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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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Time-lapse shooting gives you a chance to show a landscape in a multidimensional way. The finished movie is, literally, a series of still images strung together at 24 fps. Shawn Reeder's "Yosemite Range Of Light" is one of the most spectacular nature time-lapse films we've seen. Reeder shot in challenging conditions—as the light was changing—and the results give us a look at Yosemite as the landscape transitions with rising and setting sun, moon and stars. Go to shawnreeder.com to see "Yosemite Range Of Light."
"Range of Light" is appropriate as a title for more reasons than one. When you have quickly moving cloud cover or rapidly changing light levels like you have during sunsets and sunrises, the overall exposure for your scene can vary wildly from shot to shot. You can work in the field to monitor changing light conditions and make manual changes to camera settings and exposure as needed; however, this means you'll be attached at the hip during the extended lengths of time that it takes to fully capture a time-lapse, which can involve many, many hours for a single series. Alternatively, you can work with a bramper, a specialty bulb-ramping intervalometer that keeps your exposures level when shooting to eliminate time-lapse "flicker" during the sequence or you can use software to ramp the exposures in post.

Instead of bramping in the field, Reeder prefers to use an Adobe plug-in called LRTimelapse to ramp exposures, reduce flicker and work with other parameters like white balance. "For instance," he explains, "when I would start with a sunset, I'm looking at maybe a 20-minute shot, but it's going to go through a range of exposures during that 20 minutes because it's right at the end of the day. So, typically, I would start my shot maybe a third to a half-stop overexposed, knowing by the end of the shot it's going to be a full stop to a stop-and-a-third underexposed. I would still keep it in manual mode for the shot, and then I can make keyframes [defining points for the beginning and end of a series] along that sequence of images; then I would edit the individual images the way that I want them. So the first shot would be overexposed, and I would bring down the exposure in processing. Then during the middle of the sequence, it gets into the sweet-spot area of exposure, and at the end I would be bringing up the exposure again. I can bring them to LRTimelapse and it automatically ramps a smooth curve of exposure with all the other images between those keyframes. So it gives you the ability to change the exposure just by processing the key RAW files, and because RAW files have such latitude, I found that I never needed to use something like a bramper that actually changes the exposure while shooting."

For less extreme ranges of exposure, Reeder processes his RAW image files in Adobe Lightroom before editing them together as clips in Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere. He begins in Lightroom by performing the needed image edits to the first RAW image in a new sequence. Then, still in Lightroom, he simply copies and pastes the same edit settings across the rest of the series of photos so that each image has the same relative levels for seamless transitions from still to still once he converts the series of images into a video.

Just as in filmmaking, the content is what's going to matter the most. Your choice of scene, frame rate, lens and composition will impact "the look" of your film, while editing and the soundtrack will cement the whole project together. Reeder cut a variety of outtakes from the film, choosing only the best of the best for the final piece. He also insists that burgeoning time-lapse artists experiment and develop their own processes rather than simply following his. You have to have an understanding of the technical aspects to be able to express your creativity and vision fully.

"But the 'why' is where the creativity comes in," says Reeder, "and no amount of technical 'how-to' could ever prepare someone to make the creative choices that lead to something great. It's just my opinion, but everything that makes 'Yosemite Range of Light' such a nice piece is because of the creative choices I made, which happened to be backed up by sound technical knowledge. But that technical knowledge without the creative vision and experience won't go very far in making something great."


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