Star Trail Photo at Wilsons Promontory


Craig Sillitoe has been grilled before. His first grilling, Photographing the Shrine of Remembrance contains a short profile. You can vote to grill more of his images at About Photogrill.

PHOTOGRILL: Why did you take this photo?

PHOTOGRAPHER: It was to illustrate a story about Wilsons Promontory National Park in South East Victoria. We wanted a memorable picture of ‘The Prom’. One of my favourite pass-times here is to watch the stars glistening overhead until late in the night. So I thought a star trail photo would make a nice image. The weather showed a cloudless night followed by several showery days so there was only that night to get the shot. On my way in to The Prom at dusk I had to drive very carefully, there were kangaroos everywhere grazing along the roadside.

PHOTOGRILL: Why this particular location?

PHOTOGRAPHER: This is Squeaky Beach, I chose it for three reasons. It faces South so the star trail would include the central hub that’s caused as the earth rotates on it’s axis. Also because the large rocks in the sand would create a nice foreground to the photo. But mostly because I could take the photo from the car-park. The car was parked near my set-up. It would be a long exposure so that would help protect the camera from being bumped if anyone came along. Also it was a pretty cold night so I could sit in the car for a while.

PHOTOGRILL: What equipment did you use?

PHOTOGRAPHER: It was shot on 200 ISO film on a Canon EOS1 with a 20-35mm lens at about 24mm. Nice fresh batteries would ensure that the camera would be ok for a long exposure. Digital cameras are much better at handling long exposures these days, they used to suffer from ‘noise’ in the image whenever the exposure was longer than a quarter of a second. The camera was mounted on a large Manfrotto tripod. A wired remote was used so a long exposure could be made without touching the camera. I also used a tourch to light up one of the rocks in the foreground during the exposure. An alarm was used on my phone to time the shot.

PHOTOGRILL: How did you know what exposure to use?

PHOTOGRAPHER: It was a bit of trial and error, I’d taken star trail photos before so I had an idea that an hour at f8 would be about right and that film would give me some latitude for error. The longer the exposure, the longer the star trail, and the small the iris opening that needs to be used. With a digital camera I would probably shoot a test frame, maybe wide open at 800 ISO at various times. Then take the best exposure and convert it so I have a one hour exposure or longer at 100 ISO. You still need to give yourself time to re-shoot, things can go wrong or change. Film suffers from reciprocity failure which slows its light sensitivity during long exposures. The ambient light in the sky will make a big difference to the exposure also, so testing is worthwhile. There’s still some ambient light from the sunset in this photo which adds some nice colour. To get a longer star trail I could’ve waited till there was no ambient light and used a longer exposure.

PHOTOGRILL: How did you light the rock in the foreground?

PHOTOGRAPHER: During the exposure I walked onto the sand and shone a small torch at the rock and just ‘painted’ it with light. It was only about 8 seconds counted in my head. I had to be very careful not to use the torch at all while I was walking around inside the live image, but while I was down there I dropped my car keys in the sand and couldn’t find them in the dark. I thought that if I wait till the end of the exposure (another 50 minutes), I might not find them at all. So I used the duller fluoro light on my torch for a couple of seconds to find the keys, that’s the white squiggle you see to the left of the centre.

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19 Responses to “Star Trail Photo at Wilsons Promontory”

  1. Jon says:

    Such a great shot, and I learnt a lot from your description of how this photo was created. I shared this to the Parks Victoria Facebook page as I run this page, and our users are really enjoying your photo. Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Jon (Parks Victoria)

  2. Curt Fleenor says:

    Great work and with film too! I remember doing star trails with film years ago and having a few “dropped my keys” moments!

  3. Star Trail Photo at Wilsons Promontory – via twitter

  4. Jacqueline Elliott says:

    whoa thats wicked cool!
    via twitter

  5. David McMahon says:

    @photogrill love these images
    via twitter

  6. Mako Enterprises says:

    Love it, love the light squiggle!RT @photogrill Star Trail #Photo.I dropped my keys in sand, had to turn on torch
    via twitter

  7. Kim Balsman says:

    Awesome shot. I love it!

  8. Will says:

    Awesome information. Thanks.

  9. csillitoe says:

    Thank you very much, I do appreciate it.

  10. Hi, My partner and i cant recognize how you can increase your internet site in my feed reader. Can you Help me, please I really desire to examine your future content.

    • csillitoe says:

      You can just click the Orange RSS button above, then in the RSS window click subscribe. Does that work? And thanks for your interest.

  11. I will bookmark your blog because your posts are very informative.

  12. I was in search of this the other day. i won’t commonly post in forums but i needed to say thank you!

  13. csillitoe says:

    Thanks, glad you like it.

    The apparent movement of the stars is caused by the earth’s rotation while the stars remain stationary. For example in a six hour exposure each star would show a quarter circle. i would’ve fallen asleep by then.

  14. narelle sillitoe says:

    Great shot!

    Does this picture show that the stars travel in that circular motion?

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