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How to avoid star trails during night photography using 500 rule?

What is a star trail? Movement of star captured across several pixels of a given image leads to the formation of a star trail. This is a really common problem when doing long exposure night sky photography or astrophotography. Pretty sure most of us like to star gaze and observe those tiny little twinkling dots in the sky on a clear day. If our eyes can see it, so why not our DSLR? We want exact same tiny cute little stars to show up in our DSLR photos too. Once you have learned how to focus your DSLR lens to infinity, next thing to think about is how to avoid light pollution and star trails. 500 rule or 600 rule comes to the rescue when learning to avoid star trails. I have seen a lot of discussions about 500 rule vs 600 rule, I personally have always been happy with 500 rule only. Sometimes I even go for 400 rule but never 600 rule.
Who invented this rule? I did search but couldn't find anything relevant or meaningful. Only thing I know is all modern day astrophotography folks love this rule. I will try to explain the rule with two simple examples. If you are shooting RAw images, I would highly recommend turning off Long Exposure Noise Reduction in your camera settings menu. 

1) Canon T5i (cropped sensor) camera. 
Lens used: Tokina 11-16 F2.8 DX at 11 mm. 
ISO: 3200
F-stop: F2.8
Shutter speed:
Maximum shutter speed possible to avoid star trails: 500 divided by full frame equivalent focal length. So it is 500/(11*1.6) which gives us approx 28 seconds. 1.6 is the crop factor for Canon cropped sensor cameras, you can use 1.5 for Sony and Nikon cropped sensor cameras.

Star trails avoid during MIlky way photography
                                                                  20 seconds exposure 

2) Nikon D610 (full frame sensor) camera. 
Lens used: Tokina 16-28 F2.8 FX at 16 mm. 
ISO: 3200
F-stop: F2.8
Shutter speed calculation:
Maximum shutter speed possible to avoid star trails: 500 divided by full frame equivalent focal length. So it is 500/16 which gives us 31.25 seconds. In this case, I would use 30 seconds to be on safe side. Take a few test shots and check your image by zooming in. If you see every star looking well rounded and crispy, you have taken an awesome shot. If not, try again with a bit lower shutter speed. You might get lucky to see a couple of shooting stars in your photos which adds more interest to the pictures. 

Hope this post would help you to take stunning and crispy star shots without any surprise star trails. If you like star trails, there will be a separate post talking about cool star trail formation ideas around the north star. 

If you found this post helpful, share the photography love by sharing this post. :)


  1. Thanks for the post. That was a big help. Will try it as soon as I get hold of an appropriate lense.

  2. Photograph clicked is amazing. I will surely try these lenses and your idea of photography.


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