night sky. Some of them are simply spectacular and defy the senses. Photographers such Sean Parker, or Mark Gee, just to name a couple, have produced some incredible footage that generates not only awe but envy from other photographers of the night sky.
This season I began to explore what is required to take such footage. Sounds easy enough at first glance, but in reality, there is more to it than what may first appear. As I studied the work of others I tried to piece together some of the visual effects and photographic techiques they were using. What I discovered is that what is most important is timing, time afield, and location, and of course knowing how to capture the night sky from a techical point of view.
You for the most part must have a dark, clear night and in Kentucky finding that on a consistent basis is probelmatic at best. Each month there is a period of a week or ten days so where the moon remains hidden until either the very early hours of the morning or it sets very early in the evening. The trick is the timing. In Kentucky you may have a dark sky night, but odds are you will also have a lot of clouds. Broken clouds by themselves are not a major issue unless of course they completely block the sky. They can also present a problem by reflecting a lot of light pollution from the ground. The worse kind of clouds are the thin hazy type. They tend to act like a mirror and create a lot of reflected light plus they obscure the Milky Way to the point where it becomes difficult at best to photograph it.
Time afield is also important. The very nature of the process requires that you spend many hours out at night...sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. This presents a problem for those of us who must work a regular job. In most cases we are relegated to weekends or vacation time. But to get the shots, you have to make the time and be there when the sky is at its prime.
Location is just as important as the other elements. Most of the time I simply step into my backyard out of convenience. This serves well to perfect the technique but hardly offers one of those great locations that is so important in the presentation. I am often confronted with the neighbors outdoor lights flooding the area, or other security lights down the street arching a dome of light across the trees. Down the road a couple of miles stands an old barn just off the country road. I will on occasion drive over there and step into the field using the barn as my foreground. The location offers at least a measure of visual interest plus a decent view of the night sky and is relatively dark. I have planned on, but have yet been able to make the trip (this thing called work tends to interfere), spending a couple days over at Red River Gorge that appears to offer some spectacular landscapes to join with the night sky. Before the summer is out, I will make that trip and hopfully capture one of those amazing night sky moments.
So how do you capture a time lapse video using a digital SLR camera? Well, you gotta use what is called a intervelometer. This is a remote electonic trigger device that plugs into the remote outlet on the camera. It allows for the setting of the length of exposure plus the interval between exposures and the number of total exposures. They vary in cost, but I found a real good one for under $30.00 for my camera.
Basically the way it works is you set the camera up the same way you would for a single photo...manual shutter (bulb), infinity focus, ISO...all that. Then you set the intervelometer to the length of the shutter exposure say 30 seconds, the interval between the each exposure, say 35 seconds, and how many exposures you want to take...or you can set you camera shutter length to 30 seconds, and set the intervelometer interval to something longer than 30 seconds...just depends on what works easiest.
Place the camera on a sturdy tripod ( no tracking is required ) and point the camera in the desired direction, then fire it off. The intervelometer does the rest. It now becomes a waiting game. The number of exposures required vary depending on what you are wanting to accomplish. Generally speaking it takes 24 individual exposures to produce one second of video. To get five seconds of video, would require about 120 exposures. With one exposure being made every 30 seconds, this will require at least one hour of shooting time.
After you capture all the images, your job is only half done. You must now download these images into some kind of software that allows for the rendering of video sequence. I do not have the space here to discuss what software packages are available, but there are a number of variations available. Some are cheap, some are not. I recommend you do some reading about the subject. I simply use the same software package I use for my slide show presentations...Magix Extreme Photostory. It took some experimentation, but figured out how to make it work...although, the video quality falls a bit short, it is a good package to learn the ropes with.
Capturing time lapse is fun, but labor and time intensive. The amount of time required vs the amount of footage produced does not always equal out evenly. Below I have attached a short segment of some of my early attempts, and also provided a couple of links to some professionaly done time lapse videos. Please enjoy.