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Star Trail Adventures - Part 3

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

The group had said our goodbyes, and I began my trip home. The clouds over Kirby Storter Park hadn't been too bad, but I wondered if they would clear up as I drove up US 29. After thirty minutes, I pulled over and shut off all the car lights. I stepped out, let my eye adjust to the darkness, looked up, and saw nearly clear skies. It was almost 11 PM, and I decided I had one more shot.

I jumped back in and turned down a side road towards Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. The park was closed, but I had discovered a spot nearby from previous trips there, which had a small lake. It was pleasantly dark with a small patch of clouds to the Northwest. After ensuring the camera settings and focus, I made a test shot.

In the dark, the human eye-brain combo has a limited ability to distinguish shapes and color. I've always wondered why homo-sapiens wandered down this path of evolution. Regardless it wasn't pitch black. The light pollution from Naples was glowing from the West and washing out the horizon. Almost as if the sun was beginning to rise. Still, it was dark enough you could have thrown a stick before me, and I wouldn't have seen it coming.

Stars, water, light pollution
Stars over Fakahatchee Strand Preserve
Gear Used - I used the Olympus O-MD E-M1 II, MZuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO at 12mm, and a MeFoto Globetrotter Tripod. The list is the gear I used for all the photos on this page. Only the settings were slightly different with each one. Settings Used: The camera settings were f/2.8 with a 15-second shutter speed at 2500 ISO and edited in Adobe Lightroom.

After the shot, I realized I had the camera pointed too far West. So I realigned myself and took another picture. I turned the camera more to the North so that the North Star, Polaris, would also be in my shot of the lake. I modified the exposure to darken the sky slightly because of the light pollution.

Stars, water, lanscape, dark
A little darker exposure
Settings Used - The camera settings were f/3.5 with a 10-second shutter speed at 1600 ISO and edited in Adobe Lightroom. Honestly, I don't remember why this was at f/3.5; probably a mistake I made when I shifted the camera.
star trails, landscape, night sky, astrro
The star trail shot before editing.
Settings Used - Once I squared myself away on the camera's position, the only modification I made was for the Live Composite setting with 313 captures for a total exposure of 52 minutes. After midnight, I still had about two hours left on the drive home. I ended up crashing on my pillow by 2:30 AM. I didn't even take my clothes off.

The light pollution is so invasive in Florida that many people mistake the yellow-orange light for sunlight in some of my photos. The low-level clouds off to the West reflect the light pollution down. With the horizon lit up like that, I roll with it and give it a push in the edits.

Star Trails over Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

The photo required more work than the global edits I usually use in Lightroom. I dumped the previous shot as layers into Photoshop to tighten the contrast up and push the light pollution. I then ran it through Luminar NEO to tweak the tonal ranges. You can see small green flashes in the grass from a single firefly passing by if you look closely. The other streaks are from the planes flying overhead. I added no additional lights.

During my adventure in the Big Cypress Swamp basin, I met my primary goal with this shot. Clear skies to the North, with stars moving around Polaris. Star Trail photos like these reminded me of when I was a kid spinning around till I was so dizzy I could barely stand. Sitting at the bottom of a gravity well, I watch the Earth spin around like a kid. It's a wonder we are still standing.



  • As I mentioned in Part 1, star trails are created by locking the camera down on a tripod or a firm surface and creating a long exposure. The longer the exposure longer the trail. The circular pattern you see is caused by facing the camera to the celestial North. The Earth tilts on an axis, and the North Pole axis points almost directly to the North Star, Polaris. As the Earth spins on its axis and you look North, the stars travel around Polaris. The effect occurs in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Once again, proving the world is round!

  • Global edits are edits that do not significantly alter the image. The edits usually include color, contrast, sharpness, saturation, brightness. These edits affect the whole picture.

Edited 3/17/22

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