Stacking Up the Stars – Getting Creative

EDIT : There is an update to the Scripts with much more features and a UI now. Check out this article – Scripts to Make your Star Trails Awesome – for more details. I am still leaving this old article in place (along with the script) as it provides some insight into how the codes is designed / works. Thanks !!!

This is the second installment of the Star Photography Article. If you are just getting started do check out – Sleeping with the Stars. The below article predominantly focuses on Post Processing i.e. once you capture your shots. If you ended up here thru Google looking to set up for Star Trail shoots check out this comprehensive article @ Star Circle.

5 Different Creative Post Processing with the same set of 86 shots (each 30 sec exposure) 

StarTrailsGettingCreativeScript[16]If you had read my earlier article – ‘Sleeping with the Stars’ you would have noticed that I mostly shoot milky way shots. For some reason I preferred capturing the Milky Way at its full clarity like this, rather than the star trail style. It all changed until I came across some amazing Comet style processing of star trails like this.

The more I was looking at these, the more I was intrigued. As to getting the normal star trail effect – there are two ways of achieving it. One is a really long exposure – getting everything in a single shot, exposed probably for even hours together. The other is get shorter exposure of around 30 seconds or less and have them merged later in post processing. I prefer the latter, as it gets really interesting with the post processing options. For a regular star trail you could just fire up StarTrail.de to get the final trail effect like this. But with shots like this, it involves – a combination of steps from shooting multiple exposures, and manually editing each layer to achieve desired effect.

The reminder of the article presumes you have a handful of exposures (of shorter duration) of the star lit night scene. You can also download a sample set completely free to try hands on …

EDIT : Alternate Download link – http://bit.ly/1cAOiDJ

StarTrailsGettingCreativeSampleFiles[14]

As I was searching online there was lot of information on how to set up and shoot for star trails. There was information on processing too, but there was no step by step approach on getting custom effects. As I was working on this, came across David Kingham’s article, which was quiet comprehensive. It was not too over whelming, just simple steps on how to go about achieving this effect. This article also talks about Photoshop Droplets. Though simple, I was never able to get my head around Photoshop droplets. For me – personally – the concepts of droplets was little contrived.  Even if you find it simple and manage to load multiple shots as layers, Photoshop does not give an easy way of setting up the Mode for multiple Layers. Additionally setting opacity across larger number of layers is even more cumbersome.

Short cut keys “Alt + [“ – Select below layer ; “Alt + Shift + G” – Set LIGHTEN Layer Mode are quiet handy (but still time-consuming)

The simple but tedious solution is go thru each layer and set the opacity manually. Manual & mundane tasks always come in the way of creativity and does not let you focus on the end results. I was exploring ways to refine the process with more flexibility and reduced manual effort. That is when I learnt about Photoshop Scripting, inspiring for this  Photoshop Script and eventually this article. Surprisingly it is not complex at all.

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How to Achieve Creative Effects in 5 Steps

1. Set Up

Things Needed before you start –

  • Photoshop CS 5  (not sure if the inbuilt script – ‘ load multiple images as layers’ –  worked on versions earlier than CS4)
  • Multiple Set of exposures of star trails. If you are yet to shoot your first set and still want to try hands on, do not worry, you can download sample files here
  • Download the Creative Star Trail script here. Save to a local folder. This can be any folder, just need to know where you saved it

EDIT : Alternate download links
Sample Files : http://bit.ly/1cAOiDJ
Script : http://bit.ly/137haR0

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2. Load

Open as LayersLoad the files into Photoshop as layers

  • If u have CS5 u can easily load multiple photos into layers using the inbuilt script :

File –> Automate –> Load Files into Stack…

  • If u have Adobe LR or Adobe Bridge :

Select all photos (Right Click) –> Edit In –> Open in Photoshop as Layers

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3. Customize the Script

Edit the Script to set the basic style. For tweaking the script beyond the below control variables refer to this session on Code break up and overview.

// Uncomment the next line to show the debugger
//$.level = 1; debugger;

//BLEND MODE Variable , Defaults to Lighten Mode
// LIGHTEN is the best option for star processing. Results might not be pleasing if changed
// Variable added for future needs
//0 -> Do not change
//1 -> LIGHTEN
//2 -> SCREEN
//3 -> NORMAL
BLEND_MODE = 1;

//Design Style Variable
// 0 -> merges all shots with set BLEND MODE, no other creative processing
// 1 -> Comet Style left to right (light to dark)
// 2 -> Comet Style right to left
// 3 -> Saucer Style
// 4 -> Space ship Style
CREATIVE_STYLE = 1;

// Constants
MAX_OPACITY = 100 ;
.

Creative Style_Crop-2

BLEND_MODE : As the name suggests this variable controls the Blend Mode between the multiple layers. The default value is LIGHTEN. Based on my trials, I suggest to use LIGHTEN (1) for best results. For some types of images SCREEN might also come in handy. When trying out the script multiple times for different effects, you can also use a value of ‘0’ to leave the Blend mode between layers untouched. This is handy and saves time especially when you have large number of layers.

CREATIVE_STYLE  : This variable drives the pre-defined style.

  • Comet Style [1,2] : This is the preferred effect of comet streak – from light to dark. With an option of 1 or 2 the effect can be from either of the directions. Try both and decide which suits better for your composition.
  • Saucer Style [3] : I kind of liked this. It gives a strange metallic, yet smooth feel to the shot. The effect is similar to that of a flying saucer.
  • Space Ship Style [4] : This is UFO or the space ship style. You can tweak the code further to enhance or reduce the effect, by controlling how much of gap is there between the wings
  • The option of 0 does not apply any CREATIVE STYLE Effect. This is conjunction with BLEND_MODE can be used to just set the appropriate blend mode for you initial set of images. The larger you set, the more handy you would find this option as you play around with different effects
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4. Run

Once you load up the files and the configuration parameters are set – running the script is pretty simple. From within Photoshop, initiate the script using

File –> Scripts –> Browse… then select the script file that you saved from Step 1

Depending on the power of your system give it a minute or two for the script to complete its action.

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5. Final Touches

Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you are satisfied with the results. If you are using a large number of RAW files as layers, the overall file size might be too huge to save (depending on the File System you are on, for eg. FAT32 does not allow to save files any greater than 2GB). Once you have the expected results from the script, you can merge all layers to reduce file size before saving the file. Do remember to save the file as *.PSD at this point.

We are not done yet, as always with post processing, the final polishing helps make the shot pop ! [Make subsequent adjustment as layers so you can revert back if needed]. Below are some suggested adjustments …

  • Adding back the foreground : At this point look at the foreground on your shot. You might want to get an appropriately exposed shot from the set or even the one you might have created (with a much lower iso and longer exposure) for the foreground. Mask the foreground into the final shot
  • Local Contrast and Colors : Leverage on Photoshop Levels / Curves to get the local contrast up. This can also be achieved with the Clarity and Vibrance options in Lightroom. Controlling the Temperature of the shot helps to add a cool feel.
  • Merging Multiple Files : Process one of the shots to enhance the milkyway. Have this overlayed with the current set of shots. This results in some pretty interesting effects like this one.
  • Star Spikes Pro : This is a plugin for Adobe Photoshop and other compatible editors. Provides a rich set of adjustments to create perfect optical spikes especially for the star shots. Aids in taking the creative options to a different level !!!

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.

User Arrow Keys or Click thru to see all effects …

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Photoshop Script – Tweaking and Additional Configuration

Feel free to customize more if you are brave :) If you are new to Photoshop scripting (like me) – this article should get you started. The intent of this section is to provide a quick overview of the script flow and some key variables. This should help is tweaking the script further or building on top of it. There are two major portions with this script – one setting the Blend Mode of the layer and the next one is setting the opacity of the layers.

The below block of code aids in setting up the Blend Mode of the layers defined by BLEND_MODE variable

// Set the Blend Mode of all layers ////////////////////////////////////
if (BLEND_MODE == 0) {
	// do nothing
} else if (BLEND_MODE == 1) {
	alert("Set Blend Mode to LIGHTEN");
	for(var i = 0 ; i < numberOfLayers;i++){
		doc.layers[i].blendMode = BlendMode.LIGHTEN;
		doc.layers[i].opacity = 100;
	}
...
...

Once the layer Blend mode is set, it is all about setting the opacity of the layers to control the effects. The subsequent blocks of code handles the same defined by CREATIVE_STYLE. Some of the key variables in this code are :

trailLength –> calculate the length of the trail based on the number of exposures. The trailLength is also validated to being odd so the effects can be uniformly applied across layers. A frame is dropped if needed to achieve this. This variable also drives the mirror effect in Saucer Style and SpaceShip Style.

if (numberOfLayers % 2 == 0) {
	trailLength = numberOfLayers - 1 ;
} else {
	trailLength = numberOfLayers;
}
...
...
.

myOpacity –> The opacity value is dynamic controlled with the for loop and adjusted as per the creative style selected. The logic here can be tweaked to get varied effects.

	for(var i = 0 ; i < trailLength;i++){
		myOpacity = myOpacity + myIncrements ;
		if (myOpacity > 100) {myOpacity = 100 ;}
		doc.layers[i].opacity = myOpacity;
	}
...
...
.

And one more thing …

StarTrail_CCLisenceCreative Commons : This Photoshop Script (though not anywhere near complex !!!) is still available under Creative Commons License. The effects depicted above is just a beginning. Feel free to play around, tweak, create new and share :)

Beta Tag: This is still in Beta. I am not responsible if this script fries your motherboard or you get the notorious BSOD. Just kidding, this is just a harmless script, the worst it can do it pop up errors for any Out of Bound values. But still I’m not responsible ;-) You can get back to this page anytime to see if there is an updated version (hint hint – do bookmark ;-) ). Alternatively leave me a message either via the contact form or the comments, if you would like to be notified when there is an update to the script.

If you have any suggestions or identified any bugs, feel free to drop me a note or use the comment session.

Would appreciate a link back if you find this script helpful. All the more would love to see the work you create using the script. Do leave a link to any work you create, in the comments below.

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33 Responses to “Stacking Up the Stars – Getting Creative”

  1. Would these scripts work in cs6?

    Like

    • Cody – I do not have CS6 and this was tested with CS5, but am pretty sure this would work on it as there were not any major changes on scripting support with CS6.

      Like

  2. I could swear that I see movement in the Creative Style Option 1 [Comet Style] + Star Spikes Pro :) This is proper awesome, thank you very much.

    Like

  3. i have headache to read cause i not so good in english.. can you make a video tutorial?

    Like

    • Hi Choz – sorry this format is not working out for you. I have not done any video tutorials yet. Will check that out and drop u a note if I have one published soon. Thanks.

      Like

  4. Will these work with a Mac?

    Like

    • Hi Jeff – Sorry was not able to get back to you earlier. I do not have Mac and had to check this out. Am pretty sure the script will work on Photoshop running on Mac without any concerns [http://help.adobe.com/en_US/photoshop/cs/using/WSfd1234e1c4b69f30ea53e41001031ab64-7419a.html]. Do let me know how it goes for you. Thanks !

      Like

  5. @Sathya, the update contains only HI RES photos download and not the script, could you please upload a new link?
    Also, I have a web server with virtually unlimited resources, I’d love to host you a mirror of the script for free. Contact me by email should you be interested.

    Like

  6. Script link doesn’t work any more

    Like

  7. wow thats awesome .. it works for me thanx ;)

    Like

  8. This is phenomenal! Thank you SO much. I’ve been looking for something just like this for a while, but have only found people selling similar scripts for $40+! I gave them a test run and they seem to work perfectly. Thanks again.
    http://www.500px.com/jesseshanks

    Like

  9. I enjoyed your Sleeping with the Stars. I was successful in capturing some decent night images. Thanks for you tips.

    The stacking script worked well too. I am having issue running the effects and trails scripts though. Probably user error, but wondered. I don’t have an pen to anchor and not sure where to anchor. My complete image trails. In other words, the trees, pier, whatever trails, not just the stars. Do I need to add in the foreground after the fact? Not really sure. Do you have a tutorial anywhere? I think this could be a fun, creative tool if I was clear how to use it. Thanks.

    Like

    • Hi Scott – Glad u liked it. I do not have any detailed tutorial yet. Yes the foreground needs to be masked … below is the high level work flow ! Hope it helps !!!

      1. identify the shot that you want to process
      2. mask out the foreground – the are that u do not want to trail up
      3. run the creative star trail script to ur heartful till u like the effect
      4. run the creative star effects scripts if needed
      5. merge all the above layers
      6. bring in the original shot as a layer, and selectively mask to bring fourth the foreground
      7. Apply any final adjustments like contrast, noise reduction etc.

      Like

  10. Thank you. Seems to work well on a fairly simple image. The one I was working on was from underneath a pier. Possibly could work, but need a little more practice. Thanks for getting back with me and sharing your knowledge. Best regards.

    Like

  11. I am using CS 6 and It says I have to many layers to run script. With only one image it does not work. Please give me an idea as to correct this

    Like

    • Hi Dan – There are two scripts. Creative Trail UI works on on layer and creates the trails as per the settings u choose. This script would throw an error if there is more than one layer (obviously). The other script Creative Effects UI is used for applying effects on the trails created … this needs multiple layers (either the ones created with Creative Trails UI or the ones captured in the field incamera). Hope that helps …

      Like

  12. I’ve been trying to get the creative trails script to work but fails for me, says too many layers. I have 51 images in photoshop as layers. 51 does not seem much, thats like 45min worth. I have timelapse that go into more than 3 hours, which is over 300 images easily. whats the trick to get past this error? I have iMac, mac osx 10.10.1, photoshop 2015 CC. Note: the other creative ui script runs but not the trails.

    Like

    • Hi John – I hope ur indeed referring to the new scripts with UI (posted here @ http://wp.me/PDOr-xB. The CreativeTrailUI Script is actually for creating trails in Post Processing. Hence the error message. It takes only one layer as input and creates the trail based on the settings. If u already have 51 images – CreativeEffectsUI is the way to go.

      If u still want to play with CreativeTrailsUI, just take the first frame (Delete remaining layers) and run it ! Hope it helps !!!

      Like

  13. I only Have PS Elements 12 and work with Corel Paint Shop Pro; PSE doe not have script running capabilities that I am aware of. Can these scripts be used with PSE12 or COrel?

    Like

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