I recently had the chance to visit Zion National Park in Utah with two folks on the Photofocus team (Doug Daulton and Pamela Berry). While there, I had a chance to make an evening time-lapse and some long exposures of the sky. Unfortunately, the moon was out… but we made the most of the night.
For context… the temperature got well below freezing… so I got creative. Here’s the highlights of my production and postproduction workflow.
Getting the Shot
I used the new Nikon D610. The camera held up well and didn’t flinch in the cold (even though it was below the rated temperature for shooting. I attached an extra battery grip to the camera to extend the battery life (the cold really sucks batteries dry).
- I shot raw to get the best range.
- I used a 50mm prime lens which had the ability to manually focus on infinity.
- I experimented with several test shots.
- I ended up at /8.0 | ISO 800 | 30 second exposure
The initial shot came out like this in-camera. This is a JPEG preview of the Raw file.
As the temperature continued to fall, it got downright dangerous to stay outside. I hooked up my CamRanger remote control to the camera. This wireless dongle attaches to the camera with a USB cord and creates a wireless controller.
I connected to the CamRanger with my iPad Air. The network allowed me to experiment with the exposure triangle from 30 feet away (inside a much warmer truck).
I could download a preview image to the iPad and make judgement calls by zooming in to 100%. This workflow was surprisingly fast and much safer given the dangerously low temperatures.
Shooting the Time-lapse
My goal in going to Zion was to shoot both HDR and nighttime time-lapse (I’ll tell you more about HDR on a future post). The CamRanger gave me full control over the camera and its interval (even though I didn’t have a cell signal in the park).
I shot the series this way.
- 30 second exposure
- ISO 800
- 10 second interval
I was able to start the timer and fall asleep in the truck.
Once home to my much warmer studio, I got about the developing stage. I organized all the raw files from the scene into a single folder, then browsed to the images with Adobe Bridge (Lightroom could work as well).
I then opened up all of the images using Adobe Camera Raw. With a little effort, I was able to significantly improve the dynamic range of the shot. The noise reduction controls as well as clarity and split toning worked quite well.
Once the first shot was developed, I clicked Synchronize to unify the setting across the sequence. Then clicking Save Image, I exported all the frames to a folder.
When I need the greatest control over my files, I assemble them in Adobe After Effects (included with Creative Cloud). I’ve published several tutorials through the years on how to assemble the shots. Here’s a link to one.
The shot was also smoothed out using Granite Bay Deflicker to reduce the fluctuations in brightness that’s likely when shooting time-lapse.
Here’s the end result.
Please let me know in the comments below if you’d like any followup posts with more details in the workflow.
Rich has published over 100 courses on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.