When I first started shooting digital, I quickly realized how many advantages it offered in terms of stock and assignment shooting. No more polaroids on commercial shoots, no more ‘in camera dupes’ or 70mm dupes from slides, no more “clipping” in developing to make sure the exposure was right. File quality quickly improved to where clients and stock agencies were happy. But the one area that film still seemed to have advantages was shooting long exposures, 45 minutes and longer, when doing star trails. Provia produced beautiful star trails, with minimal grain in the final shot. Doing this same 1 hour exposure with a digital camera a few years back resulted in unacceptable noise.
Now things are different. To start with, some interesting new post processing ideas came to light, including merging multiple shorter exposures together to produce star trails, eliminating noise issues. For me, if I can shoot it in the field, I’d rather do things that way instead of spending more time in front of a computer in the office. And with the Nikon D3, I can shoot star trails like I have in the past. I was in Patagonia recently, one of my favorite places anywhere to photograph, and we were staying at an estancia (ranch) away from any towns. The night sky was incredible, clear and very bright. I placed my tripod in a field, opened up the shutter for one hour using “bulb” and a locking cable release. Normally I have the north star in my images, stars look great circling around a common axis. But since we were in the southern hemisphere, I didn’t have a clue where the common axis ‘south star’ would be….I just got lucky. The best part of this image is I had minimal noise in the final shot, thanks to the incredible performance of the D3. To shoot star trails, just focus on infinity, set you aperture pretty wide open, and keep your shutter open for at least 45minutes if you want long star trails. Tech specs: D3, 14-24mm lens, ISO 200, F4, 1 hour exposure, Gitzo mountaineer tripod.