Technology

Bulb Ramping # 1- Promote Controller

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Being able to smoothly ramp exposures during a timelapse is crucial to capturing lengthy shots of sunrises / sunsets, and also for successfully capturing the elusive "holy grail" of shooting from day into night or vise versa. Today, there many options out on the market for bulb-ramping, done by USB control of Canon and even other cameras. This is the first in a series of tutorials in which I will be showing you how I use these little devices to ramp through conditions of changing light during a timelapse. Many people swear by GB Timelapse; I don't like carrying around a computer when I'm already carrying a 60lb bag so I only use portable battery-powered Bulb-ramping devices.

Promote Controller

Depending on whom you ask, this device can be quite frustrating to setup and use, but once you figure it out it performs remarkably well. Most of my issues stemmed from faulty early firmware, which I only recently updated to version 3.2. According to Promote tech support, earlier versions had bugs in bulb ramping. This was evident to me in the form of flicker caused by uneven adjacent exposures.

After that obstacle was out of the way, the only main hindrance to learning the Promote to me was wrapping my head around the way it's engineers require the user to set long exposures at the start or finish of a timelapse. Setting the start/end exposure time to very long values like 4 minutes is very counter intuitive, but if you have the setup options set correctly it should do what you want it to after you practice many times and get used to the way it works.

First you should set up the following options in the setup menu. These parameters are for a Canon 5D Mark III body. Settings are (in parenthesis) and explanation are [in brackets]. MAKE SURE YOU UPDATE YOUR FIRMWARE!!!

Setup Options

#2 - Use a separate cable for shutter release: (Yes) [I'm not sure why you need to have a separate shutter cable, unlike the Timelapse + which is 100% USB control. Maybe it achieves greater sync with the PC terminal?] #3 - Shutter cable frame delay (off) #4 - USB Cable delay: (100ms) #5 - Time-lapse exposure setting mode: Arbitrary (Bulb Mode) #6 - Enable TL Schedule: (No) #9 - Enable 1/3 EV ISO steps: (Yes) [also make sure you have this set in camera] #10 - Bulb ramping live mods across (20 frames) [change this depending on how gradual you want changes to be applied and what your interval is] #11 - Keep Bulb ramping length on start time change: (Yes) #12- Enable Advanced bulb ramping: (Yes) [this is paramount to access all the other settings and the advanced BR screen] #13 - Lowest ISO for advanced Bulb ramping (50) [This extra stop gives you more flexibility and extends your bramp time, make sure to set it in camera first] #14 - Highest Auto ISO for Adv. Bulb ramping: (3200) [I can knock down noise at this ISO, while you can go higher I prefer to try to use fast glass and keep some information in the shadows] #15 -Force ISO ramp down for short exposures: (Yes) #16 - Limit longest exposure (30" or interval) [this is crucial because of the way the Promote works - this determines the upper time limit of your exposure at your highest ISO even though you may have it set to 4 minutes or something arbitrarily long. Remember the rule of 500 and how time / focal length determines whether you get star streaks or dots] #17 - Bulb ramping long exposure limit mode (Hard - never exceed) [Again, keeping this at hard ensures you won't start to get star trails in your timelapse] #18 - Auto bulb ramping interval extension: (Yes) [This will ramp your interval if, for example, you start before sunrise at 1/20th every 4 seconds and want to end at 30" every 32 seconds in three hours] #19 - Bulb ramping live mod step size: (0.05 EV) [when you step the ramping up or down this setting provides the granularity control over the steps] #20 - Bulb ramping interval measured as: (Exp start - exp start) [ This is another critical setting in terms of how you think of an "interval" versus a "shot cycle." The above setting makes the interval the total length of time from shutter open to the next shutter open, which is shutter + interval."] #21 - Bulb ramp / HDR Image buffer time: (400ms) #22 - Shutter close delay safety margin; (normal) #23 - Shutter close delay Calibrate: (41ms) [Make sure you do this at least three or four times for each camera body you use. This setting seemed to be a good average for the 5D III]

Promote Settings - A Day to Night Bulb-Ramped Timelapse

The following steps are for a day to night timelapse, starting at or just before sunset, with NO ND filters used, and ending 1 hour past astronomical twilight. I started at 1/15th of a second at ISO 50 and ended up three hours later at 30 seconds at ISO 3200. Obviously you will need to tailor these settings to your specific conditions. Use an app like the Photographer's Ephemeris to plan for when to start ramping and how much to ramp.

I have ND filters, but I rarely choose to use them while bulb ramping since I am of the mentality that cameras are best left alone during timelapses so as to not inadvertently bump them and cause jumps in the resultant video.

1. Establish your composition. Lock down your tripod ball head (you should be using a ball head if you aren't!)

2. Consider whether you want to apply graduated ND filters, but remember that you won't be able to take them off!

3. Set your start exposure in M mode

4. Try to shoot wide open (smallest f-stop, largest diameter aperture). If you need to stop down for depth of field, or to drag your shutter, use the DOF-preview and lens-twist method if not using a manual aperture lens.

5. Take a test shot or four. Look at your histogram. It should be slightly right-justified (Expose to the Right). Your goal with Bulb ramping is to keep the histogram as much in the center as possible without letting your frame get too dark or too bright

6. CHECK YOUR FOCUS - I like to use Live View at 5x or 10x to do this

7. Be careful not to dislodge your lens if you twisted it halfway off

8. Connect the Promote - Bramp assist cable via PC hotshoe adapter, N3 shutter cable, and USB cable to your camera. Make sure you have the right end to the Promote - it has a "P" on it at the end.

9. Ensure setup options in Promote and on camera are set as above

10. Make sure you camera is in M mode, and that the camera is set at the ISO and shutter speed you want to START the timelapse at (ISO 50 / 1/15th")

11. Take your camera out of Live View! This was the main source of frustration for me in learning how to use this device - the PC sync does not work properly while in Live View, and thus neither will bramping with the Promote or ANY device.

12. Take a few test shots, and CHECK YOUR FOCUS. Nothing makes me more mad than blowing a shot because I forgot to double and triple check my focus. Make sure all your tripod clamps, ball-head knobs are all tight.

13. Pick up the Promote, and enter the Bulb-Ramping menu, you should see this screen:Photo Jan 31, 4 32 45 PM

14. Setup as follows: --Start Tv (1/15th") [This should match your test shots] --Each (15 seconds) [You can make this much smaller, the Promote will ramp up the interval depending on whether you set Setup #18] --Begin Ramp in (01h00m) [Or, start ramping now depending on how close you are to the begining of dusk/twilight] --End exposure value (32m - yes, 32 minutes) [This is completely counter intuitive to me - but you need to put in a value WAY beyond what you actually want your shot to end with. It was suggested to me by the Promote staff that this be the equivalent of a shot made at the lowest of your ISO settings (ISO 50). Surely it would make more sense to allow the user to input the actual end setting and have their b-ramping algorithm calculate the curve that way. Maybe a future firmware update will address this issue]. --In (02h44m) [This is the time you want the Promote to stop bramping and continue the timelapse with the end exposure parameters.] --Finish seq in (03h44m) [This is the time the timelapse will stop shooting.]

15. Press "Start" to enter the advanced Bulb-Ramping menu

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--ND:(none) --Shutter: (1/15th --> 30") --ISO (50 --> 3200) --**Interval Extended**

16. Put your camera in Bulb mode

17. Press Start on the Promote.

You should see the following screen:

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18. Now you need to monitor your camera's histogram through your timelapse, and make any adjustments to the ramping rate (as setup by you in Setup #19, above).  Press up / down to adjust the ramping rate, spread over the # of frames you chose in Setup #20 (we set it at 20 frames). You can also press left and right to adjust the ramping start time (corresponds to setup #).

That's it. Be prepared to try this many times, practice in your backyard or a nearby park so that you have your technique dialed when the time comes and you are at an epic location and only have one shot.

Here's a sunrise example of a well-executed Bramp. In post, I ramped the development parameters in LR TImelapse (exposure and WB) but I did not have to deflicker because the Promote did an excellent job.

[embed width="600" height="400"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev_g-k0wSM0&feature=youtu.be[/embed]

Update February 2015- I have been having some issues with my Promote misfiring in the middle of a ramp in that adjacent exposures are jumping up/down and causing flicker. It's not pervasive, and it's not exactly repeatable. I updated the firmware to 3.2 per instructions form Promote staff and on the first test it seemed to solve the problem. More testing will take place in the coming weeks.

 

 

How to Post Timelapses on Instagram

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I love Instagram. It's a great platform for both sharing your photos and also seeing what some of your favorite photographers are up to.

Although it was built for photography, IG can also handle 15 seconds of video in the Quicktime format with H.264 compression. If I already lost you, hang in there, I promise it won't get too complicated.

There are a few basic steps you have to take to get your timelapse clips on IG:

Step 1 - Create your timelapse

I will assume you already have a timelapse prepared, either as a standalone file (I render all of mine as AVIs with the CineForm Codec). If not, you can use your image sequence in PP or AE. If you're looking for directions in Final Cut, you're gonna have to look elsewhere because I'm the last photographer on Earth that uses s PC.

Step 2 - Create a Comp / Sequence in After Effects or Premiere (Respectively)

I use AE for this, since it's simpler**. Start by creating a 1:1 composition with a size of 640x640, and a frame rate of 24 fps (or whatever frame rate your intermediate file is in). Then, import the timelapse files you want to upload to IG into your project. Drag them, one at a time, to the Comp, and scale accordingly. You can keyframe position and scale to taste if you would like to move or zoom through your footage.

Ensure your clip has less than 15 seconds worth of data on the timeline.

Add music if you want, but remember, make sure you have the rights to use it because professionals deserve to be paid for the use of their work!

Step 3 - Render out the Video

Add your composition to the render queue, and then open up the settings dialog. I have found that setting the Quicktime format with the H.264 codec to 100% quality and using a high bitrate of 24 MB/sec produces a smooth video that IG will handle no problem.

after effects settings

 

 Step 4 - Upload to Dropbox / Download to your Phone

Copy your rendered TL clip to a folder you have prepared on Drobox, and then wait for it to upload. Once it has, open the Dropbox app on your phone, and then view the clip. Hit the "share" button, and save it to your phone's local storage.

Lastly, open IG and browse to the clip, and upload it. Add filters if you want, and then post away as you normally would with a photo. As far as I know, IG uploading apps such as the excellent Latergram do not allow for video uploads, so get those thumbs warmed up and start typing on your phone.

And that's it. You can view my work on my Instagram feed here.

*Step 6 Above is entirely optional and up to you to achieve this milestone

** No one in the history of the world has ever said that about Adobe After Effects before

Landscape Astrophotography Planning Apps and Websites

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Students (and sometimes colleagues) often ask about the tools I use to plan for night sky shooting, so I thought  I'd collate a few of my favorites in a blog post.

 NOAA Weather Pages

The first step in landscape photography is understanding what the weather is likely to be doing wherever you may be venturing off to.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a wealth of weather date through numerous web pages. I like to use the graphical forecast page, like this example for Truckee:

NWS hourly

(link here--->) Truckee CA Hourly Weather Page. The NWS hourly page is a wealth of information,. including wind, precip potential, and sky cover %. You can generate this for any point in the United States.

And of course, the NWS radar is a great way to see what may or may not be coming over the horizon.

NWS radar

 Clear Sky Chart

The Clear Dark Sky website uses publicly available meteorological data to create a visualization of the aspects of weather that factor into what astronomers call "seeing." Seeing refers to the quality of potential observations at a given time. Good seeing conditions are thus clear, dark skies.

Check out their website for locations near you.

The Photographer's Ephemeris

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I love this app, and it's essential for forward planning of many different types of photography. Even better, it's a free software download for your desktop. Only the smartphone app costs $.

You can use the Photographer's Ephemeris for many different things, it's really a one-stop shop for planning out astrophotography. TPE will tell you where the sun/moon will be in the sky over time (azimuth and elevation), as well as the times for sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, and astronomical twilight. It provides this info in a graphical format as a line laid over Google Maps. This is a fantastically powerful tool for lining up celestial and manmade objects - say for example you wanted to shoot the moon setting between the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and wanted to know what time of year this is possible and where you could stand in SF to accomplish the shot.

You can download the program for your desktop computer free of charge at their website, or visit the iTunes store or Andoird Play store to install on your smartphone.

 

Deluxe Moon

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Sometimes, you need an at-a-glance view of the moon's phase in a monthly calendar format. This app is great for that. it has many other features as well that I rarely use, but I keep it on the front page of my phone so I can easily and quickly tell what influence the moon will have on my night photos on any given day in the future.

http://deluxemoon.com/

 

 

Sony RX100 - Game Changing Pocket camera

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On the advice of my studio partner Court Leve, I recently aquiredthe Sony RX100 pocket camera. This modern marvel of a camera boasts a 1" CMOS sensor and an f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens.  From moment one, I have fallen in love with the imaging capabilities of this camera. With an ISO range os 125 to 6400 and such a fast lens, the RX100 is capable of capturing star and milky way shots that are almost on par with what I get from my Canon 5D cameras.

 

Seabirds off the coast of the coat south of Fáskrúðsfjörður, Iceland.

While you won't get as clean a print out of the RX100, it would work in a pinch for a web-res use of a nighttime photograph.

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Aside from the oh-so-clean 1" CMOS sensor, the RC100 boasts the manual control ring that I fell in love with back when I bought my wife the Canon s90. You can control what the ring controls, thus using it to adjust aperture, shutter spped, ISO, or even manual focus.

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I was late to jump on the smart phone bandwagon, so the panorama stiching mode of the RX100 is shiny and awesome to me. It works well, but is limited to producing JPEG files and sometimes trips over proper horizon alignment.

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I strongly beeive that every serious photographer should always carry a camera with him or her, and the RX100 is the perfect combination of size and features. It truly does change the game in terms of being able to carry a discreet, powerful camera that can keep up with the big boys' SLRs. I'll update this review with more photos and information as I continue to explore what this little gem of a camera can do.

For a full, in-depth review, visit DPReview.com.