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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Slow Shutter Art: Using Zoom Burst to Transform Stars in the Sky into a Meteor Shower

You can photograph stars like a meteor shower by using the zoom burst (also known as zoom blur) technique. Let us see how this can be done. (Text by: Yuta Nakamura)

30 sec.

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24 to 105mm/ Manual Exposure (f/4, 30 sec.)/ ISO 3200/ WB: White fluorescent light
In search of a starry sky, I came to an elevated spot in Yamanashi Prefecture overlooking Lake Yamanaka and Mount Fuji. The weather was perfect for shooting star trails, as there were no clouds in the sky.


Capturing stars with the zoom burst technique

Zoom burst refers to the technique of turning the zoom ring on a zoom lens during exposure to photograph the subject like it is bursting out. By applying this technique when shooting stars, they can be captured like a meteor shower.

My settings:
I mounted my camera on a steady tripod to avoid blurry star trails, set the shooting mode to manual exposure and opened up the aperture as much as possible to a maximum of f/4.
To obtain a bright shot, I chose an ISO speed of 3200.
In starscape photography, the longer the exposure time, the more the stars appear to move. I therefore set the shutter speed to 30 seconds.
After completing the settings, I pressed the shutter button to start exposure.

The process:
Over the first 15 seconds of exposure, I turned the zoom ring from the telephoto range toward the wide-angle range without capturing the lights from the lakeside town.
For the remaining 15 seconds of exposure time, I kept the zoom ring at the wide-angle range. This would ensure that not just the stars but also the lights from the lakeside town appear clear in the image. It would also allow me to include both the lake and Mount Fuji in the composition, both under the starry sky.
I captured the image in RAW format, and adjusted the contrast, sharpness and shadow during post-processing for a clearer result.

Note that the lights of the town in the example above stay static and do not appear to burst out of the image along with the stars. This was the effect I wanted.

However, if you employ the zoom burst technique when there are brighter lights from cityscapes, it is quite likely that these other light sources will also seem to burst out of the image. A way to prevent this from happening is to merge a normal nightscape photo of the city with a shot of the starry sky that is shot with zoom burst.


Point 1: Use a steady tripod

To capture even and undistorted light trails when applying the zoom burst technique, turn the zoom lens at a constant speed. Any camera shake will affect the resulting trails, so the use of a steady tripod is recommended.


Point 2: Turn the zoom ring and capture your shot

Apply the zoom burst technique so that the background stays static and only the stars appear to burst out. If the exposure time is 30 seconds, turn the zoom ring from the telephoto range toward the wide-angle range during the first 15 seconds, then keep it at the wide-angle range during the last 15 seconds.


Point 3: Post-process the image to make the stars appear clear

I used Digital Photo Professional to post-process the RAW data, with Contrast set to 2, Sharpness to 8 and Shadow to -2 to produce a clear image of the stars and the light trails. You can also increase the brightness level if necessary.


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EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM

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Yuta Nakamura


Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1988. Since 2010, he has been working as a nightscape photographer, not only shooting nightscape locations mainly in the Tokyo area but also throughout Japan. He runs the information site for nightscape spots “Nightscape FAN”


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