This was my first starlight time lapse attempt. Being enamored of Tom Lowe’s TimeScapes I wanted to give it a try. My family was traveling on our way back from Monument Valley and spent an afternoon and night at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
I was too tired from all the filming at Monument Valley to spend much time at it but I thought I would at least do a time lapse. We picked the North Rim as it meant fewer people and it was closer to our final destination of Salt Lake City.
We were there at an opportune time. A local astronomy club was sponsoring a week of stargazing. They had all their telescopes set up on the patio of the lodge. Each telescope that evening was open for viewing closeups of galaxies, globular clusters, planets, the rings of Saturn and so forth. That meant the lodge was darkened somewhat. I didn’t get to see much because I had set my sights on doing a time lapse. The previous two nights were spent in Monument Valley doing time lapses but the skies were cloudy. The results were interesting, but it looked like tonight all the stars would be out. I only had a couple of hours before the moon would come out and obliterate the stars so I needed to get cracking.
Two things to remember about nighttime lapse: it is at night, and it takes a long time (1 hour gives you 5 seconds of 24fps footage). You have to be prepared. I wasn’t. It was cold. Very cold. I had a thin blanket wrapped around me and I huddled in the dark leaning against a rock wall for hours while my 5D clicked away. Definitely not comfortable. During those cold dark hours I thought long and hard about the Creator of this beautiful orb upon which he has placed us to learn by our experience to distinguish good from evil. In this case, vista good, cold evil!
Shooting stills on my 16-35mm Canon zoom, I was wide open at f/2.8. I have a f/1.4 50mm which is faster, but not wide enough. I set my zoom to 16mm to get as wide a field of view as possible. In Aperture priority (Av) mode, the exposures ranged from 35 seconds each during the darkest shots at the beginning, to 18 seconds once the moon rose. I set the remote timer to send a signal to the camera every second to take a photo. (No that won’t hurt anything.) That way just as soon as the 30 secs of the previous image expired the camera is ready to start a new one. Set your ISO to as fast as you can without generating noise. On the 5D it is about 1250 or 1600 max. It is easy enough to experiment, take a few stills and check them over and get it right before starting your sequence of automatic shots.
BTW- regarding the remote timer: spending less is better. I spend $40 on a cheap Chinese wired remote. No point in buying a Canon remote, you are just wasting money. Check with your favorite store, Amazon, B &H Photo Video or Adorama. Make sure you get one that can be programmed to take an infinite number of shots at an interval of your choosing. I bought a wired Opteka remote. The buttons on it are bit small but it filled the primary requirements: programmable and cheap. It has no power switch but the batteries last for days. I just take the batteries out when I am done. If I had it to do over again I would buy the Satechi for the larger buttons.
The foliage was lit by some dim bulbs from cabins way behind me (which were red and account for the hideous foliage tone). In the distance you can see the lights from the South Rim. At the end of the video the canyon is lit by the moon which was behind me. To get the moon in the shot I would have to drive 400 miles to the opposite rim. My Monument Valley film will have some moonrise shots where you watch the moon rise in the sky.
Although there are plenty of software packages that enable you to put together time lapse video from stills, I think the easiest for me to use is Apple’s Quicktime 7. You have all of your sequentially numbered files in a folder, then open the folder and the first image using the QT7 “Open Image Sequence” menu item. Then after it all opens up, you simply save the .mov file to disk.
My biggest criticism of this piece is that it is too short. It would be worth a trip back to get much more footage of this awe-inspiring location. Next time I’ll bring a warm jacket.