Starry Louvre

Like I mentioned in the last post, one of my goals was to create a star trails picture over a popular landscape/monument.  It's tough to get a good star trails pic within a city as the light pollution tends to drown out the stars, but camera technology is pretty good these days, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

It was my last day in Paris during my 2014 visit - all the previous days had cloud cover, but apparently destiny wanted me to attempt a star trails picture as I was blessed with a clear sky on my final night.  I decided upon using the Louvre as my foreground, as it's pretty quiet there around 1 am, and just as important, I also believed it'd be one of the safer places to attempt this given I was alone and carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment =P


That's one of the pictures I took to capture the stars in the sky.  I know its hard to see them in the picture above, but the one below shows a close up of the actual sky, and with it, the stars. 


Wow, that's a pretty pathetic star trail, right?  Not to worry - those tiny streaks may not look like much, but the combination of many, many pictures of these tiny streaks is what finally creates the trail in the sky.

Before I get to the final result, I just quickly want to talk about the techniques used to ultimately create it.  Some of you may have already noticed it in the first picture, but the bottom half of the museum itself is eye-damagingly overexposed.  There's no way around this - to get the stars to show up in the picture, you need to leave the shutter open, and all other elements in the foreground that are lit will be overexposed due to this.  HDR can fix the museum, but you can't HDR star trails as you need multiple pictures at a consistent exposure to get the trails.  The solution?  

1)  Create an HDR of the foreground (the Louvre)
2)  Take multiple pictures to capture the star trails
3)  Use software to merge each star trail shot together to create the final star trails picture
4)  Combine the HDRed Louvre with the final star trails picture to get your final result

The most important thing is knowing that each step needs to be done beforehand.  If you realize you forgot to take the HDR shots after you're back from the shoot, it's too obviously too late - make sure you visualize your final result before you even take your first picture!  Almost everyone who takes a star trails picture will do steps 2 and 3 (instructions can be found here), but if you stop there, your end result will look like this.


I already edited it a tad to try and make the brighter parts darker (and darker parts lighter), and although It's not terrible, the foreground is just too bright and actually competes with the star trails for attention.  In the context of cityscape star trails, steps 1 and 4 are what takes your photography to the next level.


In total, I took 242 pictures to create the star trails, starting at 1:13am, and ending at 3:22am.  The one downer about doing star trails is you're basically standing around for the time period you set your camera to take the pictures.  I think I spent those 2+ hours playing boggle on my iPhone =P