The Slinkard Fire advances towards US-395 at Topaz Lake on the CA/NV border

The Slinkard Fire advances towards US-395 at Topaz Lake on the CA/NV border. #SlinkardFire #video

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Bodie Researched for Alton Towers Theme Park

This was a fun video to shoot. U.K. theme park Alton Towers decided to research an authentic mining town for their Altonville Mine Tours attraction they’re opening this week. We spent one day up in Bodie capturing video, time-lapse footage, stills, interviews and sounds, and this was the result.

The day before the Alton Towers shoot in Bodie it was snowing on us

I’d like to thank the California Film Commission for the quick turnaround on our film permit, Bodie State Historic Park / +California State Parks for supporting the research and production, and +Lori Hibbett for producing sunrise and night time-lapse footage of Bodie’s iconic car on the shoot.  The main cameras used for the production were the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D by +Canon USA.  Lori uses the Nikon D800E and D750 by +Nikon USA.

For more information on accessing the historic buildings and town of Bodie, California, for photography or filming, contact Jeff Sullivan Photography, www,JeffSullivanPhotography.com.

Jeff also teaches night photography workshops in Bodie, and night and landscape photography workshops in Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Eastern Sierra.  His 2017 schedule will be released shortly.

This photo of Bodie by Jeff was featured on the cover of Locations International 2015, a directory of locations for film location scouts that was distributed at the Cannes Film Festival.

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How Far Compact Cameras Have Come…You may have seen predictions that mirrorless…

How Far Compact Cameras Have Come…
You may have seen predictions that mirrorless cameras are going to replace traditional DSLR cameras, because the lack viewfinders and are a little more compact in size and weigh less.  Certainly there's a market for compact size, and if you're not trying to shoot at night, no doubt some percentage of the camera-buying market does put some emphasis on size.  

But that's nothing new, and the drive towards powerful small cameras doesn't stop there.  Cellular phones have already been the dominant form of digital camera in people's hands for years now.  Their accessibility and convenience can't be beat, and their small sensors deliver extremely good depth of field.  You can get models with dozens of megapixels, possibly much more than you'll ever need.

I love shooting under starry skies at night, and I'll definitely keep my DLSRs for that.  I think there's a healthy market for cameras in between cell phones and DSLRs, and I see many of the newer models filling new niches, representing growth in the market, not an either-or choice.  The options are getting more diverse and more powerful every month.  For a lot of what people do, they want video.  They don't want to risk dunking their cell phone in the water.  If they want to record something active like your child's first bike ride, few will strap a DSLR (or mirrorless camera) on their child's head.  

For action video, and what video doesn't involve some sort of action, a light and compact video camera may be the ticket, preferably waterproof.  As a bonus, models like the new +GoPro HERO 3+ can take 12 megapixel still shots, and it can take them at intervals, so you have the option of using a single high resolution photo or putting them together in a time-lapse movie.  There's even a free GoPro app for editing the video.  Want to control your camera remotely?  Use the free GoPro app on your Apple or Android smartphone and control the camera using the wi-fi connection between the two.  Want to carefully frame and monitor your shot on an LCD screen?  No problem, you can add that.  There's a nearly endless collection of mounts, grips and poles which enable you to take your camera in the water, on the snow, on a bike, attached to your car windshield, dashboard or roof rack, just about wherever you might go.  And it can record it in super high resolution: 1920 x 1080 ("1080p") HD video at rates up to 60 frames per second slow motion, 2.7K video at up to 30 frames per second, and stunning "4K" video with 4X the resolution of 1080p HD at 15 frames per second.

I'm not sponsored by GoPro; I've never spoken to them or anyone affiliated with them.  But I have the original model, and I've taken it skiing, snorkeling, and on other adventures, and it it did the basic job of capturing what I was doing.  What's really changed in the generations since are the mounting options, the LCD for viewing, the wi-fi control (from a free smartphone app, not just via an additional accessory), and most importantly, added recording options and improved video quality.  I've been watching the models advance, and when I saw coverage of the company on 60 Minutes earlier this week, I couldn't resist updating my collection of GoPro gear.

Check out this demo video, it's pretty cool.  I'll write a detailed review on my setup, what to buy and what not to buy and suggestions on how to maximize the quality of your results, once I've had the opportunity to use the new gear for a little while.  I've already run into some configuration issues, so I'll have to work through those and buy some replacement parts before I can really put the products through their paces.  Stay tuned!
#gopro   #video   #demoreel   

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How To Create a Time-lapse Video of a Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower, August 2013

The Perseid Meteor Shower runs from July 17 – August 24, with peak night occurring around August 12-14. When shooting night landscapes and trying to catch meteor showers, I like taking long exposures one after another, so you catch anything which flies through your camera’s field of view. If you shoot continuously for a while and catch a couple of hundred exposures or more, you can even assemble those shots into a time-lapse video.

Lets do a little math to figure out how your still shots will transfer to video. When deciding how long to shoot, bear in mind that this is a time-lapse video, so in playback as video everything is dramatically sped up. Each frame is a 5 to 30 second shot, but video is 24 or 30 frames per second. To make the meteors last more than 1/30th of a second, you may want them to be present for two frames of video, and assemble your video at a relatively slow frame rate of only 12 shots per second, so in video formats that play at 24 to 30 frames per second, the meteors show up for at least two frames. Fortunately our eyes and minds are quick enough for us to perceive the meteors with some persistence even though they show up for only 1/12th of a second.

On a dark night your exposures may be 30 seconds or more, so at 24 frames per second each hour of shooting will give you less than 5 seconds of video. With the nearly full moon last night, there was enough light that I was able to reduce my exposure time to 5 seconds. I set an external timer (intervalometer) to take the next shot one second later, so I took one very 6 seconds, or 10 shots per minute. So if I’m using a slow frame rate of 12 frames per second to make the meteors more persistent in the video, I’ll end up with almost one second of video per minute of shooting.  Adjust your exposures per minute and video frames per second math to figure out how fast you want your shooting sequence to play back.

If you’d like to explore time-lapse photography yourself, download the free VirtualDub software which can convert a sequence of JPEG files into video, and check out the forum on www.Timescapes.org for discussions on techniques. You’ll need a tripod of course, and your sequence of still images will turn out best if you use a remote switch that has an intervalometer (timer) function.

Update March 2016: One more thing, meteors are more common after midnight, so I usually arrive on site around 11 pm to give myself an hour to set up before I have to start shooting.  Basically where you are on earth starts to rotate around to the front of the Earth’s path through space at midnight, so the sky above you collides with more comet dust from then until astronomical twilight starts before dawn, as this article explains: Ask the Naturalist: What’s the Best Time and Place to See Meteors?

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Create a Timelapse Video on Your Digital Camera

Lunar Moonbows in Upper Yosemite Falls from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Timelapse videos are easy to create on your DSLR. There are many software packages which will facilitate the process, some better than others, but I’ll describe the simple and relatively low cost workflow that I currently use. You’ll need software on your PC which can convert a sequence of JPEG files to timelapse video. I use VirtualDub (free download) to create an AVI format video, then I use MPEG Streamclip (free download) to convert the huge .AVI file to a much smaller (albeit lower quality) MPEG-4 for online use. Here’s the process from shooting to finished video:

Clean your camera sensor. It is hard enough to remove dust from one image… picture having to do that 300 times. Even copying dust removal from one image to the others, the data changes over time (from shot to shot), so it really won’t work well across the whole sequence. It’s far, far better to remove the dust up front. Clean your camera sensor!.

Put your camera on a sturdy tripod. Install a fully charged battery and a blank, freshly-formatted memory card which can handle several hundred images.

Compose your image expecting to lose some of the vertical information if you’ll convert the sequence to HD video with a narrow HD shape (16:9 aspect ratio).

Manually focus your camera and switch off automatic focus. If you forget to do this, your camera will insert delays in the sequence as it hunts for focus, making the playback jerky at best. Worst case, your camera may lose focus and you’ll end up with a whole lot of blurry images.

Make some test shots to determine best exposure. If practical, set exposure manually so it won’t change from shot to shot and cause flashing (flicker) as different exposures come up during playback. If the light will change a lot during shooting (sunrise and sunset), you can use automatic exposure, but then the exposure during the video is artificially stagnant, and you’ll need to to “deflicker” the timelapse to reduce flashing from frame to frame when producing the video. You will learn some very interesting and important things about your DLSR in this process! When your DSLR changes the exposure up or down 1/3 stop from shot to shot, simply “fixing” the exposure during editing will not result in similar-looking images from shot to shot! Even adjacent images taken a fraction of a second apart may have different white balance, and a slight exposure change also affects contrast, color saturation, and so on. Once you’ve gone through the process a few times your whole approach will change and you’ll try to maximize quality and consistency in-camera, not during editing.

Shoot several hundred images in a row. You can make the timing from frame to frame consistent using an Intervalometer Trigger (external timer), or you can simply hit the shutter release over and over (perhaps use the display of the prior image on the camera rear LCD as your cue to trigger the next shot and keep them at a fairly consistent rate). Remember that your finished product will be 30 frames per second, so you’ll need 300 images for each 10 seconds of video. I recommend shooting in RAW format so you can adjust the exposures during editing, especially if you shoot at sunrise or sunset where the light will change over the course of your timelapse.

Read your camera’s files into your editing software and crop them to the 16:9 aspect ratio of HD video. Remember that you have far more resolution in your DSLR than you need for HD video, so you can perform a “digital zoom” and focus on only a portion of your original camera image. Software strong in batch editing such as Adobe Lightroom (free trial available) will enable you to apply a consistent crop, exposure adjustments and even spot removal across the entire sequence of images. You’ll also want to impose one consistent white balance across the entire sequence. Some video processing software (such as Adobe Premiere I believe) will even let you specify a starting crop and a different finishing crop, then calculate a zoom and pan across your sequence of images.

Save your files in sRGB JPEG format at 1280 x 720 resolution for video to be used on sites like YouTube or Flickr that only allow smaller 720p HD format video, or save them at 1920 x 1080 resolution for 1080p video to be uploaded to sites such as Vimeo. If you’ll use the VirtualDub software, it will want you to point to the first image in the sequence then look for a sequential numbered file, so if you used automatic exposure bracketing while shooting you may be editing and saving every third file, but you can rename them sequentially so VirtualDub can order them properly.

Read the sequence into VirtualDub. It’s important to notice when trying to import them that in the dialog box where you’re looking for the first file to select, the file format has a drop-down menu which enables you to specify that it should look for an image sequence in JPG format.

Add filters as desired, in the order that you want them to apply. For example, Virtualdub can crop and resize larger JPEGs, perform sharpening at the new lower resolution, and you can search for and install a third party “MSU deflicker” filter to improve image consistency from frame to frame across the whole video. Check your frame rate and for maximum quality (but shorter result) change the default 10 frames per second to 30.

Save the video in AVI format. That’s a very high quality format, so it may save a file of a gigabyte or more! Enjoy this high quality file on your computer (or read it into video editing software to burn it to Blue-Ray DVD).

To create smaller files for online sharing, read your .AVI file into MPEG Streamclip. Save to MPEG-4, playing with quality vs. file size tradeoffs until the results are what you want.

Upload your results to your favorite video sharing site. That’s it! It takes a little more planning to pull off well and a little more time to produce the finished result, but you can produce some amazing videos.

For more information on shooting timelapse sequences, I recommend browsing the discussion forums over on www.Timescapes.org.

Note: although Adobe Lightroom has a retail list price of $300 to buy, Adobe offers a free trial.

This is an updated re-post of my November 2010 blog post since the link to the original timelapse video on Flickr appears to have broken. Instead I’ve posted links to videos on Vimeo:

Pfeiffer Beach Winter Sunset from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

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