I checked the weather the night before, while storm Deirdre was still raging outside...
It gave it clear skies from about 6 am, then checked again at midnight and said it would not clear until after sunrise.
I then cancelled the 04.30am alarm & thought it would not be worth the drive to the Manannán Mac Lir (Celtic Sea God) Statue at Gortmore Viewpoint, at the top of Binevenagh.
I woke early anyway, as I normally do and had a quick look outside. I could see the stars through the bedroom window, but also some clouds passing by... The anticipation started to rise, I boiled the kettle for the flask, while getting ready. Set the camera settings to what I wanted, filled the flask and packed everything into the car.
As I drove towards Coleraine I could see lots more stars and was getting nerdily excited about the prospect of the photo.
When I reached Binevenagh mountain, I was driving uphill into the darkness of the night (early morning, but night sounds better). The light pollution in the rearview mirror was the only signs of civilisation, even though it was emitting from Castlerock.
When I arrived at Gortmore, I could hardly open the car door against the wind. I grabbed the kit and made my way to the statue through what seemed like ice cold gale force winds (it wasn't, just seemed like it at that ungodly hour). In my keenness to get set up, I had left my gloves and woolly hat in the car.
At the statue, the wind was howling, I tried my best to set up, but my fingers were freezing and could hardly operate the camera and remote timer. Before frostbite and hypothermia set in (it was about 5c and 40mph winds, so I was really only being a drama queen), I set the heavy tripod up, fitted the camera and tried to find Polaris (the north star, it does not move in a star trail). But I couldn't even see the statue of Manannán Mac Lir with the camera, never mind Polaris, and there were just too many stars to pick out the Plough, also known as the Big Dipper as a pointer to Polaris, as you will see in the photo below.
To make things worse, I had left my phone in the car and could not find the plough in the sky to give me a pointer to Polaris, and without the phone, I just had to guess where north was.
So with watery eyes being battered with the cold wind, I pressed the remote timer and rapidly retreated to the car. A hot cuppa and heat on in the car and I was starting to think straight again.
Now I am thinking, should I return to the Manannán Mac Lir and try and do him justice by finding Polaris, but then I remembered how warm I now was (and lazy) and stayed put.
As astronomical twilight approached, I returned to Manannán Mac Lir to recover the kit.
I took a quick photo of the statue head on, just to try and salvage something from the shoot.
I checked it and was happy enough, went back to the car. I didn't even look at the star trail photos until I got home. I really didn't think it would turn out at all...
Then boom, I had got Polaris perfect, and it was right above the Manannán Mac Lir statue.
So to all those that don't believe me when I say, I just press the button and see what comes out, this was the ultimate in shooting blind, and I am absolutely chuffed with the result :)
It probably is not technically a great or even good shot, but the feeling I got when the blended photo was displayed now has me hooked :)
Just need to move to a country with clear skies :) :)
It is placed at the top of Gortmore Viewing Point, which has great views along the Foyle shoreline, across the Foyle to Donegal's headlands, and along the rugged North Coast.
Well worth a visit, and it is free :)
How it was done - settings, etc.
Star Trails can be created in two ways.
1) A very long exposure, but this can lead to noise as the camera's sensor is on for a long period of time and will create heat.
2) Several shots and blend them together, this is the option I used here.
First off, you will need a tripod. Then I set the camera to mirror up, to help prevent shake when each photo was being taken.
I took these photos using a Canon 1300D, entry-level camera, so had to use a remote timer. Set it to were 20-second exposure, 5-second interval and to repeat until stopped.
The camera settings were as shown here.
A better camera could handle a higher ISO.
I then imported the RAW files into Lightroom and did a bit of post editing. Edit one photo and the copy the edit values by pressing Ctrl & C, then paste to all other files that will make up the Star Trail by highlighting them and press Ctrl, Shift & V. This was on a Windows PC.
I then used Photoshop to blend the photos and make the Star Trail, and here is how it's done.
When you browse to select the files – click on the first file, then press shift and click on the last file.
This will select all the files at once.
It may take a while to load all the files?
Select the second to the bottom layer and set the blend mode to Lighten, it reads "Normal" by default. Click the Normal dropdown & select ‘Lighten’
By making sure you are on the Layers Tab
Right Click on the layer name and select ‘Copy Layer Style’
Now select all layers above, Right Click & Select ‘Paste Layer Style’ which is just below the ‘Copy Layer Style’
This should create the star trail, just save as a JPG and you are done.
Also, as mentioned, you can put all the RAW files into Lightroom, batch process them and then save as JPG’s in a new location. Then blend as above.