Ever since I started astrophotography I’ve waited to visit the dark skies of Chile. I took advantage of the total solar eclipse of July 2nd to give me a ‘good excuse’ to go there and shoot astrolapses as well. For a bit more than two weeks, Alyn Wallace and I roamed about some of the driest areas and darkest skies on the planet. This short films tells the tale of an otherworldly experience filled with many challenges and stunning scenery throughout the deserts of the South-American country.
Chile is unlike any other places on our beautiful planet. The climate there is very strange, especially coming from northern Europe. While the southern part of the country is colder and more humid, the northern part offers some of the sunniest and driest places thanks to the Andes blocking most of the clouds. The high plateaus (Altiplano) actually extends for miles from South to North and even in the winter time, the astrophotography possibilities are almost endless and seemingly easy to come by. During our two weeks around La Serena and Atacama, Alyn and I have almost not seen a single cloud or a major gust of wind. Moreover, despite the growing light pollution around the arid plains, the night remains one of the best on Earth. There, the nigh it is quite long (from 6:30PM till 6AM), and the air is thin and pure to allow less scattering and a clearer view on the stars. So theoretically it was possible to shoot every night.
But that’s in theory. In practice, Chile ended up being the most challenging environment to shoot in so far. It’s even more extreme than shooting the northern light by -35 degrees Celsius in Sweden! Even with a good acclimatization at 2500m, the altitude (~4300m sometimes), fatigue, cold (-11 C sometimes), the constant dust lifting off the ground took a serious toll on our health. In turn that prevented us from shooting every night for two weeks. After both falling sick several times, we simply had to give up even though we’re usually quite resistant and resilient. The desert is a serious hostile environment and unfortunately the movie does not show it. That’s without mentioning some of the other challenges we had, like puncturing a tire in the middle of nowhere, breaking my 70-300mm Tamron lens an hour before the eclipse, or almost having a fit at 4800m of altitude.
Fortunately though, the experience of being under such beauty and shooting it was well worth the trip. The film only features 2 sequences of the total solar eclipse, but the photos cannot do the real thing justice, even in an environment that looks like Mars. I tried my best to diversify the shots and compile them into this short to showcase how jaw-dropping the Chilean desert are at night. At the start of the movie, I featured my first ever night hyperlapse, which is quite hard to achieve, even under a full moon (uneven terrain, anchor points hard to find…). From the flowering cacti in front of the milky way galaxy to the turquoise slaty lagoons reflecting the stars, but also the arid but singular salt flats, the deserts of Chile truly are a unique place for nightscapes. I had two main shooting challenges this time though. Firstly the car lights (many tourists coming around the eclipse) which lit up some sequences (I had to remove some frames and some of the sequences got a bit laggy). The second problem was the difference of light between the sky and foreground. Indeed the sky was very bright and the ground very dark in comparison, so I often had to push the ISO to 10K and 12K, or bump up the exposure time, which in turn resulted in less clean sequences.
All in all the experience was incredible and I am quite stunned by the results I got. I hope you enjoy this first opus in my new timelapse series ‘STARLIGHT’ dedicated to the darkest places on Earth. All content is copyrighted NightLightsFilms© (except sountrack licensed seperately), and no footage can be used in any way without the author’s permission. Please contact me for media and purchase inquiry. Please share and comment if you liked the video and follow me for more videos like this one! More at nightlightsfilms.com
Cameras: Sony a7s, 2 Canon 6D modded, Sony a7rII
Motion control: Vixen Polarie, Syrp 3 axis system
Lenses: Sigma 14mm f1.8, Sigma 20mm f1.4, Sigma 35mm f1.4, Sigma 50mm f1.4, Sigma 85mm f1.4, Samyang 135mm f2, Kenko extender HDPRO x2 (eclispe)
Post-process: Adobe Lightroom, Timelapse+ STUDIO plug-in for Lr, Ps CS6, TDLF, Sequence, FCPX