Bulb Ramping # 1- Promote Controller


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

Photo Jan 31, 4 32 51 PM

--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:

Photo Jan 31, 4 32 59 PM

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.



Lake Tahoe and Truckee Photography Workshops


I'm pleased to offer private small-group and individual photography and timelapse workshops custom tailored to meet your needs. Whether you are a beginner hoping to learn how to use an SLR, or a seasoned professional looking to learn some night photography or motion-controlled timelapse tips and tricks - I'd love to work with you.  Please contact me by phone at 530-386-6492 or send me an email here to schedule your workshop today.

Eclipsed full moon setting over Tahoe Donner, 12/10/2011

I am fully insured and permitted in the beautiful Martis Valley in Truckee and at Sand Harbor in the gorgeous Lake Tahoe State Park in Nevada.

Summer 2015 Photography Workshops


Learn the art of landscape photography at sunset in one of my small-group landscape photo workshops in the Martis Valley in Truckee or at Sand Harbor State Park on the beautiful East Shore of Lake Tahoe. In these workshops, we meet at the location, go over gear and techniques, and then shoot in the golden hour preceding the sunset, the (hopefully) colorful clouds after the sunset, and on into the "blue hour." Then, we meet the next morning for an hour of post-processing tutorial in Adobe Lightroom at my Downtown Truckee art gallery and studio.

Saturday June 27th - Martis Valley Sunset/Landscape Workshop Shooting: 7:30 - 9:30 pm (sunset is 8:27 PM) Post production / Lightroom: 10-11 am Sunday June 28th at my Downtown Truckee Studio $200 per person limited to 4 people

Saturday July 18th - Sand Harbor Sunset/Landscape Workshop 7:30 - 9:30 pm (sunset is 8:24 PM) Post production / Lightroom: 10-11 am Sunday July 19th at my Downtown Truckee Studio $225 per person limited to 4 people

Saturday July 25th - Martis Valley Sunset/Landscape Workshop 7:15 - 9:15 pm (sunset is 8:19 PM) Post production / Lightroom: 10-11 am Sunday July 26th at my Downtown Truckee Studio $200 per person limited to 4 people

Friday August 7th - Martis Valley Sunset/Landscape Workshop 7:00 - 9:00 pm (sunset is 8:06 PM) Post production / Lightroom: 10-11 am Saturday August 8th at my Downtown Truckee Studio $200 per person limited to 4 people

Saturday August 22rd - Sand Harbor Sunset Workshop 6:45 - 8:45 pm (sunset is 7:46 PM) Post production / Lightroom: 10-11 am Sunday August 23rd at my Downtown Truckee Studio $225 per person limited to 4 people

If you'd rather book a private workshop, just email me or give me a call at 530-386-6492 and we can set it up.


How to Post Timelapses on Instagram


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

Timelapse How to - After Effects Workflow


I'm a huge proponent of using the right tool to do any job, whether the task is remodeling my kitchen cabinets, or processing timelapses. In the case of timelapses, however, things get complicated as there are literally tens of different workflows that a photographer can use to create timelapse videos. How do you know which one is the right one, or which one is the best practice?

The answer to that question is one that my students hate to hear - and one that I hate to give - which is "it depends." Processing timelapses can be heavily taxing on your camera gear, your computer hardware, and your storage solutions. In developing a workflow, each TL shooter must look carefully at what computer power they have available to them, how much time they have available, and most importantly what their objectives / needs are.

No matter what post-processing workflow you choose to use to generate your timelapse clips and edit your showreels and finished movies,  I will assume you are shooting in RAW and starting with either Canon CR2 or Nikon NEF files. If you're not, you should be.

It's also worth noting that I work on a PC that I bought from Dell. I can't afford a Mac with equivalent components. At the end of the day you can argue valid points about which one is better than the other, but you're using the same software so....I'm not convinced that there's a real difference. At any rate, here are the specs of my system, which cost about $1,700 to build:

  • 24 GB RAM
  • Intel Core i7 3.4 GHz Processor
  • RAID-0 Striped dual 128 GB SSDs for scratch drive for rendering/editing
  • Drobo 5D for archiving and storage
  • nVidia GeForce GE645 Video card

Past Workflow - Lightroom / JPEGs 

Before I had this decently fast machine, I was using a much slower desktop with only 12 GB of RAM, thus I created timelapse by the following workflow:

  1. Shoot in RAW
  2. Ingest into Adobe Lightroom
  3. Develop to taste (crop to 16:9)
  4. Export JPEGs
  5. 1920x1080 / 72 dpi for shots with camera movements
  6. Full-frame for static shots if I want to do any Ken Burns-ish pans in the NLE
  7. Import JPEGs as image sequence into Adobe Premiere
  8. Export from Premire as M2V files for intermediates, or use JPEG sequences in timeline for showreels/movies

Current Workflow - LR / LRTimelapse / RAW 

Now that I have  a reasonably decent video workstation, I utilize the following workflow:

  1. Shoot in RAW
  2. Ingest into Lightroom
  3. Develop to taste (do not crop to 16:9)
  4. Keyframe developing parameters with LR Timelapse (see separate blog post about this amazing, game-changing software)
  5. Import sequence of CR2 RAW files into After Effects
  6. In After Effects - make sure Project is in Adobe RGB color space
  7. make sure "import" setting in Preferences matches your frame rate
  8. Make sure sequence has the appropriate frame rate
  9. Add sequence to render queue (if you want to generate an intermediate)

How here comes our first fork in the road. From AE, you can go in many different directions. You can save your sequences, and load them directly into Premiere through Dynamic Link Server, and use these in your editing timeline (but you have to pre-render).

Or, you can make intermediates. I chose this method because I like to have finished movie files for each clip available for viewing and archiving

Now comes the un-fun part of video. What type of intermediate file should you use? Again, the answer is "it depends." On what you might ask? You have to take into consideration things like storage space available, archive disk read/write speed, and color needs for your post-production environment. Here's what I do.

Intermediates - AVI Files / CineForm 4:4:4 Film Scan 2

The knowledgeable Tom Lowe of Timescapes fame recommended the CineForm codec in AVI container as an archival intermediate file format for his 4K timelapse work. According to Tom, the color fidelity was great, stood up to subsequent coloration work in DaVinci Resolve, and also AVI/Cineform Film Scan 2 also was editable in Premiere. Now, you have to understand that Tom is using a custom-built $20,000 monster PC (256 GB of RAM and dual nVidia GeForce 780 Titan cards!).

Nevertheless, on my meager machine I am able to render a 240 frame timelapse from CR2 files in this CineForm AVI compression format in about 10 minutes. File sizes are around 1.6 GB. I can't play these files back from my Drobo without dropping frames, but I can from my RAID-0 SSDs. Here's my workflow:

  1. Add sequence to Render queue in AE
  2. CineForm AVI format, FilmScan 2 quality 4:4:4 color
  3. Drink coffee/beer
  4. Place copy of files on SSD RAID drive array for editing
  5. In Premiere, render previews to smooth editing.

That's it in a nutshell. Feel free to hit me with any questions via email or in the comments. As I said, there are many different ways to post-process timelapse. This is just the way I do it, and it works for me.