Sycamore Gap Under the Stars | North Photo

Sycamore Gap Under the Stars

Sycamore Gap Under the Stars



Sycamore Gap is one of the most famous trees in Britain. Fact. So much so that it recently won England’s Tree of the Year 2016 and has been entered for the European Tree of the Year 2017 – vote here if you’re reading this during February 2017.


Not just one of the UK’s favourite trees, Sycamore Gap also made a cameo appearance in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. But aside from all that, it is an incredible spot, surrounded by the ancient history of Hadrian’s Wall with sharp rises and dramatic dips.


I’ve photographed the tree a number of times, but the elusive photo for me has been capturing the stars over the gap. Each time I have tried, it has been cloudy or foggy. But between Christmas and New Year, the conditions looked just right: clear skies, no moon and I was off work… So I took the trip over to find it near perfect up there.


The number of stars was just incredible. The sky was absolutely full of them…

Sycamore Gap stars
Sycamore Gap under the stars, with the Milky Way to the right

Star Trails


My overall aim for the night was to capture star trails over Sycamore Gap. If you’re not familiar with star trails and how they’re photographed, they are normally created by taking a series of consecutive photographs over an hour or more, then merging them using software like StarStax.

The effect of this creates trails across the sky: the length of which depends upon the length of time spent taking the photos. The number of trails seen are down to the number of stars present and picked up by the camera. For example, the star trails I photographed in Glen Affric were a lot less dense as there was a full moon, meaning less stars were visible.

So I set up next two to other photographers I met on the night: Anthony Johnston and Gavin Smith – nice guys. I left the camera taking a series of 30 second photos for an hour and 45 minutes: 177 photos in total. If you’re interested, the camera settings were manual exposure, manual white balance, f/4 aperture, ISO 1600 and the lens at 16mm.

To create the photo below I only used 90 of the photos – because of the number of stars present the full set overwhelmed the image with trails. I stacked them in ‘Comet’ mode, which creates the softer look of the trails that you see – in essence each star looks a little like a comet’s tail.

Sycamore Gap Star Trails
Star trails above Sycamore Gap

So that’s it – a goal realised. Delighted I got to do it, and it was a great experience.

Next goal is to capture the Northern Lights over the tree… although that may be a fair way into the future…


Thanks for reading, and as ever feel free to read some of my other blog posts and check out my galleries.

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Comments (2)

  1. Jeremy
    July 30, 2017

    Hi can you let me know the camera settings you used to get that shot? It’s cracking!

    • Stuart Lonsdale
      August 06, 2017

      Hi Jeremy – thank you!
      The photo with the stars was taken with a Canon 5d Mk iii and Canon EF 16-35 f4/L lens at 16mm. Settings were f/4, ISO 1600 and 30 seconds, white balance on a custom setting of 3650 Kelvin. Same settings were for the star trails, with multiple photos at the same setting merged to create the trails.
      Hope this helps, if you need any more info just let me know.
      Thanks, Stuart


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