A combination of bad weather, bad planning and lack of time, even in the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, have hampered my efforts since I first began working on my star trails some four years ago.
However the requirement to get a particular image for , along with improved equipment, has led me further down the path to success, although not without problems along the way! In late 2018 I received a pair of the first Nikon Z 6 systems to enter the country and hoped that the improved resolution, compared to my Nikon D3S bodies, would help me. Whilst the improved resolution and larger pixel domensions certainly have made the results better, the relative lack of battery capacity, along with other glitches, initially made things more difficult. The unusual image above was actually made facing almost due south, with the Pole Star behind me, from my back garden with a neighbour's bonfire illuminating the surrounding area in one of my first attempts with the Nikon Z 6. This meant that I could at least sleep comfortably while the camera did its stuff in the safety of my garden.
Whereas the Nikon D3S body could happily sit all night shooting time lapse images, the Nikon Z 6's power consumption was crippled until the late arrival of the new Nikon MB-N10 Battery Pack which finally allowed me the luxury of being able to leave the camera unattended for hours. The other factor that hampered my early use of the Nikon Z 6 was actually my lack of skill. With the Nikon D3S I had been used to setting everything up with enough daylight to check all the controls and focus and then switch the camera off until it was almost time to start shooting the sequence. With the Nikon Z 6 I initially followed the same procedure. Using the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4S lens I set everything up, waited until darkness came, switched on the camera and proceeded to shoot just under three hours worth of out-of-focus images before the battery died! To my chagrin I discovered that no matter how one set up the camera, even in manual focus mode, the act of switching the camera on set the lens into a default mode that set it hunting for a focus point - in the dark! Time for a rethink. By fitting the Nikon MB-N10 Battery Pack and substituting the NIKKOR Z lens with my NIKKOR AF-S 16-35mm f/4G on the Nikon FTZ Adaptor and setting everything to manual with the camera's internal timer preset, all I then had to do was switch on the camera shortly before starting the shoot, enter the menu and initiate the sequence. Finally everything worked as planned.
Using a compass I worked out exactly where due north was and set up my camera accordingly so that the Pole Star would be dead centre of the frame. The nearer that is to the centre of the image the more of a full circle you will achieve. Typical settings on the Nikon Z 6 are ISO 400, Manual program set to Bulb at f/8, autofocus off, Vibration Reduction/IBIS switched off, Noise Reduction switched Off and shooting RAW files. It is also important to allow the camera to naturally cool down as the night temperature drops. In the sequence below each frame was exposed for 30 seconds, with a five second interval between each frame.
The first frame of the sequence was illuminated by a hand-held torch waved over seven tin heads stacked on South Hessary Tor, just to the south of Princetown in Dartmoor National Park. Once I was happy with the level of exposure (checked in the review) I was able to crawl into my sleeping bag content in the knowledge that everything else would proceed as planned. And thus it was so.
I then imported all the images into Adobe Bridge 2020 and did my master adjustments in Camera RAW, applying that initial correction to all the files in bulk. That was the easy bit. I then went through each of the four hundred-odd frames and indentified batches that would benefit from a slight exposure adjustments. Once that was done all the adjusted files were imported into Adobe Lightroom Classic 2020 and exported as 50Mb JPEG high resolution files from my 2020 iMac 27" Retina 5K with 64Gb RAM. Following that all the images were then imported into a free app called which then took a few minutes to render the result you see below which then had to be retouched to merely remove some artifacts in the shadow areas.
Star Trails - Continuing Efforts