Charles LilloESOComment

Time Flies

Charles LilloESOComment
Time Flies

Hi everyone,

Takeoff for the ESO Ultra HD Expedition comes closer. There are a lot of preparations to be made, for all the time-lapse and motion control (MoCo) rigs we will take with us. Both the hardware and software also need to be kept updated and sorted.

Regarding time-lapses: it is important to figure everything out beforehand — such as subject and location of shot, intervals and length of the sequence, date and time of sunset and sunrise, weather forecast and so on. In time-lapse everything is about being in the right place at the right time.

The majority of time-lapses are not made using a video camera and speeding up the footage (which is a classic approach). The ultimate quality of time-lapse sequences, especially in ultra low-light conditions like those found at the ESO observatory sites, can only be achieved with a digital SLR (DSLR) camera. This is because today’s full-frame DSLRs are able to capture the night sky in all its glory with a low noise at high film speed (ISO rate). On a dark night, these cameras do “see” much more than the human eye.

For a time-lapse you don’t need a high frame rate. Instead for each scene you build a sequence of still images stretched over several minutes or hours, allowing you to speed up (or slow down) time as you wish for the usual TV frame rate of 25 frame per second (fps) for the final footage. The DSLR camera is therefore controlled with an external intervalometer (be it a classic intervalometer or software or another device, see below).

A typical sequence for an ESO timelapse will consist of between 500 and 4000 total images in the original resolution the camera provides (between 6K and 8K); around 500 and up for shorter sequences, 3500 and up for long sequences that include sunset, night and sunrise.

These very long sequences involve “transitions” during the time of sunset and sunrise and up until now, creating them involved a special technique where the photographer would adjust parameters like ISO, aperture, interval and exposure directly at the camera during interval pauses, sometimes controlling up to three or four cameras at once (positioned in a circle around the photographer).

But over the last two years or so, various software and hardware solutions have been designed to allow such a transition to be controlled by special software on netbooks (Windows) or tablets (Android) as well as special programmable devices. For the ESO Ultra HD Expedition we will use GBTimelapse and DSLRDashboard. See my own test here.

A lot of heart and soul goes into editing and processing each individual image, and you need a lot of processing power with your hardware. You can use software such as Adobe Lightroom which allows you to apply the same edit to several images at once. The images are then carefully brought together to form a film sequence. I use a tool called LRTimelapse to take these sequences to the next level by having them graded and leveled on a virtual timeline.

Another important tool and plug-in for Adobe After Effects named GBDeflicker removes flickering at the stage of rendering the sequences. This flickering is caused by slight differences in exposure and aperture resulting in very slight luminance changes from image to image.

For the first time worldwide, I will also use a custom built “Timelapse Robot” to automatically create transitions from day to night to day.

I fondly remember our first ESO expedition in 2011 when we put together the short film Astronomer’s Paradise. We broke a record then: for 14 days and nights at the ESO sites at Paranal and ALMA we were imaging nearly 8 to 10 hours per night, even at the 5000-metre high ALMA site, and we captured an unprecedented number of sequences of the Atacama skies.

Astronomer’s Paradise was a huge international success, in collaboration with Babak Tefreshi, featured on National Geographic, Discovery Channel and many other sites.

Check out my other short time-lapse films here, but imagine all this in Ultra High Definition! We believe we will provide something no one else has done so far — taking the Universe to this whole new dimension. With four times the resolution of HD, we will aim to create crisper and even more breathtaking footage in Ultra HD.

All the cores of our processing machines will glow red in the night, that is for sure :)

All the best,

- Christoph