24 hour Holy Grail time lapse shoot

I love shooting time lapse and recently received a call from Line Producer Amanda Jenkins at AJ Films in Christchurch asking me to be part of an ambitious shoot for L.A. based production company Ntropic. Ntropic VFX supervisor and super talented photographer Dustin Zachary, flew out to Queenstown and we hit the ground running, configuring and testing kit and workflow.

Within 24 hours of Dustin arriving we also had the first big snowfall of the winter which was great for adding that extra drama to our stunning landscapes, but made for some frosty fingers. It also added to the logistical challenge of keeping 2-3 cameras time lapsing for 24 hour periods. Condensation on lenses and filters was a big concern so we had a wooden camera box constructed and also used my Astrozap dew controllers to keep the hero lenses at steady temperatures throughout the shot.

GBTimelapse software was chosen as the best option for achieving the seamless 24 hour Holy Grail ( day to night and back to day ) time lapses the client needed, and after a day or two of testing we had it working well, controlling 5D MkIII’s via 5 metre USB extension cables. In the past I’ve used my Promote Control and Dynamic Perception MX2 to shoot Holy Grail sunset and sunrise time lapses, but the idea of taking a laptop out into the field to run GBTimelapse always seemed like a ballache, but the sophistication of GBT plus the detailed feedback you get as your shot progresses has made me a convert.

Unfortunately GBT is Windows only so it’s Dual Boot Mac or a dedicated PC laptop – I’d recommend the latter as Windows on BootCamp is a faff to install ( especially on the latest MacBook Pro’s without DVD drives ) and there are lots of annoying little driver issues for useful things like reliable USB3 support.

In order to transition from daytime exposures of 1/10 second at ISO 100 to glorious Milky Way scenes at 30 second exposures and ISO 3200, GBTimelapse offers several options, from bulb ( shutter ) ramping, mechanical aperture ramping, and the use of 3 x 0.9ND’s or a single 9 stop 2.7ND. We went for the combination of software bulb and ISO ramping with the 3 x 0.9 ND filters. This required 3 stage matte boxes for our 2 hero 5D MkIII’s, and 6 x 4×5.65 ND filters. With our limited prep time and range of lenses to cover, it proved tricky getting hold of the ideal kit in time and we ended up with one 2 stage matte box with the 3rd ND being velcroed to the front.

There was a bit of an art to co-ordinating the software cues and feedback with the timing of actually removing and installing the ND filters at dusk and dawn, and this involved one of us in the camper van with the laptops calling out to the other with frosty fingers at the ready in the camera box. All in all worked very well though and resulting time lapses are stunning and hopefully coming to a screen near you soon!!

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