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Behind the Scenes:  Timelapse Workshops

The first Timelapse Workshop was held In Moab, Utah October 3-6th, 2013.   This was the first and largest event of its kind, and quickly sold out.   What makes this workshop so unique?    It was a chance for photographers to live & breathe the art of timelapse photography and astro timelapse photography, and to learn everything about capturing and post processing timelapse sequences - all in four day (and nights) - and in Moab, Utah - known for its incredibly dark skies. 


At first glance timelapse photography doesn't look all that difficult, but there really is a lot to learn if you want to do it right.   My Timelapse Workshops take you through the entire process of scouting, preparing your gear, how to set proper intervals and exposure times, how to capture day to night timelapses, how to capture HDR timelapes, learning when the sky will be at its best, and how to eliminate flicker caused by automatic lenses.  The workshop covers the when & why to select certain shutter speeds and apertures, why high ISO is both your friend and your enemy when capturing the night sky, and how to enhance your captured images during post processing.  


Once you have a good grasp on how to capture a variety of subjects, you will then learn how to use motion control systems that allow the camera to slide, pan & tilt during timelapse capture.  Camera movement helps  to add perspective and motion to your timelapses.


We bring with us the best motion control gear from Dynamic Perception, eMotimo, Timelapse+, and others.


Meeting Challenges Head On.


As the organizer and lead instructor for Timelapse Workshops I quickly learned that just like with anything in life I needed to expect the unexpected.  Just two days before the start of the workshop the government decided to shut down all of the national parks across the country.  Fortunately, Arches NP was just one of the locations where I had planned to shoot, so despite having scouted for the best arches inside the park, my knowledge of the Moab area allowed me to quickly replace those locations with other fantastic ones.


I decided to add Dead Horse Point State Park to my list of shoot locations, and the group was thrilled to have had the chance to experience it.   It ended giving us enough space to spread out and to capture some of the most unique timelapses of the four days.


The park overlooks the back country of Moab and the view is as spectacular as any you'll find anywhere.   The reason I didn't initially select Dead Horse Point as a shoot location was the fact that during a new moon you really can't see the canyon below once the sun goes down, and the canyon is far too big to light with artifical light.   Once I learned of the government shutdown I decided that I'll take the group there for a sunset shoot.   The amount of beautiful Juniper trees proved to be the perfect foreground for the Milky Way and easy enough to light.


Another location that I added was Corona Arch.   Corona Arch is located about1.4 miles inside bootleggers canyon with the elevation slowly increases during the hike.   The arch is one of the most beautiful arches in all of Moab, but I needed to do the hike first in order to decide whether or not to take the group there.   I personally am not much of a hiker and I sit most of the day for work, so I figured if I could do it with a 30lb backpack and motorized dolly then I would be comfortable that most of the group would be able to do it.


When I arrived into Moab it was already getting dark, but I knew it would be the only night I could scout the hike.  So after checking in at the hotel,  I headed out to the parking lot for the Corona Arch hike with my assistant Matt.   Since the moon was new, it was very dark, but we had headlamps, flashlights, and a large spotlight to light the way.   After looking at the trail map and initially taking a wrong turn , we started the ascent to Corona Arch.  I've never hiked at night and without Matt I would have never done the hike, but I'm so glad we did.  Hiking at night was the most amazing experience I have ever had.  You don't get distracted with everything around you, because you don't see anything around you   It's just darkness and the path in front that's illuminated by your flashlight.  If there were cliffs and drop offs nearby I didn't see them, so there's nothing to psych me out.  There are also very few wild animals in the Moab area, so there was no concerns about running into a bear, bobcat, or other meat eating animals.  The only wildlife spotted during the hike was a white rabbit off in the distance and some bats flying around at dusk.


We made it to Corona Arch in about 30-40 minutes and were treated to one of the most beautiful night skies encompassing the arch.  Corona Arch is one of only a few arches where you can walk under it and shoot it from either side - making it a great location regardless of whether the Milky way is rising in the Southwest (October) or East (May).  We stayed there for about 3 hours before hiking back down.   I knew from this trip that I could probably take the group here, but until I met everyone I really wasn't able to make that decision. 



Workshop: Meet & Greet


The night before the workshop we all got together for a quick meet & greet on the patio of the Gonzo Inn.  A casual outing with pizza and bear was a nice way to learn where we were all from and to introduce ourselves before diving into the four days of classes and shooting.  



Workshop: Day One


Each day of the workshop started around 11:00am.  Since we were shooting until around midnight, the 'late' start allowed everyone a little time to recharge batteries, empty memory cards, and get about six hours of sleep. 


The first day of the workshop was a complete A-Z of the basics of timelapse photography.   We covered everything from using intervalometers,  how to select the most appropriate interval for any given subject, why the aperture selection is so important if you want flicker-free timelapses, to the importance that shutter speed plays in the overall feel of your timelapse.  We also learned how to set up our cameras to best capture the night sky, and the different options available to power your camera for longer timelapses.


After breaking for dinner we headed out to our first shoot location where we focused on capturing timelapses using just the camera, intervalometer, and tripod. Since we weren't carrying dollies with us for this evening's shoot I thought it would be the best night of the four to try the hike to Corona Arch.  It was a mostly cloudy evening, so I figured worse case we would capture a cloud lapse behind Corona Arch.    There were some breaks in the clouds, so my fingers were crossed that the sun would break through and possibly even clear up - but unfortunately it started to drizzle and it stayed that way until later in the evening when the drizzle turned into a steadier rain.   It rains very little in Moab, so this was a very unwelcome surprise.  Ultimately, despite most of the group making it to the arch, we had to call it a night.  Since we didn't get a chance to shoot the first night I decided I'd lead a morning sunrise shoot for anyone interested in getting up at 4:30am.  


Workshop: Day Two


For some of us, day two started at 4:30am with a sunrise shoot.  We drove to Dead Horse Point State Park, an amazing point that overlooks the La Sal Mountain Range and the Moab canons below.  Since none of the group had ever been to Dead Horse Point I knew they were in for a real treat once dawn broke.   Wow, the morning light was truly spectacular, and everyone wanted to return to Dead Horse Point one of the evening.  We shot there until about 8:00am and then headed back so we could grab some breakfast before the start of day two. 


Class time for day two consisted of learning how to shoot the "holy grail" of timelapses - day to sunset to night sky.   What makes shooting holy grail timelapses so difficult is the need for your camera to adjust for over 20 stops of changing light in just a couple of hours.  There are a variety of methods to capture the day to night transition, and on day two we covered them all.  We also had Elijah Parker, the creator of the Timelapse + remote, on hand to help demonstrate how you can use the Timelapse+ Intervalometer to automatically capture the transition from day to night sky.    The Timelapse + features a built-in light sensor which allows it to automatically change camera settings based on the changing light.   It uses algorithms that allow it to smooth out these changes, and to reduce flicker from frame to frame.  Nothing automatic is a perfect solution for all tasks, so the class also learned other methods to shoot the day to night transitions, which didn't involve using a special intervalometer.


We also spent time on day two learning about software, Mobile apps, and other tools to help scout a location before ever getting there.   Knowing how to use these tools will save you from a lot of wasted trips to locations, only to discover that it's the wrong time of year to capture the Milky Way, or that the suject you wanted to shoot faces the wrong direction, etc.


After lunch we spent the remainder of the afternoon learning how to use the Dynamic Perception Stage One Dolly System.  This is a motorized 'slider' or dolly system used to add real-time motion to a timelapse.   Instead of the camera staying in one position, you can actually have the camera move past, through, up, or down while capturing the frames of a timelapse. 


After dinner we once again headed out to our second shoot location, which I decided would be Dead Horse Point once again.  The group that woke up at 4:30am were thrilled to be heading back there, and the rest of the group heard so much about it that they were just as excited about this location.


One of the great benefits of shooting at Dead Horse Point is the vast area from which the group can spread out to shoot.   With beautiful juniper trees to act as foreground subjects, and steep canyon walls that overlook a valley carved by ice, water, and wind to act as "the view", and the Milky Way rising over head - all of us were like kids in a candy store.   So many amazing compositions and so little time. 


One of the things that really stood out that night was the green atmospheric glow (airglow) that followed the Milky Way as it traveled across the sky and around the earth.    You can see it in the timelapse sequences that were shot there.   Look toward the horizon and you'll see the green cast that moves with the Milky Way. 


Workshop: Day Three


After a short Q&A session on the shoot from the night before, we started right in with transferring and processing images from the prior night's shoot.   We learned how to use LRTimelapse and Adobe Lightroom to process our sequences.  This is not a fast process when you're dealing with hundred's of images - and before we knew it - it was lunch time.


After lunch I went over some tips & tricks, showing different ways to save a timelapse when things go astray.  Save from what?  From headlights, a skip caused by a bumped tripod, flashlight and headlamps, and other things that Murphy's Law tends to help us discover when we least expect it.  From their we moved on to learning how to use 3-axis motion control rigs.   We combined the 2-axis eMotimo TB3 Pan & Tilt Head with the Dynamic Perception Stage One Dolly to create an affordable 3-axis motion control system.


After dinner we headed out to our shoot location for night three.   This time we headed into Moab's back country to a Canyon that features a beautiful view of the setting sun and the Milky Way moving across the night sky, turning the canyon walls into a rugged silhouette.  The weather was supposed to be clear and cold, but a surprise front quickly moved through bringing with it gusty winds and snow pellets.  Unlike sleet, these were a bit larger and resembled mini snowballs.   Fortunately, this moved through very quickly, and the sky cleared out beautifully for our shoot.



Workshop: Day Four


Once again we started off the last day of the workshop with a short Q&A session followed by additional instruction on how to process the frames into a timelapse sequence - using Adobe After Effects, Lightroom, LRTimelapse, and Photoshop.   I also spent a bit of time teaching how to use LRTimelapse to RAMP white balance and exposure when shooting day to night timelapses, as well as how to eliminate flicker using LRTimelapse. 



The workshop officially ended around 3:45pm, but I was heading out for another night of shooting with anyone that wanted to take advantage of the last night in Moab.  I decided to head on over to Fisher Towers, but after taking a wrong turn on Onion Creek Road most of us ended up in Onion Creek Canyon.  This is a very narrow 4x4 road, which led to a beautiful, dark canyon with steep walls all around us.   We decided to set up near a stream, since night fall was setting in. The image to the right is a frame from one of the timelapses captured inside Onion Creek Canyon.



Workshop: Wrap Up


As this was my first time leading a multi-day, on-location workshop the feedback from the participants was so important, and I am so grateful to have learned so much from the group as to what they would like to see going forward.  


Since this first workshop


Thanks to feedback from workshop attendees I have able to constantly tweak the workshop making it better and better.  In May of 2014 I held two more Timelapse Moab workshops.   The original goal was one workshop, but that workshop sold out so quickly that I needed to add a second workshop the following week.  


In October of 2014 I held two more workshops in a new location - Valley of Fire State Park in the Mojave desert of Nevada.     Valley of Fire state park is huge and its landscape changes everytime you turn around - from rainbow vistas to red rock canyons, to slot canyons and wave rocks, and even some arches.     


Now, I am looking ahead to 2015 and once again we are heading back to Moab in May. The first workshop has sold out so I have just added a second week that will run from May 19-23.   This is a 5-night, 4-day workshop that will include some amazing locations from the past along with a couple of new locations that I will keep secret about for now. 


Looking Ahead


One of my goals as a workshop instructor is to make sure that each and every workshop is an all ecompassing experience for the participants.   I do this by choosing amazing destinations and incredible shoot locations; offering first-class instruction;  limiting the amount of students in order to create a more personalize experience; and to have guest instructors and assistants to make sure that anytime you have a question - there's always someone right there to answer it.  


If your passion is photography - come join us under the night sky at one of our upcoming workshops.





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Dead Horse Point  (Ron Risman)

Dead Horse Point  (Matt Stapleton)

Dead Horse Point  (Kristina Thiesen)

Moab Backcountry  (Matt Stapleton)

Onion Creek Canyon        (Ron Risman)

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