Star Trails at abandoned Church

on the way to Montana I stopped specifically in South Dakota for this image .. I hoped for a clear night for star trails and God delivered. He also delivered beautiful moonlight which softly bathed the old abandoned church in gentle light. .. I began my 3.5 hours of star trails with the end of nautical twilight, achieving the color you see on the horizon. The bit of green to the right is the small amount of northern lights that we saw that night!
Prints Available


star trails over abandoned church south dakota

Techie info: 

1. Planned ahead via TPE : I knew that I could face Polaris for circular star trails. I knew that the moon would be setting in the SouthWest at 243º azimuth at 11:52 pm so I would have a nice bath of soft moonlight on this church from my intended 3 hour time frame. I knew I wanted a higher ISO (because of the moonlight) and shorter shutter speed to bring out the fainter stars. I started at the end of nautical twilight to achieve the color at the horizon. … those were the details I ironed out as much as I could ahead of time .. 

.. then I sweat the weather and with so much time put into the plan I get as nervous as I do before I run a race .. 
2. an 8 hour drive to end up on location before the execution of the plan… Visualizing the outcome and rehearsing the execution nearly the whole way .. 
3. The execution: 

Clear skies with a few clouds = elated! 

Compass to ensure lens is looking at 0º North for polaris star trails 

Peak of church steeple just below polaris altitude of 44º

24 mm Nikkor PCE lens set low and shifted up for perspective control (no keystoning of church). 

Nikkor D810 camera body

Gitzo tripod

A few exposures prior to the end of nautical twilight for color at the horizon. 

vello remote set at 3 minute exposures. f/4.8 Iso 800. 3 hours. 
wait 9 days while in Montana … and then 
4 Post processing: 

stack images in Photoshop via “lighten” for a total of a 3 hour exposure creating what I visioned and what you see here.
I received hundreds of likes on FACEbook and many comments. One comment that I thought was of particular great observance from someone was about the shadow on the northeast area of the church. His comment and my response are as follows:

QUESTION: I’m curious about the shadow on the right side of the building caused by the moonlight going across the entry of the building. How long was the exposure for this? That shadow is way too sharp to have been a three hour exposure. That shadow would have been much softer and graduated because the light source “the moon” is moving quite a distance in that amount of time. Am I misreading your methodology? Beautiful picture BTW.

ANSWER:If you look at the time lapse video I posted above, it helps us to visually see the moon’s movement as it sets at 11:52 into the southwest at at 243.5º. 

The shadow was longer at that point at that northeast area you see on the church. (take a look at the time lapse video on FACEBOOK)
The shadow you see here is about the time I began my star trails (the moon at 204º azimuth and 22º altitude). Nearly 3 hours (58 exposures at 180 seconds each). 

I stacked all the images with the “lighten” blend mode in photoshop, which may answer your inquiry. … That lighten mode eliminates the longer shadow that was present at the end of my session.  

Here is the image redux with the church in darken mode to show the blend that occurred with the longer shadow at the moon’s set:

star trails and the longer shadow on the right side, caused from the low angle of the moon as it set into the south west

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.