Star Trail Photography in New Zealand

For the record, I didn’t set out to take a star trail image on this particular night,  it just sort of worked out that way! So, I was staying in Queenstown, New Zealand on the South Island and had been getting up a few hours before sunrise to shoot some stars and sunrises in the area.

This morning started like any other, I woke up around 5am, tip-toed out of bed, grabbed my gear and left. When I got in the gray, right hand drive Subaru I turned on the heater and drove out of the parking garage. As I was driving up the road to this location I could swear I was met by a yellow lion sitting stoically in the middle of the road. I stopped the car and rubbed my eyes. Maybe my brain hadn’t started working yet, or maybe I’ve just never seen a sheep sit like that before, but that big ol’ bugger was massive and sitting like he owned the road! 

Not a car was on the road, and no one at the lake when I arrived. I parked the car, grabbed my Gitzo tripod and Nikon D850 with 14mm lens, shutter release cable and gently made my way towards the lake. It was so dark I could only see what was illuminated by my headlamp  about 30 feet in front of me. As I got to the lake, I setup the tripod and took a few test shots. 

Immediately I was happy with the landscape, and at this point I had the idea of taking some longer exposures. After I shot a 2 minute shot I could see that it looked like the star trails  were all circling right around the upper center of my frame. I dialed down my ISO to 100. I knew if I had it too high it would get blown out and with a low ISO I’d be able to just get the brightest stars in motion.

Star trail photography is a tricky thing. Some guys take many shots and layer them on top of each other to get the perfect piece, others take really long exposures and hope that their settings are where they need to be to get the image they desire. Me, I’m kind of in between. The fact that I don’t shoot too much star trail photography in the first place leaves me at a disadvantage most of the time and my resulting star trail images don’t usually come out to where I want them.

This night however, everything worked out beautifully. The image you see here is a 15 minute shot, single exposure and is one that I was immediately very happy with. While star trail photography has never been my strong suit, I think this piece may change my perspective a little and encourage me to shoot a few more night skies like this. What do you think?

Learn My Secrets!

Learn my secrets of landscape photography with The Landscape Photographer's Field Guide. Available here on my site or on Find out why it is one of the best selling how-to books in the photography sector and an essential resource for ANYONE interested in advancing their photography skills. From the basics of the camera to advanced Photoshop techniques, The Landscape Photographer's Field Guide has you covered. Now available with Free Shipping from Amazon!

Only $19.95!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This