Star Trails Photoshop Action

Clear stars 192

Click here for my new video tutorial that updates this action with some tips and tricks. I show you how to adjust the length of the trails and go step-by-step through installing the action.

Or click here to go directly to the Photoshop action download page.

Music: Stars by Rivers

(Attention Photographers:  If you’re interested in “stacking” photos, simply use this action as described and select one of the final photos in the series, such as the one below.  Also note that this was made using a 6 megapixel point-and-shoot camera, so your photos will probably look better.)

Can you find the North Star?  I found the Big Dipper and Cassiopea and then just tried to point my lens in the right direction.  I got lucky because I almost edged out my focal point.  I find it amazing how little the North Star moves.

Why I Made this Action

Last week I posted a video of stars crossing the night sky to show the benefits of post production dark frame subtraction.  This week’s video uses similar photos and a simple action I made using Photoshop CS3.  This is my first time posting a Photoshop action, so I’d appreciate any feedback.  The small gaps in the trails come from a short delay between photographs.

I came up with this technique after watching jcmegabyte’s star trails videos on Youtube.  His videos are better than mine but I hope to refine my star trails in the future.  Notice the small patch of purple in the upper-left corner that’s indicative of post production DFS.  Without this post editing, his star trails would pulse instead of being constant.

My Photoshop action didn’t take long to make and is very simple, so you might want to edit it until you’re happy with the results.  It features a slow fade-away because I liked the result better than persistent lines.  You can see both types of trails in jcmegabyte’s videos.

Install the File

To begin, download the file to anywhere on your hard drive.  Run Photoshop and open the actions box.  When you click on the drop-down menu within the actions box, you should see an option to load an action.  Click this and find the star trails action.

Process Your Photos

Copy your stars photographs into a new folder.  This isn’t completely necessary, but I find it helps in case I accidentally process the original photos.  Open the first photo in Photoshop.  Select all, copy, and then close the photo (Ctrl+A,Ctrl+C, Ctrl+W).  With this first file in memory, you can begin batching your photos.

In Photoshop, select “File,” “Automate,” and “Batch…”  Find your stars folder and pick the star trails action.  Click “Ok” and then go make a sandwich.  Because this is a simple action, it shouldn’t take too long to finish.  You can open your output folder while you wait if you want to make sure the action is working.  Your first photo should look the same but the subsequent ones should feature growing light trails.  Now turn the photos into a video as you would normally.

I’m hoping to use this same action to create other kinds of trail videos.  I’ll post the results if anything turns out.  Good luck!

Update:  Erik Røstad made a much better video than mine using this script.  Good job!

I’ve also used this script for my video of planes landing at SFO.

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15 thoughts on “Star Trails Photoshop Action

  1. Hi, haven’t tried your action but I know how you can eliminate the gaps on the stars. You need a remote cord for your camera, assuming it’s a DSLR, just set it for 30s exposures and lock the shutter release cord and turn off any noise reduction for long exposures. Then once a 30s expossure is complete, another shot will start immediately after. Hope this helps.

    1. Thanks James. I use a digital camera, so no luck with the remote cord. I’ve started using dark frame subtraction with mixed results. My camera really isn’t made for this type of low-light photography. Each shot took about 50 seconds.

  2. Assuming you are using a DSLR…You can actually purchase an interval time release cord and set the number of photos you want to take (say 20), set the exposure time (say 3 minutes), set the time interval to 0 and you will get an hour of star trails (one photo every 3 minutes) with a good exposure for night photos. You do need to turn off the noise reduction feature in your camera and I suggest you take a test shot at various ISO settings to get the best setting for the amount of light at the time to start with.

    I am not sure what dark frame subtraction is but I can get about a 3-5 minute shot with my Canon 50D with little noise. The method mentioned above will require stacking your photos and post editing…the interval time release cords go for about $100.00 -$150.00.

    Hope this helps…


    1. Thanks for the thorough addendum. The problem with writing this site as a tutorial is it makes it harder to update past posts with newly learned information. You’re right about modern DSLRs having low noise, so this post applies more to cheap or outdated digital cameras like my Canon PowerShot S3 IS. I was happy with how little noise my photos had when I rented a Canon 7D last month and took some photos of the stars. Here’s a link to my explanation of dark frame subtraction if you’re interested:

    1. Hi. Sorry for the delay. I think the action is set to save the photos in the original folder, so that’s probably not the problem.

      Did you make sure to open and copy the first photo before beginning the batch process? From the article: “Open the first photo in Photoshop. Select all, copy, and then close the photo (Ctrl+A,Ctrl+C,Ctrl+W). With this first file in memory, you can begin batching your photos.”

      This is just my first guess, so please let me know if you’ve already done this and it doesn’t work.

  3. Pingback: Timelapse Star Trail | TK Adventure Photography
  4. I want to make timelapse from 2 location into 1 location ( city have heavy light pollution and can\’t see star therefor I take 1400 shoot to city and take 1400 shoot another location last night for take star) I can\’t stack 2 photo at same time for make 1 photo with ps action. could you help me. how can i do it?

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