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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yosemite Range of Light

Shawn Reeder’s masterful time-lapse explores Yosemite National Park

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Much like landscape photography, planning ahead for location and weather is key for any large-scale project like a film or a time-lapse. Reeder kept updating his list of possible shooting locations as his skills and knowledge improved throughout the shooting process. He points out that in a few of the cases, the shot he had in mind would even require specific conditions that only happen two or three days a month. He frequently uses the iPhone apps Star Walk and Moon Seeker for planning out the night sky.

"Choosing locations takes on a whole new level of importance when shooting time-lapse as opposed to still photography," he explains. "All of a sudden, places that had been favorites of mine for years were unusable. A lot of the shooting I did for 'Yosemite Range of Light' was done at night, and this always meant only one shot per night as the sequences were usually five- to eight-hour shots. I found out early that I preferred shooting Yosemite when the moon was big enough to light the scene without being too bright to blow out the stars. These lighting conditions are only ideal for about six nights a month, so my favorite shooting windows in Yosemite were limited. I also really enjoy shooting the new moon cycle, as well, to really focus on the Milky Way. I didn't shoot during the full moon cycle much at all, just for moonbows in Yosemite Valley, which happen late spring and early summer."

When he's shooting a scene, Reeder also decides between going simple with a static shot or using motion control for a more complex composition with camera movements. Reeder says that it can take him only a few minutes to set up a static shot whereas camera movements can take him many hours to plan. When shooting motion time-lapse, it's important not only to consider what's in the frame in regard to composition, but also what will be in the frame later. Reeder did the majority of work at night, for instance, which gave him a way to work in backgrounds like the rising and setting moon, as well as the stars of the clear night sky in Yosemite.

Time-lapse is particularly susceptible to camera shake, as well. The slightest bump during a series can mean starting over from scratch. With longer lenses, even low winds or the activation of the image-stabilization within the lens can cause images to jump subtly from frame to frame. Adobe After Effects provides an image stabilization feature for addressing this issue, but it's best to avoid it at the time of capture. Though he did employ a 70-200mm zoom at times, Reeder chose to shoot most of the sequences on Canon L-series wide-angle and wide-angle zoom lenses to mitigate the potential for shake that gets more pronounced with telephotos, while also using the innate nature of a wide-angle to exaggerate foreground features as part of his compositions.

"Another consideration when shooting motion-controlled time-lapse is having an interesting foreground to show the motion," he says. "I always try to look for things that have expressive character, like an interesting bristlecone pine tree or tufa towers or a corridor of boulders. This is usually the hardest part of finding a great location to shoot—an interesting, expressive foreground against a beautiful, grand backdrop."

Reeder says that when shooting at night, lenses with a fast ƒ/2.8 aperture are absolutely essential.


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