Reaching for the Stars

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


This is an image from our first trip to the Big Island in 2012. I had made contact with a local photographer, Bruce Omori, to do a photo tour. Since the lava was not flowing on that trip, we arranged to go to the summit of Mauna Kea to do a night shoot. I set up this shot with the Canada-France-Hawaii and Gemini telescopes pointing at Polaris. Then I shot approximately 50 frames to make the star trail. I created a composite with one still frame of the foreground. If anybody else has been up to the nearly 14,000 foot summit of Mauna Kea at night, even in the middle of summer as we were on that trip, you know how cold and windy it can get. Bruce and his colleague Tom Kaulii (and my wife) were very patient!

Specific Feedback

I shot this with a Nikon D800 and a 16-35mm f/4 Nikkor at 16mm. There is considerable distortion in the unedited images due to the wide angle. I did my best to correct that in PS, but the C-F-H telescope in the distance is a little less round than it should be. Also, I’d like to have a longer star trail, but as I had others with me I pushing the limits on time. Also, the moon was up and at about 1/2 moon that night, so the foreground is very bright relative to the stars.

Technical Details

50+ continuous frames, each 30 secs, 16mm, f/5.6, ISO 1600. One frame from the sequence was used for the foreground. Processed in ACR and PS. I believe I used StarStaX to make the star trail.


Wonderful!! The amount of moonlight was just right! I’m jealous of your wonderful opportunity! The trails are long enough to be very effective. Another hour or two and everyone might have frozen to death up there. The wide angle lens did contribute some distortion to the buildings that are on the edges, but the oblong aspect to the trails is due to not having the center of rotation, near Polaris, in the center of the frame. It is very frustrating to compose shots like this. I choose to put Polaris in the center from a spot that makes the buildings look as good as I can and crop later to make the buildings fit a desired composition. That way I have round trails, even if they are not centered.

But maybe you did that and that gave the slightly distorted trails. They are only very slightly off and I doubt many people would notice.

With the newer high res sensors I don’t see the gaps between frames for 1sec that I used to see so now I get much nicer results without StarStax, which gives a JPEG. I just stack the frames and put all in Lighten mode. That should work for the FG unless you had headlights or something in some exposures.

Very nicely done. The composition is effective with the star trails centered on the left and the telescopes on the right. I probably would not have noticed the C-F-H telescopes less than perfect roundness if you had not mentioned it.

@Diane, it was a great experience and we’ve been up there several times since. The rangers chase everybody off the summit by 30 minutes after sunset so one has to make special arrangements to stay up there after dark. Honestly, I did not think that much about having a perfectly round circle from the stars, but that is a good piece of knowledge to have and thanks for sharing.

@DeanRoyer Thanks Dean! I don’t know about you, but I am always finding stuff I could improve on with my photos. :grinning:

Hi Patrick,
Nice to see another star trail shot in the long exposure challenge. What a cool location and foreground.

Thanks @Cameron_Wilcox ! To me, shooting star trails and Milky Way is all about the foreground.

1 Like

I agree. The Milky Way and star trails are interesting but they really need a foreground.