16 September 2010

Starry, starry night

Namibia is not only the least densily populated country in the world, it is also one of the best places in the world to see the night stars. The dry desert air, the cloudless skies and the absence of light pollution, make it the perfect country to photograph star trails.

We had timed this year's Namibia Untamed tour to coincide with new moon, so we would be certain to get the darkest night imaginable with as many stars visible as possible. On the second day of the tour Marsel gave an in-depth presentation on how to photograph the stars, either as star trails or just static stars. Later that day, we all went to look for a good spot to leave our camera overnight. A bit scary, but the area is private property and very large - even if you knew there was a camera out there somewhere, you would have great difficulty finding it. As some of us experienced the next morning…

©John Spillane

©Willy Schoots

©Roger Thomas
Photographing star trails, and processing them, is very different from your normal routine, and it requires good preparation and especially concentration. As the digital processing technique involves taking many exposures and stacking them afterwards in Photoshop, we weren't able to see the results on the tour and had to wait until everyone had had their rainy sunday afternoon with nothing else to do but stacking stars. And the results are definitely worth waiting for!

©Jeremy Lock

Most star trail photographs are nothing more than that: just star trails. But a good star trail image works just like any other - you need a good composition, with a foreground and a background. And that is what we all worked on. Some used natural light, some used a flashlight to paint the tree with light during the exposure. In all cases, the pictures show more than just star trails, they are good shots on their own even without the stars. And that's how it should be.

A couple of days later, we visited the giant red sand dunes of Sossuvlei and the surreal Deadvlei. Not an ideal spot to try star trails, because it is one of the most touristy areas of the country, but a few of us simply couldn't resist the temptation. The dead camelthorn trees are the perfect strong shapes to use as a foreground, and the curved lines of the dunes in the background are real bonus. Up until that day, only two star trail photographs of Deadvlei existed, at least to my knowledge, but the next morning we had more than doubled that. It was scary to walk back into the vlei in total darkness, wondering if our gear would still be there, but it was. All the timers worked, we all got our stars.

©Roger Thomas

If you would like to try this yourself someday, why not join us to Namibia next year and shoot star trails at some of the best star trail locations in the world? Check out the Namibia Untamed photo tour page for more information on this spectacular trip. The tour is hosted by Marsel van Oosten and Daniƫlla Sibbing.

©John Spillane


Anonymous said...

To be honest; most of these pictures have too many startrail's. It looks very unnatural, almost 'photoshopped'.
My favorite is the last photo of John Spillane.



Marsel said...


Thank you for your comments - much appreciated.

As for the amount of star trails, the images with the most star trails are actually the most natural ones.

In theory, you get as many star trails as there are stars in the night sky. Every star creates its own trail. As a matter of fact, if you don't do any Photoshop work on a six hour exposure, you get way more star trails than you see in any of these pictures. All these images have been 'Photoshopped', because a technique has been used where multiple exposures have been combined in Photoshop to counter long exposure noise issues. The images with less star trails have adjusted the contrast for the star shots to result in less visible stars. In reality though, there were many more.

Hope that explains. :-)

I guess in the end, as always, it's just a matter of taste.

J. Gardner said...

Very very nice, images! I have been to Sossusvlei once about 8 years ago, and at that time they told us that the park was closed to guests after a few hours after sunset. How were you able to stay at Sossusvlei so late? I assume you camped there?

Marsel said...


It's still like that; you're not allowed to stay or camp in Sossusvlei. However, we got special permission to leave our gear there during the night.

Post a Comment

If you want to leave a message, you can choose "anonymous". But please remember to put your name in the message itself, so we know who it is from! Thanks for leaving a comment.