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StarStax Review and Beginners Guide: Star Trails Made Easy

A stunning night sky image, pine tree in the foreground, star trails in the background

StarStax is consumer pleasant, free and multiplatform software program you need to use to make your star path images simpler.

Created by Markus Enzweiler, you possibly can obtain Starstax right here. It’s out there totally free for Mac OS X, Home windows and Linux.

A stunning night sky image, pine tree in the foreground, star trails in the background

The lone pine tree on the cliff makes a robust foreground for a basic star path centred on the Milky Approach star Polaris.

Why Use StarStax?

You’ll be able to create star trails in Photoshop, too. Or perhaps you need to use Lightroom. So why do you need to use a selected software program on your star trails?

The straightforward reply is that night time images is hard. It includes taking calibration information and a number of photographs to stack collectively afterward. This improves the picture high quality and the quantity of knowledge you’ll be able to reveal with histogram stretching and different superior modifying methods.

For star trails, within the period of digital sensor, it’s best to take an enormous variety of moderately brief exposures. Don’t take a single hours-long publicity.

Which means you must mix tens, if not a whole lot, of pictures. Lightroom can’t do this.

With regards to Photoshop and comparable software program (Gimp, Affinity Photograph, and so on.), you possibly can create star trails. However you need to load each picture as a layer in the identical doc. Then manually subtract darkish information out of your pictures, and so on.

StarStax is nowhere close to that difficult.

The StarStax Consumer Interface

A variety of photographic software program on the market has complicated and cluttered interfaces. Sliders, instruments, layers, menus inside menus, and so on.

As compared, StarStax has a quite simple interface. Take a look at the picture under for particulars.

StarStax software interface.

StarStax interface.

You will discover a set of icons on the highest software bar. These will let you load your pictures, load darkish calibration information, save the ultimate picture, and course of the pictures. You can even discover the zoom controls right here.

Under the highest bar the interface is cut up in three foremost panels. On the left, you’ll discover the record of pictures. The darkish information are displayed centrally the place pictures seem. And eventually, you might have a settings panel with totally different choices for picture mixture on the appropriate.

There’s three extra icons on the far proper. From the highest to backside, they show the Choice Panel, the Device Panel for the Hole Filling mixing mode and a helpful Assist part.

Working With StarStax

1. The right way to Put together Your Pictures

Earlier than you begin utilizing this software program, it is best to know that StarStax can’t learn RAW information. Solely JPG, PNG and TIFF photographs.

You’ll want to make use of a Uncooked Converter, comparable to Adobe Digital camera Uncooked or RawTherapee (free and multiplatform).

Screenshot of converting RAW files into 16-bit TIFF images with RawTherapee.

Changing my Olympus RAW information into 16-bit TIFF pictures with RawTherapee.

In case you use Digital camera Uncooked, ensure you disable the Automated Lens Correction first. Extra on why you need to do this additional down.

2. Loading Your Pictures and Culling

After you have your photographs in a format that StarStax can learn, it’s time to load them. Drag and drop all of them into the leftmost panel of the interface.

Screenshot of loading images into StarStax.

Loading photographs into StarStax.

As soon as the pictures are loaded, you’ll be able to visualise them and deselect people who you don’t like. For instance, if a passing automotive or aircraft ruined the publicity.

Culling your photographs is quick and straightforward in StarStax.

Screenshot of culling images in Starstax software

By Culling the pictures, you possibly can deselect undesirable photographs, like this one.

Whenever you do lengthy exposures, one method to deal with thermal noise discount and eradicating caught pixels is to take the so referred to as darkish frames.

Take some photographs with the identical settings and on the similar temperature as your mild frames, however hold the lens cap on.

The darkish frames will then be subtracted out of your mild ones to enormously enhance picture high quality.

When you took darks, add them by clicking on the icon within the software bar. StarStax will then mix your darkish and mild frames with none additional work from you.

three. Which Mixing Mode to Select

Star trails pictures are created by mixing the pictures in Lighten or Hole Filling modes. Fortunate for you, Starstax acts as a mixing software program because of its many mixing modes.

You’ll be able to choose the mixing mode within the choice panel.

Screenshot of choosing Blending Modes available in StarStax

Mixing Modes obtainable in StarStax: for star trails it’s a must to use both Lighten or Hole filling mixing modes.

The 2 modes work in comparable methods. If the pixels of the chosen picture are lighter than those on the earlier picture within the stack, they’re stored within the picture. The other works for the Darken mix mode.

If the pixels within the present picture are darker, they’re changed with pixels from the earlier picture. Word that this conduct is on a channel by channel foundation,. This rule is utilized to every of the three RGB shade channels individually.

Merely put, these mixing modes examine the pictures and select the brightest pixel at every location.

When taking a number of exposures to create your star trails, your digital camera will often pause between consecutive exposures. That is often a 1-second pause.

Due to this, and relying on the focal size you employ, you may discover small gaps within the ensuing star trails.

In that case, use the Hole Filling mode. And in the event you’re unsure, use it anyway.

The opposite tabs within the choice panel will management how the picture is displayed.

It’s also possible to choose the jpeg compression to make use of when saving the ultimate outcomes (Photographs tab).

And extra basic behaviour of the software program (Basic Tab).

four. Creating the Star Trails

Upon getting chosen the specified mixing mode, you’re prepared to start out processing the pictures to create the star trails.

Click on on the Begin processing icon within the toolbar and see the star trails forming earlier than your eyes in actual time.

Screenshot of processing the images and Star Trails formation. StarStax review

Processing the pictures and Star Trails formation.

5. Working With the Hole Filling Mixing Mode

Should you chosen the Hole Filling mixing mode, StarStax will direct you to the Hole Filling choice panel.

There one can find two management sliders: Threshold and Quantity. Threshold will choose the the brightness of the pixels affected by the quantity of hole filling.

If you set the edge you will notice that the affected pixels shall be briefly displayed in inexperienced. You possibly can verify the Present Threshold Overlay choice to point out the choice completely.

A too low threshold will embrace the darker pixels of the sky or foreground.

Screenshot of using blending modes in StarStax software

A low threshold will choose most of the vibrant pixels within the picture.

A too excessive threshold and you’ll choose solely the brightest pixels within the picture.

Screenshot of using blending modes in StarStax software

A really excessive threshold will choose solely few brightest pixels.

A very good threshold is one that permits to pick a lot of the brightest trails with out spilling into the darker sky. Don’t fear in case you are choosing pixels which might be within the foreground. You possibly can simply mix the star trails within the sky with a correctly edited foreground afterward. In Photoshop, for instance.

To set the quantity of hole filling, enlarge the picture 100%. Control how the paths clean out when growing the quantity of Hole Filling.

A diptych close up of startrails processed with StarStax

By growing the quantity of hole tilling (backside) a lot of the trails appears smoother and gapless.

If you end up proud of the outcome, save your picture to use the Hole Filling settings.

6. Saving Your Star Trails

You possibly can rework your star trails inside StarStax as many occasions as you need. Attempt totally different settings for the Hole Filling mixing mode, add the comet impact, and so on.

When proud of the outcomes, use the Save icon to save lots of your remaining picture.

By default, the picture is saved as jpg. Manually including the extension .tiff  to the file identify, will pressure StarStax to save lots of your picture as Eight-bit tiff.

It’s not fairly as highly effective as 16-bit tiff. Nevertheless it’s higher then jpeg for additional modifying in, say, Adobe Lightroom and/or Adobe Photoshop.

Foinal image of a night landscape with stunning star trails

The ultimate star trails.

Earlier than You Go: Hassle Capturing

Working With the Foreground, the Common Mixing Mode and Eight-bit File Limitation

The Common Mixing mode can be utilized to scale back the digital noise within the lengthy exposures. This can be a good approach to have noise free foregrounds, notably if nothing transfer throughout your star path.

The results of averaging all the pictures is that the ensuing one, whereas cleaner, will probably be fairly darkish. In my picture I misplaced the sunshine trails from the passing automobiles and the chapel shouldn’t be that seen.

The trick is to not used too many frames for cleansing the foreground. I often take 10-15 pictures for this.

It’s also possible to use Common+Growing Publicity to brighten up your averaged picture to a selected EV quantity instantly in StarStax.

Diptych comparing the results of averaging 10 images (left) compared with Averaging+increasing exposure (1EV) for the same set of images (right).

The results of averaging 10 pictures (left) in contrast with Averaging+growing publicity (1EV) for a similar set of photographs (proper).

Watch out of posterization and banding, although. StarStax will save in jpeg or tiff codecs, however the tiff may have solely an Eight-bit colour depth.

A night sky image over a church

Some posterisation impact is seen within the sky.

Posterization might be handled in Photoshop. Here’s a good tutorial on find out how to take away it.

Or you’ll be able to course of your foreground in Photoshop beginning out of your uncooked information.

The Automated Lens Correction Conundrum

I introduced up Automated Lens Correction at the start of this text. And I informed you to disable Automated Lens Correction when changing uncooked information into TIFF ones.

Automated Lens Correction causes an undesirable sample to point out up in your ultimate picture. This occurs whenever you use lighten mixing mode, and a couple of different modes.

It seems to be like this.

A cityscape at night, unwanted patterns in the sky visible - starstax review

The undesirable patterns launched by the automated lens correction on the unique information used to create the star trails.

To keep away from the sample, disable automated lens correction. The primary drawback with that is for individuals taking star trails with compact and bridge cameras. But in addition for these working with micro 4 thirds, like me.

If we use Adobe Digital camera Uncooked (ACR), automated lens correction is utilized by default and can’t be disabled.

To know if so in your photographs, go to the Lens correction tab in ACR. Click on on the knowledge balloon on the backside of that panel.

A screenshot of how to check if lens corrections has been applied in ACR, starstax interface

Tips on how to examine if lens corrections has been utilized in ACR.

If that’s the case, give it a attempt anyway.

But when a wierd sample exhibits up within the last picture, the simplest answer is to ditch ACR for a software program that doesn’t apply the lens correction mechanically. For instance, RawTherapee.

And that’s that. StarStax is a superb software program for creating star trails in a simple and enjoyable means (it’s a free obtain too).

Give it a attempt! And should you’re so inclined, share your outcomes with us.

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Andrea Minoia

Andrea Minoia is an fanatic photographer based mostly in Brussels, Belgium. He’s primarily lively in portraiture and desk prime images, however he does take pleasure in to get busy with astrophotography and infrared images. You’ll be able to comply with his work on his recurrently up to date photograph stream on 500px and comply with him on google+.It’s also possible to get in contact with him by way of his private web site .