How to Photograph Stars in a City: Photographing the World 3 BTS

The new season of Photographing the World 3 behind the scenes is now in full swing! In this week's episode, the gang heads down the Amalfi Coast and settles into the small town of Atrani. Here Elia Locardi teaches something I didn't think was possible: capturing star trails in a light polluted town. Of course, our food adventures continue but we also share some of our photography tips for getting great time-lapses straight out of camera. Oh, and yes Donald Trump takes his oath of office. 

Before heading out to Italy, Lee and I picked up a few Panasonic LX-100 cameras. These "professional point and shoot cameras" are interesting because they can create 4k time-lapses directly in camera. Furthermore, they also allow you to pause the time-lapse process, move your camera to a completely different location, and continue capturing new scenes without losing precious time building the video file. This is handy when filming sunset or other time-sensitive events where you want to capture as many scenes as possible but you don't want to have to wait five to ten minutes waiting for the camera to process the video. Some cameras like the Nikon D500 and D850 actually build the video file as the images are taken, which means you can cut the camera off and instantly have a perfectly rendered timelapse file. The drawback to using a DSLR is they are huge and not fun to carry around when casually walking the streets.

Most timelapses taken during Photographing the World 3 were from the LX-100

While the LX-100 solved the problem of us not having to carry a large DSLR with us everywhere we went, we still needed a tripod to create stable time-lapses. In the Charleston airport, Lee found these "toy" Polaroid mini tripods that actually worked out perfectly for our small point and shoot cameras. Upon testing a few time-lapses in the airport, we went back and bought a second tripod just for this trip. After a few months of traveling with them, we realized these tripods, although cheap, aren't actually built for the road. As you will see in future behind the scenes episodes, we visited BH Photo in NYC and found the Manfrotto 709B to be the absolute best tabletop tripod but shockingly this Polaroid did pretty well considering it's size and cost. 

Our two favorite table top tripods for small cameras

In Atrani, Elia wanted to teach two specific lessons. The first lesson was about scouting a city that has a bunch of different compositions and lookout points. This worked out well in Atrani because you can literally shoot this small town from about four different locations including a high overlook up on the mountain that places the city against the Mediterranean Sea. The second and most interesting lesson was how to successfully capture star trails in an environment that contains a lot of light pollution. Obviously, in massive cities like Dubai or New York it would be impossible to record the faint light given off by stars, but in a small town like Atrani, Elia was able to share a few unique tricks that helped pull out detail from the sky while suppressing light pollution in the foreground. You can see the before and after of his landscape photograph below.

In the end, Elia wound up using 360 total star shots to get the final photo above. By blending in all of these individual star photos in Photoshop, Elia was able to not only capture the beauty of the blue hour in Atrani but also the amazing view of the heavens. Of course, it also helps to have a clear sky so weather and clouds do not obstruct the view.  

Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel for future episodes of Photographing the World and check out the full Behind the Scenes Playlist to watch the entire series. Next week we will be leaving the Amalfi Coast and heading to one of the most interesting mountain towns I have ever seen: Peitrapertosa.  

For more information about the entire Photographing the World 3 series, check out the promo video below or head over to the Tutorial Page on Fstoppers.com.  

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18 Comments

William Howell's picture

Good stuff!

Please make a subscription a-la Kelby One or Karl Taylor, because I really want to see Clay Cook’s Photography Class, among others, pleeease?!?

James Alexander's picture

Love these BTS videos.

Ben Perrin's picture

Keep em coming. Love the photographing the world series!

Anonymous's picture

Please. Just STOP talking about restaurants. You're just showing off your inability to travel and it makes you look soooo bad that it destroys the video. I just can't skip it. I am NOT Italian (Canadian in fact) but whenever I travel (including six trips to Italy), I dig for whatever they have that is NOT like what I'm having at home. THAT is what travelling is all about.

Agreed. Maybe their lack of good food is why DSLRs seem huge and not fun to carry. ;-)

Patrick Hall's picture

When walking around, do you really like carrying a DSLR and 2.8 zoom lens? I do it when shooting weddings but when I'm in a new and exciting place the last thing I want to carry is a 10 pound camera and a huge tripod. That's not to mention being a target for theft. In my mind, for travel at least, smaller is def better especially when you see what these newer cameras can do.

Unless I'm taking snapshots, and even then most of those time, I will always bring the best camera I have. If your "newer camera" is the best, there's no need to mention size. And, while not as small as that Panasonic, I would never describe a DSLR as huge. It sounds like an excuse for bringing the second or third best. Just use what you want and leave it at that. :-/

If I can't put it in at least the pockets of my jacket or in a cargo pant pocket then I will not travel with such a camera. I can get much better than 35mm film quality in that size so I'm satisfied.

That reminds me of a comedy skit a few years back. The comedian was asking why we're still using the term horsepower. I guess some rocket had over a million horsepower and he asked if that was so, if the engines died, they'd know how many horses to get to launch it. :-)

They use kilowatts in I guess some parts of Europe. I have no idea how that works.

Patrick Hall's picture

If we stop talking about food, what would we talk about? Things people dislike us talking about:

Politics
Food
Showers in Europe
Skid row

I've traveled all over the world and I even live abroad and I must admit I've never experienced anywhere as bad as Italy for food.

Patrick Hall's picture

Be careful of your opinions here! Although I totally agree with you, the general public with still label you as an untraveled American who doesn't know good food :)

Felix Wu's picture

You might as well just mask a fake milky way in. Lol...Elia seems to be a very good host. How do you guys fund projects light this? It’s so expensive to travel...do you get many purchases?

Patrick Hall's picture

These tutorials are funded by the people who purchase them; yes it's super expensive to produce them but the only real way to produce a landscape tutorial is to actually travel to cool landscapes.

As for the fake Milky Way, I'm not sure that would look good or believable. Obviously people are free to do whatever they want with their images but Elia almost always uses the sky that was actually in the scene.

Spy Black's picture

Blue hour? You mean dawn and dusk? LOL!

In all fairness, Atrani is well outside of the kind of light pollution you'd find in major cities like New York, so the only stars you'll be shooting in a place like New York City would be movies stars. ;-) Below is the light pollution rating of Atrani. As you can see you're already 5 darkness levels down from a major city. I took a shot in similar skies with a Canon G9X Mk II pocket camera with a 1-inch sensor, as you can also see below. No way in hell I could have taken that shot in New York City.

When it comes to ultra compact tripod options i've found that the bottom half of the velbon pole pod is the kind of build you need for abuse, as a plus it can support a decent amount of weight with a sturdy ball head and you get a monopod to boot.

Jason Hughes's picture

After watching the inauguration conclude, the world truly had become sufficiently dark. Also, all those predictions you made about how things would be in 6 months....definitely nailed all of those.

A cool tutorial though. Stars and city light pollution are always a difficult subject to deal with.