Day-Length Time-Lapse HDRI Sky Domes

Well it seems that the terrible terror of aperture flickering has been solved with a small sliver of plastic shoved into my lens! I’ll save that for another post! But this now enables me to shoot day time and day length time-lapses!

So last weekend I spent a bit of time driving down south along the coast looking for more time-lapse locations. Due to the number of people asking for day-length time lapse, I had to find a better spot than the one I’m using currently, which is just plain uncomfortable (no room to move around) and pretty inconvenient as I can’t leave the camera alone and work or do anything other than listen to podcasts or music. This starts getting old even after a couple hours, and being unable to really walk around or do anything at all is super painful.

Here’s a video of the spot I’ll be using now, which is another 30-45 minutes down the coast:

Awkward location

It looks really nice, and it is, but my first test shoot of only 4 hours here was quite uncomfortable and has me thinking that I need to do a day long recon mission around South Australia looking for building roofs to use instead. I suppose I didn’t think of just how bad sitting inside a car for this long could be, especially when its a sunny 28 degrees as it was during my first test run. During summer I’ll likely be facing multiple days that are 30+ which will be torture, and frankly impossible.

Flies were so bad that it was difficult to setup the camera, I won’t go into it – gross!

This is also a popular spot for locals, surfers and it seems just anyone keen for a lunch break. Unfortunately these are all ‘risks’ to my camera’s field of view as I discovered when a large truck pulled up near my setup, partly coming into frame near the horizon. A building roof would be so amazing!

Weather challenges

With every wasted drive to the coast it becomes more apparent just how much harder these day-lengthers are to pull off compared to single HDRIs where you only need the sky to look good for a moment. A sky can be interesting all day and then at sunset it can clear up and be dull and boring, or vice versa. Hopefully I can blend a few together as (I think) Paul Debevec did with his, but I’m unsure how that might look or how close together each might need to be (in terms of days) to account for moving sun positions. Things like haze in the air could also be a factor. I’ll certainly try!

Rain can also ruin a perfectly good shoot, and has, even during my shorter shoots.

Lastly wind is also a big problem. For a single HDRI you can wait for a lull in wind, but for time-lapses you can never get that blurred frame back. I’m considering buying a big, heavy bastard of a tripod to reduce this.

So to get a good time lapse sky, this is “all” you need to wait for:

  • A sky that actually has interesting clouds in it for most of the day, but not too many, otherwise we don’t even have “high” dynamic range due to cloud cover
  • No chance of rain (tricky with the above point…) all day long
  • Low wind all day long

Insect challenges…

Note to self, and you, reader! – every half hour, look at the lens to see if there’s anything camping out on it. You might also get bits and pieces of dust/leaves/who knows what blown on to your lens.

Battery life

Another challenge with these day length time lapses will be battery life. A D800E with a standard battery, hooked up to a Promote, shooting 6 photos (HDRI brackets) every 30 seconds will last roughly 4 hrs, 15 mins. I know this because my best time-lapse so far ran out of steam 15 minutes before the sun set… Here it is:

One option for bonus battery life is Nikons astoundingly expensive battery grip, which will still probably not get me a full day length – or I can make my own like this guy did: My guess is this whole setup would cost less than Nikons battery grip too, and it’d be guaranteed to work for months on end which I like the sound of! The usage is different though, in that I’m shooting every minute or so, not once per day with no bracketing… so I actually have no idea how long this would last. You’d think something the size of a car battery compared to the little Nikon one would be an order of magnitude of difference though?

I’m not much of an electrician, but my old man is, so I’ll probably ask him to help me out and see how we go! The Promote lasts for I believe 20 hours on a couple of batteries, so that should be fine on its own.

There’d also be the super simple option of just buying a stack of batteries and changing between shots as each one runs out. I’d have about 1 minute to do the changeover, but of course the camera and even tripod would get heavily disturbed and would likely cause a movement between frames. I just don’t like the idea of touching anything during the shoot!

15-30 second long day length time-lapses

The first shoot I do will likely be the same total number of frames, or 15 seconds worth of footage at 30 fps. Using frame blending I can probably stretch this out if necessary. If people begin asking for even longer times, I’ll grab another memory card and shoot at twice the speed. I’ve been pretty amazed so far with what After Effects can do with frame blending though, especially with HDRIs – shout out to Simon at Cadabra for that tip! Its really nice to see them moving at a slower pace so you can take in all the details or use a certain portion of the footage for a longer period of time.

My poor camera!

Funny fact – most DSLRs have a shutter lifespan of 200,000 exposures. I’ve now shot (and mostly wasted) over 10 time lapses @ 3500 frames a pop, which means I’m now already over 15% of the way to killing my brand new camera, and I’ve barely started! Being slightly less dramatic though, most cameras go for twice this before needing an overhaul, and it sounds like a $500 job once you’ve killed the shutter, so its not that big a deal 🙂

Until next time! Thanks for following along.

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