Saturday, January 08, 2011

This is TOTALLY cool...

I tried something new. I was watching some time lapse videos and thought it might be fun to try! It was.
Here you go:




( I just previewed it and it worked. Click the icon that looks like this under the image. Hit "esc" to get back again after)



See where it says "360p" to the left of that icon? If you click that, and you have a decent high speed connection, you can choose "1080p" for high resolution video when you're in full-screen mode. I just tried it and it looks a lot better.
I uploaded it to YouTube if you want to look at it separately. It's here. It’s kinda noisy at that size, though.

Here's a link to the opening image by itself if you want a look at it.

Speaking of “noisy”, what do you think of the audio? I recorded that on my piano keyboard using the cheap boom mike from my headset lying on top of the keyboard, so it doesn’t do it justice. I wanted to do more but I only have 10 fingers!

OK, for photographers and wannabe time-lapse shooters, here’s how I did it. It’s not that hard, and the whole thing (not including the actual picture taking) took about an hour to produce, then I played with it for a few more hours (especially trying to figure out how to make the sound track work!).

Lots of thinking and prep work, though. Here goes.

SHOOTING THE PICTURES
1. How long do you want to make your timelapse? I figured about 15 seconds. I played with different frame rates and came up with: you need at least 10 frames per second to make it smooth. Hence 15 seconds, 10 frames per second, wait a sec, let me get my calculator: oh yeah: 150 frames. 150 exposures. Wanna shoot in RAW? Go for it. What for? I did jpeg fine, I don’t think I needed even that.

2. Stars don’t put out a lot of light. Well unless the star in question is our own sun, and you’re only 93,000,000 miles away from it. So I tried and I tried and I really wanted to use lower settings but folks, the setting you need is: ISO 3200 (yes...), 30 seconds, wide open (in my case, f/4). Even then, I had to bump up the exposure a full stop.

At that high a sensitivity, ANY terrestrial light will be too bright. The trees in the shot were indirectly lit by reflected light from the Red Umbrella Inn, not even pointed at it. The yellow sky is from the [sarcasm mode] really bright illumination [end sarcasm] from the town of Carnarvon which is about 4 km North of here and boasts a population of about 300. You can’t even see this light with the naked eye but a shutter open for 30 seconds with that kind of ISO can see it no problem.

3. Setting it up is tricky. Now if you have a Canon camera, I can’t help you, you have to figure it out for yourself. But if you have a Nikon, especially a D300, listen carefully. Nikon SCREWED THIS UP.

I wanted 150 image, 30 seconds long, over about 2 hours. So I did some arithmetic and came up with an interval between shots of 48 seconds (go get your calculator and figure it out for yourself). Now if each exposure is 30 seconds, then that means the time between shots is 18 seconds. I wondered if the camera timed from the START of each exposure to the START of the next one... nah, that would be too easy. I tested it. I set it up to do 10 exposures of 10 seconds each with 5 seconds between them (the interval timer is on the ‘shooting menu’, at the very bottom. It’s a pain to use because you need to either choose a start time, or if you start right away, it means NOW, not after you get the camera settled on the tripod...). Anyway, in my test, I only ended up with 3 or 4 exposures, not the 10 I was expecting.

Afterthought: let me try to explain this better. In the instruction book for the D300, Nikon says, "Note that the camera will not be able to take photographs at the specified interval if it is shorter than the shutter speed or the time required to record images". What does that mean? If you're trying to take 30 second exposures less than 30 seconds apart (plus a little, to allow the camera time to digest the image), it gets confused and doesn't know what to do.

But if you want your video to COVER the time period with no gaps, you need to keep the time between images as short as possible. Why do you want to do that? To smooth things out. Clouds, airplanes, if you're lucky, meteorites... so you need a workaround.

Here it is. This is NOT intuitive:

figure out THE TOTAL TIME OF YOUR TIME LAPSE. In my case, 120 minutes, or 7200 seconds.

• The camera will allow you to set up to 999 exposures. Divide 7200 seconds by 999 and you get 7.2 seconds per exposure (I rounded it up to 8 seconds).

• THAT’S WHAT YOU SET. Don’t worry, you won’t get 999 images. What’s going to happen is the camera is going to run the program for 7200 seconds (OK, 8000 seconds if you rounded up) and then it’s going to stop, unless it runs out of battery first. Every 8 seconds, it’s going to try to take a picture, but since the shutter is already open for 30 seconds, it won’t do anything until 8 seconds after the shutter closes, then it’s going to say, “OK, time for another shot!”. So you’ll get one click every 38 seconds, or 210 pictures over that period of time.

• Unless it runs out of batteries. In my case, it did after 93 minutes, so I only got 146 pictures.

Afterthought: I forgot to tell you to turn off the LCD display as well. That's "Image Review" in the Playback menu. Why? To conserve battery.

This is silly. You should be able to set your interval timer to say, “I want one picture every x seconds. That only works when the actual exposure is short, not 30 seconds long. I’m going to try to discuss this with Nikon, when I have time.

4. Find a good spot for the camera, pointing at a nice clear area of sky and be sure to include some earthly objects in the picture, or it’ll be totally boring. Check YouTube, you’ll see what I mean. But whatever object(s) are in the picture, remember they are getting exposed at 30sec/f4/ISO3200 so they’re going to be blown out if there’s any light on them whatever.

I debated long and hard and decided that I wanted a better view than from my property. So I took a chance, got my wooly sheepskin coat on, and took the camera out onto the ice on the lake and put it in a deeply shadowed spot about 100m out from shore where nobody would see it and perhaps swipe it. Because once I set it up, I went in the house for 2 hours and let it do its thing by itself.

I chose my 12mm lens because I wanted the whole sky if I could get it. I prefocused it to infinity, set the camera on manual 30 seconds, AND I TURNED OFF THE LONG EXPOSURE NOISE REDUCTION OPTION IN THE CAMERA. Otherwise it would sit there for 30 seconds after each shot doing a compensation image. By the way, I wanted the minimum time between shots to make it smoother.

(BTW, next time I might try my 50mm f/1.8. I haven't used that lens much. That should actually give me two full stops more light, so I can perhaps reduce the time and the ISO both. A 30 second exposure at 50mm is going to show star trails, though. I'll try it.)

Once I put the camera in place, I did a manual exposure so I could look at the composition (couldn’t really see anything through the viewfinder). Then I set the interval timer to “Start Now/8 seconds/999 exposures”, stuck it quick on the tripod and clicked “OK” to make it go.

Afterthought: a couple of other warnings from Nikon (in the manual. RTFM. Google that acronym if you don't know what it means).
  • The interval timer only works in "S", "CL" or "CH" mode. Not LiveView, selftimer, etc
  • It's pretty obvious that shutter speed can't be "bulb"
  • It won't take a picture if it's trying to autofocus and can't. So pre-focus and turn the focusing to manual.
  • Cover the viewfinder to prevent light from coming in the back and fogging the image. Normally your eye is there... you got a little thingy with your camera for that — betcha don't know where it is! Duct tape.*


POST PROCESSING
1. I imported the images into a fresh folder in Lightroom.

2. I tweaked one image. The trees were too bright, so I used the Adjustment brush to dodge the tree and the lower sky, while adjusting the exposure and contrast and clarity, etc to maximize the number of visible stars and keeping the sky dark.

3. I copied the settings, then selected all the other images and clicked “sync settings” to make them all the same.

4. I did a virtual copy of the first slide, then used the lens correction distortion thing to do that cool pincushion shape thing, and opened it in Photoshop. I did the text, then saved 4 versions of it so I could flow the intro the easy way.

5. I exported all the images to a fresh folder, reducing them to 1280x1024 at 72 dpi.

MOVIE MAKING
1. I don’t have movie editing software. Well, I don’t have anything except Microsoft’s Movie Maker which comes with Windows 7. So that’s what I used.

2. I imported all the images, set the first 4 for longer times (like a few seconds each), then set the 140 time lapse images to 0.1 seconds each (10 frames/second).

3. I recorded the audio as described above, then I had to mess around to convert it to MP3 because I don’t have audio editing software either. Another freeware program I found on the web.

4. I merged the music in Movie Maker, played with it a bit, then saved the baby.


I think it took me longer to write this than to do it. I know it looks complicated, but if you think it through, it’s not that tough. Was it worth it? Will I do it again? You betcha. Will I do it better? You betcha! Not bad for a first attempt, though, huh?

I’ll leave you with a link to the videos I saw that started the whole thing: by a fellow named Dan Heller, out in California. Mine doesn’t look as good as his, of course, but I’m going to keep trying! Here’s the link: http://www.danheller.com/star-trails.html. Check it out — absolutely stunning pictures!

Later!
Afterthought: Don't forget to turn all those camera settings back to normal when you're done. LCD display, ISO, autofocus, exposure mode, long exposure noise reduction, etc.
* Duct Tape. In Canada, there are two ways to fix things.
  • if it moves and it's not supposed to, "DUCT TAPE".
  • if it doesn't move and it's supposed to: "WD-40".
Compliments of Red Green.

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