Here's the second half of our mini-tutorial on shooting a time lapse sequence of the night sky. If you missed the first half, please check it out here. (You're going to need the information from it to continue here.) We're going to assume that you've checked the weather one last time, since a complete overcast isn't going to leave you much to shoot. Now that you're prepared, it's time to get on with the fun of taking those awesome night shots.
The Set Up
Once you've done your research and have a plan, start by showing up early. Setting up will be a lot easier while the sun is still up and you''ll have the opportunity to watch the sunset, too.
Locate the best vantage point for your tripod(s) and motion gear. Keep in mind that you'll be taking long exposures, so features of the landscape may become visible. That's not a bad thing, since those features as well as structures can add interest to your video, especially if you're using a slider or dolly to add camera motion. Put your wide angle lens on the camera and check the view while doing a dry run of any movements.
When you're satisfied with the setup, get your camera, lens, remote timer and motion controller ready.
Camera: Set your camera to save your images as RAW files. Make sure your white balance setting is NOT on Auto. Set your exposure more to Manual and lock in the shutter speed and ISO settings as outlined in Part 1. Make sure your 16GB+ memory card is empty and formatted. Also make sure your battery is fully charged.
Lens: Open your lens aperture fully. Switch off AF. Set your focus to infinity or focus as outlined in Part 1.
Shutter Timer (Intervalometer): Your interval (time between exposures) should be at least 30 seconds, to allow time for your files to save to the card between exposures. Don't plan on making your scene too long; on average, most people will lose interest in the same scene after 10 seconds or so.
To determine a ballpark figure for how many exposures you'll need, calculate based on a 30-second frame rate. That means a 7-second video scene would require about 210 exposures. (Standard video playback is 24 frames per second, which is more difficult to calculate.) You could simply set your intervalometer for a total of 215 or so exposures, but I prefer to set the total to infinity, since you never know when something cool might start happening just before you're done shooting.
You can use the number of exposures to determine how long your shoot will take. For instance, at 30 seconds between exposures, 210 exposures will take about 105 minutes, or an hour and 45 minutes.
Set the delay for the first shot to a reasonable amount of time so that you don't have to disturb the camera to get things started.
Motion Gear: Check the stability of your motion slider or dolly setup one more time and move the camera head to your starting point. If your intervalometer is external, make sure it's secured to the mount, so nothing drags or interferes with the movement.
Let the Shoot Begin
Once you've started your timer, there's not much to do but sit back and let the equipment do its job. Grab that book you brought. Play a game of chess with your partner. Call your mom. Whatever you do to pass the time, check on your equipment occasionally, but be careful not to shine any light near the lens or bump the setup. When you have the stills you need, stop the remote timer and the motion controller.
Enjoy the rest of your evening under the stars!
Process and Merge the Stills
All that's left to do is the final editing of the individual files and the merge to video. There are several software packages that can batch process the images and create the video from the finished files. We'll cover the process of creating the video in depth using Adobe Lightroom with the LR Timelapse plugin in the next article, however if you don't want to wait for that, take a look at Photolapse. It's free and fairly simple to use.
Here's a compilation of nighttime time lapse sequences shot by Justin Adkinson Productions for a little more inspiration. Enjoy!