Last night I had clear skies and the opportunity to photograph and film Saturn without having to stay up till the middle of the night. Below is just a short clip, but in it you can clearly distinguish the rings of Saturn as it slowly pans across my viewfinder.
*Note – Some prerequisite knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and basic digital photography will be required.
I have been fascinated with the night sky since as long as I can remember, going outside and looking up at the stars makes you feel that your problems – no matter how big they are to you, are really miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Last night I had a burst of inspiration for taking some starscapes in my back garden. I then considered making a batch of slow exposures into a movie file.
To do this I used a Canon 6D and a 35mm lens. I set the lens to infinity and then set to manual focus so the camera wouldn’t “hunt” for focus. I then framed a shot against some large trees for with a large patch of sky showing. I set up an automated switch to continuously take 30 second exposures at 1600 ISO. I left the camera running taking shots for just over an hour collecting approximately 130 slow exposed images.
Next I used Adobe Photoshop and specifically the “actions tool”. I recorded the action of adjusting the brightness and contrast option to better bring out the details of the scene.
Then I saved the image to a new folder specifically for smaller images so I wouldn’t ruin my raw files. Next I ran a “batch automate” function with photoshop that did the same exact thing to the next 130 or so images without me having to do anything manually (word smarter not harder I say). See below for a description on how to negotiate the actions sequence.
Step 1. Open 1 file from your batch. As soon as its opened go to “Window –> Actions”
Step 2. When the actions panel opens, click the record new action option. Name it whatever you want to.
Step 3. Make adjustments to your image, I used Brightness Contrast and then adjusted the Curves to better pop the stars.
Step 4. Save for web to a folder of your choosing (better to save it to a new folder to save your raw files)
Step 5. Stop the recording button on actions.
Step 6. Go to “File –> Automate –> Batch”
Step 7. When this is opened select the source folder for the files you want to have the same action applied to, ensure you have the named action selected in the dropdown. Under “Destination” choose the folder you wish to save the adjusted files to. Once that is selected, switch that option to “Save & Close” then finally click “OK”
You will now see photoshop do the same action to all the files in your selected folder, this might take some time depending on how many files you have selected.
Once I had the images shrunk to a reasonable size and better lit, I used a tool called Virtual Dub, this is a free tool available online here. The next thing to do is when you have Virtual Dub installed, go to file -> open video file. Locate only the first image in your sequence and open it, Virtual Dub will literally do the rest as long as your files as sequentially labelled i.e. 001, 002 etc, most cameras will output files with sequential filenames. Once you have your photos in you can go ahead and export your file as a .avi file. et voilà, an awesome view of the night sky in timelapse with minimal effort.
Check out my first quick 10 second clip below…
If you see video below then I am live, if not stay tuned 🙂
In early February 2012 I was sitting at home, bored and thinking what could I do to entertain myself. Being a photography enthusiast I grabbed my DSLR and along with my wife brainstormed some ideas about potential subject matter. At the time I was living in Salem Massachusetts in an old house built in 1800 (possibly 1790) and the topic of ghosts came up. Having done some light painting photos back in 2006 I came up with the idea of a fake ghost photo.
To begin with we thought of having one of us run around the corner of the hallway into the living area to capture some light streaks in motion. Then I remembered a Christmas present I had received – a small RC helicopter that had a floodlight at the front. Suddenly I was thinking of possibilities for photography opportunities. I then thought of old horror movies like “Poltergeist” and “The Entity” a mix of stairway ghosts and electricity came to mind and this was the birth of a photo that went on to win me national acclaim.
Fast forward a few months, and I am at home after a day at the office, jaded and waiting for dinner to be ready and the phone rings. An unusual number so I am hesitant to pick up thinking its likely just a telemarketer. I answer and for about 10 seconds am confused as the person on the other end is talking about my photography and saying I am a finalist in some contest. Then I suddenly remember that a month or 2 before on a whim I had seen a banner on YouTube for a contest staged by Oscar winning director Ron Howard and Canon Cameras and entered the photo into it for fun.
Over the next month I used all my online and social media savvy to get my photo noticed and voted for by friends, family and colleagues. It paid off dividends when I received a call from Canon’s PR agency informing me I was one of the winners and was in the running to be selected by 1 of 5 celebrity directors to have my photo serve as inspiration for their film to feature at the Project Imagination film festival in Manhattan. Being from a small town in Scotland I never would have thought 10 years prior that (a) I would be living on the other side of the Atlantic and (b) I would be a winner in a US wide photo contest.
A month or 2 later a series of emails went out from Canon’s PR agency informing people of the celebrity selection process. The second email that went out was regarding Twitter founder Biz Stone’s selections. I was amazed to see my name and photo mentioned in the selection. I called my family to inform them and couldn’t believe how things had turned out.
A lot of waiting, talking online with fellow winners and joking amongst colleagues at work followed. Finally I received an invitation the the Big Apple to see my vision come to life in front of a cinema full of talented photographers, and celebrity guests. I spent 4 nights in Manhattan – surprisingly my first trip there for a guy who had spent 7 years in the Boston area and I can say it was a real trip to remember. I arrived at the Lincoln center in the theater district of Manhattan with my wife and great expectations for what the night would bring.
The reception before the films where shown was a real extravaganza. As I walked in I could see my photo on a massive monitor with a clip from the movie it was incorporated into. It was almost like a spoiler – but a happy one as I was glad to see it was used in a very literal way. I mingled with some other contest winners, introduced myself, took photos and just basked in the atmosphere of such an event.
We all went into the auditorium about an hour later to view the films. 10 films where shown in all – 5 directed by celebrities and 5 by contest winners on their own budget. I can in all honesty say the quality of the films was fantastic – every film for me had some draw and I was very interested to see how others pictures had transitioned to the big screen. The second film of the night was directed by Biz Stone and entitled “Evermore”. It had strong themes of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic poem “The Raven” and was a dark but ultimately uplifting drama starring Lisa Eldestein (House), (As Good as it Gets), (What Women Want) to name a few. To see my photo on the big screen in front of a theater of hundreds of people was a surreal and amazing experience to say the least.
After the films ended everyone gathered for a party upstairs in the Lincoln Center’s main lobby. It was weird to be in a room with people like Jamie Foxx and Eva Longoria etc. I was very pleased to get the opportunity to spend some time chatting to Biz Stone (Twitter Founder) to thank him for selecting my photo as well as having the courage to portray an experimental light painting in such a literal way – a way that truly honored the original photograph. It was a real highlight of my creative journey so far and it only gives me more encouragement to keep pushing the boundaries of art and photography. Sitting here now a couple of years after the whole adventure began in the woods of Maine, it only confirms the fact that if you try in life – anything is possible.
Below are some photos from the evening itself as well as the film that the photo helped inspire.