On the night of April 12, 2014 I shot a “holy grail” timelapse video for a client of the Caribou Wind Park near Bathurst, New Brunswick in Canada. The wind farm consists of thirty three turbines and puts out 99 megawatts when all of them are running. It’s called the “holy grail” of timelapses because shooting from sunset to the Milky Way is usually 20 stops or more and beyond the metering capability of the camera, and thus quite difficult to smoothly adjust and expose for (this particular sequence has a 23 stop range from 15 EV to -7 EV). However, I wanted to go even further and shoot something special for the client, capturing the sunset into the Milky Way, plus a moonrise, and then the sunrise! Because of the weather and remoteness of the site (and needing to schedule an employee to be onsite with us), we had one night to pull it off and limited time for scouting. They still had four feet of snow and eight foot snowbanks up there, so it was challenging to get around and find a suitable location with a southeastern view (about 138° on the compass dial) and good composition. I used PhotoPills extensively on my iPhone to figure out compass headings, altitudes, and times of the sun, moon, and Milky Way movement. Running out of time, I settled on this vantage point up a steep hill and backed into the woods as far as I could get without the tree branches encroaching on the scene too much. I figured it might help shelter the camera from wind and frost as well. The windmill tower is 80 meters tall, with a rotor diameter of 90 meters, so even 62 meters away with a 14mm lens I found it challenging to fit the entire windmill in the scene, especially after cropping to 16:9 ratio for a video! A lot of planning goes into a timelapse like this.
Because the snow was so deep, I skipped the slider and eMotimo and shot a static timelapse scene. There was really nowhere to pan anyway without losing the windmill, sun, moon, or Milky Way out of frame. I packed a bunch of snow down to make a stable platform for the tripod (Really Right Stuff TVC-34L and BH-40 ballhead) and put everything else in a covered bucket to keep it warm and dry for the night. I used a Ramper Pro to handle the exposure ramping, with a DewNot dew heater on the lens on a DewBuster controller, powered by a car battery jump starter. I started shooting at 7:35 PM for sunset and let it run until I retrieved it at 9:44 AM, reversing everything around 11:40 PM for moonrise and sunrise. I used an interval of 20 seconds with a Milky Way exposure of f/2.8, ISO 4000, and 17.45 second shutter speed for sharp stars on a Nikon D810 and 14-24mm f/2.8 (my favorite night sky lens). In 14 hours and 9 minutes it captured 2,404 photos for an 80 second video clip @ 30fps. The light behind the windmill and down the hill is coming from the electrical substation, and conveniently lit up the windmills quite nicely!
I beta tested LRTimelapse 4 with the Ramper Pro’s .xmp files for this sequence, and Lightroom 6 came out in the middle of editing (LRTimelapse 4 was officially released shortly thereafter), so the final render was done with Lightroom 6. I love that gradients can be masked now with a selective brush! LRTimelapse 4 also makes changing the exposure of a timelapse with the Ramper Pro’s deflickering much easier than before. Exporting in Lightroom 6 is multithreaded now, when before I had to queue up 3 or 4 simultaneous exports to fully saturate the CPU threads and SSD RAID array. Not everything is faster in Lightroom 6 though I’ve noticed, in fact gradients might even be slower now to process. I couldn’t fit all of the footage on the SSDs, so I worked with 2048px wide lossy DNGs as a proxy on the SSDs to speed up the editing process, copying the .xmp files to the folder of RAW files on hard drives for the final export to 16-bit TIFFs (which took 13hrs and 465GB of storage, almost as much time as it took to shoot it!). Rendering the TIFFs to 4K ProRes 422HQ for the client with After Effects was a bit faster at around 4hrs, and weighs in at about 8.6GB.
I have some timelapse and night sky workshops coming up in Acadia National Park if you are interested. Three spots left for the night sky workshop next weekend, and two spots left for the timelapse workshop in June! Visit acadiaimages.com for more details.