perfectly smooth star trail image at any exposure duration. With
digital, the random noise generation can be a real problem. In
the early days of digital cameras even an exposure time of just a
few seconds was enough to tip the balance and cause a serious
deterioration in the quality of the image capture. These days it is
possible to record much longer time exposures before seeing any
adverse affects. When it comes to shooting really long exposures
though, the best approach with current digital camera technology
is to limit the maximum exposure time to around 2 minutes per
exposure and then combine a sequence of exposures that have
been captured one after another. I demonstrate how to do this in
the tutorial that is coming up. Essentially, you can usually use
the software that comes with the camera to shoot in tethered
mode and configure the software to shoot a set number of shots
in a continuous sequence. Or you may find there is an option in
the camera menu itself that allows you to do this. Many digital
cameras have an optimum ISO setting that is slightly faster than
the lowest ISO speed setting. The pictures you see here were shot
in raw mode using the Canon EOS 1Ds MkIII camera set to 200
ISO and with a lens aperture of f/5.6.
The other problem to watch out for is battery life. For as long
as the shutter is open, the camera battery is going to be used to
power the camera’s sensor. CCD sensors can consume a lot of
power, whereas the modern CMOS sensors are much more power
efficient since they draw less charge. If you are about to shoot a
sequence of long exposures, you will need to make sure you are
using a fully charged battery. Some photographers overcome this
limitation by using a power supply lead connected to an external
power source such as a domestic power supply or a car battery.
If shooting, as I did here, with the camera tethered to a laptop
computer, it also important to make sure the computer itself has
a sufficient amount of battery charge to last throughout the total
series of time exposures.

For non-extended users

The technique is described over the
following pages is another one of those that
is only available to customers who have
the extended version of Photoshop CS3
or later. However, as with the fireworks
composite described at the beginning of
this chapter, you can reproduce a Maximum
Stacks rendering effect by manually setting
each layer to the Lighten blend mode. The
main reasons why I advocate using the
Stacks rendering method here are a) it is
quicker and b) you can also try using the
Range Stacks rendering method which will
produce a slightly different result (that can’t
be simulated using layer blending modes).
The Range Stacks rendering produces a
more contrasty and darker effect. It didn’t
work so well with the image example I used
here, but it may be useful for other types of
star trail images, especially if the cumulative
exposures are looking too light.

Martin Evening & Jeff Schewe
Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers: The Ultimate Workshop

308

To shoot the night-time sky, choose a location during daylight
hours, set your camera up on a sturdy tripod and compose the
scene so that it includes something in the foreground. You don’t
want to shoot just the sky on its own, so look for interesting trees
or buildings to include in the picture. Make a note of the camera
field of view so that you can plan in advance how to expose the
night scene later when it is dark, using either a torch light or a
portable flashgun (see sidebar).

1 To begin with, I set up the camera on a tripod during daylight hours (see Figure 8.1),
selecting the ideal camera angle viewpoint to shoot from. In this instance, because I
was shooting with a Canon EOS camera, I configured the EOS Utility software to shoot
a sequence of photographs. Here, I adjusted the camera settings and made sure the
shooting mode was set to Bulb. I then clicked on the Timer shooting button to open the
dialog shown top right, where I set the Exposure time to 2 minutes (in which case, the
Shooting Interval has to be at least 2 minutes 5 seconds) and configured the dialog to
shoot 20 exposures. When I then clicked the Start button, the Timer Shooting Status
dialog appeared to indicate how the shoot sequence was progressing.

Figure 8.1 This shows the typical setup I
use to shoot star trail photographs, where the
camera is controlled via a laptop computer
running the tethered capture software that
comes with the camera.

Lighting the foreground

It is a good idea to frame your picture using
foreground features such as buildings or
trees, but you don’t want these to appear
in silhouette and they will therefore need
to be lit.
As mentioned in the main text, you can use
a torch light or a flashgun to do this. Since
the technique shown here relies on the use
of a sequence of photographs being taken I
strongly suggest you create these additional
shots either at the very beginning or at the
end. This will leave you with the option to
experiment and select which foreground
exposures work best.

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2 Once I had finished shooting I was able to open the photos in Bridge and prepare to
edit them in Photoshop. What I did here was to make a selection of all the shots and
choose Tools ➯ Photoshop ➯ Load Files into Photoshop Layers…

3 At this stage I had an opened image in Photoshop that consisted of 18 stacked layers.
I used COa LAa to select all the layers and then went to the Layer menu
and selected Smart Objects ➯ Convert to Smart Object.

Martin Evening & Jeff Schewe
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310

4 Once I had created the Smart Object layer I went to the Layer ➯ Smart Objects
➯ Stack Mode menu and selected the Maximum rendering method. In a stroke this
processed all the images to reveal the cumulative star trail image seen here. The result
looked pretty good and when applying this step you should end up with a decent
finished image. However, in hindsight I should have made allowance for the fact that the
lights on the building were likely to burn out the detail on the house.

5 What I should have done was to take a briefer exposure of the scene just prior to
shooting the main exposure sequence. As it happens, I did make an exposure a little
earlier during daylight hours, which was just as well, since I could use this to recover
some of the lost image detail. What I did was to take the photo seen here, add this as
a new layer above the star trail processed image and set the layer blending mode to
Darken. I then added a layer mask filled with black and carefully painted on the mask
with white to repair the burnt-out areas.

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6 Here you can see the finished result. There were still a few more things I needed to
do to get this photograph looking perfect. First, I added an empty new layer set to Color
mode and used sampled paint colors to work with the paint brush and tidy up some of
the areas, such as where there were uneven colors on the building and signs of some
lens flare in the lower middle portion of the sky. You know what I said earlier about
avoiding overhead flight paths? This was such a good angle to shoot from and although
I was pointing the camera away from the main flight path, I still ended up recording a
few light trails from overhead aircraft (you should be able to see some of these in Step
4). When I shot this picture I was using Photoshop CS4 and it was particularly tricky to
remove these using the healing brush. Now with Photoshop CS5 I was able to use the
spot healing brush in Content-Aware mode to effortlessly remove these completely.

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Martin Evening & Jeff Schewe
Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers: The Ultimate Workshop

312

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