Stars and Lightning Bugs

July 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

     4:40am

     Somehow, I still manage to wake up before the alarm. The sky is just starting to give hints that the sun will soon be making yet another grand entrance. Muted blues take the place of night’s black, and in this inky lighting I roll my head over on the pillow and am relieved to see my camera still standing a few inches from me, faithfully pointing skyward just as it was left the night before with a remote timer set to fire every minute and forty-five seconds dangling next to it. I say relieved because of my built-in paranoia of leaving camera gear exposed and defenseless, and even though I was right next to it all night on the concrete porch, any emergency assistance from me would have been less than responsive as I went to sleep after making sure all of the camera settings were good to go.

     As is always the case with time-lapse, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to be the result, so without getting up I reached up to the playback button to see. Of course only one image at a time showed up instead of the 51 image composite you see here, but even so things looked good. By spinning the wheel on the back of the camera and scrolling through the photos one-by-one but very fast, I got an idea of how the final time-lapse video would turn out.  That’s one of the many perks of shooting multiple exposures like this, you get two pieces of imagery for the work of one – a composite still photo like this one, and a time-lapse video, which in this case turned out to be four seconds long and a shot in my upcoming nature documentary test clip (more on that later).
     Closer to the beginning in the playback list are shots of what brought me outside in the first place – a distant lightning storm. This was a time-lapse as well, however the nearby city lights and positioning of the storm messed with things enough that it may end up not getting used for anything, unfortunately. Even though the lightning didn’t turn out, these lightning bugs you see here were obliging enough to act as a replacement, dashing all through the yard, trees, and frame like fleeting brush strokes on a massive rotating backdrop. Then of course there are the two planes that had to get in on the action as well. At first it seemed that all of these elements (stars, planes, lightning bugs) cobbled into one frame might look too messy, but after putting it all together it took on a look that I’m calling “chaotic harmony”.
     I also learned a trick that you might also find useful. First, I admit that I’m a little too addicted to using the camera’s LCD screen, and this usually isn’t a problem…until it comes time to frame a shot with almost no preexisting light, as was the case with this image. To frame the trees properly using the LCD screen would have meant intentionally throwing the settings to ridiculous extremes to let in enough light to see and/or using a high-powered light to briefly light-up the trees to be able to see where they were. However, the optical viewfinder doesn’t have to “see” through the sensor like the screen does. It just needs enough light to see through the lens, which isn’t a lot more than what we need to see with anyway. Once this gold nugget of information dawned on me it was no problem whatsoever to frame the trees where I wanted them, since I could faintly see them through the viewfinder without having to let any additional light in.
     In the end this shot was worth the all-night wait, and the concrete really wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. Long exposure series like this take long enough that only two or three can usually be done per night (assuming sleep time is included), but there are so many things that can be done with this technique that you could take one each night for months and just scratch the surface. Next long exposure shot I do like this will be a bit different though…maybe lightning bugs by themselves so they can have their time in the limelight.


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